Justice, part 2

So far, our exploration of justice has brought up giving people their due, but we haven’t seen how to determine what that is. Philosopher Tim Scanlon argues that we must be able to justify our conduct to others. It’s inherently relational. Doing right by other people, he says, means treating them in ways they cannot reasonably reject.

Of course, we know that people are often unreasonable – we know that we ourselves are often unreasonable. A person might reject the way you treat them even if they wouldn't reasonably reject -- or a person might not reject the way you treat them even if they reasonably would.

As often seems to be the case in philosophy, the answer to a question seems to raise another question which is only a re-phrasing of the original question. If we had been wondering how to decide what is due, are we not now wondering how to decide what is reasonable? And doesn’t that practically amount to the same thing?

But there is a method here that we didn’t have before. It says: imagine yourself in the other person’s position. This goes beyond the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you, because it recognizes that others aren’t you, and they might not want what you would want. So we imagine their situation, with their interests and wants as best we can – and it may take some work to do this in detail -- and then we imagine them as having a moment of the greatest reasonability we can imagine. In that moment, would they reject the way we are treating them? To be a just person, one must carefully assess this question – mindful that one’s own greed, the opposite of justice, is likely to distort our imaginings.

Conversing with the real person, rather than just the imagined version of them, is an important check. It’s true we are all often unreasonable, but we might discover in that conversation some quite reasonable objections that imagination had failed to reveal -- or perhaps the opposite: some quite reasonable justifications for treating them in a way you had imagined they would reject.

What we owe to each other is to treat others in ways they cannot reasonably reject, using a mix of imagination and interaction with the real person to assess the reasonability of any rejection.

Moving to the social level, and the justice of social institutions, what people reasonably reject is inequality. Social justice is about equality. Some inequalities are not a problem. If you can run faster than me, or write books that sell better than mine, or you have more friends than me, that’s not the issue. But we are all entitled to equal concern and respect from society. How is that to be accomplished?

Some have argued for equality of resources. Ronald Dworkin, for instance, argues that a just state would ensure that individuals have an equal claim equal claim to the resources needed to form and pursue their own plans and ambitions.

Others have emphasized equality of opportunity. This takes a number of forms. Richard Arneson argues that individuals are not be entitled to a particular level of welfare, but to equal opportunity to exercise choice and responsibility in their pursuit of welfare. Amartya Sen favors equality of opportunities to achieve particular kinds of valuable individual functionings or states. G.A. Cohen argues for equality of “access to advantage,” which combines elements of some of these other views.

That sounds like worthwhile conversation – somewhat removed from practical reality, as philosophy tends to be, yet orienting us to a way of looking at current reality while paving the way conceptually for what might someday become practical. Tim Scanlon, however, directs our attention to something rather different from all of this.

Scanlon notes that the concern with inequality is not some abstract interest in a particular kind of distributive pattern.
“We don’t just want to see equal distribution of some thing. We want to live together, on terms of equal recognition, in ways that avoid interpersonal domination, prevent the emergence of stigmatizing differences in status, allow people to retain the self-respect that comes with seeing themselves as equal to others, and preserve the kind of background equality that can be a precondition for fair competition in the political and economic domains.” (Martin O’Neill, “What We Owe Each Other: T.M Scanlon’s Egalitarian Philosophy” Boston Review, 2016 Jun 2)
Equality of stuff – or of access to stuff, or opportunity to pursue stuff – is one thing. Creating communities of belonging – places where everyone can feel a meaningful part of an interconnected web – which is itself a meaningful part of larger interconnected web – is something a bit different.

Addressing the inequality of stuff that, in this country, has ballooned terribly since 1980, is a necessary precondition. Current levels of stuff-inequality destroys the sense that we’re all in this together, undermining the chance for true community of belonging. To build the sort of equality that is most important, we probably do need to narrow the wealth gap -- and we probably don’t need to entirely eliminate it. Philosopher Debra Satz puts it this way:
“What we owe each other, what we owe our fellow citizens, isn’t cash to satisfy the strongest preferences people have no matter what they are. We owe them the social conditions they need to stand in relations of equality with us. That is not provided by cash in particular, but by allowing people the rights, institutions, social norms, public goods, and private resources they need to avoid oppression and to function as equals in a democratic society.”
Thus, “securing certain goods like education and health care,” should take priority “over other kinds of goods like surfing opportunities – even if some individuals would prefer surfing to schooling and to health care.”

