Is it my duty to fight against injustices done to me?
Before reading ahead, I request you to take two minutes out of your digital lives and ask yourselves, what does it mean to have self-respect? You don’t have to come up with a perfect answer (for one reason because there is no one right answer or at least we professional philosophers can’t seem to come up with one). Just reflect on how this notion is so inherently ingrained in our lives, and consider what kind of acts would indicate that you do or do not have whatever “self-respect” is supposed to mean.
Here’s one example for you to analyze put by the great philosopher Laurence Thomas- “Someone who has self-respect, believes he has a sense of worth equal to any human being.” Now, off the bat, this seems completely uncontroversial and perfectly coherent with what you would have come up. The trouble begins because this definition is just not enough to be applicable in our imperfect moral world as most of us claim to have some beliefs which we don’t actually have. It might be deliberate to hide our true beliefs from others, but in sensitive cases like these, it’s just unintentional because our brain seeks to avoid negative states like pain and embarrassment by ignoring the actual beliefs. Thus, it becomes too difficult for a person himself and even others to analyze if they believe they have equal worth. For instance, it’s obvious that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had self-respect when he fought for equal rights for Dalits. However, the fact that few others tried protesting before him doesn’t imply that other Dalits didn’t have any self-respect. It might be the case that their fear of causing suffering to their families and losing what’s more important to them forced them to not do anything. Given this thin line we seem to be walking on, here’s a question for those of us who do claim to have self-respect and realize it’s unconditional importance in our lives- “Are we morally obliged to protest against injustices done to us?” I want to provide my take on this question and I request you to rationally evaluate it with the intention of tearing it apart.
I believe that protesting in moral and rational ways is certainly good even for the sake of strengthening our conviction in our values. This becomes even more important if this worth is questioned constantly because then it’s just hard if not impossible to have self-respect. However, I don’t feel that we are obliged to do so because our society and laws are structured in such a way that it’s rarely possible for anyone to fight all alone. Hence it would not be unjustified for people whose circumstances are beyond their control if they are at risk of suffering even more and still gain nothing. But, it will be unjustified of those in a position of strength and who have the capabilities to fight yet decide not to for the sake of their comfortable lives or any such weak reason. If such people do have self-respect, then it’s also irrational of them to not protest for equal rights as it’s worth fighting for, and they have more to gain than to lose from fighting.
-Shourya Mohaniya is a student of Mathematics and Philosophy