‘You never stop fighting for your own’

‘You never stop fighting for your own’ March 6, 2013

About a minute into the video below, Micah Bournes seems to contradict himself.

“That question, though understandable it’s … I mean, quite frankly, it’s ridiculous,” he says.

It doesn’t seem like both of those things can be true. If the question is understandable — if it seems like a reasonable question worth asking, then it cannot be “ridiculous.” Or if it is ridiculous, then it cannot be a reasonable question worth asking and it is not “understandable.”

Yet Bournes goes on to explain how both of those things can be true. For the sort of people who would think to ask such a question, it is understandable. From where they’re sitting, it seems like a reasonable question that’s worth asking.

But for the sort of people of whom this question is asked, it’s ridiculous. From where they’re standing, the question is bewildering, disturbing and, as Bournes says, offensive.

That distinction, I think, clarifies why so many conversations about this topic and this question seem so confused and confusing. Those conversations take place between people in vastly different contexts, between people who identify with vastly different contexts. For those in the former context, this question seems rational, reasonable, and “understandable.” For those in the latter context, it seems ridiculous and offensive. To the former it seems innocent. To the latter it seems ignorant.

The question in question is also the title of the video: “Is Justice Worth It?

We could quibble with the end of that video a bit, noting that it’s not quite enough to identify with the underdogs and to struggle on their behalf, but that we should also empower them to fight for themselves, joining alongside them or even following their lead. But, hey, it’s only a two-minute video, so let’s not get too picky.

What I think it does very well is clarify the key question: Who is us?

Or, in the words of the old joke, “What do you mean ‘we,’ kemosabe?” Or, in the words of an even older joke, “Who is my neighbor?”

That’s always the question. And it can seem either perfectly understandable or ridiculously offensive, depending on where you’re standing and who you’re standing with.

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  • A beautiful video, and a thoughtful, engaging post.

    One thing I’d like to say is that each of us has a choice about who we include as “my own”. Like athletes training for an event, we can train ourselves to regard a broader and broader circle of beings as “my own”. 

  • aunursa

    not quite enough to identify with the underdogs and to struggle on their behalf, but that we should also empower them to fight for themselves, joining alongside them or even following their lead.

    Why should one identify with the underdog?  Is the underdog always right?

  • lectorel

    Because on the balance, when power says one thing, and the powerless say another, power is in the wrong more often than not.

    Additionally, power can defend itself. That’s why it’s called ‘power’. It doesn’t need more defenders, since it always has plenty of its own already.

  • There are hundreds of varieties of quackery and only one conventional medicine. On net, the vast majority of critics of conventional medicine tends to be wrong. I suspect the same is true in regards to many other topics.
    While power can defend itself, that does not answer the question “why should one identify with the underdog?”.

  • Wingedwyrm

    Because between the powerful being in the wrong and the powerless being in the wrong, when the powerless are in the wrong that tends to handle itself.  When the powerful are in the right, that tends to handle itself.  When things are the other way around, it takes a lot of work just to make people aware that such a thing is possible, let alone what’s actually happening.

    And, because there are people for whome the answer to your questions are not obvious.

  • Hth

    I often hear the punchline for that joke quoted as “what do you mean we, kemosabe?” — but that can’t be right, can it?  The way I learned it, it ends “what do you mean we, white man?”    It’s funny because LR is “kemosabe” right *up to* that point, and then Tonto cuts him loose.   I kind of don’t think it works to have Tonto disavow the friendship and call him a friend in the same sentence, does it?

    I’m just puzzled because I *do* hear it quoted the way Fred does here, probably more often than not.  Am I crazy?  Is it a different version of the same joke?  Am I thinking too much about this tangential piece of the post?  (Maybe.  Maybe.  Yes.)

  • I break my silence in responding to reply directly to aunursa about why one should in general side with the underdog:

    “You shall not side with the great against the powerless.”

  • Tapetum

     The underdog in quackery vs. conventional medicine is not usually quackery. It’s usually the sick – aka the poor patients who are being taken advantage of. They are losing money and time they may not have, in pursuit of a cure that will not work, sometimes because conventional medicine doesn’t have something to offer their particular ill, sometimes and worse, in place of conventional treatment that might do them some good.

    So you side with the underdog, the victims of the quackery.

  • Liralen

    It’s not about identifying with the underdog.

    It’s about opposing injustice. 

    It’s always right to oppose injustice.

  • aunursa

    I break my silence in responding to reply directly to aunursa

    But you do respond directly to me.  Even though you typically use the “Add New Comment” box, you still reply to me.  What you don’t generally do is click “Reply.”  Which doesn’t bother me because I can usually tell when you’re responding to my points.  But it may pose a challenge to those who hadn’t been following a discussion.

