What does justice mean to you?
In a recent post about jury procedure law blogger Scott Greenfield suggests there are many people who haven’t thought very hard about justice.
“People like justice, though few have given it enough thought to realize what a ridiculously meaningless word it is.”
I agree with the notion that people like justice and I don’t disagree with the second part of his statement. Many people give very little thought to anything besides what’s directly in front of their face. We should strive to resent the masses less over this. Western society is not structured in such a way as to leave people with much time or incentive for contemplation while powerful moneyed interests work very hard to ensure most people are as stupid as possible. Fewer still, who ever show any interest in philosophical inquiry, will have the resources to expand their understanding by connecting with other deep thinkers.
I do, however, have a big problem with Scott’s assertion that the word is without meaning. Though, it’s not surprising to me that an officer of the court system in this country would feel disillusioned about what justice is and isn’t. I have given the concept much reflection, and I have decided there are certainly two versions, with very different meanings:
- The justice of men, established by corrupt institutions such as governments and churches.
- Empirical Justice
In the case of the former, I certainly agree, it’s pretty hard to put your finger on meaning. After all, this is the justice established by powerful men with rules crafted specifically to ensure they are able to maintain power with impunity. The kind of justice that encourages stealing land from native inhabitants, building fences around it, and determining it should be for private use only. Maybe throw a few slaves out there for good measure. (By the way, if you think slavery doesn’t still exist…you’re not thinking hard enough.) The kind of justice where millionaire gamblers bring the world economy to it’s knees, while ruining the lives of millions of our fellows, and get by with a slap on the wrist while they are bailed out by poor people. Yet men are thrown in cages for inhaling the smoke of burning weeds.
The other kind of Justice, genuine empirical Justice, is certainly not a current trend. It asserts that all men and women are truly created equal (not the bullshit equality in the Constitution…Real equality) and are therefore owed an equal share of their birthright, the wealth and resources of our combined home, this planet Earth we live on. It asserts we are all due equal treatment from one another…Fairness. I can understand why a man who works in the American version of justice may have lost sight of the word’s true meaning…But I hope humanity never passes a point where it is too late for real Justice to make a comeback.
Empirical Justice* is most closely aligned with John Rawl’s Theory of Justice but, I think, even he gets it wrong. A key tenet to his thinking is that we start with people of different class distinctions who must imagine their circumstances from an original position, that is a superposition in which they do not know if they are rich or poor, and decide what the right system of distribution should be. Again, this is man deciding what is just.
Empirical Justice is far less complicated: You were born, therefore you have rights to an equal share of the gifts and fair treatment we all deserve. Can you work hard, and, through a market free from coercive power, convince others to give you some part of their birthright? Yes. In fact, this would be a necessary system for progress to occur since some people will undoubtedly still be better at making shoes than plowing fields. But it will be their choice to give up some of their inherited wealth in exchange for time to do nothing, or something else. In modern society we all start with nothing…A status which is the result of the coercive effects of society. Not nature.
So I wonder, what does Justice mean to you? Does it matter?
*Originally read: “In my estimation, empirical Justice…” It was rightfully pointed out that something being ‘in my estimation’ devalues the meaning of empiricism and I therefore edited it.