We live in a world afflicted by violence, poverty, social inequality and environmental crisis. Individuals, governments, multilateral institutions and NGOs have been laboring for decades to solve these problems. Despite their repeated efforts, human rights violations, degradation of natural resources, social inequality and unsustainable patterns of global consumption appear to be intensifying.
We, therefore, have a choice: We can succumb to cynicism and blithely continue down the narrow path of materialism and unreflective consumption, or we can search for new solutions to old problems.
The best solution must get at the root of the problem, which lies in our current value system — one that privileges individualism over the collective good, promotes accelerating material consumption over sustainable use, and perpetuates political and social structures that are inherently unjust.
In approaching these problems, we must redefine our values by exploring the balance between individual liberty and self-realization and the collective good. An alternative philosophy that focuses our analytical lens on the collective values of beauty and justice may be the answer. There is a long line of social thought and philosophical reflection on the connections between beauty and justice. Beauty and justice are intimately connected and mutually reinforcing. Beauty requires and creates justice and justice generates more beauty in the world. Our definition of beauty surpasses the purely aesthetic. We define beauty as subjective in concept and plural in form, but always related to moral, values-based discourse and practices.
Any attempt to shift paradigms in concept and practice requires concrete steps. First, there must be a social context for individuals to share experiences of beauty and to participate in collective acts of compassion. More importantly, we need to bring greater analytical clarity to the relationship between beauty and justice by continued work on the philosophical grounding of the idea. Finally, we need to explore the feasibility of linking beauty and justice in politics and practice. We must test this new philosophy in tangible projects. Projects must seek pragmatic solutions to social problems and reflect a philosophy that recognizes the inherent value in solving them. For instance, by integrating traditional agricultural practices with new, sustainable technologies and improving the quality of life for marginalized populations in developing countries, we not only address the problem of food security, but also acknowledge the beauty of sustaining the environment.
These critical problems of injustice are too important to ignore or approach in old ways. We must share our subjective senses of beauty to inspire others to find new, unforeseen forms of beauty and new paths to justice. In short, we must experiment to contribute to a world that could clearly benefit from a little more beauty and a lot less injustice.
Justine Kolata is sophomore in Morse College.