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Thursday, June 12, 2008




James R. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D.
© June 11, 2008

“There is a conceptual advantage to defining all terminal values as referring only to end-states of existence and to defining all instrumental values as referring only to idealized modes of behavior.”

Milton Rokeach, “The Nature of Human Values” (The Free Press 1973)

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There are two fundamental values of civil society. One is instrumental; the other is terminal. Neither can lead to social justice, alone, but both are necessary for it to be realized.

Social justice is to give every man what is rightly his own, and what is rightly his own is earned, not given as if a gift, because in the earning and possessing is the strength of the man, and by extension, society. The problem as you can envision is that terminal interventions are looking for a specific outcome, while instrumental interventions are directed at behavioral change.

Terminal interventions are expedient, crisis driven, of limited and measured success, provisional commitment and little direct or sustained involvement.

Instrumental interventions are directed at apparent needs that require total commitment and complete involvement to realize even the remotest possibility of the behavioral change desired.


In 1968, it was the famine in the new Republic of Biafra that dramatized the nature of the world’s ambivalent approach to social justice.

Once Biafra succeeded from Nigeria, that country blockaded Biafra reducing the new nation to essentially ruin. Soon images of starving children flooded the Western media. Relief agencies attempted valiantly to airlift supplies to the besieged state with only limited success.

The world’s consuming fear was that Biafra’s succession would spur successions all over Africa. Great Britain, Egypt, and the Soviet Union armed Nigeria with weapons and supplies in its blockade of Biafra. They did this with the tacit approval of the United States. Portugal, South Africa, and France backed Biafra, but feebly. Two years later, Nigeria had quelled the rebellion and had reduced the country to a desert. More than one million Biafrans had died, mostly children, and mostly from starvation.

The relief agencies were committed to a terminal intervention. The Nigerian politicians were involved in an instrumental intervention. Terminal and instrumental interventions do not always have the same outcome in mind.

Zoom ahead forty years and little has changed. Today it is Darfur where the Sudanese Janjuweed has displaced nearly 3 million people in a conflict between Sudan and Darfur. The Janjuweed marauders have raped, murdered and pillaged Sudan’s own civilian population, being either sponsored by the government as hired thugs, or having some quid pro quo connection to the government.

The homeless million live in this wasteland in plastic sheeting, blankets, mosquito nets with their only utensils cooking pots and water containers, or they escape into Chad. The chaos and deprivation experienced make the feudal system of the middle ages appear like paradise in comparison.

A Donor Conference held in July 2007 found many members of the United Nation pledging support, but failing to deliver. Even commitment to a terminal intervention can often be reduced to approach avoidance passive behavior, that is, to promise grandly but without any intention of delivering.

What is unfortunate the truth be told is that affluent nations of the world are not interested in being committed much less involved in situations that may prove difficult if not embarrassing. That is the current situation with the people of Burma, ravaged by natural disasters. So it has been all of my lifetime.

It is easier to pledge money or supplies than challenge human right practices. When such aid is refused, it is easier to turn tail and go home than deal with the government’s paranoia. I see no change from this in the immediate or distant future.


Doctors Without Borders

Instrumental interventions are more subtle, more difficult, more longitudinal, less ideological, less ethnocentric, less grand, and much more effective and consequential. Doctors Without Borders come to mind.

The practice of instrumental interventions cannot be done simply with a checkbook, cannot be limited to flowery rhetoric, nor can it be reduced to a slogan or a catchy policy. It demands action.

Doctors Without Borders not only do such medical stuff as deliver babies, plaster cast broken arms, distribute antibiotics to the sick, distribute condoms, or treat AIDS patients. They also train people to be nurses, therapists, caretakers, caregivers, and educators in medical prevention practices. They aim to reduce the mortality rate by initiating prenatal care, and tending to mothers with difficult pregnancies.

Many patients go on to become doctors or other medical professionals, returning to their villages to serve their people.

Doctors Without Borders gravitate to crisis situations, but often stay once the crisis has subsided. Being non-political, they are often tolerated by the most draconian governments. As a result, they create a climate of social justice by their mere presence.

Reports indicate they have even ventured beyond medicine to assist people in home management, farming, marketing and distributing their products. They have also engineered the drilling of water wells, creating sanitation systems, and acquiring mosquito nets to improve the climate of health.

