This is Essay Nineteen 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?
What Justice Isn’t
by Steve Cook
Some people, quite obviously, don’t want justice, regardless of how much they make fine speeches or heartfelt pleas to the contrary. The advocates of war don’t for a start.
Yet all of them will demand war in one guise or another “in the name of justice.”
Many will also advocate or incite populations to war in the name of “defending civilization” or the cherished values thereof.
When leaders talk of defending civilization, we wonder why they have so long presided over the dismantling of that which they purport to be seeking to defend.
When we are told that some external foe is hell-bent on the destruction of our way of life, we wonder then why our own “Very Best People” have done such a thorough job on that foe’s behalf.
And we wonder too how we can defend something that they themselves have not yet permitted to exist: better to create a civilization first, so as to have something to defend.
Whoever the perpetrator may be, the wrecking of the lives of persons who have themselves done us no wrong – in effect bringing them the death penalty or other punishments without trial – are not civilized traits. They are barbarisms and one cannot defend civilization by extending, promoting and justifying its total opposite.
Neither can one bring order to a disordered or chaotic area by injecting more chaos into it. And when the bombs are going off and the bullets are flying, corpses lie in the streets and the anguished wail of the bereaved can be heard amid the smoking rubble of homes and places of industry, that is chaos!
Some terrorist group wants justice, so bombs a shopping mall in retaliation for some real or imagined wrong done (he says) not by the people blown up in the mall, but by some other people sitting three hundred miles away in the country’s place of governance.
Some government wants justice for the bombing of its shopping mall. It names some terrorist nut (whom it earlier trained and equipped) as the bloke who looks like the sort of person who probably did it. Then it drops half a million tons of high explosives on some city of half-starved peasants whose government (installed a few years earlier by the country now sending in the bombers) is the sort of government that probably supports the bloke who looks like he probably did it.
And they’re obviously a ruthless dictatorship, a fact that escaped our notice when we bombed the previous ruthless dictatorship so as to put the current ruthless dictatorship in power.
The half a million tons of high explosives kill an awful lot of people, “accidentally,” who probably never did anything wrong to anybody but we’ll never know for sure because they’re now dead anyway.
This is justice?
According to some it is, yet none of the basics of justice, which we’ll look at shortly, are present at all! It is raving insanity.
There is no justice in killing people without bothering too much about who they are or what, if anything, they did. Neither is there justice in lumping those people together into an anonymous mass and making it the target because somewhere in the mass there might be someone who might have done something or other.
Executing people who were never tried, proven guilty and convicted, is the opposite of justice.
There is no shred of justice in reducing the dead to the status of car fenders or real estate by calling their indiscriminate slaughter “collateral damage.”
This is the conduct of human beings who have lost the capacity for rational thought. It may be that they themselves are simply very upset and when man becomes upset, his capacity for reason evaporates.
But it is not a very good idea to have people who have lost the capacity for reason making decisions that effect the survival of millions and, like it or not, the fact remains that justice was never obtained and never will be obtained through a multiplication of injustices.
The call for justice, so often hijacked and deflected into an excuse for war or other crimes against human beings, follows some real, imagined or completely fictitious wrong.
But there is “situation handled,” merely a never ending chain of harmful act upon harmful act, each justified by the one before it and each justifying the one that follows it, stacking up harm endlessly into the far, miserable future.
As the harm stacks up, so does the inhibition of survival.
These escalating chains of crime, this compounding barbarism of revenge, are the very things justice was intended to end, by removing the need and justification for them.
Our fogginess as to the meaning and role of justice provides a gap in which advocates of harm can operate. Justice becomes completely inverted in meaning and is redefined as a justification for counter-survival conduct, yet in its purity it stands upon the principle that there is no justification for counter-survival acts, no matter who commits them, nor whom the victim.
Our natural propensity and preference for justice makes it easy for the unscrupulous to sell us a bill of goods by wrapping it in a package that bears the label “Justice.” We wind up cheering on the insane for “defending” our way of life or giving them an encouraging boost in the opinion polls.
The human community has rarely been at peace with itself. Its history is so plagued by regular eruptions of conflict that men have begun to assume that all this is natural.
There are those who are quite happy for them to be so deceived. Man has rarely known respite from those paroxysms of insanity that regularly inhibit or even reverse his progress towards an enduring civilisation.
But he has rarely known true justice either: the two are linked.
Next in this series So What is Justice?
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