2019-03-31

What is justice?


How do you define justice? What is its measure? How do you fill it with life? How do you bring it about? These questions haunted me for many years. Recently I brought up the justice issue in my book “Mach was!?”, and I also put it before Tom, a dear friend whose ponderings I value highly. Yet I have not been able to come to a satisfying conclusion.

So what is justice?

The suspicion that my questions might be based on invalid hidden assumptions has been with me for quite a while already. In John Michael Greer’s book “Star’s Reach” we read,
"The balance of the world is always exact but it’s never fair. That’s true in politics, in war—" He shrugged, glanced at me. "Anything else you care to name. One person gets the benefit, another pays the price, and there’s no justice to who does which—but the price still gets paid."
Here we go. I read and translated JMG’s novel five years ago. It took that long for the penny to drop.

There is no justice.
by Albrecht Dürer

It is that simple. Justice doesn’t exist because the word has no clear meaning, and the word has no clear meaning because justice doesn’t exist – not even in the sense that a law exists. It rather has the properties of a ‘human being’ or a ‘tree;’ for practical communication purposes we may pretend that there is a generic standard human or a norm tree, separate from all other humans / trees of its kind, and from everything else that exists. The truth is, though, that each being is unique and has neither a clearly defined beginning nor end; it is inextricably interwoven, interconnected, interdependent with the continuum we call ‘Kosmos.’ Similarly, the justice concept develops its usefulness only if one acknowledges its fuzziness: What we perceive as or refer to as just is highly personal, cultural, and circumstantial in nature. It varies from time to time, from case to case, and from place to place.

Justice, as a word, symbolizes an abstract idea that describes an ideal. Being abstract in nature it does not bring any concrete content with it. Whether it is just that a thief’s right hand gets removed, whether it is just he gets sentenced to a fine or whether it is just that he may join a welfare program against poverty is totally up to cultural values. And whether the thief agrees that he is being treated in a just and fair way is completely dependent on what he expects to receive as a reward for his behaviour.

As an idea justice does not possess a physical counterpart – which it also cannot have because as an ideal it refers to a perfection that does not exist in the world of forms and shapes. Justice is about the things that should and shouldn’t be, and it is therefore extremely is-phobic and judgmental. Depending on who defines what justice is, it is not even clear whether it is supposed to be a thing, a condition, a feeling, a perception, or a process: justice is achieved, gets done, feels right, seems justified, or gets established; and it can only occupy its place in a world in which people possess agency. Whether they do, or not, is under dispute, though; mind the philosophical discussion on Determinism. Still the people of our culture believe in their agency, and so we tend to fall into the trap of confusing sanctions for justice, as there seems to exist a need for such a thing.

Having dismantled human-made justice, what could take its place in our lives? For it seems to me that its removal as a factor leaves an ugly wound behind that will fester if it cannot be healed. What is it that makes us construe the kind of ‘justice’ that we could achieve by acts of will? Is the justice concept a manifestation of something deeper? Do we perceive a kind of natural or divine balance, a moral equivalent to the law of gravity?

If so, Karma – the rule of ‘justice,’ a Kosmic mechanism of cause and effect which the Buddhists describe – might be the answer. While we may, to a certain degree, take decisions which change the course of our lives, those lives are also the result of decisions taken at an earlier point in time. As we cannot foresee most of the consequences of our actions, though, willed decisions rarely lead to happiness or harmony, unless we follow ‘right action,’ i.e. action that is guided by compassion. When we learn to accept what life dishes us out we begin to perceive the immensity of a dynamic balance that is truly Kosmic.

Within this balance we feel no need to judge people, do not divide situations into ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ do not label events as ‘just’ or ‘unjust.’ We do not need to prevent anything from happening, nor do we long for punishment, retribution, or vengeance. Compassion, the enactment of ‘justice,’ has us not only feel for, and love other people; it lets us understand that everything that happens does so for a (Karmic) reason and is therefore in perfect harmony with everything that exists. All dichotomies dissolve, and justice becomes the air that we breathe, the element that we live in, the thing that one does not need a word for. Justice is what-is.

