Does undoing social problems lead to creating social good?

johnlannon's picture

A friend recently posted a link to an article about a movement formed to combat the proliferation of drugs in an inner city community in the 1990s. It was a mobilisation of working class activists with limited education and almost no resources, and they were responding to the local community’s disaffection with government failure to take action to address the drugs problem. The community based movement was successful insofar as the tragic litany of deaths linked to drug addiction finally started to diminish.  Their efforts and those of other anti-drug activists finally brought changes in the provision of services and a more serious approach to the drugs issue from the State.

The movement was not without its problems however. In particular there were ongoing incidents of vigilantism associated with the activities to rid the estates of heroin, including an incident in which a drug addict was kicked to death in 1996. In a community wracked by unemployment and lack of education, attempts to create a better social environment were organic, chaotic, generally well-intended, but often detrimental to individual and collective well-being.   Allowing children onto the streets without fear of predatory drug dealers is not too much for a community to ask for. Neither is living out one’s natural life without having it brutally cut short by substance abuse or violence. These are basic rights that should be available to all of us by virtue of our being alive. But trying to secure them isn’t always easy, and those who are most affected often lose patience and resort to tactics that have consequences that are at odds with the overall aims.

As activists we spend much of our time trying to undo the destructive consequences of what our fellow humans do, individually and collectively. Whether it’s with communities ravaged by poverty, migrants, or others facing grave inequality, what we end up striving for is the undoing of social injustice. Can we call that creating social good? Or is it simply creating conditions that may ultimately be conducive to creating social good?

My friend is now looking to compile a list of grassroots groups that are non-hierarchical, inclusive and radical. And that too got me wondering:  what would the world be like if all groups were like that?