JUSTICE DEMANDS THAT WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER, by Dr. Steven Nur Ahmed

Malcolm X Statue2

After his spiritual awakening, Malcolm X struggled to get the message of justice to descendants of slaves in the United States. The facts he laid out about their lives were clear and incontrovertible. Descendants of slaves have been treated unjustly by both federal and state institutions from the inception of the United States Government.

Institutionalized social injustice is easy to identify. It is usually articulated in written form. It is when the law intentionally legitimates the practice of economic or educational discrimination against a class of people based upon one or more identifying characteristics like race, religion, national origin, or gender.

The legal remedy for institutionalized social injustice is addressed through the judicial system which includes the national Congress. A court may have state or federal jurisdiction whereas Congress and the Supreme Court have both state and federal jurisdiction under the Constitution. However, if either one or both judicial systems are corrupt then government is urged by a democratic process of voting to change the law but if it does not heed that urge then that government is brought down by political revolution.

The goal of both the democratic process and political revolution is to repeal discriminatory laws. If government responds in favor of justice for all its citizens then discriminatory laws are repealed. Those laws are then replaced by laws which prohibit economic and educational discrimination on the bases of race, religion, national origin, or gender.

Malcolm X addressed another kind of justice, too. He addressed the issue of moral justice. The origin of moral justice may or may not overlap with institutional justice.

Moral justice may be related to institutionalized injustice but moral injustice may also exist when there are no institutional issues at all. Put another way, governmental laws may not discriminate against a class of people based on class, race, national origin, or gender. Nevertheless, one or more groups may find that they are consistently on the short end of the stick when it comes to the distribution of goods in society. Or an individual or group may be singled out for ridicule and physical mistreatment but not as a result of government action.

Again the judicial system may afford any person a legal procedure by means of which he or she can bring a claim against a person in a civil court for a tortuous act committed against him or her. The court then can apply the law in its effort to restore a person or group to a condition of wholeness. But what if a person or group commits a wrongful act against herself or itself? What kind of justice applies in that situation?

That question should lead us to wonder whether there is a broader form of justice at work than what we normally think of. We should wonder whether it is true in our personal lives that our every act and thought trigger effects which come back to us multiplied hundreds of times and which either benefit us or harm us materially, emotionally, and spiritually.  

Many kinds of social problems which are faced by descendants of slaves cannot be addressed by judicial institutions because they are problems which arise from individual and family sentiment. Sentiment in turn is the product of collective fears and attractions and so the choices made within families and the community by individuals is more or less a mirror image of collective sentiments.

What is good for us has value for us in the short and long run. It is what benefits both an individual and his or her family and community. The three dimensions of our lives make up our moral world, a world which is held together by collective sentiments.

What drives collective sentiment and thus individual choices within a family and/or community is fear or attraction. Fear or attraction in relation to others around us and the conscientious application of the cost/benefit ratio in all decision making opportunities we are presented with.

Making choices is an opportunity for each of us to grow because choices present us with a challenge. We either lash out irrationally and retard our growth or are attracted to others and make stronger ties with those in social relation to us.

We make choices understanding that each choice causes some beneficial and some harmful side effects. There is no perfect decision. But there are good ones which add value to our lives.  In the short and/or long run we individually and collectively benefit more than we are harmed.   

In our personal lives, much of what we suffer is the effect of poor decision making within the context of our individual, family, and community relations. That kind of self inflicted harm cannot be remedied in any court of law because the judicial system has a limit to its reach. Beyond that limit it is superseded by a broader system of justice.

There is yet another scale of balance. It is set within each of us, our families, and in our communities. It is precise in its measurements of our actions and the benefit or harms which result from them.  It is indifferent to whether we benefit or are harmed. It is a measure of justice which seesaws up and down on the right pan in opposite relation to the up and down movement on the left pan. It is a scale which is tilted by our actions as well as by our inactions. Descendants of slaves should be very concerned about what harmful acts are being weighed against them today.

Intra-racial murder and disease are the leading causes of death among descendants of slaves in the United States, today. Those facts mean that our individual, family, and community sentiments and the actions which arise from them are more harmful than beneficial to us in the scale of justice. The growth or retardation challenge is tilted against growth and in favor of retardation for descendants of slave.  That is a social fact.

