Monday, October 12, 2015

What Gets in the Way of Negotiating Social Justice? Part 2. Unequal Voices and Hidden Agendas

(a continuation of  Empathy, Inclusion, and Moral Dialog or What Gets in the Way of Negotiating Social Justice? )

A person values some states of affairs over others and acts accordingly.
A person will not choose less behavior potential over more.

A person requires a community in order for it to be possible for him to engage in human behavior at all.
A community is characterized by a common world, a language, a structure of social practices, statuses, way of living, choice principles, and individual members.
To engage in a Deliberate Action is to participate in a social practice of the community.
            Peter Ossorio, Place, 1998

Unequal Voices Undermine the Hypothesis: The Inevitable Arc of Social Justice Requires the Possibility of an Equality of Persons.  

government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker's corporate identity. No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.
         Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

I'll warn you in advance. There are many loose ends and considerable uncertainty in what follows.

The tension I want to explore involves what is public and open to negotiation and what is private and will not be revealed except under special circumstances. The public can be debated but the private, the hidden, has voice behind the scenes. I'm going to wonder about these two factors: The vastly unequal public voice shaped by money, and the private, hidden voice, shaped by shameful, guilt-ridden or under-examined  motive. This effects the playing field where conflicts of justice are presented and decided. Even if courts and legislatures define the law, the varied public sentiments prepare the ground for the legal outcome. The Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on marriage equality would have been unlikely without the acceptance already achieved by a critical mass of individuals with good standing within the national community.

The sociologist Steven Lukes reminds us that power involves the ability to control the agenda and establish the public conversation.  The vested interests that shape the public agenda are always in play among individuals who have their specific and idiosyncratic abilities and dispositions to influence each other.  But this is warped when the values in play are hidden or the power to influence is vastly uneven. The values involved in an individual's negotiations can be hidden in bad-faith or self-deception or unconsciously unexamined.  But on a large social scale, political and moral dialog is also distorted by the weight of big-money interests.  We all know that money doesn’t just talk, it screams. It buys the agenda and billboards its propaganda. Currently, the powers of corporate capitalism are overwhelming in forming the public conversation and social agenda given corporations now have some of the legal status of “persons” in regard to “speech”. 

Social justice and economic justice are intrinsically intertwined. A person’s place in the economy is fundamental in defining their opportunity.  Corporate personhood renders my argument of inevitable social progress trivial or absurd when corporate interest is in conflict with social justice. If, on the other hand, the two interests coincide, justice as enhanced fairness has a much better chance. This restricts the field of change. To avoid despair, I’m going to table this theme and confine my argument to circumstances where corporate interests are not in fundamental conflict with personal liberation. Granted, I’ll have to ignore class based economic injustice, many of the issues of income inequality, and limit my focus to some of the cultural conflicts of racism, sexism, religion, and homophobia.  This is the paradox of increased economic injustice during the same historical period that has expanded educational, housing, and voting rights, normalized homosexuality, and legalized gay marriage. But tragically, consider how corporate interests can stifle progress toward equality of health care and accommodations for parents and the disabled if these enhancements, "entitlements", are too much a threat to the bottom line.  And what of planetary injustice? Do the corporate and political interests concerning climate change establish a generational injustice we will be hand our children?

The Hypothesis is Limited to the Moral Dialog of Potentially Equal Players

So with these huge limitations, what else hampers the negotiations and moral dialog of human beings struggling for increased emancipation and fairness on matters of age, race, gender, religion, and sexual preference? Where politics is most local, individuals might have the best chance of being heard by each other. Here the community of family and neighborhood still counts. Here’s the possible space that big money, corporate personhood, and gerrymandered conformity might not overwhelm and fill.

My starting point is the mix of conflicted alliances we all have. These are the conflicts that involve the public presentation of our values that affirm our allegiance to some, while degrading our position with others. When push comes to shove, who counts the most in my life? Where does my integrity rest and what compromise can I afford? Are the true colors I show everyone the same? Can I be authentic and two faced? Here is the dilemma of living on various fronts, some I especially cherish. Is this a potential engine of progress? And is this dynamic different when our local community is cosmopolitan or homogenous?  