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for thinking about these matters. If you'd like a place to start – well, the place to start is Plato’s Republic – or you could go straight to Scanlon’s book, What We Owe to Each Other. If you finish that and would like some other suggestions, let me know.

“You have to give them hope,” said Harvey Milk. “Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow.” To give them hope is to create a context in which meaning may be made –
in which each person may construct a life of meaning, partly by their own personal definitions of meaning, and partly by shared meaings --
in which each may stand with all in a relation of equality –
in which people flourish as they come into their full belonging in a community that flourishes –
and in which the rainbow flag of celebrating our diversity flies in every heart.

Justice, part 1

“You have to give them hope -- hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow.”
--Harvey Milk
Hope, as I often say, and as most of you know well, is not about wishful thinking. Harvey Milk was not saying you have to fill them up with yearnings after fantasies. It might start with yearning and a creative fantasy, but it becomes hope only when there is engagement in a process of moving toward the desired outcome – and that engagement gives meaning to your life whether the desired outcome ever occurs or not. To give them hope is to create a context in which meaning may be made.

This June, this Pride Month, we are remembering Harvey Milk, what he lived for and died for, and what the rainbow flag he designed means to us. Also our theme of the month for June is Justice. All of that we are weaving together today.

Let’s plunge into Justice, explore what that means, and at the end curl back to see how that fits with Harvey, and hope, and rainbows. This morning, the invitation is to think like philosophers on the subject of justice.

I should note that in my years as a philosopher, I came to see, to experience, the good of philosophy, if it has any, much less in any particular conclusions one may reach and much more in the way of life, the way of community and conversation, that is embodied when two people engage a philosophical question at some length. Debaters – whether academic debate teams or politicians or opposing lawyers – are always addressing, seeking to win over to their side, a third party: the judge, or the voters, or the jury. Philosophers, however, truly address each other – seeking to win the other over to their side while – and this is crucial -- seriously considering whether to join the other’s side. Debaters can’t do that. Philosophers do, and it opens, I found, a possibility for a depth of relationship like nothing else. Thus I was moved by words of Allan Bloom, with whom I disagreed on many things, describing true friendship: “The true friends,” he said, are
“as Plato was to Aristotle at the very moment they were disagreeing about the nature of the good. They were absolutely one soul as they looked at the problem.”
In our time this morning, I can only gesture in the direction of an invitation to that sort of relationship. When we ask a philosophical question like, “What is Justice?” we are, of course, trying to understand ourselves – trying to better grasp one of the concepts with which we assess our lives and experiences.

One thing that comes to mind when someone says “Justice” is what is called our “Justice System:” the system of police and courts that – ideally – enforces the rules in a way that is just – that is equitable, and fair. And then there's social justice, which has to do with whether society itself is just, equitable and fair in the way its structures and institutions afford to members wealth, opportunities, privileges and rights.

Let’s look first, however, at the sort of Justice that is neither of these: Justice as a virtue, a character trait of individuals. What does it mean to be a just person? What does it mean for you to act justly in your day-to-day life?

Justice has to do with distribution: who gets what. Whether it’s a judicial system distributing penalties to accused criminals and tortfeasors, or a social system through which income and wealth are distributed and maintained, or an individual, it’s about who gets what and who should get what.

Not all wrongs fit under this category. As cowardice is a failure to be courageous, and lying is a failure to be honest, and an indecorous outburst or an overindulgence is a failure of temperance, stealing from people, or not giving them what one owes them, are failures to be just. Cowardice, lying, or intemperance might also effect how something is distributed, though they often don’t – and, if they do, they might thereby also be a failure to be just. It is also unjust if you are called upon to distribute something – whether something good or something burdensome – among members of a group, and you use an arbitrary or unjustified basis for making the distribution. Thus Justinian in the 6th century said justice is giving each person their due.

When Aristotle addressed justice as a virtue, he characterized it as he did virtue generally, as a mean between excess and deficit. Thus each virtue has two opposites: too much and too little. As courage is the mean between being too reckless and being too timid, justice is the mean between giving more than is due and giving less.

For much of his treatment of justice, however, there is but one pertinent opposite of justice, and that is greed, where greed is understood as “the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others.” Seeing greed as the opposite of justice – greed as what is generally behind injustice – may shed light on a number of levels.

