The Status Quo

There is a fallacy in which the speaker says, in essence, that this is the way we’ve always done it, therefore, it is the way we must continue. It’s the fallacy of appeal to tradition or antiquity.

The fallacy I want to address today moves from past tense in the fallacy of appeal to tradition to present tense in system justification of the status quo. Where with the appeal to tradition, we asserted that something has ‘always’ worked in the past, with system justification, we allege that it works in the present.

In both cases, with both fallacies, trouble arises with the implicit universality of the claim that “it works.” Critically, we must ask for whom “it,” whatever it really is, “works,” and how well. Where discrepancies exist, there is social inequality. And worse, where there are defects in the system, however we define defects, it will be those who are most successful at exploiting those defects, who will most prosper and become most powerful.

I count social inequality as one such defect:

Structural violence usually has the effect of denying people important rights, such as economic well-being; social, political, and sexual equality; a sense of personal fulfillment and self-worth; and so on. When people starve to death, or even go hungry, a kind of violence is taking place. Similarly, when humans suffer from diseases that are preventable, when they are denied decent education, affordable housing, opportunities to work, play, raise a family, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, a kind of violence is occurring, even if no bullets are shot or clubs wielded. A society commits violence against its members when it forcibly stunts their development and undermines their well-being, whether because of religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, or some other social reason. Structural violence is a serious form of social oppression. And it is regrettably widespread and often unacknowledged.[1]

David Barash and Charles Webel call it “structural violence” and they are, of course, correct to highlight that this is indeed a form of violence. But we also need to understand it as stealing, the theft from people of that which rightfully belongs to them. Further, this theft—this violence—occurs in addition to the progressive debilitation of the poor inherent to an exchange system.[2]

Paradoxically, in the status quo, it is government, composed of institutionalized elites, that is, those whom I identified above as having been “most successful at exploiting those defects, who will most prosper and become most powerful,” who are charged with protecting the rights that the status quo often fails to protect.[3]

Through systems of law and enforcement, these elites control what rights are honored for whom, protecting some rights of some people, ignoring or violating some rights of other people. The process by which these rights are adjudicated is called “justice,” but is not, in fact, justice. I have written elsewhere:

In general, I do not accept the reduction of justice to law, especially when laws are produced by a class consisting overwhelmingly of wealthy, white males, and enforcement is overwhelmingly directed at the poor and people of color.[4] This system functions to further stigmatize, scapegoat, imprison, and sometimes even put to death those it targets, rationalizing further cruelty and structural violence,[5] and thus functions socially to mitigate the perception of even more egregious crimes committed by the rich.[6] This profoundly flawed system[7] does all this on a pretense to objectivity which cannot survive critical examination.[8] It thus feeds a hierarchically invidious monism[9] that valorizes the very same wealthy white males who passed the laws while burdening a widening number of individuals, families and communities[10] and contributing even further to social inequality. Social inequality is a significant factor in much crime,[11] creating a feedback that produces even more crime,[12] rationalizing more stigmatization, more scapegoating, and more cruelty toward the poor while further valorizing the rich. As such, our system of so-called “justice” falls within the scope of my definition of fascism.[13] Instead I endorse a system of restorative justice that thoroughly examines the context in which what sociologists call “deviant” actions occur, up to and including the social system itself, and to remedy the problems in that context that led to those crimes.[14][15]

But “those who are most successful at exploiting those defects” have largely persuaded us that they have “earned” their loot, as Thomas Shapiro explains:

A core element of the American credo is that talent, skill, hard work, and achievement largely determine life chances. We believe that everyone has a fair shot at whatever is valued or prized and that no individual or group is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.[16]

