In the rush of the last minute logistics – packing, passports, planning – I find myself thinking about the more abstract in the hours before boarding a Kathmandu-bound plane. I’ll be working with NEFAD, a network of families of the victims of forced disappearances, for the next ten weeks. There are still a lot of specifics to iron out as to the best way I can be of service to NEFAD.
But as I said, the specifics are not what occupy my mind now. What I think of now is Justice.
Yeah, capital-J “Justice.” The big, hazy philosophical concept Justice. Like the Justice spoken of at length in Plato’s Republic – wherein the sophist Thrasymachus defined it as “the interest of the stronger.” Or what Brennus meant when he said “Vae Victus” after the ransom of Rome. Or what one of the perpetrators of the communist purge in Indonesia meant when he said, in Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary, The Act of Killing, “war crimes are defined by the victor.”
Advocacy work is, at its heart, a struggle for justice. My entire graduate program strives to produce students who will pursue social justice. The experiences I had in the Peace Corps – the experiences that put me on the path I walk today – were dominated by the observations of gross injustice and the desire to address them. Justice, justice, justice.
But there comes a point where you have to take Thrasymachus and Brennus seriously. Speak all you will about what was right and wrong throughout history – the victors are the ones that write the history, impose the punishments, and exert control.
After all, if moral inferiority was inevitably conquered by the good, what would be the point of advocacy? Sure, maybe advocacy work would speed things along, but there just isn’t the same urgency when victory is guaranteed.
The victory of the just is not inevitable. Every state, nation, country, organization, and association which exists today exists not because it is virtuous but because it won. And sometimes “winning” just means surviving another day.
The families of victims of political disappearance will not see the recognition or justice they deserve without hard earned victories. And in order to win, organizations like NEFAD have to be durable and capable of affecting change within Nepal’s government.
And that’s where the abstraction ends. To do that one has to get one’s boots muddy.
I’m so glad I abandoned those dreams of a PhD in Philosophy.
Posted By Dustin Pledger
Posted Jun 8th, 2015