(from LA Times, OJ in center, F Lee Bailey, left, Johnny Cochran, right, Robert Shapiro, rear in profile)
THC recently saw the fine ESPN documentary OJ: Made In America, which he had not intended to watch, but happened to tune in just as the first of the five two-hour episodes began and found unexpectedly interesting. The film starts with OJ Simpson's college and pro football career, takes us through the racial tensions in Los Angeles during the 1960s, when OJ starred at the University of Southern California and then covers us through his successful broadcast and pitchman career after retirement from the NFL, his marriage and separation from Nicole Brown, the murders, the trial and its aftermath. While worth watching it is also appalling and depressing, as we relived the miscues and errors of the prosecution and LAPD and exposing the cynical strategy of the race hustlers, a strategy eerily similar to what we see being played out in America right now, and, on that, THC stands with Michael Jordan.
Last week, THC watched the debut of Bill Simmons' new HBO show, Any Given Wednesday (you can watch a segment with Ben Affleck's epic Deflategate rant here). THC has always enjoyed Simmons' loony mixture of fandom and sportswriting and The Book of Basketball is on his list of Ten Most Enjoyable Books You'll Ever Read. After last year's bitter breakup with ESPN, which shut down Grantland, his terrific sports and pop culture site, Bill is relaunching himself with the HBO show and a new website, The Ringer (which, so far, falls far short of the standard of excellence he set with Grantland).
At the close of the show, Simmons remarked that the OJ documentary, "helped Caucasians finally understand the OJ verdict", which helped crystallize THC's thinking about the documentary as a perfect illustration of the difference between "social justice" and "justice". They are not related terms; in fact, they lead to opposite results.
As Simmons points out, the documentary does an excellent job placing OJ's career and the trial in the context of America's, and more specifically, Southern California's, history of race relations from the 1960s through Rodney King and the LA riots of 1992, only two years before OJ was charged with murder. It follows OJ through his deliberate strategy of "deracializing" himself and becoming popular with white America and then his transformation, as part of his defense in the murder trial, into the face of black America, abetted by the taped racist remarks of LA detective, Mark Fuhrman (who is interviewed and treated fairly); a transformation which proved successful in gaining his acquittal.
At the same time, the documentary leaves the viewer in no doubt that OJ Simpson murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. The word "slaughtered" is probably more apt than "murdered", as we are shown photographs of the bodies and taken blow by blow through the killings.
Readers of Bill Simmons realize he likes to opine on race and politics, but the glib, engaging, and sometimes overwrought, fun he has when it comes to sports and athletes, ill-suits him when it comes to more serious issues. Bill got it half right with his statement, but to capture the full message of the documentary, he should have added, "and it should help African-Americans understand why others were so upset with the OJ verdict".
As Made In America illustrates, OJ's acquittal was an example of social justice; a means by African American jurors to get back for all the historic wrongs of the Los Angeles Police Department. The acquittal was also an example of failure, when it came to justice for the two murdered people.
Putting "social" in front of "justice" is not just a way of modifying or, in some views, perfecting justice. It is a means of subtracting from the traditional American concept of justice, as a term meant to describe what is owed to each individual, regardless of their standing in society. Social justice is about, to use a term increasingly common today, privileging groups based upon race, ethnicity, gender, class or any other category favored by advocacy groups (the neutral term applied to Leftist activists) and academia, to the exclusion of justice as it applies to non-privileged individuals.
Historically, it is a reversal of what might have been called social justice in earlier periods of American history. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, can be fairly characterized as acts of social justice, designed to undo the denial of individual rights to African-Americans by virtue of their race. In doing so, they did not lead to new acts of individual injustice, in contrast to the "social justice" as it is understood today (perhaps a better word for the modern use of the term is "payback"). Many of those who supported the social justice legislation of the 1960s did so because of their belief in remedying injustice, but now now see what is happening in modern America as merely an opportunity for groups to assert social and legal dominance using the rubric of social justice.
We've seen in the past century the fruits of social justice taken to its extremes. In an early example in the 1920s and 1930s Soviet Union saw millions of kulaks, small rural landowners, denounced as class enemies and robbed, exiled, starved and/or murdered. Under Soviet theory it did not matter what any individual kulak did or believed; their very inclusion in the designated group made them enemies of the state. We've seen the pattern repeated over and over again and it is why social justice is so dangerous a term when it is used, as it is by its advocates today, as a means to deprive individuals of liberty and justice. If we lose sight of justice, the deluge will follow.