The Core Beliefs of Introspective Social Justice (ISJ)
I’ve taken on the task of defining my guiding principles as I try to live them, and I’d like to share them with you. You see, in my mind, being a “good person” can be reduced to a few core principals or attributes, and strengthening said attributes requires constant introspection. Below is my system of belief as I try to live it, and, if I were a cult leader, as I would prescribe it as well.
The Seven Attributes of Introspective Social Justice
- creating emotional and inclusive spaces for others
- aiding in another’s growth and attainment of personal goals
- remaining concerned with equity as it is defined by oppressed and vulnerable populations
- confronting injustice on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels (3 levels of engagement)
- actively ensuring the basic needs of our communities and neighbors are being met
- maintaining humility in the face of success, without sacrificing confidence or acknowledgement
- and a consistent inclination but flexibility towards new facts, perspectives, and information
In this, I think you have yourself a well rounded, informed, empathetic, and passionate social justice oriented individual.
Definitions of the Seven Attributes
Creating emotional and inclusive spaces for others:
To create emotional and inclusive spaces for others means to be an effective listener, and to approach experiences with empathy. It also means to ensure that the systems in which you have influence are inclusive for vulnerable and oppressed populations and furthermore, actively seek to be trauma-informed, culturally competent environments in which said peoples can thrive and grow. The emotional and inclusive individual avoids buying into the minimalistic and assimilation-oriented view of “color-blindness” to culture, race, gender, and sexual identity. They acknowledge that there are not only differences in the experiences of different identities and their intersections, and are not only tolerant, but actively respect and value those differences in culture and perspective and make room at the table for those perspectives to interact with their own, without any inclination towards assimilating them to some form of identity-common ground. It’s not about “everyone being human”, its about highlighting and honoring those differences and creating an environment where those identities can safely be expressed.
Aiding towards another’s growth and attainment of personal goals:
To aid towards another’s growth and attainment of personal goals means to act as a steward that lifts others up. It means to acknowledge that one person’s success in a community is the success of everyone in that community, and that we have a personal responsibility not only towards loved one’s but towards strangers to ensure that those within our communities are meeting their goals, have support, and room to grow. It is a celebration of human resilience and success, and this individual that abides by this principle is enthusiastic in having a hand in supporting an individual’s growth. Through education, networking, volunteerism, and a dedication of time and resources we can use this principle to ensure all within the community feel fulfilled on a multitude of levels.
Remaining Concerned with Equity as it is Defined by Vulnerable and Oppressed Populations:
To remain concerned with equity as it is defined by vulnerable and oppressed populations is an approach to social justice that eradicates colonialism, forced assimilation, and the white-savior complex all while truly weaponizing allyship. The goal is to get rid of the power disparity that often exists in a helper-helpee relationship, where-in the helper is coming into the relationship as a perceived authority and savior. In this approach that disparity is not only destroyed but in some cases, reversed. Issues, disparities, and the ways to address them must be defined by those being oppressed and seeking allyship and equity. The concerned individual allows the population to define for themselves the issues at hand and the contributing factors, and lends talents and abilities where told and needed. This individual avoids, at all costs, speaking for or at a group of people and instead speaks with them, allowing them to take front and center stage. By taking this approach, one is operating under an approach of empowerment, not of crusadership and missionary work.
Confronting injustice on the three levels of Social Work
The confrontational individual understands that change and impact can and indeed must occur on all three levels of engagement:
- Micro — on the individual or familial level
- Mezzo — on a larger institutional, community, or group level
- Macro — on the policy, structural, cultural, and over-arching institutional level
At its core what this means is being willing to speak out against injustice and oppression wherever you come across it, becoming involved in local initiatives and movements to dismantle oppression, white supremacy, and the patriarchy, and getting involved in the redistribution of power and ethics on larger power structures such as politics. Involvement and the willingness to speak out and be a leader in how one ought to behave to remain inclusive is key. This acknowledges that of course, this confrontation is not always comfortable or invited, but its importance is such that it cannot be ignored, as the consequences of ignoring injustice are the same as being actively complicit in it.