What is due, says Aristotle, is what is lawful and fair, and fairness involves equitable distribution, and correction of what is inequitable. Aristotle recognized that being equitable wasn’t the same as a blanket equality that gave exactly the same to everyone. A doctor, for instance, who gives equitable treatment to every patient, does not give exactly the same treatment to the patient with a broken leg that she would give to a patient with indigestion. Rather, her treatment is equitable to the extent that it represents an equal concern and respect for each patient – however different the treatments called for might be.

Also going back to Aristotle is the maxim, “treat like cases alike” – and treat different cases differently. Of course, every case is different, so when we say “like cases” we mean relevantly similar, or similar examples of the principles that apply. This principle bridges us into the sort of Justice for which our Justice system is named – the system of courts and trials and judges which, ideally, hands out similar penalties for similar crimes or harms.

So we have these two maxims of justice: “Give to each their due,” and “treat like cases alike.” Neither maxim tells us much. Exactly what is it that is due to somebody – and exactly what is relevant when assessing whether two cases are relevantly alike – those are often quite difficult questions, and the maxims offer no guidance. The maxims don’t mean anything, in and of themselves. They merely function as a reminder for us, in a particular situation, to take up the difficult questions of deciding what, in that situation, they ought to mean.

Giving people their due – treating them equitably, whatever equity might require in a given case – these are the aspirations of justice as a virtue. Justice, then, is primarily about what we owe to each other. What We Owe to Each Other, is, in fact, the title of a 1998 book by philosopher Tim Scanlon.

In part 2, we shall take a glance at Scanlon's contribution to this question, and move from justice as virtue of individuals to justice as a virtue of social institutions.


UU Minute #45

Theophilus Lindsey Takes the Next Antitrinitarian Step

Theophilus Lindsey, was ordained a deacon at age 23, and an Anglican priest at age 24. He served as domestic chaplain to the Duke of Somerset, then tutor to the Duke’s grandson, then Parish priest in Yorkshire, and then Dorset. At age 37, he married Hannah Elsworth, and at age 40 began serving the Church of St Anne in Catterick. Theophilus founded a Sunday school; Hannah ran a dispensary and encouraged inoculation.

So far, so good, for the Lindseys. But then antiTrinitarian ideas, which the couple might have been exposed to from books by Fausto Sozzini, or John Biddle, or Thomas Emlyn, or any number of others, began to trouble them. At age 50, Theophilus resigned as vicar of the Church of England, surrendering a comfortable living. Theophilus and Hannah moved to London with hardly more than the clothes on their back, with backing from some friends, rented a hall, and opened the first avowedly Unitarian church in England on April 17, 1774. Theophilus served that congregation for almost 20 years, until retiring at age 70.

Antitrinitarianism comes in slightly varying flavors, and, before Theophilus Lindsey, any of those flavors was apt to be called Unitarian. Arianism, named for Arius, said Christ was divine, but not equal with God. Socinianism, named for Fausto Sozzini, said Christ was not divine, but could still be worshipped. Theophilus Lindsey took antitrinitarianism the next step: Jesus was not the equal of God, not divine, and was not to be worshiped. A Unitarian, said Lindsey, held “that religious worship is to be addressed only to the One True God, the Father.” Worship of Christ is sheer idolatry. With Lindsey, Unitarianism became distinct from its forebears, Arianism and Socinianism.



UU Minute #44

Britain's First Unitarian Church

Benjamin Franklin was 68 years old. It was the year 1774, and Franklin was in London. America had not declared its independence, and Franklin was in England in what we now know was the vain hope of influencing England to be more considerate of the needs of its settler-colonialists. While he was there, Franklin heard about a new church that was forming, the first of its kind, called Unitarian. The church’s opening had not been advertised, but word of mouth reached the American visitor, and when he showed up for the service on April 17, 1774, some 200 people were also in attendance – dissatisfied members of the Church of England (a.k.a. Anglican Church).

So it was that Benjamin Franklin was there for the first worship of the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in England – 200 years after Unitarian churches had been established in Transylvania and Poland.