The Great Depression and President Hoover’s Administration

The Great Depression not only meant the collapse of Wall Street, but it found people of Oklahoma and Arkansas in a veritable dust bowl because of the great drought that hit these states. Tens of thousands of people fled to the West looking for jobs and a new start.

Present Herbert Hoover, a trained engineer, saw no reason to launch either an instrumental or terminal intervention to allay the national distress.

Hoover believed the economy would correct itself. It didn’t. In 1933, he was voted out of office with Franklin Delano Roosevelt elected.

President Roosevelt’s Well Meant Instrumental Intervention

Roosevelt, his biographers tell us, had no plan. He simply knew that he had to do something. His first 100 days in office was a mix bag of instrumental and terminal interventions with the emphasis on the former. He launched what he called the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which authorized the president to regulate banks, and stimulate the U.S. economy to recover from the Great Depression. Much of it was later found unconstitutional.

With the Emergency Work Progress Bill, President Roosevelt created 5,000 camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA), which damned rivers, built bridges, roads, and cut through mountains for railroads, created city parks and built baseball stadiums. All 48 states of the United States participated. Workers were paid $1 a day ($25 in 2008 dollars) of which $25 ($625 in 2008 dollars) per month was sent directly to their families. The CCC was made up of approximately 3.5 million men, 225,000 WWI veterans, and the balance young American boys, unmarried, between the ages of 17 and 28 years. The CCC existed until 1942; the WPA was closed down in 1943. The WPA benefits going to African Americans exceeded their proportion of the general population. Altogether in 1935, about 40 percent of the nations African American adults were working on WPA projects or on relief, being unskilled and otherwise unemployable. My da was on the WPA.

Unfortunately, Roosevelt’s efforts failed to allay the forces of the depression. It took the country’s total mobilization of WWII to put the steam back into the American economy. FDR successfully seeded it by giving back the American worker his pride and dignity, and for it was elected to four terms as president.

The Instrumental Value of World War II’s G.I. Bill

Following WWII, Congress approved the G.I. Bill of Rights, which provided veterans of that war the financial assistance to pursue a trade, go to college, finance a home, or start a business. This was a terminal intervention with an instrumental intervention outcome, showing that the two interventions can often work in sync. Many young men and women became the first members of their families to acquire a college degree; many became doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and educators. The G.I. Bill solidified the American middle class and promoted by so doing, social justice.

Social justice isn’t an algorithm of a certain socioeconomic status but the climate of a civil society to grow in bread and breadth to create a climate and culture of support and encouragement. We are still reaping the benefits of this far-reaching program. I am a former recipient of such benefits.

The Legacy of President Bush

The Bill & Cathy Gates Foundation is committed to social justice instrumentally (through training & development) and terminally (through financial support & facility building). Yet, as asset heavy as is this foundation, it cannot exercise the scope or impact of a dedicated country to social justice such as the United States. It can show the way but not save the day.

Perhaps the most important legacy of the troubled George W. Bush presidency will be his African Policy.

The U.S. is on track to increase its already generous assistance to Africa to $8.7 billion by 2010, double the level of assistance in 2004.

President Bush’s Malaria Initiative, alone, has already reached 25 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief since 2003 has supported the anti-retroviral treatment of 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Unfortunately, because of a global gag rule, this policy bars organizations that receive U.S. international family planning funds from having anything to do with abortion. This has resulted in the continuing spread of HIV because of a permissive shortage of free prophylactics or condoms.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 30-million of the world’s 40-million HIV/AIDS sufferers. It has a shortage of condoms and AIDS treatment in Family Planning Clinics from Ethiopia to Swaziland because of the president’s antiabortion religious right policies.

That said President Bush has however secured international agreement on the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, which provides 100 percent debt relief from the major international Financial Institutions to the world’s poorest nations. This amounts to some $42 billion in debt to date, $34 billion of which was for 19 African countries. Over time, a total of 33 African countries could receive full debt relief because of this initiative.

In 2006, the United States provided $195 million in the first of a five-year plan to support the African Union’s Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program. This instrumental initiative is meant to eliminate hunger, reduce poverty and food insecurity, increase trade, and promote wealth in Africa.

