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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A Responsible Revolution

Published: September 26, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

What’s the problem with social justice? The problem with activist rhetoric at Brandeis University is not social justice itself, but the frequency with which it replaces the fundamental principle of social responsibility. Amidst the admirable goals of idealistic college students, social justice has come to imply glamour over grassroots dirty work, entitlement over ethics, and crusade over collaboration. Causing valuable change on and off campus can even become more a matter of ego than altruism. This is not meant as an accusation, because most students, ourselves included, have at one point become so swept up in the power to change others that we forget the small and important ways that we can change our own lifestyles.

Focus on social justice has contributed to a sense of prerogative, as if “giving back” to the community and the globe is a noble decision. That not only leaves the option open to forget about service, but makes the performance of service more about us than about those who we strive to help. Yet what if we instead felt accountable for the well-being of others? What if we were responsible for protecting the human rights, freedoms, and privileges of all? What if we all were responsible for enabling the survival of our campus, community, nation, and planet? Social responsibility should automatically be part of our daily lifestyles, not a glamorous supplement.

We must strike a balance between our ideals and our actions. In addition to campaigning for environmental or fair-trade legislation, let’s turn off the lights, buy less crap, and reduce our meat consumption. In addition to supporting equal rights for minorities, let’s offer support to friends who face even the subtlest discrimination. If we care about a given political issue, let’s do what we can to support on-campus efforts towards that cause, even if we can’t be directly involved. Let’s pursue the education and knowledge necessary to adjust our lifestyles for the most positive impacts possible.

We recognize our own contradiction in writing a “manifesto” in the name of modesty, or in associating ourselves with a “revolution” while, back in our dorm rooms, we’ve left our cell-phone chargers in their outlets. As long as students bother pursuing anything at all in their own self interest, the preaching of social responsibility will inevitably lead to hypocrisy. And that’s okay. The first step is to be aware of the small and large-scale consequences of our actions, and the available opportunities to affect those actions.

We can do more than plastering a “Love the Earth” sticker on our high-emission vehicles or buying a T-shirt from the Gap’s “Red” campaign. We can choose our own values, and then we can assume the responsibility to stick to them. A constant awareness of our own impact can lead to the most revolutionary changes of all.