All of us are members of various communities, tempered by the specifics of education, job, profession, intimate relations, family, etc.  Membership has its privileges but can also be an embarrassment, a source of shame and guilt. A community’s social practices and accepted manners shift over time. Consider heartfelt racism, sexism, and homophobia. Or “lighthearted” racist, sexist, and homophobic banter.  What was once normal, perhaps laudable, becomes reprehensible. In times past, without second thought, what could be said with friends, family, and professional associates might still be acceptable in some communities but cause a double-take and censure in others. Privately, my boorish friends and I might continue talking the trash that provokes righteous outrage from my wife and children, and possible firing from my job.  Values and acceptable self-presentations change. What was once public is now private and a potential embarrassment. Still, for a host of reasons I might continue this banter with some, careful when family and colleagues are within earshot. It’s not easy to find new “enlightened” friends, and friends are friends for all sorts of reasons.

But what does this say about my values, the priorities that routinely shape my appraisals of self and world? The public and private nature of what I hold dear can vary irregularly, in both self-deceptive and self-aware hypocrisy.  I might tolerate or overlook conflict, ambivalence, and contradiction.

We all know there are judgments we can openly discuss, negotiate, reconsider, and try to reorder in significance.  In self-examination, my prejudices, my pre-judgments, might diminish over time. Then there are those appraisals that I am reluctant to admit, hold shameful, and will certainly not discuss, at least not with you. Perhaps I also make significant appraisals unconsciously, unavailable for my introspection. I’ve come to believe this last group of motives, absent significant psychopathology, is very difficult to broach and rarely an overriding force, but to the extent it’s significantly at play, judgment will be compromised. I’ll have return to this theme.

Let’s focus on the interplay of the appraisals and values easily available and those that we are reluctant to acknowledge. The reluctance that I’m interested in is not simply a concern with social censure but more along the lines of a reluctance to even go there with myself. This is not the domain of secret glee but of shameful impulse. These are the matters I don’t want to think about and won’t easily admit. This, I think, is what the psychodynamic psychotherapies actually explore and map, and where empathy and safety is key. This is where the public presentation of values I am reluctant to acknowledge may influence a reappraisal of their significance. This in turn can change the community I prefer to identity with or support. But, in the absence of “publicity”, unexamined problematic values are a minefield for negotiation.

In the service of exploring these themes, let me introduce "The Psychodynamic Judgment Diagram" as a way of representing the nature and consequences of a person's values and circumstances that are most accessible, those hidden in avoidance, and those truly unconscious. 

For simplicity, I’ll refer to these motivational grouping, these collections of values, as domains or zones one, two, and three, with one being the easily shared and accessible appraisals, two being the domain I’m reluctant to acknowledge and three being the dynamic unconscious.

Notice the connection between reason and motivational weight. The greater the weight the greater the motivational priority. But, unfortunately, there is nothing that requires the content with the greatest weight to be in zone one. People can be reluctant to acknowledge or unconscious of the actual weights relevant to their appraisals. You can be sure that the extent people don’t know or acknowledge their priorities, their negotiations may falter and appear in bad faith.

For now, let’s attend to the interplay of zone one and two and prepare to ask, “in the privacy of the voting booth, what values ring loudest”?

Peter Ossorio (2013, p 226-227) identified four “family resemblance” groups of reasons people have for doing what they do: Hedonics, Prudence, Ethics, and Aesthetics. Briefly, hedonics involves variations on pleasure, pain, noxiousness, and disgust. Prudence concerns self-interest, advantage or disadvantage, and what I take to be good or bad for me. Ethical reasons involve my perspective on right and wrong, good and bad, justice, fairness, and where duty or obligation occur. Aesthetics involve how things fit together, artistically, socially, and intellectually.

These domains of intrinsic motivation can be complementary, independent, or in conflict.  How individuals weigh the relative significance of these motivations define important aspects of character, their “true colors”.  These patterns of significance, implemented in various ways, define the “through-lines” of our lives.