President Bush has also proposed that a portion of the U.S. Food Aid Funding Program purchase crops directly from farmers in Africa instead of shipping in food assistance from the developed world. This initiative is designed to assist in building up local agriculture markets in an attempt to break the cycle of famine.

Since 2005, the United States has trained over 39,000 African peacekeepers, which represents over 80 percent of the African Union Force. The United States has supported democratically elections in Liberia, Mauritania, and Burundi. It has also assisted civil society organizations across Africa in combating gender-based violence, trafficking of persons, and other human rights violations. It has also contributed more than 40 percent of the budget to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The United States has been less effective in quelling the genocide in Darfur, the violence in Eastern Congo and Kenya, or the staggering inflation and starvation in Zimbabwe.

As you can see, there are instrumental and terminal components to this Africa Policy and social justice lies somewhere in the stream. Were other wealthy nations of the world to match the US effort, which to date they haven’t, even considering the president’s cultural bias, the continent of Africa could become a major social, economic and political force.

This is not social justice with an upper case “S” and “J” but social justice between instrumental and terminal interventions with a lower case of these two letters.

Social Justice and Self-Interests

Upper case Social Justice will always have to flow against the current of self-interests. We have seen the Robert Mugabe government of Zimbabwe collapse from a rich agricultural exporting country to one of massive unemployment (80 percent), mass inflation (100,000 percent) and pervasive poverty in the quarter century of his rule. This has stemmed from his hatred of the former white Rhodesian colonial government. His instrumental interventions have been ruinous because he destroyed the white infrastructure of farmers and businessmen before a black competent majority could be successfully developed. It has been a policy repeated by dictators across the globe assumed leadership positions once their hated colonial masters were disposed.

Should pharmaceutical companies make accessible drugs that would stem the tide of AIDS, distribute condoms and other prophylactics, and educate on the use of these products; should agricultural manufacturers and engineers make accessible equipment and training for irrigation, crop rotation, and planting; should an army of educators build schools and create appropriate curriculums; should planners, architects, bankers, lawyers, executives and businessmen make available their expertise; and should public health professionals work to create sanitation and water reclamation systems, the benefits would be that of instrumental interventions, but that would not be social justice.

Social Justice is not something you can legislate from the outside. Those who seek it must seize it, as all the successful instrumental and terminal interventions are for naught if they don’t.

It is probably the most optimistic possibility, if we are to create a world in which Social Justice is demonstrated, that we recognize the obvious limitations of what we can do to that end.

George W. Bush may leave office with the lowest popularity rating of a president back to the time of Abraham Lincoln, but he can look with pride at the legacy of his Africa Policy. He hasn’t attained social justice, but he has implemented terminal and instrumental interventions, which could move the African continent in that direction.

Social Justice Closer To Home

We have pockets of poverty in the United States. We have 40 million Americans without health insurance. We have 60 million Americans that cannot read or comprehend these words. Only about 75 percent of whites, 60 percent of blacks and 58percent of Hispanics graduate from American high schools. Consequently, we have huge pockets of young adults without any job skills. We therefore have huge pockets of whites, blacks and Hispanics in our jails and prisons.

Forty years ago when I was working and living in South Africa, there was violence in American classrooms, violence on university campuses, and violence in America's city streets. Often during the Civil Rights Movement, police were instigators of the violence. This carnage was captured on television showing the nation it wasn't what it thought it was.

Today, the violence has become murderous as many young people have guns, and are apt to you them at the slightest provocation. The nightly television news in Tampa is daily predicated with such senseless and regretable deaths.

What would constitute social justice at home?

The sanctity of the family would help; staying in school would build confidence; showing chidren the instrumental and terminal value to education could prove a winner; subsuming self-interests to community involvement; encouraging businesses to employ young people in summer jobs; expanding summer recreational programs; fighting corruption in government which often spawns elicit activities; combating drug trafficking by reducing adult addiction to recreational drugs; doing more things as a family; going to church; with parents creating sensible borders in which children can breathe and enjoy the rites of passage.

Those that seek social justice must seize it, but impressionistic youth need guidance the same as the people about the world do who are not quite ready on their own.

These are my thoughts as I walk through my neighborhood today.

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