Top News

VIBERT: Does arc still bend toward justice?

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiring words were adapted from a sermon by Theodore Parker, a 19th Century American Unitarian minister and abolitionist who wrote:
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
It’s 2018, and still no one can calculate the curve. But, is it possible to divine, by conscience or some other human quality, if society influences the bend of the arc toward the destination Dr. King and Rev. Parker perceived?
A man of my generation and northern European ethnicity would walk the streets of Halifax unmolested by civil authorities indefinitely. A man whose ancestry is African will, at some certain point, be waylaid by police long enough to check of his identification.
Nova Scotia’s Human Rights Commission hired an expert to determine if there is racial profiling involved in the practice – known as carding on the street, where experience tells everyone who can see that racial profiling is at the heart of the disreputable tactic.
Acceptance of these circumstances lengthens the arc, and proof of acceptance is found in their existence. 
At the turn of the 21st Century, also in Halifax, a promising young heart doctor and researcher rejected a male colleague’s insistent, ego-driven demand to be added to her research project. The full force of the health authority backed the interloper and punished the researcher relentlessly until Nova Scotia’s highest court finally said “stop!” 
For almost two decades this talented woman was effectively abused by the power of state officialdom intent on self-preservation without regard for the damage inflicted on her or any thought to the length or bend of the arc. 
In Sydney, a teenage could no longer stand the perpetual ravings of a drunken father. She tried to get him into treatment, but the system is impervious to her bashful entreaties. She left and camped out on a friend’s the couch but that can’t go on indefinitely. There’s no place for her in her hometown, so she’s handed a bus ticket for Halifax and a telephone number for Phoenix House. As she crosses the causeway for the first time in her life, don’t bother her about the arc of the moral universe or its hopeful destination.
Back in Halifax, another young woman wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the provincial government for not taking campus sexual violence seriously and for siding with university presidents, whose primary concern is the protection of institutional reputations.
Her organization represents thousands of Nova Scotia university students but, after the letter, she’s banished from meetings with the minister of advanced education. If the minister and his senior officials have heard King’s famous line, they have no idea what it could possibly have to do with them.
And that’s a problem.
In Canada, in Nova Scotia society mostly abdicates responsibility for the big stuff – like social justice – to the government.  There’s really nothing wrong with that. It might even be how it’s supposed to work.
Governments fund social programs and have fair hiring practices and write lofty mission statements that assure them and us that social justice is their goal, too.  And, big picture, it is.
But it gets lost. When Halifax city council won’t tell its cops to stop harassing Black guys, justice takes a vacation.  When successive health authorities dole out tens of millions of dollars to persecute Gabby Horne, justice is out to lunch. When Cape Breton gets three per cent of the paltry social housing budget, justice wasn’t at the table. And, when a Nova Scotia cabinet minister thinks it’s okay to punish a university student because his nose got tweaked when she spoke her mind, his concept of justice is perverse.
The arc of the moral universe is long and gets longer in small ways, and big ways, every day. Let’s hope it still bends toward justice.
Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.

Recent Stories