Random Thoughts

Random Thought Volume 3: What Makes a “Good Society” in America?

 

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A “good society” is comprised of numerous matters such as justice, prosperity, the rule of law, concern of citizenship, and rights to both defense and private property. While this all significantly impacts the quality of a society, they do not necessarily make a “good society,” good. Currently, America has a numerous amount of these attributes and privileges and still is conflicted with racism, sexism, and religious problems. Lyndon B. Johnson once spoke of his vision of a “Great Society,” which included social and political reforms designated to eliminate racial injustice and poverty. The ‘good’ in a society comes from the heart of every individual in it and cannot be easily taught.
Martin Luther King Jr. knew this and presented what it would take to make a “good society” in his letter to his fellow southern clergymen who criticized his actions in a statement which used the term “extremist” to describe him. He wrote this rather extensive letter while he was locked up at a Birmingham City Jail in Birmingham, Alabama. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for his actions at a nonviolent protest that was held there. His official charges were parading without a permit, which he did not dispute. However, he did describe the arrest as using a moral action to commit an immoral act.  He was invited to Birmingham by a political group he was affiliated with, to help facilitate the many crucial changes that must be made to end the segregation and the horrific treatment of African Americans. This letter is now titled, the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and is an outstanding example of what a “good society” could and should be.
Birmingham was a hotspot of racial violence and tension in 1967; Martin Luther King Jr. states that “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated cities in the U.S.” Birmingham also held the title of having the largest number of unsolved bombings of churches and homes against African Americans. Unjust courts, police brutality, and a blatant amount of disrespect are just some of what Africans Americans had to endure there. This makes Martin Luther King Jr.’s story so relevant to the idea of what a “good society” is. By writing this letter about this area of anger and turmoil, Martin Luther King Jr. successfully developed a beautiful and accurate depiction of what needs to occur in society to promote peace and goodwill. All people no matter what color, race, religion, or gender, should be treated as equals. Violence should be avoided at all costs and intelligence should be admired, not feared. One should fight for what is right but understand that great things do take time. However, do not fear time, because time itself is neutral. What we do with the time that we have is what is important. Individuals in a “good society” should also inspire one another to pursue their dreams and ambitions as well as teach the younger generations about the error of our ways. While this sounds like the perfect society, getting there is regrettably quite the challenge. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that the countless things that make us different from one another will make it problematic to alter unjust and outdated laws, various social situations, and ultimately end segregation. Although he and everyone else knew it would be difficult, he always preached that it is far from impossible.
Martin Luther King Jr. taught his followers the science and practice of nonviolent protests. He held workshops that were designed to eliminate the violent urges one would get from being shouted at during a sit-in at a whites-only restaurant. Protestors would also be struck and harassed by their peers to prepare them to receive it from police officers. He changed their ways of thinking, one person at a time. This is what must be done and maintained to build a “good society.”
Justice impacts the creation of a “good society” due to the necessity for just actions from every individual. This concept is explained in the article “The Domain of Justice” by Mortimer J. Adler.  A “good society” can be defined in many ways; it is composed of several matters, including the justice and equality of human rights and prosperity. However, in my opinion, they are only the factors that affect humans themselves that define whether a society is good or bad, not the factors that necessarily make a “good society” to be good. “In short, one cannot do good and avoid injuring or doing evil to others without knowing what is really good for them.” (Addler, (1981)
Adler also stated, “we do not have a natural right to the things we want; only to the things we need.” (Addler, 1981) This quote perfectly depicts an important part of what it would take to make a “good society” that many people often forget. One of the most damaging attributes of today’s society and generation is the expectancy of not having to work for anything due to being entitled to things such as welfare. Parents are mostly to blame for this rising false sense of entitlement due to spoiling their kids with lavish gifts and not requiring them to work or even move out of the house. Older generations were raised in much harsher environments; war, poverty, and disease are only a few examples of what they had to endure. Many kids in this generation aren’t exposed to nearly as much; which at first sounds like a good thing, this, however, can have disastrous consequences. It is essential to challenge and prepare our youth physically, mentally and emotionally so they can succeed in life. We must also teach respect and how to express tolerance for all religions, races, genders, lifestyle choices, and political preferences.   
Everything in the world is relative, whether an item is good or bad, is based on what its owner connotes it to be. The same can be said about society; for example, for some soldiers, the appearance of the bomb is a great invention in the world, because it helps them to defeat their enemies; but for civilians, the development of the bomb can be seen as a lousy invention due to its ability to kill without a precise area of effect. This increases the likelihood of collateral damage in the form of civilians’ lives. Therefore, the requirements needed to make a “good society,” good, are the improvement of individual consciousness and being held accountable for individual actions and justice for all the members of society.
Mortimer J. Adler points out that justice is relative, mainly because different people pursue their happiness in a multitude of ways; it is a primary obligation for humans, survival of our species currently depends on current sources of income, rather than trading goods and services-as done previously in human history. While this type of exchange is one of the many advancements of our society, it also can be a hindrance for creative expression and passion in human’s livelihood.  For example, some people view currency as their primary source of happiness and think that everyone earns their wages by their contributions and that people earn their income by attaining the money from harming, cheating, lying to others are unjust. Therefore, whether something is just or unjust is based on personal consciousness, their ways of pursuing their happiness, and depends on giving primacy and fairness. In general, a “good society” is a society with good personal consciousness, because different personal consciousness is the root of a series of social issues, like racism, sexism, and religious intolerance. Only if our personal consciousness improves on an individual level, will we never reach the goal of having a “good society”? This idea of an Egalitarian society, meaning that we favor equality for all people and reform our society into a decentralized state is attainable; we can redistribute powers, functions, and authority to set a course for a Utopian-like society-but for this revolution to become a reality, we must cast aside our human ego and focus on the balance of justice, power and equality. This forces us to focus less on capitalism, greed and self-destructive egotistical behavior.