    “You shall not side with the great against the powerless.”

    Apparently this is a quote popularized in a 1946 English play, The Winslow Boy?

    At any rate, I prefer this Torah verse: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” -Leviticus 19:15

  • aunursa

    I agree.  One should always oppose injustice, whether the wronged party is rich or poor, powerful or powerless. 

  • Liralen

    Yep.  Powerful video, but it missed the boat on that one. 

  • Tapetum

     Nonetheless, it is more important to champion the poor when they are the victims of injustice, because they have fewer means to pursue it themselves. When my father is hard done by, he has resources –  time, money, education, standing in the community – with which to fight back.

    IRL, the hospital he works for tried to screw him, and several other doctors over on an issue of continuing education. There was no need for me to side with him, other than to cheer from the sidelines, as the lot of them talked to lawyers, yelled a lot, and – got the whole thing resolved and vanished as if it had never been inside of a month.

    OTOH, in that same time and place, the state (and the hospitals) are conspiring to remove the only access to abortion that poor women have, using some very dirty tricks. Without outside help, those poor women are not going to have the clout to get anyone to listen. Do I need to tell you how long the abortion fight has been dragging on?

    It’s not coincidence that the only systematic injustices against doctors that I can think of occur during their years of schooling, when their power and monetary resources are at an all-time low. It’s easy to screw over the poor, and difficult and dangerous to do it to the wealthy and powerful.

  • J_Enigma23

     And there in lies the rub. I cannot think of a single instance where the underdog has not been a victim of some type of injustice, social or otherwise.

    The fight for women’s self autonomy and rights? The underdog is women, and they’re being victimized and dealt injustices by what likely qualifies as some of the stupidest knuckle dragging mouth breathers on the planet.

    The fight for the right of healthcare? The underdog is the poor and sick, who often get piled on *anyway* because they fail to live up to the “rugged individualist” attitude that the fine, pious worshipers of capitalism and its prophet, John Smith, take towards them.

    The fight for marriage equality? It’s an uphill battle against men like Tony Perkins and his merry band of liars and utter bastards. The underdogs are the GLBTIQ crowd.

    The fight to be treated properly by banks, and not to have your loan shuffled from bank to bank in an reckless game of hot potato? The poor are the victims again, and they’re the underdog.

    The fight against racism? The underdogs are blacks,Hispanics, Asians, and others, who spend their time trying to get their voices heard while fighting an enemy so diffuse that it doesn’t even have a single face – its face is the face of society, since it’s institutional.

    The fight against sexism? Same thing.

    And that’s just a handful. I cannot think of an instance one where the underdog has not been the victim of some type of injustice. I just can’t. I can think of instances where self-preceived underdogs have been the victim of illusory injustices, but a persecution complex is far different from actually experiencing injustices. Therefore, in all the above cases, you side with the underdog since they’re the ones who have been the victims of injustice.

  • Jim Roberts

    An underdog is, by definition, the person in the contest who is at disadvantage.

    Let’s say you have two drug dealers. Both sell methamphetamines to school-aged children.

    One is a disadvantaged African-American from the wrong part of Baltimore, one is a poncey rich kid from Bel Air. The former sells his drugs to kids looking to escape their environment through chemical stimulation, the latter sells to kids looking for a way to stay awake during finals. Their average number of sales and pool of clients is roughly the same.

    Which of these drug dealers do you think will end up doing hard time, in the current system of law? Statistics say – overwhelmingly say – that it will be the African-American dealer who will receive the longer, harsher sentence.

    Don’t misunderstand me – both men are wrong. They’re both criminals and deserve punishment, but the African-American dealer is the underdog. He deserves justice, but he deserves equitable justice. If we do not identify with the underdog, then we do not identify with equitable justice.

  • Don Gisselbeck

    Because as injustice increases, it produces more and more people enraged and full of despair. It should be obvious (but clearly is not to the predator class and its defenders) that an advanced high tech society needs to minimize the number of people full of rage and despair. In a few years, for example, it should be possible for anyone to print out an insect sized, autonomous, face recognizing drone. Equip it with a curare-tipped needle…

  • They’re both criminals and deserve punishment, but the African-American dealer is the underdog.

    And this is where I part company with your analysis.

    Yes, sure, as you say, if I restrict my analysis of the system to just these two drug dealers (for convenience I label them Sam and Pat), as you invite me to, I can say “Sam is the underdog.”

    But if I shift my view to a include just Sam and one of their clients, whom Sam arranged to addict to drugs and whose life now revolves around the need to give Sam money to support that habit, Sam is no longer the underdog.

    But Sam hasn’t changed. Only my perspective has changed.

