Though my last post was already a contribution to The Despised Ones’ synchroblog on the subject of solidarity and social justice, a good deal of my current philosophical exploration was pertinent, and so I have decided to write another much more general post over the subject.
To be in solidarity with others for the sake of seeking justice requires more than just good intentions and the recognition of injustice. Solidarity is not merely an awareness bumper sticker; it is a way of relating oneself to others and standing with them. As a tale of caution, one might very well point to the failures of certain Christian adoption movements (read this link advisedly, as I know many seeming adoption successes by Christian parents). Thus, it is imperative that we put forth the difficult effort of laying down some philosophical groundwork for what true solidarity might be.
I will attempt to lay that groundwork in the philosophy of existentialism. Existentialist philosophy has already colored a good deal of my writing in this blog, especially as I discussed abuse in terms of being-for-others. To recap and expand on some concepts covered much earlier, an abuser extends his/her identity as a subject to cover the identity of other subjects, intending to carve away at the being of the other subject by force of will. The abused subject loses all identity as a subject and becomes an object, a canvas for the intentions of the abuser. The acceptance of this abuse by the abused we may call being-for-others; the mistaken identity of the abuser we may call being-beyond-itself, contrasting with existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre’s terminology “being-in-itself,” in order to denote that the abuser has extended his/her identity past its bounds.
Practically speaking, one might imagine an abusive husband or boyfriend demanding sex or even coercing it from his significant other. The mistake here is that he has failed to recognize the independent identity of the other subject, seeing her body but not her will to act through it, considering that instead to be within his authority. Such a man has extended his identity beyond himself. A battered wife who has given in to such abuse then considers her identity to be within his control.
This is not so far from a corrupted but common way of seeking justice in the world which has permeated western society since the economic success of European imperialism: the great white savior comes swooping in to save all the people of color from the savagery inherent to their countries. In the adoption cases which I linked earlier, it grew common for Christian families to project their very particular Christian identities onto the children whom they adopted in a way that turned abusive. Instead of seeing the adoption process as a cooperative measure for the nurturing and enrichment of disadvantaged children from another country, it was more of an exercise of control, an experiment in egoism played out with people’s lives at stake: the Christian families had to validate their own good sense of morality by forcing it onto their adopted children. Their kids’ failures — real or perceived — were seen by the parents as not merely moral failures on the parts of the kids but also of the parents. This could only be the case, though, if the parents had extended their identities beyond themselves onto the children, or else such moral failures (again, real or perceived) would be those of the kids, alone.
The pursuit of justice cannot be a means for personal validation. True solidarity is a sort of cooperation wherein each person remains who they are, where they are, yet they each agree to change themselves in light of the other in order to pursue some end. This I will call “being-with-others,” the willful changing of oneself in light of other people. Perhaps for this reason the Apostle Paul suggests that we be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), because we cannot meet people to help them in their suffering and oppression if we do not also change who we are in light of them. We cannot throw the redeeming power of the gospel over the walls of our encampment (much less distribute it at the point of a sword or out of the barrel of a gun). It requires us to live with others.
Feeding and advocating the homeless can’t be a matter of letting the breadcrumbs fall from the tables of the privileged white folks’ churches. Solidarity with the homeless means being with them, learning who they are and opening up about who we are. From there, we can strive toward a goal we create together and not just impose the American dream upon someone who is uninterested in or unable to live up to such a standard. Solidarity with the poor of other countries doesn’t mean trying to bring air conditioning to the Amazon rainforest, nor does it mean sending so much free food to Africa that the farmers already there can’t sell their products, thereby increasing their dependence on foreign aid.
Solidarity seeking justice means figuring out how to be with others and striving together toward human flourishing, not inflicting ourselves on the disadvantaged to inflate our sense of self-worth. The cooperative element of this is essential. There is a lot of suffering in a lot of places, and the solution lies in mixing our lives together to produce something new and beautiful.
Let our efforts be a reflection of the nature of God. Christ did not bring His Kingdom with a divine mandate but through a life lived among us and with us. Let us imitate this in our efforts of solidarity.