By Randy L. Langford. Reprinted from Huffington Post.
My study of, and experience in, our society’s “justice” system has led me to believe it’s functioning as intended. I don’t believe we can “fix” the system because I don’t think the system is broken. I think our justice system is operating precisely as designed and in alignment with the social philosophy on which it is based. I’m not alone in this view. A growing number of researchers, academics, and practitioners share this perspective.
In her book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander provides a plethora of evidence and anecdotes to explain and establish that nothing less than a bottom up redesign of our justice system based on a different social philosophy will address the egregious injustice we observe on a daily basis and throughout history. The operative consideration for change is the adoption of a different social philosophy which will inform social structure, systems, institutions, and culture.
Our founding “fathers” authored the documents and legal instruments on which our society is based. When the notion of American exceptionalism is set aside and the writings are read with the mind of a disinterested third party, it becomes evident, to me anyway, that when Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence “All Men are Created Equal” he intentionally used the word “Men”. Jefferson could just as easily have stated that all human beings regardless their sex, ethnicity, or social class are created equal. Instead he used the operative term, Men, to describe the persons declared to be equal.
The “Men” Jefferson referred to in the founding document were those who had legal standing to own property and vote. At the time, that class was made up primarily of white males. So, contextually, and supported by the historical record (Jefferson owned slaves, which were legally regarded as sub-human, as did many of the other white male founders, and women were viewed socially as chattel and not permitted to vote), it seems evident the social philosophy on which our society is based is one of hierarchical power distribution emanating from wealthy white males (“trickle down economics”?). And since the structure, systems, and culture of our society is based on a philosophy resulting in laws created by the hierarchy, change over the past 250 or so years has been, for the most part, in form not substance. Even the title of the declaration is based on a relational fiction - Independence, that’s only regarded as a possibility among those who buy into the fallacy of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps (a notion as metaphorically preposterous as it is physically impossible).
If conversations focus on incidents of oppression, the oppressors triumph. I think actual and sustainable dissolution of the oppression of the less powerful by the more powerful will only occur when “we, the people...” embrace a relational social philosophy that serves as the basis for the structure, systems, institutions, and culture of our society.
Societies, like individuals, can start anew. Humanity is crying for social rebirth. Maybe it’s time for a Declaration of Interdependence.
Randy L. Langford practices law and plays music in Austin, Texas. He’s been a student and practitioner in the area of Restorative Justice since 2004, and incorporates the values, principles, and processes utilized in restorative practices into his work helping clients reach and maintain agreement. Randy has facilitated hundreds of dialogues in a myriad of circumstances including serious criminal matters, school discipline issues, community building, and communication, decision-making, and addressing conflict within business organizations. Randy teaches University courses addressing social justice controversies and ethics as an adjunct professor, and frequently presents on Restorative Justice at institutions of higher learning as a guest lecturer.