Two are the names of justice. One lives above the the heads of mortals, unflinching and cold. The other lies on the minds and lips of the breathing, loose, flexible, forever shifting with the wind. The former, natural law, chance, mechanistic in its appropriations, cares not if the universe protests. The later moves from whim to whim, bouncing of the generations, staring its victims in the eye.
Natural justice dares us to flip a coin a thousand times. Defy me, it declares, as the heads and tails draw to even with every flip. The natural law has life devour life, only to bring new life. Nature destroys a star and uses the debris to bring new worlds into existence. This is justice.
From this universal justice we bring about our local justice. This new form is an attempt to emulate the world that exists without us, while considering that we are actually here. The universe is stupid. There is no intelligence in the raw movement of electrons. A single human mind dwarfs the whole of existence in its capacity for thought. We are bound by nothing. There are no borders to human thought. This is far too wild a creature to introduce into the singular minded justice of the universe. The strictures of universal justice pale to depths that are needed to moderate human behavior.
Local justice is complicated, tenuous, folding and rippling like the surface of the earth. We are forced to rectify the relationships we have forged on our own. God has given us the freedom, the mandate, to pursue justice amongst ourselves.
We have authored tomes.
We have forged governments.
We have created courts, judges, codes, prisons, devices and politics to this end.
The riddle pervades.
Is it just when one profits from Ill? Is it just when one suffers for good? Is it just to watch a fellow mind denied a home? A dinner? The medical care to survive in a world shaped by our own hands?
Local justice pours itself down rabbit trails. Can it be found at the end? Can we look into the corners and the nooks to find something analogous to truth?
At issues lies the balance between good and ill, and here I want to avoid the concept of evil because no definition of evil is suitable to carry the intense emotional wieght of the word. Could it be every human bears within evil? Is it possible that evil is so intense that it escapes the capacities of man? Humans can do good. Humans can do ill. We can hold the hand of the dying, we can take the money of the poor. What we can not do is negotiate
a balance between these ideas. Good and ill were never built to sit upon a scale. There is no formula built to balance this equation. The natural world has no mechanism to deal with will. Intelligence is a wild card. We must attach local justice to natural justice so it doesn’t fly away, but the universe cannot reign in the human mind. We must look further.
The coin flips and it is either heads or it is tails. It is an isolated event. 50/50. Flip it again and it is an isolated event. 50/50. This is mathematics made for a scale. But Bernie Madoff can’t be weighted against a group of volunteers in Haiti. Our justice tries to be blind (it sees just fine, thank you) and it tries to be fair (when fair has no actual value, it is unmeasurable). Does justice simply wash away leaving a linguistic shell behind? Has it already? Could it be that justice is a place holder for something else entirely? Since Thrasymicus stumbled Socrates, the idea that justice is a tool for the rich and powerful has been frustratingly pervasive. Maybe this is the case, yet we can’t find it in ourselves to tell Webster’s to go with the pessimism and change the definition. We, we tell ourselves, are better than that. Justice is human nature, an excited but empty statement.
There are two streams of thought I tend to follow when I think on local justice. One is social justice, the other is criminal justice. These are not two forms of justice. One is a form of justice. One is something wholly different.
I think o justice not as human nature, but the counter to human nature. Justice is tending to the sick because human nature is to walk away. Justice is to feed the poor because human nature is to feed ourselves. Justice is to love our enemy because human nature is to kill. Social justice is the closest thing we have to natural justice. We can try to emulate a world without us by countering our tendencies to do ill. Justice is not punishing ill, it is preventing it. The golden rule is justice.
Criminal justice also has two names. In it’s purest form it is a deterrent. Here it serves a valuable purpose. We need a method to prevent damaging behavior without reading thoughts and outright stopping the behavior. The method we have come up with is deterrence. Seeing criminals punished might prevent the observer from commiting the same crime. The success of this method can be debated, but we have used it for all of history. It has become so ingrained in our culture that we have assimilated it into our definition of justice.
At its worst criminal justice is revenge, and here we find that justice, as accepted, actually becomes its opposite. When we delve into human nature the likes of vengance, we must rely on justice to extract ourselves. To be sure, we need justice to save us from our percieved justice!
Oh, this idea can summarily dismissed with a wave of the hand and a muttering “bleeding heart liberal,” but that truly would be missing the point. I have no issue with the idea of deterance, I simply believe that terms should be understood.
Justice is a lofty goal, but a worthy pursuit.