How Much Injustice Exists?
Injustices have to be measured
By Prem Misir, Ph.D.
October 6, 2003
East Indians are the controlling influence against Africans through some sort of apartheid program in Guyana!! Indeed, this controlling influence must have bite through some authority mechanisms. This is a totally erroneous and outrageous perception of East Indians held among some in this country. The perception provides the props and stage for the ethnic drama and conflict and serves the political self-interest of some groups.
No dominant ethnic group
Conflict will prevail in any system of ethnic inequality. Indeed, the greater the inequality the greater the conflict. A system of ethnic inequality presupposes an underlying dimension of ethnic stratification. Stratification implies the presence of an ethnic hierarchy, which ensures that ethnic relations are relations of conflict. But we need to be reminded that conflict is not sustained at a constant rate, its forms are different at different times, and is not driven by the same factors among societies, or even within the same society. Further, conflict is not only found in multiethnic societies, or is ethnic conflict the main conflict in all societies. Social conflict is grounded on power relations that grow from differences in class, status, age, gender, etc.
Does Guyana have an ethnic hierarchy? The false perception of East Indians wielding a controlling influence over Africans suggests that it does. A multiethnic society is a rank order of ethnic groups, where each group comprises of people with common cultural or physical characteristics, located in positions of dominance and disadvantage. This is ethnic stratification, which possesses an ethnic hierarchy. Any dominant ethnic group has total access to the valued resources of society, with disadvantaged ethnic groups picking up only minimum rewards. The dominant ethnic group, generally, sustains its control, power, and privileges through prejudice and discrimination. A dominant ethnic group, generally, concocts prejudice and discrimination, to sustain its power base.
Guyana does not have a dominant ethnic group, as evidenced through both East Indians and Africans' comparable socioeconomic status (SES). SES refers to a composite ranking of education, occupational opportunity, and income. A high SES means that a person is high on all three dimensions and has a high class position, and vice versa. To suggest that both East Indians and Africans have a comparable SES, means that they have relatively similar levels of education, occupational opportunity, and income, at each class position, in proportion to their numbers at each class level. If Africans were marginalized and were victims of large-scale discrimination, then their SES would have been well below that of East Indians. However, this is not the case.
SES & injustice
Even though compelling evidence attests to Africans and East Indians' comparable SES, there still abounds considerable rhetoric on numerous injustices directed at Africans in this country. The view that prevails is that injustices against Africans are pervasive. But before we address this view, we need to know quantifiably more about these injustices. For instance, how much injustice exists? Jasso of New York University explained the value of quantifying injustices, thus, "Measuring the amount of injustice is important because of the widespread conjecture that individuals' assessments that they and/or others are unjustly treated are intimately linked to a variety of sentiments and behaviors and profoundly consequential for self and society. The sense of justice is thought to be implicated in outcomes ranging from personal distress and divorce to revolution and international conflict."
A justice index
Here, we would like to show how to construct a justice index, that is, producing measures that would count the quantity of perceived injustice in a society, drawing on Jasso's work. Jasso created two justice indexes. The first differentiates between unjust underreward and unjust overreward. The second index integrates both underreward and overreward into one type of injustice.
Constructing a summary measure of the magnitude of injustice in Guyana requires us to address six issues. These are: (1) Identify the observers who assess injustices meted out to others. (2) Identify the good/bad situations assigned to individuals. That is, show those good/bad situations where injustice prevails and is assessed. (3) Identify the rewardees (an individual receiving something good/bad) about whose situations injustice is assessed. Simultaneously, each person in society is both an observer and a rewardee. That is, each person receives something good/bad, like gifts, fines, etc., and also makes judgments concerning the justice or injustice of the quantity of good/bad he/she receives. Justice assessments prepared by an individual (rewardee) on his/her own situations of good or bad is called a reflexive justice assessment. A justice assessment made by a person (observer) of another person's holding of good or bad is called nonreflexive justice assessment. (4) The justice assessment must be quantified. (5) Determine whether it is better to differentiate between unjust underreward type and unjust overreward type. In some situations, it is better to distinguish, and in others, it is better to combine both types of injustice. In order to measure both types of injustice, we can develop two justice indexes. One justice index sustains the difference between underreward and overreward. The other justice index integrates both types of injustice. (6) How can we reduce the justice assessments to a single number, so that we can say whether or not an injustice definitively has occurred? We can use the arithmetic mean or average to give meaning to the justice assessments. In effect, the average would indicate the amount of injustice that exists in society.
Once the justice index is created, it can be interpreted along these two dimensions: (1) Whether the index incorporates all members of society, and (2) whether the index counts only the injustice assessments prepared by individuals on their own situations, or also injustice assessments made about others' situations.
Testing the justice index
Jasso empirically tested these ideas on the construction of a justice index over 13 Eastern and Western European countries. People were asked to give information about the justice of their own earnings in 1991-92. Jasso found that (1) perceived injustice was strikingly higher in Eastern societies experiencing the post-1989 economic transition than in the Western countries. (2) Western countries were more similar to each other than Eastern countries. (3) Perceived injustice in all the countries happened because the people's average actual earnings were less than the average just earnings. (4) Inequality, too, was higher in 5 of the 13 countries.
Guyana needs a justice index that would both address an individual's experience of injustice as well as that of the collectivity. The quantification of injustices by virtue of being able to measure them, indeed, would induce corrective action, eventually eliminating rhetoric on injustices. Keep in mind, too, that people of different ethnic origins with high and comparable SES, enamored with the society's most powerful resources, are not usually susceptible to injustices.
Counting perceived injustices
Given that Guyana does not have a singular dominant ethnic group, it, therefore, stands to reason that many aspects of this country's racial and ethnic conflict are politically and socially constructed and reconstructed by ethnic leaders jockeying for political power. Notwithstanding the limitations of a website poll, one of its findings indicates that more than 90% of poll participants think that politicians are responsible for the ethnic conflict in Guyana. In Guyana, daily, we see the cynical manipulation by ethnic leaders whose main agenda is to penetrate the backdoor entrance to political power. In this regard, some political groups use the strategic weapons of mass race-ethnic cards and 'unquantified' injustices. For those who lament the enormity of injustices heaped upon this society, let it be known that corrective action mandates that we quantify the amount of perceived injustices.