Actively ensuring the basic needs of our community and neighbors are met:
The active individual acknowledges that no individual should starve, should suffer from homelessness or housing insecurity, should be without healthcare, should live in an abusive environment, or should be without adequate education and resources. At its core, this is a socialist principle, that identifies healthcare, safety, education, and basics needs not as luxuries but as absolute human rights necessary to the survival of human beings. In supporting this principle, it is encouraged individuals be involved in mutual aid initiatives that acknowledge that our current systems as they stand cannot and do not provide basic needs to be met to all, and therefore we must do it ourselves, for our communities, and do it now. The active individual knows that without basic needs met, individuals will struggle to meet potential and survive, and therefore it is our responsibility to make sure those needs are being met for all. The active individual also acknowledges an inherent cultural difference between the non-profit industrial complex and charity vs mutual aid and community direct action. The model does not rely on oppressive systems and powers to contribute more, but instead takes that ownership and power back into our hands.
Maintaining Humility without Sacrificing Confidence and Acknowledgement:
The maintained individual does not support or contribute to hierarchal power disparities. They acknowledge, even in success, the contribution one’s community and supports has on each individual’s success, and remain cognizant of providing that same environment to others. This addresses directly the flaws in the capitalistic “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” approach to resilience and success. The maintained individual knows that this individualistic approach reinforces apathy and uneven, abusive power structures by associating success with moral aptitude and hard work while disregarding the importance of environment, support, and equity. This association pacifies the masses to uneven distributions of power and perceived authority in other aspects of society, such as policing in politics, wherein given authority is associated with a moral strength and perceived superiority, thus creating ample opportunity for an abuse of power without question. This principle ensures that individuals do not model that behavior, and instead maintain an environment of equity and equal worth. However this should not be confused with weakness, sandbagging, or self-disdain. The ISJ minded individual should feel free to acknowledge one’s own hardwork, and remain confident in their own worth, talents, and successes. Humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive.
A consistent inclination but flexibility towards new facts, perspectives, and information:
The consistent individual has a passion for learning, and understands that one’s role as a learner is never complete. They approach learning, facts, and information in a way that of course acknowledges context, but relies on factual information and avoids complete bias. This approach to learning is crucial. It is not recommended that one does not take sides on an issue, rather, that one first take in information objectively and then form their own opinion and perspective on the matter, as opposed to prescribed opinions and beliefs. The consistent individual knows that biased information serves to pacify the masses and weakens the inclination towards complex thinking and problem solving, analysis, and opinion based off truly explored personal values. In this, it is key to stay open minded and flexible to new information, as it comes your way. One is not inherently evil, should they believe something incorrect and harmful. It is once an individual is given new and legitimate information, and refuses to acknowledge and adjust that they now have a personal responsibility in the harm of others. This attribute avoids that at all cost, analyzing new information critically, and constantly weighing the ways it interacts with our own preconceived notions of reality and the human condition.
Levels of Harm
Of course, at this point, one is forced to ask the question on how to differentiate bias from justice. Indeed, there are some that view pushes for social justice as morally wrong, for instance in the case of LGBTQIA+ rights and racial equity initiatives in the work place. The Introspective Social Justice (ISJ) approach does not give space or credence to perspectives based in bigotry, fascism, hate, or the ceasing of progress. However, in some instances, where perspectives and actions fall may not seem so clear cut.
What is more evident even is that in some cases, it may be hard to evaluate whether your actions and perspectives are indeed inline with ISJ Thought (the combination of attributes and their resulting actions). To analyze where one falls on the scale, we can approach it by discussing the types of harm and the spectrum in which we interact with them. There are, of course, two types of harm: Indirect Harm and Active Harm.
