On Justice

No Justice, No Peace.  A favorite chant of all those who feel oppressed.  Justice is served.   We all want justice, but we do not all agree on what it is.  Justice is supposed to be blind.  Presumably this is to say that the good-looking should not have an advantage over the homely, and to a greater extent, justice should not be distracted by our differences, but treat all equally.  Some metaphorical descriptions of Justice, however, do not get us closer to what we know to be the meaning of Justice.  Justice should not fail to see evidence, for example.

The Metaphorical Fable

When we put Justice in a lineup with vengeance, mercy, fairness and peace, different people have difficulty finding Justice in that line.  I think I have an eye for some of the distinguishing features of Justice that may help pick Justice in that lineup.  They all look like they could be related to Justice, but only one is specifically Justice.

The first one that jumps out is Vengeance.  He closely resembles Justice at first glance because it seems fitting that where there is Justice, people get what they deserve.  En eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  If you kill, you must die.  Vengeance, however is the wilder one.  If you kill my son, I’ll kill yours.  Vengeance is not justice because it is blind in the worst way.  Collateral damage is not a problem for Vengeance.  Those who can’t tell Justice and Vengeance apart tend to agree that collateral damage is a necessary part of Justice.  I think that this collateral damage is what distinguishes Justice from Vengeance.  If the pursuit of Justice leads to Injustice, justice is served poorly or not at all.

Looking down the line, I may think that Fairness could pass for Justice.  They both try to treat people equally; try to give everybody the same chances,  but Fairness has some very strong, firm features, and some that never seem to resolve the more you look at them.  This adds a slight resemblance to Justice, but is far more noticeable than with Justice.  Fairness has a look of internal conflict.  Some things will never be truly fair, so Fairness is mostly about minimizing unfairness, not about eliminating unfairness.  It is fair to agree to rules, but it can be unfair if the rules give an unexpected advantage, or if the advantage was designed into the rules but undisclosed.  Fair and Square means honestly fair, not just technically legal.  Fairness comes into conflict in practice when things like Intent and Chance come into play.   If my error causes a car crash, it is fair that I cover the cost of the damage.   It becomes unfair if you chose to drive a million dollar car made of bone china and covering the cost would mean me giving up my home and all I will earn in my life, and not covering the cost would merely inconvenience you.  On one hand, fair, on the other unfair. The Unfairness would be so great that minimizing unfairness would be to virtually ignore one aspect of Fairness.   If the accident involved a fatality, where is Fairness? Someone died.  On one hand it may be fair that the one who caused it should die, but on the other, is it fair to intentionally kill in response to an accidental killing?  Vengeance is down the line giving a thumbs-up, but Justice is shaking his head.  Justice and Fairness have a lot in common, but they are not identical.

Maybe Justice is Peace.  Many seem to think that they are inseparable.  They are not.  Peace is a bit less thoughtful than Justice.  Peace just wants to roll with the flow.  If there is something wrong, learn to live with it. It could be worse.  Peace is always trying to get Fairness and Vengeance to chill out, but it is a lot easier when those two are not agitated.  That is why when Justice is on vacation, Peace may be under a lot of stress and decide to stay in bed all day, or get tied up and shoved in a closet by the henchmen of Power and Greed  as Vengeance takes over recruiting with an endorsement from Fairness.  But when Justice is in control, Peace can bask in the glory.  If prosperity comes over to visit (causing vengeance to head down to the bar until she’s gone) , then likely as not, they will look up their old friends Mercy and charity and all get together to admire each other, telling each other they do the job Justice is too stuffy to do.  Others watching  may give Justice credit for being in the big chair as these things are going on,  but that only leads to a feeling of betrayal when prosperity has to go visit someone else.  Mercy and Charity start to feel a bit less welcome, and face it, Peace is just not that interesting without Prosperity around.  Everyone who was used to Mercy and Charity having a party everyday start to think Fairness will be on their side when they complain about  Justice not doing anything about it,  and soon, Peace is calling in sick again, even if Justice still has most things under control.   Justice never has everything under control, but most people who claim there is no Justice are exaggerating.