A “good” society is what we strive for and aim to build it around core values such as equality, democracy, and sustainability. Rather than being just one specific vision or end-point, a “good society” is a framework that enables us to evaluate political ideas and cross-reference our actions against our own core values. A good society can be compared to a decent or well-rounded education; it requires continuous attention and effort to manage the tensions between the democratic values of liberty, equality, and solidarity. Equivalent to a decent school or a virtuous family, a “good society” makes it easier for us to be our best selves, to be ‘good’ people and to live ‘good’ lives. All the authors used in this paper have said, in a myriad of ways; a good society is where individuals consider it rational to treat each other in the way they would want to each be treated when presented with similar circumstances. A society where people aspire to ‘do’ as they would be ‘done by’ and to live good lives that serve good ends. We see this social behavior very prudently in American Christ-based religious groups or best known as “Christians.” These groups follow a strict life protocol referencing one of the most popular books in history, “The Bible” to live their lives by a specific set of codes and virtues. Best known as the “Golden Rule,” from The Bible, (Luke, Chapter 6, Verse 31): “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
There is no denying that a good society is an enticing and alluring idea. It satisfies our desire for a variety and novelty of experiences. It also has room for feats of ingenuity and invention and the pleasures of anticipation and surprise. My interpretation of a “good” society is one that is open to new and different ideas, shows compassion and respect for our planet Earth, and violence must not be necessary. One enemy of openness to ideas is the tendency to create false dualisms and unnecessary dichotomies. We can see it in education – the foolish arguments that create a dichotomy between content and process; between excellence and equity; between the ability to recognize individual words and to read for meaning. In a ‘good’ society, this increase in risk and fear would be balanced by acceptance of responsibility in guaranteeing the conditions that allow people to protect and secure themselves against exclusion and hardship. It is imperative that these conditions include universal, high quality and well-rounded education in addition to a reliable, not for profit, health care system.
The article “Individualism and the “Crisis of Civic Membership” by Robert N. Bellah, shows how civic culture and individualism effect a “good society.” He explains that too much individualism can have negative consequences as people become less active in their social clubs and organizations due to social media and the pressure from society to become independent. Individuals in a “good society” must trust one another; only by working together can any society hope to achieve greatness. “Civic membership points to that critical intersection of personal identity with social identity. If we face a crisis of civic identity, it is not just a social crisis; it is a personal crisis as well.” (Bellah, 1986) While a certain level of individualism is necessary to have the confidence in one’s own abilities, too much of it can lead to poor social skills and business ethics, which are vastly valuable in American culture and workplace. Bellah described how a “good society” should be created philosophically. In the article, Bella said if there are more men than women who were employed at the same job, it can be deemed as unjust, sexist, or discriminatory. However, to ensure that both genders receive equal rights, then each gender must use their rights. Equal rights aren’t just about equality between races or sexes, but all orientations and any discrimination or segregation; as Martin Luther King denoted so eloquently, “Anyone who lives in the US can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” (King, 1963)
Regardless of our appearances, social behavior, traditions or customs-we as humans’ have much more in common than our minuscule and petty differences. A “good” society is one in which the vail of variances between each human is lifted and we can connect through emotionally intelligent communication. Society is a type of relationship, and one of the biggest issues in any relationship is proper communication. Communication has the power to free humans from complications, such as misinterpretation; this provides a lubricant to help maintain tolerance and understanding. Another key ingredient for a “good” society is empathy and imagination; if we comprehend at a deep level how our actions impact, not only ourselves, but everyone around us-we gain the power to change our thoughts, actions, and eventually the generations to come. Teaching our children emotional intelligence is an underutilized tool in the skills we are taught in higher education. If you attain a cornucopia of knowledge but lack the communication skills or emotional intelligence to function efficiently in social settings, you are denied the most fundamental ability to be aware of how our actions, words and non-verbal behavior impact every single human during the daily interaction; rendering our education null. At a very primal level, we need to empathize with humans to connect and maintain positive relationships; this increases the likelihood of acceptance and protection needed for basic survival and provides a sense of purpose. As stated earlier in this paper, each human being is responsible for the thoughts, choices, behavior and ultimately, the life they live.
Due to the numerous matters involved in making a society “good,” one needs proper guidance. Martin Luther King Jr. does a terrific job at showing how every individual in a society must be held accountable for what happens to everyone else. Mortimer J. Adler praised how important justice is to creating and maintaining a functioning society. Finally, Robert N. Bellah showed us the dangers of too much industrialism its relationship with civic membership. Pluralism, defined as bringing people of different races together, needs to be fought for. Creating and maintaining a “good society” will be an extensive and complicated journey, however, if we all work together, this process can be achieved, and the result will be more than worth the hardships.
References:
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” M.L. King. Article. April 16, 1963.
“The Domain of Justice” Six Great Ideas: Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Liberty, Equality, Justice: Ideas We Judge By Ideas We Act-On. Mortimer J. Adler. Article. 1981.
“Individualism and the Crisis of Civic Membership.” Article. Robert N. Bellah. 1986.
 
 
 
 

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