What I’d like us to notice is that domain two, the zone of reluctance, is not, under ordinary circumstance, open for debate or discussion and is accordingly resistant to negotiated change. The same holds for domain three, the unconscious, but here the situation is frozen.  Worse, the “dynamic unconscious” lacks an aesthetic and ethical perspective since ethics and aesthetics require the ability to engage in Cognizant and Deliberate Action. Ethics and Aesthetics hinge on choice, even if that choice involves refusal. I can’t, as a matter of ethical principle, choose the high road over the low road if I’m not aware there’s a choice, nor can I sit down and refuse to move further. Similarly, in zone two reluctance, I might refuse to ask for direction and pretend not to see a fork in the road.  And even if I am fully aware of a more ethical path, my journey might continue along predominately hedonic, prudent, and aesthetic lines.  I’m complicated that way and so are you. Doing what’s “ethically right” is not always the top priority.

Back to the question of getting domain two out into the light of day.

Does the Fork in the Road lead to Degradation or Accreditation?

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
          Yogi Berra

A setup for a thought-experiment: New neighbors move next to an already established family in the two very different neighborhoods I know well. The first neighborhood is where I now live, Boston’s South End. I think this is a very fine place, mixed income but skewing to upper-middle class, racially and ethnically diverse, gay and lesbian friendly, highly educated.  I feel I belong here.  I’m comfortable as I walk about. The second neighborhood I’d like us to consider is in Gastonia, North Carolina where I grew up from forth grade through high school.  I was mostly happy there, too, and certainly felt safe and protected.  Back then, my neighborhood, Gardner Park, was all white, very Christian, and as far as I knew, populated by married heterosexual couples and their children. In 1959, my family, Jewish, moved to Gastonia from Minneapolis with a group of engineers and scientists so I didn’t start my life in the late 1950’s American South.  I think this move increased Gastonia’s Jewish population from about 50 families to maybe 52 or 53.  For me, the in-your-face racism, the segregation of water fountains, classrooms, and neighborhoods was immediately startling.  Teachers and classmates referred to “the niggers cross town” as normal speech. (Not that the neighborhoods I’d knew in Minneapolis were any less white, nor, for that matter, less homophobic, but I’d never heard such speech in public or private, let alone seen water fountains for white or "colored". Being a Yankee and, as it happened, a Jewish skeptic of religion, my childhood sense of belonging was mixed. My sense of safety and belonging-while-an-outsider has its history here. 

Knowing something of where I come from provides perspective on my bias. Back to my thought-experiment: Let’s imagine a householder, a standard heterosexual white guy we’ll call WG, who with wife and children, lives either in my current neighborhood or in Gastonia. Keep in mind that WG’s South End neighbors predominately vote as liberal or progressive Democrats along with a few Greens and a “moderate” Republican or two sprinkled in.  They talk about this in the dog park. In contrast, the predominately white neighborhoods in Gastonia vote Republican. In both places, WG fits in as one of the acceptable types and values this and wants it for his family.

Now the new neighbors. First the South End: In the condo below WG, a mixed race gay couple moves in with their dog.  The couple who moves in above is a white heterosexual couple who also, as it turns out, have a dog. WG likes dogs. WG and his wife, being the neighborly sort, separately invite each new couple in for drink and conversation. One more imaginary fact. The new white heterosexual couple, who outwardly look the same demographic as WG, make clear a significant disrespect for the downstairs neighbors they’ve seen but not spoken to. They’ve braved the gay South End.

Now the same setup but in Gastonia. The new white couple expresses concern they weren’t warned before buying into a mixed race neighborhood.  Speaking loudly, without a second thought, WG's new neighbor wondered which of the gay men was the “wife”.  So here’s my question. What do we imagine WG actually feels about his new neighbors? How will he talk to his wife and children who have witnessed these encounters? 

Let’s add another feature to our thought-experiment. For whatever reason, the gay couple prove, over time, to be thoughtful, helpful, and friendly. The white couple, not so much.

(Like all bad thought experiments, we must limit ourselves to these being the only stated facts).

Back to the “psychodynamic judgment diagram” and a bit more about WG. WG is a middle-aged standard white guy who reluctantly, zone 2, harbors racist and homophobic feeling. He grew up that way. OK, let’s be more real. At times, he wisecracks with some of his old friends in a undeniably racist and homophobe manner. After all, they get the joke.  At home with family, this stuff rarely crosses his mind, and when it does he’s knows to be silent. 