We are now faced with too many children of descendants of slaves who are generally untrained and increasingly irrational in their behavior. That is so because their sentiments have become hateful and their fears are directed toward one another. Yet those sentiments are shaped by the sentiments of the adults who raise them. Negative sentiments are like a contagious disease which is passed over from one generation to the next. Thus, over time we as a community describe in our moral motion a downward spiral with no end in sight.

Is this justice too impersonal, too indifferent to what we have suffered here in the United States that it would allow us to collapse? The answer is yes, it would because we are held solely responsible for our actions under its jurisdiction.  

Even though it seems unfair and cruel on the surface; we are therefore getting what we deserve. By the strict law of necessity, we are getting what we deserve even though many of our youth were in part made to be the monsters they have become not by choice but by conditioned reflex. Nevertheless, it is solely our actions which are counted in our scale of balance.

Zahnräder

The wheels of justice turn mechanically throughout the entire universe. Unseen, like the inner gears of a clock, a scale of balance inheres in all things and tips the scales on both the left and the right sides. Thus justice is indifferent to whether or not we understood what we did at the time we committed an act or whether we meant to do a particular act. It simply measures the weight of every act both beneficial and harmful. Both intelligent and ignorant creatures and non-living things are held to the same standard of proportionate justice.

A seagull dives to catch a fish in a lake but it misjudges the depth of the lake. It breaks its neck and dies. Justice has exacted a cost proportionate to the misjudgment and circumstances of the seagull.

An exhausted mother falls asleep. She rolls over onto her newborn infant and smothers it to death. The mother’s intent is irrelevant. Justice will hear no plea for pity from her. No deal can be made with her that will circumvent the dispassionate movement of justice. Her baby is dead and will remain dead forever. Justice has exacted the proportionate costs for both the infant’s suffocation and the mother’s negligence under the circumstances.

One group does not hunt in season and that group starves to death while another group hunts in season and lives. Justice is indifferent to both the pleasurable and the painful consequences which one may gain or suffer. Justice has proportioned merit on the basis of their action and inaction.

One group learns the sentiments of fear, anger, jealousy, hate, and envy toward its family members and others in its community. They kill and steal from each other. That community dies even though they were forced to live impoverished lives in a ghetto because living in a ghetto does not make one act ghetto. Ghetto behavior is a mirror of one’s sentiments.

Another group learns sentiments of attraction and caring for one another and they survive and thrive even though they put the other group in the ghetto subjecting them to abject poverty. Committing wrong on an outside group does not make one act wrong to those in their own group. Their moral world may not collapse if it is held together by strong positive sentiment.

But justice is paradoxical in nature. The paradox is that while it is indifferent to all outcomes it simultaneously demands that you love one another to avoid harm. Love for self, family, and community therefore is the key to your individual, family, and community survival under the rule of proportionate justice.

 

 

 

 

 

BLACK HISTORY: AGAINST THE SUM OF ALL RESISTANCE

dead end

A dead end lies before us. It is being shown to us by the light of our history. When we study not only the structural characteristics of the institution of slavery but also the intestinal fortitude of millions of individual Africans, that history highlights for us what was for them the reason for their survival.  It also implies what will cause us to fail.

 

It is common knowledge that millions of slaves endured pain of every conceivable kind. They endured the pains of hunger, thirst, beatings, whippings, rape, the murder of kinfolk and neighbors, extreme cold, extreme heat, disease, humiliation, intellectual deprivation, high infant and maternal mortality rates, physical mutilation, forced incest, child sexual abuse, and lives lived under constant authoritarian repression.  They did so for hundreds of years.

 

But they endured. They endured because individually and collectively their will to live was greater than the sum of all resistance to them. For every act to suffocate their humanity their will to take in yet another breath of life prevailed.  In that breath which filled their lungs they exhaled into the world a universal movement that turned history in a new direction.

 

If there is an argument for a morality not born of the flesh but of the spirit, one which springs forth from what in a human being is soul alone, then it must be expressed as the greater ‘ will to live’ against the lesser ‘sum of all resistance’ to it. That being true then it must also be true that African people in America under a system of total repression were not only a moral people but they were also the major moral force shaping United States history for the 100 years following the civil war.   

 

Their ‘will to live’ has left a wide trail in its wake. That trail was paved by the descendants of slaves. They were those generations of people constituting millions upon millions of souls who in word and in deed shouted out to the world that ‘We Shall Over Come!’ And in their train along the span of that trail followed Asians, Latinos, Women, and all others who were raised from the dead by the cry of African people ‘Rise Lazarus!’ live and walk to freedom with us here in these United States.   

