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February 4, 2020 / Congau

Social Superstition

There is no justice in the universe, it seems. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, hard work doesn’t pay, a man gets sick from no fault of his own and fatal accidents happen for no reason. Fate is a whimsical partner.

The old Presbyterians thought there was justice in this. Success in life was proof of predestined election. If that’s so, any attempt at redistribution would be tampering with God’s plan.

One can’t argue with faith, so if that’s your belief, you are excused for not wishing to relieve suffering by bringing a human sense of justice into the world. But if you are not a Presbyterian or otherwise believe in predetermination, you have no reason to accept the distorted state of the world. If you believe that the only just outcome is one that results from human beings taking care of their own destiny, it is inconsistent to think that there is much justice in any actual society.

The gospel of merit is a superstition as much as any fatalism. A formal equality of opportunities does not guarantee such an equality, and even if it did, the interference of bad luck and bad people often disrupts personal progress.

Superstitious individualists, especially on the right wing of the political spectrum, continues to reward all credit to individual strength and blame all misfortune on personal weakness. Homelessness and social misery are then the sufferer’s own responsibility and it would be a transgression of the natural order for anyone from outside to step in.

This superstition is found in the mixing of extreme individual responsibility with the notion of ultimate justice. These two ideas are incompatible. The Presbyterians were at least consistent if they refused any redistributive human intervention in what they regarded as God’s plan, but if that belief is rejected, all human beings have a responsibility for everything, even the misfortune of their neighbors

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