A point of practical theory: Evidently, some thoughts are more “reluctant-to-self-acknowledge” in some circumstances than in others. Here’s another assumption about actual empirical humans. Our different social contexts alter our self-presentation and disposition, and with this our sense of what is most consciously available. Circumstance factor into our psychological state and our immediately available configuration of motivational values. This is relevant to how zone 1 and zone 2 content shifts, and where one’s sense of degradation and accreditation, a person’s immediate feelings of standing in their relevant communities, serve to maintain or change what is available for negotiation and moral dialog. What my family evokes is often significantly different from what I find myself thinking in my office or with my friends. Circumstances evoke different patterns of a person’s powers and dispositions based on perceived relevance. I am the same person with everyone, I am always me, without my self-presentation being necessarily all that consistent when with others.  I can be authentic and more than two-faced.

People live in a vast variety of separate and overlapping communities, cherishing some above others. Family over neighbor? Neighbor over boss?  The communities people value greatest, where their good standing is vital, are the ones they will be most reluctant to violate. What is available as zone 1 content, the stuff most personally and publicly accessible, will reasonably be what a person finds most relevant to the social practices that the person’s most valued communities find acceptable. (But keep firmly in mind that people's integrity may involve their upholding the values of communities not immediately present to the eye but held in the heart).


          Groucho Marx, Telegram to the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills

Deliberate Action

Another point. Deliberate action requires the knowledge of choice. Appraisals as an aspect of a deliberate action many involve the recognition of both what is to be done and what is to be avoided. In contrast, zone 2 content tends to be under-socialized and under-examined and as a result less mindful of alternatives.  This content is commonly what a person fears might be degrading.  This is not to suggest that a person is reluctant to privately acknowledge potential self-degrading actions. In fact, the potential to easily know how one can be degraded is central to my hypothesis about social progress.  Consider, there are matters I can easily think about but refuse to do, zone 1, and there are things I don’t want to think about and certainly don’t want to acknowledge doing, zone 2. This self abrogation is rarely separate from the expectation of public censure. The avoided thoughts and public actions are shameful. Zone 1 has a place for the shameful ideas that I will carefully and prudently avoid enacting. I may be less careful about zone 2. I am making the assumption that there is a good reason to know what to be careful about one’s nature. There are personal matters we need to understand well enough not to inadvertently act out. I know that I am an animal, sexual and possessive, but I try to be appropriate in my expression of these desires.  The potential and expectation of appropriate Deliberate Action is a fundamental attribute that defines us as Persons. (See, for example Prosser, The Doctrine of The Reasonable Man). 

But back to WG. WG, both North and South, are deliberate actors, whose appraisals follow from their hedonic, prudential, aesthetic, and ethical perspectives.

Here’s a reasonable bet: WG in the South End will tell his children and demonstrate though his careful behavior that their neighbor upstairs provides an example not to follow. It is less clear what WG in Gastonia will do. He belongs to many communities where his racism and homophobia is just fine. He wants his children to fit in to this world, too.  But he knows times are changing.

Gastonia's WG has less experience with the diversity found in the other WG's neighborhood. This might limit his experienced faith in social change working out OK. Still, he’s come to enjoy a weekly barbecue with his gay mixed race neighbors even though he won’t abide their mustard-based sauce. He’s come to recognize their marriage hasn’t cost him a dime.  Regarding his homophobia, their sexual lives are no longer part of his disgusted fascination.  His children like them, too, and find their other neighbor a wee bit creepy. 

When we talk to our children and provide them the object lessons of our actions, we are a powerful source of influence.  And we ask ourselves, whose voice are we most comfortable representing?  When we engage with friends and neighbors, and especially when we enter into new relationships, we may have cause to recognize and reconsider our values. As deliberate actors we have the potential for an ethical perspective. We may come to appreciate the fairness of our neighbor’s concerns even if our only gain is their happiness. This doesn’t mean this will count for more than our other values. But it might, especially if we know that supporting our neighbor doesn’t put us in a worse position.

My empathic identification with my children gives me profound reason to want them to fit in, a prudential and aesthetic value. My neighbor’s sexual life might still make me squirm but that may count for less than he’s become my good neighbor deserving his own pleasures and satisfactions. And it turned out his mustard sauce is an acquired taste worth developing.

Does this set the stage for some social progress? Might it effect my vote or what my children come to see as reasonable fairness across difference?  I think so.