Indirect Harm vs Active Harm
Of course, at the end of the day, harm is harm, and the intentions behind said action are not nearly as important to the person being hurt, oppressed, or taken advantage of. However growth is on a spectrum. First we start by defining the types of harm. Indirect Harm are actions, views, and participation not targeted at a specific population with the intention of oppression or violence, yet ultimately resulting in some form of injustice. Take for instance the meat trade. It is no secret that the consumption of meat is not only harmful to animals, but to the planet, and therefore ultimately to all of us. However when an individual eats meat, they generally aren’t doing so to specifically hurt the environment, and people negatively impacted by the meat trade. Consumerism is a major source of Indirect Harm. Clothes and products resulting from child labor and slavery, food resulting in mass deforestation, media consumption resulting in the perpetuation of antiquated or oppressive systems of belief, are all ways in which we cause indirect harm. Active harm is more overt; it is actions and beliefs that seek to purposely and directly hurt an individual or group of people, particularly in oppressed and vulnerable populations. Voting against LGBTQIA+ equality, women’s rights, and racial justice can be examples of direct harm. Perpetuating supremacy in your beliefs is an example of direct harm. Speaking out and serving as a barrier to progress and equity is an Active Harm.
Active Harms are generally much easier to identify and separate one’s self with, whereas Indirect Harm can be far more complex and hard to avoid. Therefore it is crucial to give space, room, and effort towards movement along the Harm Spectrum.
The Levels of Harm
The Levels of Harm Spectrum in ISJ is as such:
Level One — Avoiding all Participation of Active Harm
Level Two — Minimizing to One’s Best Ability Participation in Indirect Harm
Level Three — Actively Seeking to Undo and Prevent the Active Harm of Others and its Consequences
Level Four — Actively Seeking to Undo and Prevent the Active Harm of Others and Minimizing the ways in which our Systems of Power Contribute to Indirect Harm
This is where the Introspective aspect of ISJ comes into play. One cannot be effective in the promotion of social justice without first evaluating and addressing one’s own biases and contributions to an oppressive and unjust system. This takes honesty, time, vulnerability, conversation, self-love, and support. it takes learning and conversation, along with a constant evaluation ad adjustment of beliefs and actions. In Level One, an individual tries to live in such a way that they are not purposely oppressing other individuals. In Level Two, we acknowledge that our systems as of now make it increasingly difficult to operate without causing some form of harm. This is because of the nature of power structures, colonialism, and capitalism. However the ISJ Thought requires that we acknowledge where we can avoid Indirect Harm and that we seek to do so to the best of our abilities and to the extent that we can and it is realistic for our personal lives. Level Three moves on to confronting the Active Harm actions of others, and combating their effects and impacts. Level Four moves on to also confronting the ways systems and processes are designed to cause indirect harm and injustice, and to rebuild said systems where possible to no longer cause harm when individuals participate it, and to destroy those systems where that isn’t possible.
In evaluating one’s own actions on this scale, we can consistently assess where on the spectrum of LHs we fall in our beliefs and actions. This. Takes. Time. It is a process, and one that is done on both an intimately individual level, as well as on a level of community support and being educated by others. However if we remain concerned with the ways in which we cause and prevent harm, we can begin to build a community and environment that is just and equitable. This starts and continues with constant introspection on who we are as people.
Implications and Involvement
Obviously, by definition, much of living by ISJ Thought can be practiced individually, as it is a process of introspection. However, this belief system is not a completely private action. Living by the principles of ISJ requires becoming active and involved in learning, conversations, community initiatives, mutual aid, and more. It looks like protesting, where one can. It looks like community gardens and food banks, where possible. It looks like community education and defense initiatives. It looks like town halls on complicated issues. It looks like community-developed governance, oversight, and policy.
In joining an initiative, you can evaluate it on the scale of the ISJ Levels of Harm, of course, to ensure it abides by your own principles. Not all involved in the movement will take this approach, but you can take this approach with you. You can decide where on the LHs you are and are comfortable at. You can find your strengths in the Seven Attributes and define to an extent what that looks like in action.
Above all, ISJ is about empathy, knowledge, and justice. It is about changing the world for the better, writing the wrongs of those that came before us, and creating an environment wherein oppression can no longer thrive and destroy our communities. ISJ IS ACTION. In love and passion, it can be done on all three levels of engagement, a can remain a constant compass that points always towards progress and equity. I love you, and look forward to seeing you on the battlefield.