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Justice must inform our thinking

13 September 2012, 14:58

Justice (or fairness) is a word that is bandied about at all levels and is often used with great passion. We all imagine that, when we use the word “justice”, we mean what we say and say what we mean. It is also behind what we believe is right and what we think is wrong. It is fundamental because everyone will agree that, without it, life is intolerable. We don’t have to think about it … instinctively we all know that it is something we all must have … as human beings.

But do we know what justice is? Most people, when asked “what is justice?” will have trouble defining it, even though it is absolutely fundamental to human relations. I base this on actual experience in addressing human groups.

Despite this, people will enthusiastically, aggressively and even violently take a stance on what is wrong, or right, fair or unfair. We see this daily in Facebook discussions for instance, whether its about the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, the so called “land reform” in Zimbabwe, the treatment of Gays and Lesbians, the Israel/Palestinian conflict and a plethora of  other local and international affairs.

It is very frustrating to read the discussions, because they usually end the way they start, with each side still locked into the self righteous position they started with, after sometimes bitter "point scoring", regardless of what the opponent advances. The reason why parties to a debate stay locked in their positions is usually because the paradigm thinking, driving their stance, is steeped in religion, culture and/or political persuasion. Politics, culture and religion are boxes in which people find and keep themselves --- often with pride and great passion.

So we really need something that takes all of us out of our respective boxes, if any progress is to be made. These boxes can’t all be right … all of the time. After all, which box you find yourself in is usually a matter of pure chance, over which we have no control. You do not choose to be born Black. You will become a Moslem only because of where and to whom you were born. So too as regards whether you are an American or a Tswana, or Ndebele or Shona. It is all dependent on pure chance. And yet, we lock ourselves into the box in which we find ourselves in, espouse its gospel and imagine that we are right! Wow! How very silly we are. Really!

The religious box is perhaps the most pernicious. Religion is handed down from generation to generation almost exclusively by parents to their children. These children embrace the religion on account of parental influence and the environment they find themselves in. None of this occurs on account of any substantive cognitive process. And yet, generation after generation accepts unconditionally that their religion is "right" to the extent regrettably of being prepared to victimize, even kill, others in its defense and/or propagation. It is the most obscene/grotesque reality that more human beings have been killed and maimed in the name of religion than for any other cause.  It is obscene and grotesque because all major religions preach peace and love of humanity. 

What we need is something that is divested of our own box; something that applies regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, colour or creed.

 Might I introduce you to this lady. She is beautiful; as beautiful as we all imagine justice to be. So feel free to ascribe her the beauty that you ascribe justice. She is called Lady Justice. 

What you will notice is that she has a sword in one hand. This is because, at a certain point, justice demands that there be punishment, sometimes very severe punishment. No one disagrees on this.

You will also notice that, in her other hand, she holds a set of scales.  This is where she weighs up the dispute. When we argue with each other we are insisting on what should go into these scales. Lady Justice puts us, and our arguments, in  the scales --- and proceeds to resolve the dispute by making sure that they are in a balance – neither having more than the other. Whatever else we may disagree on, we all agree that justice only occurs if, in the end, neither has more than the other. So that is why she has the scales; to ensure this balance.

Most importantly however, we see that Lady Justice is blindfolded! She was not always blindfolded. In her original version, as the Greek Lady, Thermis, she was not blindfolded.

Originally, at the time of the Greek goddess Thermis, and her daughter Dike, there was no connection between the notion of justice and that of fairness. Justice was a matter of fate, providence or in terms of the will of the gods. So untimely death, illness (even wealth and poverty) or other misfortune was seen as God’s will, fate, providence, or just being cursed.

 However conflict and human misery, experienced over centuries, proved, beyond all doubt, that she needed to be blindfolded, otherwise there would be still no justice.  Over many centuries man came to the realization that, in order for Lady Justice to do her job properly, she needed to be blind to the racial, cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, social, political and other differences of those appearing before her.

Unless she was blind to difference there would never be justice. This realization is encapsulated in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, which absolutely outlaws distinctions based on status. Such differences are irrelevant to the sacred business of weighing up the disputants and their claims in her scales. Lady Justice does not see the box that you are in. 

All are equal before her. All are equal before her. All are equal before her.

The fact that you are a senior politician, or even a President, does not make your defense to a claim by a humble peasant any stronger. The fact that you are a Ndebele does not make you right and your Shona adversary wrong. The fact that you are ZANU-PF does not mean that your policy is more fair or just than that of the MDC. These “boxes” are simply irrelevant to the issue of justice, or fairness, or right and wrong.

In the result we must all agree with Malcolm X that --“I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it's for or against”.             

 “Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just". Blaise Pascal (French Mathematician, Philosopher and Physicist, 1623 – 1662”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Martin Luther King (Baptist Minister)1929 - 1968

“In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same”         Albert Einstein (Physicist)1879–18 April 1955

All of these statements need to be studied very carefully, considered and embraced, unconditionally . When you do, you need to first take yourself out of the box that you are in. The fact that you are Conservative or a Democrat, ZANU-PF or DC,  Christian or a Moslem, Jew or Palestinian, Ndebele or a Shona, Black or a White .. etc ... are simply irrelevant.

You need to see your opponent, through clear eyes, simply as your equal, because Lady Justice does not see any difference between you.

Then you need to ask yourself the question. Do you love him/her as you love yourself … and/or … are you treating him/her as you would want to be treated.

 It is that simple. Really!  Then perhaps ... perhaps we would not be having Marikana ... and worse .....

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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