Monday, July 13, 2009

What Is Justice? (Butler Shaffer)

Butler Shaffer says that "justice" in the context of American politics is simply the redistribution of violence:

Every man loves justice at another man’s expense.
~ Anonymous

One of the emptiest words in our culture is "justice." Its vacuous quality is what makes it so popular: it requires little in the way of focused, intelligent explication to employ it. To those on the political "left," justice" gets translated into a demand for money to be taken from some and bestowed upon others. Those on the political "right" use it as a plea for the building of more prisons and the hiring of more police officers to ferret out more persons to fill them. When people tell me "I demand justice," my response is to warn them to temper their insistence, as they might just get it!

When pressed for a definition, I reply that justice is the redistribution of violence. In its simplest form, X commits a wrong upon Y, for which Y demands retaliation against X. In its more complex form in our collectivized world, fifteen Saudis, two men from the United Arab Emirates, one Egyptian, and one Lebanese join in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings. As these men were killed in the process, the demands for "justice" led most Americans to accept the bombing and killing of innocent men, women, and children in such unrelated places as Afghanistan and Iraq! Justice and rationality have little to do with one another.

The death of Robert McNamara brought home the meaningless nature of this concept. This war criminal – like so many others of the home-grown type – was, perhaps more than any other, responsible for the deaths of more than a million innocent victims during the Vietnam War. He knew the war to be bogus and unwinnable, yet continued to insist upon more lives being invested in this evil scheme. His co-conspirator, Lyndon Johnson, helped to cover up their evil deeds by awarding McNamara with a Medal of Freedom. If Americans had been as self-righteous in punishing the crimes of their own leaders as they insist inflicting upon foreign monsters, both these men would have ended their careers on the gallows.

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1 comment:

JohnJ said...

Not to belabor the obvious, but Iraq was not invaded for "justice". Iraq was invaded to enforce agreements Hussein made.

While I agree with Shaffer's point about the abuse and distortion of the word "justice" (especially the attempt to enact "collective" justice), I also think there is a real, objective measure of justice to which we can adhere. The problem with collective justice is that it is unjust. It is unjust to hold someone accountable for a choice they did not make. Likewise, it is just to hold someone accountable for a choice they did make.