Mercy is the black sheep of the family, getting along with Peace better than any of the others, but a little cool to Fairness and constantly intimidated by Vengeance.  Justice knows and likes Mercy, because Mercy helps Justice deal with Fairness in a calming way, pointing out the many bits of unfairness that start to add up to balance out against what looked like cut-and-dried Fairness.  When Justice is working, it does not depend on Mercy, but can be helped by keeping meddlesome emotions from demanding concessions for their positions on Fairness or Vengeance that do not take in the bigger picture.  Justice likes things to be predictable and systematic, but knows they cannot always be.

So we have eliminated the other suspects.  These all resemble Justice in some way, but how do we know Justice?  What makes Justice Justice?  Justice is the one who stands a bit taller than all of the others, seeing more.  He can see past Mercy, Fairness,  Peace, and especially Vengeance.  He knows the value each can bring, and the harm each can do.  He has no use at all for Vengeance, even though some folks still can’t tell them apart, and the common ground they have sometimes make them appear to be allies, since sometimes Justice is served when Vengeance gets what he wants, but Justice never listens to vengeance.  Once in a while Justice does have to take into account the climate vengeance has fostered in order to minimize injustice, but has to choke back vomit to do so.

Justice knows that Peace makes a more suitable environment for improving the effectiveness  of Justice for the most part, but sometimes Peace stands in the way of Justice and must be overridden to achieve greater Justice.  Mostly, this is on the smaller scale of causing discomfort to re-calibrate  the environment to one which is compatible with Peace and Justice, but occasionally it means that collateral injustice must be allowed  and Peace suspended  to affect a change in the order of things so that injustice is no longer inherent and systematic.  The problem is that when this occurs, Power, Greed and Stupidity flourish in such a situation,  virtually always magnifying the injustice  to the point that the net result makes the chance that a non-Peaceful solution very rarely leads to greater Justice.

Justice sees what Mercy sees, but from a different perspective.  Unlike Vengeance, Justice does not have a personal stake in what someone “deserves”. That is a childish interpretation of the way Justice approaches the issue of blame.  Mercy is quick to point out the redeeming qualities and make excuses for someone who stands before Justice.  Justice is concerned with maximizing  what is good and minimizing what is bad.  What good will come of a resolution and what bad.   Society must be protected, individuals must be protected, Fairness has a say in how to balance these.  If someone is guilty of something, then it is not unfair that they should suffer for it.  It is unfair for someone who is not guilty to suffer for it, but the relative unfairness must be weighed.  If Person X steals from Person Y, is it fair for Person Z to cover the cost of recovering it?   Justice can’t be limited to this minimal question, but what cost and benefit is found in protecting people from theft and recovering  stolen things and effective ways to do so. This is the same not only for other property issues, but for other rights, as well.  Justice can see that Fairness is right in demanding that everyone should have the same access to protection of the same rights, otherwise injustice will result in proportion to the bias in protection.  Additionally, there are collateral costs, some monetary, but not all, associated with dealing with these protections.  If one in ten thieves get caught,  is it reasonable to make an example of the one that is caught by having a penalty far harsher than  any harm the thief has done, to effect a deterrent? That would depend on the effectiveness of such a deterrent, and on other costs, such as whether harsh penalties lead to more or less crime.  Putting a petty shoplifter into a prison may produce a murderous gang member, leading to greater harm than making the shoplifter pick up trash every weekend for a while.  Justice may not be served by coddling shoplifters or even protecting them from their own mistakes, but it should not punish the society by failing to reduce injustice that can be reduced, particularly in exchange for satisfying the sense of moral outrage.  Moral outrage is just another flavor of vengeance, not justice.


About UncleJoe

I'm a middle aged male who has attended a seminary as well as receiving a degree in philosophy from a secular university neither of which would particularly impress you if I said which. I have pondered and puzzled questions of faith and the lack thereof for many years. I don't not claim to be holy, or an expert on everything, simply observant and interested. I'll make bold statements about what I see as the way things are, and you don't have to take my word for it. Call me on it. I am here for the discussion.
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