Thursday, April 23, 2015

Some Thoughts on Injustice

My daughter likes to say that "It's not fair!" when we tell her to do something and we don't make the same demand on the 5 and 3 year old. Like many people, she equates "fair" with "equal" in the absolute sense. She fails to recognize (being 8, she has an excuse) that different abilities results in different expectations. She can do more than the other two, so we expect more from her. And when each of the boys are 8, we will expect them to do what we expected her to do at 8. Of course, she'll be 11 when Daniel is 8, and 13 when Dylan is 8, so we'll expect yet more from her than we will her 8 year old brothers.

Of course, since it is her mother and I who are the dispensers of duties and, thus, dispensers of justice, there is at least some sense in her seeking justice from us in our distribution of those duties. It makes less sense for me to complain about the injustice of my own situation, since there is not anyone in particular treating me unjustly.

I have little doubt that many would consider it "unjust" that I spent so much time and money getting a Ph.D., and I have been unable to get a full time job with it -- longer than the 1 year lecturer position I had at UNT-Dallas (where there may have been injustices committed against me, given that particular people were doing particular things against me). It is not unjust that I haven't been able to get a full time position. No one is actively preventing me from getting a full time position, so there is no justice nor injustice involved.

The same is true of others who cannot get jobs or who cannot get the jobs they want. There is no "economic injustice" in someone not being able to get a good job. One has neither a right to a particular job nor a right to any job at all. Thus, an injustice cannot be committed against you if a given job is not offered to you.

Why then do I sometimes feel like my situation is "unjust"? I know intellectually that there is no way that it can be considered unjust, but sometimes I just feel like it is. I feel like I have a great deal to offer, and that I'm being underutilized by society. But of course, society cannot utilize, as it cannot act nor make decisions. Those are the actions of individuals. But those individuals make decisions based on knowledge and understanding they gained socially. Generally held attitudes about people with Ph.D.'s, people with degrees in the humanities, people who unconsciously behave as I do, etc. affect my ability to get a job. The fact I didn't graduate from a top 10 university affects whether or not I even get considered for the handful of academic positions out there -- which is one reason why I abandoned even trying to get an academic position. Is it just that people blindly accept the superiority of those who graduated from Harvard and Yale? It is a cognitive bias, no doubt, but I'm not sure I would go so far as to call it "unjust" -- even if it is short-sighted, narrow, prejudiced, and homogenizing to our universities.

We need to reserve the term "injustice" for actions individuals perpetuate against individuals. And those actions should involve the violation of a person's right not to be directly harmed. Let's face it, any job will be given to one person and not to many, many others. That doesn't mean that vast majority have been treated unjustly, since what happened to them was incidental to the fact that only one person can get the job. And there are always criteria for getting a job, so one cannot have been treated unjustly if one doesn't meet those criteria (stated and unstated). You cannot but end up in an absurd situation otherwise.
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