People talk to me all the time about the misery in the world, and there is a lot of it. There is a lot of mess to clean up, a lot of people who need to hear some good news, a lot of good news that is missing, a lot of war, a lot of poverty, a lot of ecological crises. But people also forget that there seems to be some invisibly guided trajectory of the arc of humanity. It bends towards justice. What has been the determining instigator in every situation? Questions.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
Questions help move us along this arc that bends toward justice. Questions allow us to realize that the law (rules and codes) don’t ever achieve the ideal of justice to which they lean. That is why we must always amend them, examine them, unsettle, unearth, and unhouse them—they fall short. And they always will.
There was a time when child labor was acceptable. There was time when the slave trade was not just condoned but encouraged. And even after the slave trade was abolished in many countries, we still had slavery condoned and encouraged (we even have slavery and child labor today). There was a time when women could not vote because they were considered less than men (they still are in many places). There was a time when workers had no rights as to their conditions (thanks Ms. Day). There was a time when the environment was taken for granted (though before there was a deeply embedded understanding of our connection to the environment, that we do not lord it over the environment or rule over it but that we sustain and are sustained by it—that if we deplete or damage the environment we deplete and damage ourselves). Genocide, asbestos, lead in petrol (gas), war crimes, sweat shops, unfair trade policies, etc. The list goes on and on. In all these things, someone asked a question that challenged the conventional wisdom. In all these situations questions led the way for the law to move closer to the justice it idealized.
I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. ... When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
Of course, the quote is beautiful, but it brings up the more profound question. What is justice?