This would be laughable if it were not so tragic, as Christopher Hayes demonstrates with his critique of so-called “meritocracy”[17] and as Shapiro demonstrates with his anthology.[18] But the status quo depends upon the credibility of this myth, both so those who are subject to it will repose trust in the thieves who lead them and so they will accept being stolen from as legitimate and just. That said, relative to a hypothetical egalitarian society, in the regime of the status quo, advancement is offered less often to the capable, and more often to those whose conformance supports the hierarchy.[19]

Bearing all this in mind, try putting yourself in the shoes of the wealthy: Imagine that you have spent your entire life telling yourself and others—and that most of your peers have done the same—that the myth is true, that you have worked hard your entire life to earn the wealth you have in fact stolen from others. Imagine, for example, that you are Tom Perkins, who “would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.'”[20] As Perkins suggests, a recognition that the status quo is not only not sufficient, but rather institutionalized and structural theft, amounts to an existential threat.

This, in a nutshell, is one reason social movements often can often make only incremental progress over innumerable iterations and over many years or even decades,[21] even as humanity faces existential threats that demand immediate action.[22] Which is to say that, in the status quo, preserving elite privileges is more important than human survival, let alone social justice.

  1. [1]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002), 7.
  2. [2]David Benfell, “They must pay,” Not Housebroken, February 21, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/02/21/they-must-pay/
  3. [3]Food and Agriculture Organization, A Primer to the Right to Adequate Foodhttp://www.fao.org/righttofood/knowledge-centre/distance-learning/a-primer-to-the-right-to-adequate-food/en/; George Kent, Ending Hunger Worldwide (Boulder: Paradigm, 2011).
  4. [4]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  5. [5]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor: The Underclass And Antipoverty Policy (New York: Basic, 1995).
  6. [6]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  7. [7]Dan Simon, In Doubt: The Psychology of the Criminal Justice Process (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2012).
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Juries and injustice: The fools call me in again,” Not Housebroken, April 28, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/2015/04/27/juries-and-injustice-the-fools-call-me-in-again/
  9. [9]See David Benfell, “Hierarchically Invidious Monism,” July 28, 2017, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/content/hierarchically-invidious-monism
  10. [10]Dan Simon, In Doubt: The Psychology of the Criminal Justice Process (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2012).
  11. [11]Steven E. Barkan, Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006).
  12. [12]Ernest Drucker notes all the conditions of a self-reinforcing (positive) feedback loop but does not identify or consider it as such and therefore probably fails to adequately account for feedback effects in suggesting that the system reduces crime by, at most, fifteen percent in A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America (New York: New, 2011).
  13. [13]David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” February 14, 2017, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2017/02/14/simple-definition-fascism
  14. [14]Wanda D. McCaslin and Denise C. Breton, “Justice as Healing: Going Outside the Colonizers’ Cage,” in Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, eds. Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 511-529.
  15. [15]David Benfell, “Ethics,” n.d., https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/content/ethics
  16. [16]Thomas M. Shapiro, “Introduction,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 3.
  17. [17]Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012).
  18. [18]Thomas Shapiro, ed., Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, 3rd ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2005).
  19. [19]Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012); C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (1956; repr., New York: Oxford University, 2000).
  20. [20]Tom Perkins, “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?” Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304549504579316913982034286
  21. [21]Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2001).
  22. [22]Lindsey Bever, Sarah Kaplan, and Abby Ohlheiser, “The Doomsday Clock is now just 2 minutes to ‘midnight,’ the symbolic hour of the apocalypse,” Washington Post, January 25, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2018/01/25/after-a-missile-scare-and-insult-war-withth-korea-its-time-to-check-the-doomsday-clock/; Julian Borger, “Doomsday clock stays at two minutes to midnight as crisis now ‘new abnormal,’” Guardian, January 24, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/24/doomsday-clock-2019-two-minutes-midnight-nuclear-war-new-abnormal; Robert Socolow et al., “An open letter to President Obama: The time on the Doomsday Clock is five minutes to midnight,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 14, 2013, http://thebulletin.org/open-letter-president-obama-time-doomsday-clock-five-minutes-midnight

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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