2019-03-12

Universalism as power (Yurugu series #4)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book "Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,", is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book's central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]

Throughout the elaborations of this series it shows that universal values take a problematic position in the matrix of European civilization. We believe that values, such as “freedom,” “equality,” “humanism,” “rationality,” etc., are not just the values of our culture; we claim their universal validity, i.e., other peoples must naturally want them and abide by them.
This expectation plays a role in international relations, when our so-called Western “community of shared values” demands of other governments that they respect the civil rights of citizens. Very few governments squarely rebuke that notion, among them China which holds that her culture functions in different ways. Now China is a nuclear power, a state of more than one billion people which cannot be bullied into submission. Other nations for most part cannot afford open rebellion against “universal” values. They usually resort to paying lip service when they rather tend to disagree.
Think of the United Nations' “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948: “Of the then 58 members of the United Nations, 48 voted in favor, none against, eight abstained, and two did not vote” [Wikipedia
It's a case study of cultural falsehood in which neither Mao's China (aye vote) nor the Apartheid state of South Africa (abstained) nor the autocratic regime of Carías in Honduras (no vote) dared to disagree. In each of these and all other cases the intent to disregard civil & human rights was clear from before the declaration's coming into effect. Then why did nobody vote “nay”?
As Marimba Ani explained in her introduction to the book Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,
The secret Europeans discovered early in their history is that culture carries rules for thinking, and that if you could impose your culture on your victims you could limit the creativity of their vision, destroying their ability to act with will and intent and in their own interest. (Yurugu, p1)
Lip service works fine when it comes to adhering “universal ethical values,” as globalized Western civilization is not based on their proclaimed values; those in power heavily rely on them for veiling their true intents from the general population both inside and outside of their immediate sphere of influence.
Within the logic of European humanism one can talk about “morality” that is not reflected in behavior. One is considered to be highly moral if the language that one uses is couched in the syntax of abstraction and of universality; that is, of disinterest. This makes no sense in other cultures where morality is concerned with behavior only and is meaningless unless it is indicative of a behavioral norm. Which is the more “human” – the way of life that dictates respectful behavior or the one that attempts to encourage an “abstract affection for humanity at large,” which has no relationship to behavior and to which the individual cannot relate? (Yurugu, p543)
Well, the answer seems obvious to me. In the same way, I have no doubt about freedom, equality, and brotherhood, as defined by our culture, being just carrots on a stick, meant to give hope in the light of an everlasting enslavement, inequality, and competition which are intrinsic “qualities” of Western civilization from its very beginning.
I know that words like “freedom” do have a deeper meaning, or else they would not have inspired widespread revolutions; yet the values can never come to true actualization under the paradigm of the forked tongue. As the French of the late 18th century acted from the same basic assumptions as the parasitic elite they overthrew it is no wonder their revolution so quickly turned into immense bloodshed, devouring its own children.
Fanon says in his famous testament which we also find quoted within Yurugu:
Frantz Fanon*
Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience. Look at them today swaying between atomic and spiritual disintegration […] That same Europe where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what suffering humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind. (Frantz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth, 1963, p252)
Europe talks... and kills. And while Fanon, like Marima Ani, speaks to people of African origin, the same logic goes for us Europeans (I assume here that most, or all, of my readers are of Caucasian origin, or, like many people of colour today, live by the same basic “universal” values). Our liberation must start with noticing the harmful European asili, the core of the dominant culture, then continue by its wholesale rejection and its replacement by an asili of sanity.
We cannot mobilize for effective resistance to our physical destruction unless we are ideologically liberated. What impedes that liberation is cultural imperialism. European “universalism” and its attendant spurious “humanism” are very dangerous and effective forms of European cultural imperialism.
Universalism, when translated scientifically, becomes objectification. The illusion of objectivity promotes the myth of universalistic commitment, that is, it is a stance that disavows political or group interest. It thereby services group interest more subtly by calling it something other than what it is. We can conclude that this universalism semantically represents European value, is not a universally valid goal and, as an “imperative” serves the interest of European cultural imperialism. (Yurugu, p551)
Real revolution, which Jiddu Krishnamurti so famously coined as a term, is not concerned with people taking to the streets, in the first place; it is a revolution of the mind – not in order to fill it with new contents, but to make different use of human consciousness. Translated into everyday behaviour, we would live in closely interrelated community, rather than talk about community in terms of a collection of individuals (as in, European Community, United Nations, Facebook community etc.), with similar implications for other words like “prosperity,” democracy,” “brotherhood,” “peace,” “love,” and so forth, which, today, are merely hollow shells, shallow concepts being invoked without consequence.

[next article in the series]

* Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), photograph taken by Pacha J. Willka, Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license