Early Unitarianism in Britain is less a stream than “a series of unconnected whirlpools,” but it seems here to have at last found its footing. Theophilus and Hannah Lindsey and a few friends had rented an auction hall on Essex Street, fitted it as a chapel. Theophilus, then age 51, had just left the Anglican ministry, and he led the service using an unconventional liturgy and without wearing the customary clerical vestment. He preached about the need for a harmonious spirit in religion – which seems to be a particular concern of those who have recently split off.
“The congregation prospered from the start. Within three years they purchased and remodeled the Essex Street property to provide a large chapel above and living quarters below. The time, it seems, was ripe for just such an innovative institutional expression of Christian faith.” (Charles Howe, For Faith and Freedom)

NEXT: Theophilus Lindsey Takes the Next Antitrinitarian Step


UU Minute #43

Thomas Emlyn

Thomas Emlyn was the first British preacher definitely to describe himself with the word "Unitarian" – though he didn’t at first. At age 28, he began serving Wood Street Presbyterian Church in Dublin, but he had doubts about the Trinity.

At age 34, he wrote to a friend,
"I cannot hope to continue here in my present post when I have once professed [my views]."
Wishing to avoid both insincerity and controversy, he simply avoided mentioning the trinity. Finally, at age 39, he was confronted why, in eleven years of preaching, he had never mentioned the Trinity.

Emlyn acknowledged himself to be an Arian Unitarian and offered to resign. The congregation said: “Take a leave of absence instead.” But critics of his theology attacked him fiercely. In response, Emlyn wrote, “An Humble Inquiry into the Scripture Account of Jesus Christ,” published later that same year, 1702.

That book would be a great influence on Unitarian development. Its most immediate effect, however, was to get Emlyn expelled from the Dublin Presbytery, and then arrested and convicted for blasphemy. He was fined a thousand pounds.

Unable to pay the fine, he was jailed for two years until the fine was lowered. The first British preacher to call himself "unitarian" was also the last person jailed in Britain for denial of the Trinity.

In 1705, at age 42, released from jail, and with no established church willing to take him, he moved to London, gathered a small congregation, and frequently guest preached at London’s nonconforming congregations until the end of his days.

Fifty years after his death, extracts from his “Humble Inquiry” were published in America, where they helped spark our emerging Unitarian movement.

NEXT: Britain's First Unitarian Church


Repairing, part 2

Your Journey Group packet for May, on our theme, “Healing,” includes this one:
"Exercise #4: Wrestle with the Call of Reparations. Does racial healing require reparations? Or is it unrealistic? Or both? Whatever your opinion, should we not at least make space for the discussion? Doesn’t refusing that space drive us farther from healing? The reparations debate challenges us with hard questions: What does apology without accountability mean? How can personal reconciliation occur without structural repair? How much of our comfort are we will to sacrifice to heal others’ pain? Are you willing to look honestly at the casualties of your comfort and success? Can we disagree about the efficacy of reparations and still consider each other allies? This exercise invites you to explore the diverse articles below not simply with the question of 'What’s my opinion?' but also 'Where is my resistance coming from?' 'What scares me about this topic?' and 'How is the conversation itself trying to help me heal?' Come to your group ready to share what the below articles taught you about yourself."
What follows provides links to 13 articles, 10 of them from 2019 or 2020. Many of them are 2 or 3 page newspaper columns. One of them pointed out that,
“As of 2016, the average white household had more than 10 times the median wealth of a black household....On average, black households with a head who holds a college degree have two-thirds of the wealth of White households with a head who never finished high school.”
The only long-form journalism on the list is the aforementioned 2014 article by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates particularly focuses on housing policy in the post-war period – because this is a huge part of the story behind that wealth gap. Home ownership is “the greatest mass-based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history.” And through the 1950s and 60s, blacks faced tremendous obstacles in home ownership. As Coates explains:
“The FHA had adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, green areas, rated 'A' indicated 'in demand' neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked ‘a single foreigner or Negro.’ The neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insurance. Neighborhoods where black people lived were rated 'D' and were considered ineligible for FHA backing. They were colored in red. Neither the percentage of black people living there nor their social class mattered. Black people were viewed as a contagion.”
With banks unwilling to loan – in part because the FHA wouldn’t insure the loan – blacks seeking to buy a house turned to buying on contract. The seller keeps the deed, the buyer accrues zero equity until the final payment, and if one payment is missed, they’re evicted, with no equity, no deed, nothing. It’s like renting only worse, because if the water heater blows, or the roof leaks, the resident has full responsibility for fixing it.

