Evaluating the Black Lives Matter Movement

Updated: May 3

Now, I am a little bit late to this topic, but I think it is still important to discuss. The Black Lives Matter Movement has gained a lot of recognition within the last year and I thought it would be interesting to evaluate the situation.

Philosophical analysis

The Black Lives Matter movement is derived from secular humanism, which is the belief that morality should be based on the preservation of life and wellbeing by minimising human suffering. As appealing as that may sound, humanism is flawed; humanism presupposes that life and wellbeing has an intrinsic value, not to mention a positive one. The value of life is dependent on individual, subjective opinions. Psychologically speaking, it is impossible to value all life equally and if you doubt this, ask yourself whether there would be no situation where you would choose one person’s life over another’s. Rather than acting on objective morality, the majority of people collectively agree on certain goals and establish a morality that can be expressed with a hypothetical imperative relating to it; these are statements which are phrased as if a goal is wanted, then a given procedure has to happen. In other words, an “if, then” statement. An example of this is that if we want to live in a world in which life is valued equally, then we ought not to treat the lives of others as inferior. However, there are always going to be instances of prejudice within each individual, so ask yourself whether such a moral system is capable of being useful.

The constant preservation of human life and wellbeing is unreasonable. If people were to always act in a manner that maximises the wellbeing of life in order to be moral, unnecessary items would be an act of injustice. If you did not sell all of your items, give all of your unnecessary money away to charity, then you would be acting immorally. Of course, you can see that it is absurd to assert that every positive action that can be carried out to preserve wellbeing and minimise suffering is a moral imperative.

People prioritise and maximise the wellbeing of the people that affect them first and foremost to preserve their own wellbeing. Naturally, people will occasionally give money to charity or do something to help another whose wellbeing does not affect them, expecting nothing in return. Yet, it is hard to believe that people would do that without any form of reward. By this, I do not mean compensation or praise but feeling good about yourself; the positive feeling that arises from that is enough to give us a reason to do it but only when it does not affect us, or at least when the gratification you get from the act outweighs the negative consequences or risk element to it. Individuals do not owe it to others to act in a way that maximises their wellbeing.

Now, I am completely aware that the Black Lives Matter movement is not claiming that everyone should sell all of their unnecessary possessions and donate all of their extra income to the cause. However, I am saying that it is enough to not be racist, you do not need to be an activist and you do not owe it to anybody to be an activist. Although activists do have the obligation to avoid diminishing a third party’s wellbeing while in the pursuit of ‘justice’.

Within most communities around the world, especially in developed countries, black people have equal rights to other races. Equal rights are not the reason for the movement. Instead, the reason the movement is still alive is because of perceived injustice in socioeconomic issues. Examples of this could be the average amount of wealth, the average levels of education, the likelihood of being arrested, or the amount of violence used in arrests compared to other races. The movement is a cry for positive action to be taken to minimise the social differences between these groups. As we have previously discussed, this is not owed to anyone and it is unreasonable to ask for from other parties than the ones directly responsible.

Naturally, there are many reasonable complaints to be considered. Some of the justice structures currently in place allow for authority figures who hold racist ideas to receive minimum consequences when they act those ideas out. It is completely justified to demand a change to these inadequate structures. However, the methods should be of an adequate nature and magnitude by cohering with the law.

Individuals owe each other nothing more than the right to exist; the only requirement for a morally just legal system is that all should have the same legal rights. If any problems persist despite legal equality such as the targeting of ethnic minorities in the pursuit of justice; they have their origins not in the legal system but in social structures. Said problems should be attacked, by virtue of their nature, with the social force of the voluntary parties and always within the confines of the law.

Although it is certainly unfortunate that some social groups inherit unfavourable realities, outside of those problems that can be fought legally, the resolution of these circumstances is not owed to them. Empathy and sympathy, not coercion, are the tools that will be used for their eventual, and in my opinion inevitable, solution.

Methods and solutions

One of the most controversial aspects of the recent incarnation of the BLM movement is the form in which the protests, conceived originally as a reaction to police brutality and sparked by the death of a black man at the hands of a police officer, were carried out.

There is something that should be observed: big scale riots and demands for change in institutions are unlikely to change individual struggles with modern racism in significant ways (although there could be some improvement). The problem is, in its essence, personal. Each instance of discrimination is centred around a perpetrator and a victim. A problem so deeply engraved in the psychology of the involved agents is unlikely to change even when the facilities are taken away. Although desirable, it is not likely that a problem so complex will be solved so violently and so quickly. The most effective way to combat the issue is with a community that is alert and attacks each individual struggle.

It is important to face the reality of the problem; it requires a slow, careful, patient effort from a huge number of people. Protests and riots came from “anger, anguish, fear, repression...” in the words of a lot of the people that participated in them. The problem is that, even if the emotions can be justified in principle, the methods are not justified in action: there are no results to back up the damage made and there is no fundamental justification for the targets of the damage dealt. The people taking part in them followed what was to be expected from a psychological perspective in such an emotionally driven event; there was a lot of opportunism and very little directed, calculated action.

One could argue that “it was the only option”. This is simply not true. The political left is solid and growing world wide (with few exceptions), this is extremely beneficial for the cause and the changes they want to see. There has been a momentary, reactionary push back from the right in recent years, but the clear direction towards the more liberal/social side of politics provides an opportunity to access a more effective source of change.

Now, one may ask: “Why is the way it was handled reprehensible? It seems ineffective at best”. This isn’t necessarily true. The movement failed to be just on three fronts: first, destruction of private property and damage to public goods (both of which diminish the wellbeing of others -who may not even be responsible for the problem- and are outside of the legal boundaries); second, congregations in the midst of a global pandemic with very little important precautions (of special harm to those vulnerable to the disease); third, an unnecessarily emotional and unreasonable social movement in which critics and doubters were punished harshly by people who weren’t willing to have a discussion. This last one is complex because it cannot be observed or quantified as obviously as others. The social cost of a lack of communication in important issues is high. The worst part is that this silence of the “enemies” accomplished absolutely nothing in the pursuit of the established goals; it only made it difficult to discuss the issues and even better their own methodology.

In summary, the Black Lives Matter movement is justified in its outrage, but using these emotions as a method for change may be a detriment to the cause by having the unintended consequence of inciting a similarly emotional response from the opposition, leading to no communication; deterring neutral parties that would otherwise be allies to the movement.

Furthermore, acting in this way creates a culture of appealing to the social pressures of an emotional response, rather than attempting to solve issues in an efficient manner. It can be argued that if people felt gratification over their virtue signalling during the emotional outrage, therefore they may have less motivation to make a longer commitment to the movement.

So, what's your opinion on the matter? Do you still have one, or is it no longer trending?

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