When people first encounter injustice, it’s often in the context of a conflict with a sibling in the family home. Tristram takes Heloise’s favourite doll. Heloise cries and tells Mum. Mum takes doll from Tristram. Tells Tristram off. Heloise’s feelings validated. All returns to equilibrium.
It is often not until we hit puberty or first start asking questions about politics or economics that it occurs to us that some injustice is more intractable, deeper, and generally more unjust than having belongings swiped. There is big, adult, overwhelming injustice. If the teenager is a confident one, they can express their feelings about injustice or act to ameliorate it.
We feel as though enormous injustices exist, but if we just work hard enough to eradicate them, we can level them. We can Make Poverty History, or create short films about abuse, or start a political group at uni to discuss ways to smash the state.
There comes a day, though, when something happens that lets us know no matter how hard we work to educate and inform others about injustice, some people prefer power and ease and don’t care. That is the hardest discovery of all.
The passionate and idealistic, alongside the pragmatic and sceptical, work hard to find the best way to effect change. We think if people just knew what it felt like to walk a mile in another’s shoes, or if people just realised how their actions as part of our society are affecting somebody else who is near and dear to them, they would change.
For example, I had raging arguments about unions with my father when I was in the latter years of secondary school. He was a stressed out banking executive charged with the job of winding down a bank after deregulation. All the other rats had left the sinking ship to gain better salary packages and bigger offices elsewhere in Collins Street, but my dad, ever the idealist gentleman, worked hard to make the bank become nothing in a responsible way. Looking back, I can see he was bullied by the other executives, suffered serious depression related to the stress and remained mute about the injustice. In fact, I think he didn’t even really notice the injustice. He only noticed it later when the promised new roles in other banks failed to materialise.
My father’s political beliefs changed as a result of that, and, I like to think, as a result of some of our arguments. Dad said unions were wrong because they were not ‘legitimate’ power. I said they sure were legitimate power – just look at them stopping you going to work on the train! Dad was still hurt from the time when, during the pilot’s strike in the 70’s, his father died while we were interstate and he was not able to go to his funeral to say goodbye. After finding himself no longer in the club that was Collins Street, he suddenly saw the other ‘clubs’ that existed, and understood that it was alright to talk about injustice, because sometimes, no matter how nice you are, people are cunts. (Not his word).
‘Don’t care’ often trumps ‘don’t know’, but the two interact. How could we all keep a mental catalogue of the world’s good and evil deeds? Even if I regard myself as a good person (and I do), I could not possibly know or manage my every effect on others.
If I did not care about whether I was a good person, that task no longer exists. In its place would be, “Do other people think I am a good person?” “What can I do to make everyone think I am a good person?”. If you’ve been rejected by mainstream society or you’ve run afoul of your friends and family, or they’ve treated you to abuse or negligence, you might be instead obsessed with “How bad can I be?” “What can I do to look insignificant? Or dangerous? Or weird? So that people will leave me alone.”
I believe we keep on trying to educate and inform. Even though we humans are clumsy about it. I prefer a world based on truth – or the closest we can get to truth.