So we’re not talking about the injustices of the 1860s, but of the 1960s. And of the 21st-century. Banks have continued to steer black clients to subprime, predatory loans.
“In 2010, the Justice Department filed a discrimination suit against Wells Fargo alleging that the bank had shunted blacks into predatory loans regardless of their creditworthiness. In 2011, Bank of America agreed to pay $355 million to settle charges of discrimination against its Countrywide unit. The following year, Wells Fargo settled its discrimination suit for more than $175 million. But the damage had been done. In 2009, half the properties in Baltimore whose ownders had been grated loans by Wells Fargo between 2005 and 2008 were vacant; 71 percent of these properties were in predominantly black neighborhoods.”
Racism is not our fault, but it is our responsibility. No one alive today started the inculcation of our thought patterns, assumptions, and implicit biases with the idea of white supremacy – yet all of us, black or white or indigenous or of color -- picked up that influence. That we have that is not our fault. What we do now, is our responsibility.

We’ve been carrying around a wound our whole lives – a color line cutting through our hearts. Those of us with more privilege, may crouch within privilege and try not to think about our wound. We can be forgiven for trying not to think about it -- though that's not the most helpful response. Mindfulness Based Pain Management programs now in some hospitals coach patients with pain NOT to try to distract themselves, but to actually bring attention to the pain. Really focus on it, observe it, get to know it. The result is that less drugging ourselves to mask the pain is necessary.

With reparations we have a way to actually heal – to take real steps toward repairing. That prospect is the most inspiring, hopeful uplifting message I have ever received or could hope to impart. A new country. Full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences. Finally seeing ourselves squarely, and able to face each other squarely. Oh, man, that would be great – and it’s imaginable in ways I’ve never seen. A national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.

It’s been a long toilsome slog – imposed upon the bodies our black, indigenous, and people of color neighbors, but it has also oppressed the oppressors. Fear, and constriction – narrow minds and small hearts adopted as counterproductive defensive strategies have diminished the lives of those who have all the ostensive privileges.

It's been a long, toilsome slog, but I feel like real healing – respite and repair – is at last reachable. Certainly not inevitable, but more possible than it has ever been. It makes my eyes tear, and my heart soar. This generation can do some real repairing of the centuries-long wounds.

We can support H.R. 40, the bill that John Conyers has been introducing every year for many years, in Democratic and Republican administrations. It would set up a commission to study reparations. It wouldn't pay out anything to anyone -- just set up a commission to study the questions. And that very mild proposal hasn't yet made it out of committee.

There are also possibilities for local action. There are ways that we can contribute ourselves to repairing. Our UU congregation in Tulsa joined with other Tulsa congregations to collect money for reparations for the 1921 Tulsa massacre. As UU World reported:
"The $28,048 collected by March was all disbursed to survivors. The plan is to make distributions quarterly if donations on hand total at least $100 per survivor."
I preach this good news today: repairing is possible.

May it be so. Amen.


Repairing, part 1

Shavuot, which begins at sundown today, marks the end of a seven-week period called the Omer, or Counting of the Omer, which began at Passover. The first day of Passover commemorates the escape from Egypt. The last day of Passover, a week later, commemorates the crossing of the Red Sea, and Shavuot commemorates the receiving of the Torah from God on Mt. Sinai.

On this Shavuot, we look at repairing, and draw on the Jewish concept Tikkun Olam, to repair the world. In Jewish social thought, Tikkun Olam has come to mean we share a partnership with God to improve the world and help others.

The Torah -- consisting of the five books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – has enslavement at the center of the story. The Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, and became free. That’s something for which to be grateful. One might be grateful for that in the sort of way that one is grateful for antibiotics: we use to be subject to a lot of diseases that now we aren’t, thank goodness. But the Torah makes clear that this episode of enslavement isn’t just a horrible thing in the past which we can be grateful is over. It’s an ongoing instruction in how to live now.

For instance, because of that past experience in Egypt, there’s a requirement of care for immigrants. Leviticus 19 commands:
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Also based on that experience in Egypt, there’s an injunction about slavery. Deuteronomy 15 commands:
“If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. And when you send him out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today.”
This is in the section of Deuteronomy known as the Deuteronomic Code. It is presented as sermons by Moses. Scholars say it was probably composed around the time of King Josiah, near the end of the 7th century BCE – so, about 2700 years ago. It is “essentially the work not of a jurist or statesman, but of a prophet” – which is to say, its primary impetus is to call out and correct injustice.