    And if I expand my view to include both drug dealers and their clients, the question “is the African-American dealer the underdog?” becomes a lot less clear than you suggest here. The answer seems to both “yes” and “no”, which suggests to me that it’s the wrong question to be asking.

    There are, of course, other examples of criminals who can be seen as “the underdog” if we insist on only looking at a world containing the criminal and other, more privileged criminals, and fail to include their victims in our analysis. In fact, I’m not sure anyone isn’t “the underdog” by this standard, no matter what they’ve done. There’s undoubtedly someone who the “poncey rich kid from Bel Air” is disadvantaged relative to, after all. Besides, their advocates will no doubt tell me,  it’s not like they’re really, you know, drug dealer drug dealers.

    If we do not identify with the underdog, then we do not identify with equitable justice

    If we do not remain aware of all the people affected by a system, we will remain unable to effect (or even recognize) justice within that system.

    For my own part, I would say the right question to ask if I want to judge Sam is “What options did Sam have, what choices did Sam make among those options, and what was the differential expected result of those choices?”  And I can ask the same question of Pat, the poncey rich kid from Bel Air, and if I’m reasonably well-calibrated I’ll judge them differently… not because I’m comparing Sam to Pat, but because Sam and Pat had different options with different expected results.

  • Jim Roberts

    Dave, I wasn’t trying to make an argument for why we should exclusively identify with one particular underdog, but I didn’t make that explicit. Thanks for clarifying. There will definitely be a cascade of people that both men have disadvantaged through their actions.

    The goal isn’t that Sam and Pat have equal sentences, not at all, but that Sam and Pat have equal access to and expectation of justice. I don’t think we can say that.

  • misanthropy_jones

    i’ve always liked the concept of justice being blind (though, sadly, there is little reality to the concept).
    right is right and wrong is wrong and each and every one of us deserves to be treated equally and fairly. wealth or poverty, male or female, gay or straight, regardless of race or nationality or faith, we should all be treated with the same respect and the same compassion and care.
    maybe some day things will actually start to work that way…

  • Jim Roberts

    And in four sentences, you’ve said what I’ve been struggling to say. Thanks.

  • lectorel

    In the question of justice, building off of  Dave’s point, there’s the
    fact that Sam (our poor dealer) has a much higher incentive to engage in
    criminal activity, and a much lower incentive to pursue legal
    employment. Since, being a poor black man, odds are that he has received
    a substandard education, maybe not even completing high school,
    possibly been arrested multiple times for minor rule-breaking in school,
    and by virtue of his race + gender, has lower odds of being hired than a
    white felon even if he himself has no official police record.

    Pat has none of these disadvantages. He may have individual issues
    within his life which make drug dealing an attractive prospect, but
    institutionally, forces are pushing him towards legal employment, and
    Sam towards crime.

    ‘Bootstraps’ can only go so far. There are forces Sam endures that Pat
    does not, which must be accounted for if we are to be just. It’s not
    enough that Sam should not be punished more than Pat. Sam (and those he
    sells to) deserve restitution for the institutional injustices which
    have created the environment they live in.

  • (nods) Yup, makes sense. And I completely agree that in a healthy system, Sam and Pat have equal access to and expectation of justice, and that our current system isn’t healthy in that way (as well as others).

  • Yeah… this is why I try to approach these kinds of issues by asking “What options did X have, what choices did X make among those
    options, and what was the differential expected result of those
    choices?” Judging two people equivalently for making the same choices, when one had better options they knew to be better, is not justice.

    That said, I would also say that deciding what punishments and restitutions and other interventions are appropriate is a different question, and that the justice of such decisions also depends on the expected results of those interventions.

  • aunursa

    I cannot think of a single instance where the underdog has not been a victim of some type of injustice, social or otherwise.

    I’m not referring to the overall fights for women’s rights or same-sex marriage or against racism.  I’m referring to specific examples of injustice.

    Here is one example (that I mentioned in a thread several months ago) in which the large corporation was the victim of injustice and the poor underdog was the villain.  Despite its access to top legal representation and a generous advertising budget, the large corporation suffered several millions of dollars of lost revenue as customers abandoned it during and following its public relations nightmare.

    Here is another more famous example in which the rich white guys suffered injustice due to the actions of the poor black villain.  School and legal authorities assumed that the underdog suffered the injustice and unjustly punished the innocent.  Many in the media also reflexively sided with the underdog and convicted the accused on air or in print before all the facts came to light. Their names and faces were splashed all over the airwaves, while the media protected their accuser by hiding her identity.  It took almost a year for them to have their names cleared and all charges dropped.

