Monday, November 1, 2010

The Just Society

Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr., American author
So another challenge for our generation is to create global institutions that reflect our ideas of fairness and responsibility, not the ideas that were the basis of the last stage of financial development over these recent years.
Gordon Brown, former British prime minister 
I dream. I dream all the time. I've always dreamt of a society where each person should be able to fulfill himself to the extent of his capabilities as a human being, a society where inhibitions to equality would be eradicated. This means providing individual freedoms, and equality of opportunity, health, and education, and I conceive of politics as a series of decisions to create this society.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau, former prime minister of Canada,
A Just Society, 1968

When Pierre Elliot Trudeau became Canada's fifteenth prime minister in September 1968, he spoke about the country becoming a just society. His speech marked a turning point in Canadian politics. The country had as its leader a young dashing bachelor, charismatic, sexy and intellectual. And he carried with him a vision of what he expected to do as prime minister, not the least of which was to move Canada forward.

During his tenure as Canada's political leader, Prime Minister Trudeau introduced legislation that humanized politics and gave the nation's citizens a sense of dignity. By such legislature measures, he offered hope and energy for all. One of his most famous quotes on individual liberties sums up his thinking: “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”

Prime Minister Trudeau has been considered one of Canada's greatest prime ministers, a man of conviction, style and vision. Like many great men, he inspired a range of emotions, but I sense most had respect for his towering intellect and passion. (When I was a teenager, a few friends and I had the fortune of an impromptu meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, and remember him as warm, friendly and passionate.)

This can't be said about many of today's leaders, who as a group lack a sense of fairness and passion for social justice. We live in a different world, no doubt. We have lost our way, and few leaders, in Canada or elsewhere, speak of such essential things, Yet, is there such an idea of a Just Society? And what would a just society look like? These questions are not academic exercises or mere flights of fancy.

High ideals are necessary if we want some some ideas of fairness to trickle down. Most people yearn for justice, certainly as it applies to them, but also for others sharing their society. One of the first things you notice about a child is that he or she has a sense of fairness. When he sees something wrong, his immediate response is, "That's not fair." While this is often dismissed by parents as an inchoate sense of morality, there is more to it than our first initial desires to sweep it away.

In truth, life is unfair, often cruelly unfair. And much of it is a result of relations between humans, things that we have the power to control. In truth, people suffer all kinds of indignities and inhumanities, a majority resulting from fractious or divisive relationships between humans. We live in a time where it is more important to be right than to reconcile differences.

A Just Society: Prime Minister Trudeau brought Canada onto the world stage as a humanitarian nation. He was unafraid to show his humanity, which explains his charisma. He defended vigorously the newly implemented universal health care and regional development programs as means of making society more just. His legacy, though under attack, are still in existence today, albeit in weakened form, 1980.
Such climate leads to many injustices. People get convicted unfairly of crimes. People lose jobs and their means of making a living. People fall victim to corporate greed. Children, the innocents, are killed in war. The list is long and depressing.

For many, it seems as if the earth's sense of fairness has been turned on its head. To a Martian looking at our planet as a disinterested observer, it would seem that people intentionally want to hurt others.

Why some get delight in such perverse things speaks about the paucity of many things in our society, including love, compassion and what used to be called common decency. People, history shows, can be cruel, much more cruel than any animal. (That is why the common expression, "You're behaving like an animal does an injustice to animals, which only act by instinct, unlike humans who often act dispassionately.)

Such are the everyday realities of today, common to many of you. The cruelty that humans often show to each other is one reason that many people are drawn to venues of escape, such as recreational drugs, sports and constant work and activity. Such provides an avenue to avoid confronting the hard reality around us, notably how governments have failed to address the central issue of a fair and just society. Other narrower interests have grabbed their attention.

For the same reason, many others now look to religion, a powerful force of personal change and connection. For religion does offer comfort and solace to billions of people, actually the world's majority, in the face of a world that is hostile to humanity and its real needs.

Committed secularists often mock the religiously minded for looking for hope in religious narratives. But if they do so, it is out of ignorance, lacking an understanding of why religion is such a powerful force in bleak times. The rich and powerful minority have less perceived need for religious observance. But billions of others do. And, if so, can you blame such people for looking outward? Let's face it: life is hard, very hard, for most of the world.

As for myself, I hold no illusions about humanity. It has the equal capacity to do both good and evil. I have a choice not to succumb to such inhumane behaviour. As do many ordinary men and women, ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the face of adversity and suffering. Thus explains the universal cry for a Just Society.

Prime Minister Trudeau had it right, and his sharp mind and passionate heart knew what really mattered. Today, however, such a cry from the elites and politicians is muted. The reasons are not known. It might just be that most do not see any need for change. In their estimation, everything is working out just fine. But is it?

No, not really, by any measure of fairness and justice.

I would like to hear your thoughts on a Just Society. Feel free to send me your comments.

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