The Deutoronomic Code provides protections for women, children, widows, foreigners, and the poor. It methodically provides legal compensation for those victimized by the inequities and brutalities that may otherwise inhere in the social system.

Healing is our theme for May. Healing and wholeness come from the same root. In law, a tort remedy’s purpose is to make an injured party whole. That’s the legal term: “make whole” -- make whole – heal – repair the injury, the wound. The Deuteronomic Code from 2700 years ago was about making whole the victim’s of that society’s inequities and brutalities.

The wholeness sought was not just for the victim, but for the society. If I do something that hurts you, there is not one injury, but two. It hurts you, and it also rends our relationship – and there’s a need for repair at both those levels. I, the perpetrator, also need to heal from the wound it does to me to know that I have done harm – and from the wound it does me that I have done harm even if I don’t know it. If I go blundering about oblivious to the damage I’m causing, that damage nevertheless cuts me off from the possibility of flourishing relationships and from the fulness for which human life yearns. It constricts me in ways of which I might not be consciously aware.

The principle applies to nations as well as to people. When, in the years after World War II, Germany considered reparations for the Jewish people, at first only 29 percent of West Germans believed that Jews were owed restitution from the German people. Forty percent thought that only people ‘who really committed something’ were responsible and should pay. Twenty-one percent thought that the Jews themselves were partly responsible for what had happened. Over the next year, Germany’s intentional process of reckoning with itself shifted those numbers, and Germany ultimately paid to Israel more than $7 billion in today’s dollars. On top of that, Germany paid individual reparations claims. By 1961, reparations money had paid for two-thirds of the Israeli merchant fleet, and reparations money funded about a third of the total investment in Israel’s electrical system, which tripled its capacity, and nearly half the total investment in railways.

Nothing, of course, could make up for the Nazi murders, but reparations “did launch Germany’s reckoning with itself, and perhaps provided a road map for how a great civilization might make itself worthy of the name.” Germany didn’t just repair Israel. Germany repaired Germany.

It took a little longer after World War II for the US to reckon with Japanese internment camps, but in 1988, Congress authorized payments of $20,000 in reparations to most living internees. Sam and Sumi Koide, long-time vibrant members of this congregation, both of whom died this year, were active in the campaign to make that happen. Was it enough? Probably not. But it was significant repair – of those harmed, and of the nation’s wounds that it recognized, at last, it had, in fact, inflicted upon itself.

The possibility of repairing damage done by centuries of white supremacy is alive today in ways that it has not been for 156 years – not since Lincoln’s assassination was followed by the Andrew Johnson administration which overturned Special Field Order Number 15 – a.k.a., General Sherman’s “40 acres and a mule” plan.

Of course we have questions about reparations. How would it work? Should the money go to individuals or into community investments and programs? How do we trace lineage? Are we talking about Black people, or all people color, or indigenous peoples? Would reparations bankrupt the Federal Government? Or the questions that sprang to David Brooks’ mind:
“What about the recent African immigrants? What about the poor whites who have nothing of what you would call privilege? Do we pay Oprah and LeBron?”
I don’t know the answer to those questions. I don’t think we need to know the answer right now. All we need to know right now is that these questions are not unanswerable. There are various proposals for how to answer them. Put all proposals on the table and let’s work out something.

We might start with Boris Bittker’s proposal (cited in a Jonathan Rauch's article) that we offer reparations for official school segregation.
“A program to compensate children who were required to go to segregated schools would not raise any conceptual difficulties in identifying the beneficiaries. Entitlement would depend exclusively on the fact that the student was assigned to a black school, regardless of his actual racial origin.”
As Jonathan Rauch adds:
“They are easy to identify. Many of them are very much alive. It cannot be seriously disputed that they were wronged, not only educationally but morally, by being forced into separate and hardly equal schools. Moreover, the perpetrator of the injustice is not a race, a “society,” or slave owner who are all long dead. The perpetrator, like the victims is identifiable and very much alive: government.”
That would be at least a start – clear and do-able.

The reparations conversation was significantly revived by a long article in Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates in 2014. Coates concluded:
“And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations — by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences — is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely....What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices — more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.”