    It’s certainly true that in many, many cases the underdog is the one who suffered the injustice.  But one should never assume that or automatically take sides without having sufficient knowledge of the facts and the arguments.  One should always side with the side that suffered injustice regardless of whether that side is rich or poor, powerful or powerless.

  • vsm

    I’ve read lots of American commentators analysing how the GOP is in danger of becoming unelectable because of its extremism in face of a demographic shift. If they do fail to adapt, wouldn’t this be a good example of an underdog one would want to root against?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Root against the side that wants to maintain at all costs white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, cis privilege, able-bodied privilege, probably a few other privileges I’m forgetting, and most especially class privilege and wealth privilege?

    Yeah, I’m not seeing the problem here.

  • Not really. Underdogness includes not being blatant suck-ups to the wealthy and powerful, as the GOP has amply proven over the last couple of decades that they will unfailingly do.

  • AnonymousSam

    It would seem to me that the root of disagreement here lies within difficulty identifying who is and isn’t an underdog. Hypothesis: GOP sympathy linked to inability to see their victims as not willing participants within a system which ultimately results in “unfair” criticism of GOP policies, beliefs, statements?

    I’m having a particularly bad APD day so please forgive terseness and unwillingness to engage much.

  • vsm

    Well, I wish you luck. The last time the American left had a good hegemony going resulted in some fine films, and I guess that New Deal thing was pretty nice too.

  • Liralen

    My disagreement has nothing to do with who is and isn’t an underdog.

    My point is that if people do not extend justice to their worst enemy, they are not just.  Justice isn’t something that should be applied only to “your own”.

    i.e., I’m talking about court room style justice here while I think others are talking about social activitism or social justice.  The “justice” in social justice does not mean the same thing as justice without the modifier.

  • It may be inappropriate to talk about fiction on this subject, but that’s what this post made me think about. Possibly because fiction dealing with these subjects has been a great help to me through my depression and anxiety. Especially when I feel hopeless about real justice.

    So feel free to skip over this if you want to focus on non-fictitious justice.

    Superheroes can never really win. Both because of the ongoing nature of corporate-owned franchises, and because even with all the power they have, what Micah Bourne says about working for justice in reality still applies. And the best superhero writers recognize this.

    Superman cannot save everyone. He knows this. And he still tries, even though he acknowledges that his fight is “a never-ending battle for truth and justice.”

    Batman will never end crime in Gotham. He knows this. But every night he prevents other people from going through what he did.

    The best superhero stories, I think, are the ones where they fail. And then they keep going. Spider-Man is often defined by his failures, but he knows that he cannot just magically make his problems go awa – oh f**k you, Joe Quesada.

    What I think it does very well is clarify the key question: Who is us?

    And this brought me to thinking again about the superhero stories I want to write, some of which have their genesis in particular real or fictional injustice.

    There is a series I follow where one of the influential recurring characters is a self-righteous monster who deliberately turned his own children into murderers and repeatedly harms his own allies to advance his agenda, in the name of “protecting his people.” And the narrative kept letting him get away with it, because supposedly none of the heroes were in a position to bring him to justice or even do much to stop him.

    And what I most wanted to see here, and that will hopefully find its way into my superhero narrative, is not so much for such a character to be brought down is to have their self-righteous justifications shown to be hollow. When the heroes stop their supposed ally, ruining his catastrophic plan, he angrily tells them “I am just trying to protect my people. Who are you protecting?” Their answer is “Everyone.”

  • But you do respond directly to me.

    You seem to be under the illusion that when I quote something without using the “Reply” function, that I’m still actually fucking talking to you instead of drawing out a point for general discussion.

  • aunursa

    Touché.  It would have been more appropriate for me to say that you respond directly to the points I raise.  When you choose not to click [Reply] to my comment, you don’t hurt me (rather I am slightly amused.)  But you do make it difficult for other readers to understand the points and the context of the discussion.  Oh well, c’est la vie.

    What’s interesting is that I have often replied to your points, not specifically talking to you per se, but also drawing out points for discussion among the commenters … and in some cases you replied with irritation, thinking that my response was intended specifically and exclusively for your benefit.  So it would seem that we are both guilty of considering the conservation to be between just the two of us, rather than among the many.

  • Si

     Patrick, what is the series/character in question? Are you letting them remain nameless to protect the fictional? ; )

  • Brian Victor

    All this talk, criticism and dare I say quibbling over the word choices here! The question is, did Micah inspire us to actually give time and/or money to a rescue org or shelter that helps the abused, the poor, and enslaved become free? Did this video inspire us to talk with one another about how we can actually help someone who doesn’t have the luxury of getting on a blog and arguing over what it is to be an underdog or whether or not a question can be ridiculous and understandable at the same time? Where are the priorities here?! There is work to be done.