Social Justice and Reconciliation: First Essay

The Trans-Mountain Pipeline, of which I wrote last week, has become entangled in the question of what I am going to call Our Indigenous Social Justice, by which I mean the way we accommodate, or don’t accommodate, indigenous people who share this land with us. Their Indigenous Social Justice includes the way they accommodate, or don’t accommodate, us and each other, and is none of my business. And by “us” I mean the rest of us, ranging from recent immigrants to those who have lived here for centuries.

In my own case, just to set the record straight, the final immigrants in my family chain came here from the US over a century ago, to join some others who had been here somewhat longer. Immigration to the US, in my family, began much earlier. Before the US and Canada my ancestors came from the British isles and Sweden. The stories of their “settler colonial” adventures dwell more on stores and factories than on farms. We have been business people for the most part. The current generation is the first in which the young mothers worked outside the home, although their activities were always wider. My father was a tanner, my mother a dietician and a piano teacher. His father was a banker and then a tanner; her father an electrical engineer. Both my grandmothers raised children and ran households, and very well too. If they and theirs were “settler colonials”,—and I don’t wear the label with any comfort,—they were of a particular kind.

I myself have never walked even one pace in the moccasins of an indigenous person, although my work in research and social service has enabled me to walk beside them sometimes, and I hope I have learned from the experience. It has certainly made me extremely wary of judgements of any kind, except to agree that the sometimes aggressive migratory instincts of humanity, the mobility of germs, and the imperial urges of great nations, have given indigenous people an extremely raw deal. In this country they can take some comfort, but probably not much, from the realities that they were not annihilated, and that their particular imperial great nation accorded them a limited framework of legal rights, which it then proceeded to abuse, but did not cancel. The rewards of these realities, if they can be called that, are beginning to accrue to new generations. These are what make the idea, or some idea, of “Reconciliation” possible.

I do not like to use the term “Reconciliation” for what needs to be done now, because I believe it lies at the end of a long process that begins with pursuit of Social Justice. Social Justice is a practical thing, an Unsolved Riddle no doubt, but one that can be addressed with practical means. Reconciliation is in the spiritual realm, and will occur naturally when we have achieved a sufficient measure of Social Justice and have become accustomed to living with each other under its influence. Now we live together under other influences, which inhibit Reconciliation or render it merely a word amidst waves of arid political verbosity.

I think it both wise and useful to consider Our Indigenous Social Justice under the Four Fields I have proposed elsewhere: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Cultural Justice, Opportunital Justice, all of these having elements of Unsolved Riddles, or the full-blown kind, by themselves and all together. I have been proposing for some time that these may yield,—whatever that means,—to application of the Stephen Leacock Tetrad of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour. More recently I have begun to suggest that the way to do that involves Creative Doublethink and Bi-Polar (Both-And) Accommodation. The process of working out these suggestions continues.

At this stage I will only present some hypotheses concerning Our Indigenous Social Justice and the Four Fields, leaving more complete discussion for later. It seems possible to me that any kind of Indigenous Social Justice, ours or theirs, is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible without a hefty degree of economic assimilation. In our economic system, most of us receive economic justice by allowing ourselves to be absorbed by the Yottapede (see the Monday Stalking Blog for more about it), or by voluntarily excluding ourselves from it; in the latter case the resulting inevitable poverty is not unjust because we chose it. To be involuntarily excluded is to be denied economic justice. A few people of supreme talent can find economic justice, even high prosperity, on their own terms. Most of us have to accept the terms dictated by the Yottapede. Economic justice is a necessary, but no longer sufficient condition for Social Justice. That’s one hypothesis.

Environmental justice and cultural justice, in several dimensions, hold immense importance for indigenous people in this country, and appear to gain more as their physical survival becomes assured. This is a poser for us. We are no longer sure that we can support environmental justice for our society as a whole, let alone for parts of it. Some parts may even be particularly deprived, as it appears the people of the Arctic, primarily indigenous, may well become or have already. I think our present Canadian government, and a few provincial ones, are trying their best to apply Creative Doublethink and Both-And Accommodation to environmental justice, thus opening themselves up to charges of hypocrisy. The NDP and the Greens are at best wobbly both-anders; the Conservatives still seem to believe in magic, as that kind of ideology often does and not only in environmental matters. If you want to see a touching faith in magic, just try trickle-down economics.

I will stick my neck out and say that I believe we are doing not too badly these days with cultural justice, at least of the superficial kind encompassed by what we awkwardly call multiculturalism. I believe that indigenous people mean something deeper, something outside the Yottapede yet enabling intra-yottapedal economic benefits. We may support such an idea in principle, but I do not believe we have a clear idea how to bring it about, for indigenous people or any others,—such as artists,—who may dream such dreams. A guaranteed minimum annual income has been suggested as one possibility.

I am not quite sure what I mean by Opportunital Justice, except that I am trying to preserve Stephen Leacock’s emphasis on equality of opportunity, which in his day meant economic opportunity, and in ours is more complicated. I promised last week that I would consult Olde Stephen, his ghost, for this week. I did, and that’s what he said.

Of course there are other dimensions of justice that cannot be entirely excluded, such as political justice and legal justice, the former being of great interest to politicians, and the other of concern to those whose desire to remain extra-yottapedal brings them into court or jail, both intra-yottapedal places par excellence. It’s uncomfortable enough trying to broaden Social Justice beyond the purely economic. Adding political and legal justice to the mix, in any except their strictly environmental, cultural, and opportunital dimensions, renders Social Justice a meaningless ideal. It becomes equal to Justice on the whole, which has been an Unsolved Riddle since Socrates, and maybe longer.

That’s enough for this week. Sorry about the length. These are deep waters, as P.G. Wodehouse would say.


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