Justice is blind.
Or so it is said in Western culture.
The issue with justice is not the fact of justice, which is applied through law, morals, appeals to theology and philosophy. The issue with justice is that the narratives around it are often confused with several other things.
Desire for vengeance. Dissatisfaction with outcomes. Disappointment at a lack of desired consequences.
Crime victim families walk before cameras and state: “We came here for justice and justice was done.” Or, “We came here for justice, but there was no justice today.”
A character in a movie once stated that, “Karma is justice without the satisfaction. I don’t believe in justice.” Another character infamously intoned in another film “For justice, we will go to Don Corleone!” We should remember that Lady Justice carries both scales–and a sword.
Many people scream loudly for a narrative that includes and envelops justice. They even make signs and placards with the phrase, “no justice, no peace” emblazoned upon them, but what they are really seeking is karmic retribution.
Retribution, vengeance, revenge; wrongs righted with immediacy and swift, unambivalent consequences. Punishment, meted out by at the highest order, in the fastest way, with as few innocent people harmed as possible.
There is a revolution underway in both the Western world and at a larger, global level. Societies, groups, cultures and even individuals are confusing the results of that revolution with their own desires for karmic retribution. The karmic retribution narrative begins something like this:
“Never before in the history of world, do we (typically meaning “I” or “my in-group”) have access to more information, more money and more power to transform the world in ways reflecting how we would like it to be, rather than the frustrating, unjust ways that it has always been. No longer will we (typically meaning “I” or “my in-group”) wander the world, merely satisfied with outcomes formerly guaranteed to us by ‘people in power.’ We want more. And if we don’t receive the more we are guaranteed, then we will either move on those in power to get it. Or we will call for justice until we get the material outcomes we seek.”
This narrative underlies many current calls for justice, with the immediacy of the narrative being employed, following ever newly discovered injustices, as wave after wave of more access, more mobility and more individualized power seems to wash over the societies and cultures we inhabit.
But so what, right? Under a Rawlian (or even a Lockean) philosophical world view, why shouldn’t narratives be reframed and cries for justice recried?
Well, conflicts occur when narratives differ, when perceptions of justice don’t match and whenever disruptions happen. Conflicts happen when narratives of injustices (and perceived narratives of injustice) rub up against each other.
And when the only resolutions come in the form of power transfers and shifts, conflicts escalate quickly to violence. And, while this is nothing new (see Don Corleone) one need only look at incidents around the United States (and the world) last year to see the evidence of the conflicts and how quickly and irrevocably they can escalate.
What are we to do?
What is the balance between justice, vengeance, and the more revolution that we are experiencing worldwide?
What is the most unambiguous way for all people (even those who have chosen not to participate due to inability, lack of ability or lact of interest) to benefit from the new largesse that our recent scientific/moral/ethical/legal revolutions promise to provide?
What are societies and cultures to do, even as the center disintegrates and the power holders in culture, media, journalism and on and on, lose out in the shifting narratives of our times?
Who gets to choose?
Who gets to make the world?
We don’t know the answers to any of these questions.
But far more energy should be spent on discussing and solving those questions and advancing the narrative of peace. Much less energy should be spent on advancing narratives that cry out for karmic vengeance, too often framed in the language of justice, while always proclaiming that fairness and equitable treatment are the ultimate goals.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: email@example.com