The moral arc of the universe bends towards justice.
And justice, supposedly, is blind.
Or so they say.
But people, with their prejudices, conflicts, disagreements, and dissensions, have trouble arcing towards blindness.
The issue with justice is not the fact of justice, that which is applied through the creation of laws, the codification of morals, and through genuine appeals to theology and philosophy.
The other issue with justice is that it’s application is often confused with something else.
Because stories get closer to the truth of this than facts do, a character in a movie once stated that, “Karma is justice without the satisfaction. I don’t believe in justice.”
Many people and groups scream loudly for justice.
There are signs, placards, and bumper stickers with the phrase, “no justice, no peace” emblazoned upon them, but what they are really demanding is karmic retribution, not an arc of the universe bending toward justice.
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.
We are undergoing a global revolution where groups, cultures and individuals are confusing the potential, long desired outcomes of the revolution with their own personal desires for karmic retribution.
The narrative arc of the current revolution goes something like this:
Never before in the history of world is there access to more information, more money and more power to change the world in that ways that we would like it to be, rather than the ways that it has always been.
No longer will disparate groups and individuals wander the world, merely satisfied with the outcomes formerly guaranteed to them by “betters” or “others” in the social order.
We want more.
And if we don’t receive the more that we are guaranteed, then we will either move those in power to get it.
Of we will call for justice (and crank up the social pressure to conform) until we get the material outcomes we seek.
This narrative underlies current calls for justice, with the immediacy of the narrative 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?
Well, conflicts occur when narratives differ, when perceptions of justice don’t match and when unanticipated disruptions happen. Conflicts happen when narratives of actual 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.
One need only look at incidents around the United States (and the world) last year to see the evidence of this. With that being said, there are some critical questions to ask–and answer:
- 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 lack of interest) to benefit from the new largesse that technology promises to provide?
- What are societies and cultures to do, even as the center disintegrates and the power holders in culture, media, and 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 answering the questions, than on advancing a narrative that cries out for justice disguised as vengeance, while at the same time proclaiming that fairness and equitable treatment are the true goals.
On this day, let us commit to knowing the difference between justice and vengeance and to asking—and answering—the hard questions of the narratives that underlie our motive, our assumptions, and the ongoing global arc towards something that might eventually look like justice.