This is Essay Twenty in the series Lighten the Load, a back-to-basics re-think of government. What should a government be and do? What should it definitely NOT be and do? Is it even necessary at all? If so, how much and why? How do we decide, against what criteria?
by Steve Cook
There is such a thing as a harmful act: it is an act that impedes survival or the ability of the group or its members to pursue survival.
A harmful act is a specific act producing a specific harm and is committed by a specific person or group.
Human beings recognise and agree that certain acts are harmful and that their survival and the survival of their group demands that such harmful acts do not occur.
They also recognise that some acts produce a greater degree of inhibition of survival than others.
The group, society, nation or human community must protect itself from harmful acts by:
(a) agreeing which specific acts are so counter-survival to the group and the individuals within it that they cannot be tolerated.
(b) stating through the issuance of laws, which counter survival acts will not be tolerated and seeking through those laws to discourage people from doing them.
(c) where such a counter-survival act occurs, establishing that the counter-survival act did indeed occur.
(d) establishing who did it.
(e) making sure the correct “who” has been identified.
(f) getting that person or group of persons to stop doing it by:
- (1) pointing out that their action is harmful [sane people can err and do harm but recognition that the act is wrong will usually bring about a cessation of it].
- (2) reforming them so that they have no further inclination to do it and will henceforth assist survival of their own free will [the know-how for which has not existed until recently – but that’s another story]
- (3) removing them from the group so they no longer have the opportunity to do it.
(g) supplanting the now curtailed harmful act by the correct pro-survival action.
The Resolution of Disputes
There is a second, equally important, aspect of justice and that is the righting of wrongs and resolution of disputes.
Here again, justice resolves down to the fundamental of identifying a wrong or harmful act or situation and ensuring that the wrong action or situation is discontinued and replaced by right actions.
A just resolution of some alleged wrong or of some dispute between people will achieve an assistance of survival for the group and for the honest members of it.
In the absence, until very recent times, of any technology of reform, societies have relied upon removing people from circulation temporarily (jail) or removing them from circulation permanently (execution) or inflicting pain or other penalties that, hopefully, outweigh any temptations to commit the harmful act.
The above are the basic actions of justice. Their purpose is to protect the group from those with an inclination to acts that endanger or impede its survival or that of its members.
Their end product is an increase in the group’s ability to achieve survival goals and thereby that of its members and the wider community with which it interacts.
Justice, in other words, makes the environment safe for honest people
It also makes it safe for the dishonest to become honest.
To the degree, therefore, that honest people feel unsafe, endangered or insecure, justice is not occurring: it is being neglected or prevented.
If the above purpose is not served and the above end-result not achieved, then, regardless of what it is called, it isn’t justice.
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