 

No rational person would argue that today we are on a moral and social upswing. Rather now, and in the light of our past, our future prospects as a people and as individual citizens are uncertain.  Serious questions should now be asked by each and every one of us. We should ask ourselves whether or not the scale of our moral measure has tipped against us? Is it now the case that our ‘will to live is outweighed by the sum of all resistance to it? 

 

The social facts in support of that proposition are frightening and are rubbed in our faces daily. Our collective moral sentiments have slid down a steep slope. And if those facts are true then what will become of us? What will become of us if we do not reinvigorate the intestinal fortitude our ancestors had?  If we agree that they are our moral frame of reference, it begs the question: are we now an immoral people?

 

Our behavior and words are moral forces. They are no different than fire for both our behaviors and words are energies, too.  They can cause combustion.  They are forces that move about and impact things and people around them. They have weight and can cause explosions. They can shatter things and people. They can cause implosions by destroying people psychologically. These forces move at a rate of speed like all things. They gather momentum and they can also accelerate when combined with other behaviors. For those reasons we are now headed to a point in our history when the light of our past shall be overcome by the darkness of an undetermined and uncertain future.

 

We are approaching a dead end and we are accelerating and gathering momentum along the way.  It is the kind of challenge like no other we have ever faced. For, it has been constructed by our own hands not by the hands of others and it stands before us within us.  Now, we are the sum of all resistance to ourselves. Now we behave as though we do not want to live. We do not comprehend that what we face cannot be overcome by colliding with it. We must stop before we collide with it.

 

That wide trail which was blazed by so many of our ancestors has now become a narrow beaten path along which we walk.  And if we look back over our shoulders we will see that no longer do others follow us. For we are no longer moral leaders; we no longer possess the high ground.  

 

Asians, Latinos, women, and others have parted ways and gone on to enjoy the fruits of their labor. We are now alone; we no longer cry out ‘Rise Lazarus!” rather we whine aloud with arms outstretched and with open palms.  What we are on my dear people is a death march. It may be that our time in the United States is coming to its end. For it is a social fact that we have hit rock bottom.  Denial of that fact will avail us nothing for ‘pride goeth before a fall’.

 

If there is hope then it must be hope in God and a visceral ‘will to live’. It must be the ‘will to live’ which our forebears had in such abundance that they could share it with the entire world. It must be that same intestinal fortitude which drove our people to do all that they could do to make a place for themselves and us in these United States against the sum of all resistance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“THERE IS A TIDE IN THE AFFAIRS OF MEN…” by Dr. Steven Nur Ahmed

Garvey

Do we remember Marcus Garvey? He who at a time when lynching African Americans was the norm yet stood up and spoke out to gather his people together to empower them so that they might make themselves self-reliant and self-sufficient.  That they might reach up and take for themselves the fruit of liberty and freedom? And for his courage he was rewarded with humiliation, deportation, and poverty.

paul robeson

Do we remember Paul Robeson? An intellectual giant and social activist, he too stood up during a time of lynching. He, too, cried out to his people and all others who yearned to be free from racism and oppression.  With courage he spoke out against fear used by the powers of his day as a tool to sway people to war. For his courage he was called un-American. For his courage his passport was revoked and he was blacklisted, impoverished, ignored by his people, and died alone.

Malcolm

And then came the man Malcolm X. Do we remember him? Intellectually centered, passionate, articulate, and with courage he rallied his people to unity speaking truth to power.  He was laid waste in his youth, a martyr.

King

Have we forgotten what Dr. Martin Luther King said? That no person “…be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” And that on that premise he spoke truth to the powers of his day. That from his powerful mind he drew forth undefeatable logical arguments not just for integration into the consumer markets of America but also for equitable wages for African American workers, too, and spoke out against unjust war fueled by fear and corporate greed. His unfailing courage was rewarded by those powers of the day with death; he fell a martyr.

African Americans are at a Moral Crossroad

We should endeavor to remember those African American men by understanding the common pattern of their lives so that we can know the characteristics of true leadership as opposed to pretentious persons. That they all cared for life from conception to old age.  And that we should not support a person because of the color of their skin any more than we should wrongly discriminate against a person for that reason, even if that person is the President of the United States.