Monday, August 6, 2007


What exactly is Justice? Rather than go through a dictionary or even wikipedia, I'm going to talk about what it means to me. The first thing that comes to mind when I see that word is fairness. To me to be just is to be fair.

I'm not exactly a crusading sort of person. I'm rather soft spoken, shy, and reserved. But nothing gets my blood boiling and my voice rising like a sense of an injustice being done - an unfairness. Maybe this comes from my experiences as a child being the brunt of what I considered unjust ostracism, taunting, teasing, and sometimes, punching. That must be part of it. I know this because I get that same feeling of injustice when I see such things happening to another person, particularly a child at school or on a playground. I'm not a violent person, not at all, but when I see someone victimized like that, it makes me want to take the victimizers and smash their skulls in. Not that I ever would. (Or could, for that matter. I'd be lucky to break a pencil). But that visceral feeling can come welling back up.

But it goes deeper than that and is not just about playground bullying. It is about an inner sense of fairness that I have that goes off like a fire alarm whenever I see something that is, in one way or another, simply not fair. Sometimes it goes off and I don't fully realize it at first. Other times it is loud and clear. I think the easiest way to describe it (and what sets it off) is to first imagine there is a game, say a board game, with various players. When all the players play by the same rules, that is what makes me feel all warm and gooey inside. But when some rules apply only to some players, but not others, that is what starts to set off the alarm. And this happens on an individual, not a group, basis. If the game was played by teams and team A had four players, three of which were cheating, and the fourth who was not, my alarm goes off for the three who cheat, not all of the team, because for me it is also unfair and an injustice to blame an individual for the actions of others over whom he or she has no control.

I think it is important to hold people accountable for what they do as individuals. I think it only leads to trouble when you do otherwise, because ultimately to me, that then becomes about treating someone based on a demographic, like sex or race, and once you go down that road you are down the road of sexism, racism, bigotry, no matter how noble your intentions, no matter what wrongs you think you are trying to fix from the past. Because that is exactly the kind of thinking that was the problem in the first place.

If you take someone as an individual, you have to look at him or her, look her or him in the eye and measure, rather than just ignoring that and taking the easy out, the stereotype, the demographic category, the little box checked off on the census form. That can be hard to do, particularly if that individual shares a demographic of some other individuals that have mistreated you in one form or another. But that is what justice requires. That is what is fair. Unfairness to them does not fix unfairness to you. It just perpetuates unfairness to the end of time. That is not to say that I don't appreciate the notion of poetic justice, such as having an individual who has acted in a certain manner to others having that exact behavior come back to haunt her or him. In a sense, that too is justice. Like having someone who refused to hire women (or men) find out that he (or she) now can't get a job because of his or her gender. But that is on an individual level. Such a refusal against an individual who did NOT so discriminate, is sexism, pure and simple, I don't care what the prior history of the one discriminating is. It does not justify punishing someone who is innocent for the crimes of others.

Another juicy example would be, say, after January 20, 2009, having the new president arrest George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Alberto Gonzales and putting them in Gitmo, denying them legal counsel, and holding them indefinitely without charges, perhaps with some waterboarding thrown in. That would also be poetic justice. And it would show them what it feels like to be on the other end of their abuses of power. There is justice beyond the poetic in that. So while I am totally against Gitmo, and all the other abuses of power done by the current administration, to see those directly responsible for it be victimized by it would, at the very least, not set off my unfairness alarm. In some ways, that would be the only fair thing to do. Unfortunately, such justice will never happen.

It is late now - I probably had more I wanted to say on this topic, but this is good for a start. This goes back to why I have a problem with prosecutors as well. I see a lot of unfairness in how the system is set up, how the power within it is out of balance. How prosecutors play by different rules and have too much unchecked power. Unchecked power is also something that tends to set off my unfairness alarm. The power to charge, to plea bargain, to basically bribe witnesses, a power that defense attorneys lack, that alone makes trials unfair where they are present. I could go on and on about that, and likely will soon.

Injustice and unfairness and my extreme dislike of both are what drive alot of my thinking in so many areas, sometimes without my even realizing it. It probably is evident in what I've posted here (and elsewhere). I'm still trying to get my finger on it. I figure this is a good start.

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