Monday, July 22, 2013

Justice For Us

            I wasn’t exactly sure of its definition and I had to look it up. The usually clever Wikipedia had the following definition: Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, equity or fairness, as well as the administration of the law, taking into account the inalienable and inborn rights of all human beings and citizens, the right of all people and individuals to equal protection before the law of their civil rights, without discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, or other characteristics, and is further regarded as being inclusive of social justice.

            That’s a wonderful sterile definition of justice. I’m not sure how religion fits in there but perh… holy cow I just killed a spider at my desk… anyway… religion within the concept of justice will have to be addressed at another time. Today’s piece is more about the moral standards of justice. So those looking for my usual stories about how that girl on the bus didn’t look my way when I smiled at her or for the ninja zombie killers you can probably stop reading now.

            Even though I have that fancy definition up there, I’m still not to clear on justice. What does justice really means when the concept of moral rightness evolves within an ever evolving society? Or is justice still as basic as an eye for an eye? The moral code that is supposed to guide society seems wayward and adrift within the specialization of the numerous groups that claim their rights are being infringed upon, or in some cases completely trampled.

            I’ll use homosexuality as an example. 40 years ago the average American felt they were in the moral right to treat homosexuality like an aberration and perversion. There was something wrong with homosexuals and they needed to be ignored or punished for their decision to avoid heterosexual coupling. And yet, in the last few years that moral position has changed and homosexuality isn’t completely viewed by a lot of people as an aberration or perversion, so much so that it’s now, in a lot of places, considered morally right to allow same sex couples the privilege of marriage. The morality changed to be inclusive instead of derisive. So in a sense, you could argue that justice was done as defined by the moral rightness by those that established what is morally acceptable. The majority sets the tone of morality, thus setting the parameters of justice.

            Justice throughout history has evolved to match the change in social order. In ancient, medieval, and even colonial days there was usually only one punishment for committing a crime; death. If you stole a loaf of bread or killed a famer for his cow the punishment was the same, death. Society considered that just and right and it kept the social order. As societies became more complex, degrees of the degradation of moral standards were applied, murder could be manslaughter or theft could be robbery or burglary and the punishment didn’t have to be death or maiming. Society felt that justice would be better served though punishment via incarceration. In some cases even when the death penalty was granted by a jury or judge, it has been stayed due to the moral outcry of the citizenry.

            The basis for what we consider justice changes and evolves with each new massacre or violation of the public trust. Justice is defined by the collective will of the majority and applied into law by the establishment of facts gathered to explore the morality of any particular crime. We no longer just say that a man stole a loaf of bread and he needs to have his hands cut off. We examine why he stole the bread, his motive, and if it was to feed his starving family, then we accept it as a moral right and a criminal wrong and acknowledge it is not mutually exclusive.

            We say to this fictional man, “we understand your family was hungry and we sympathize and hope they can get on the right social program to help support them while you do six months for theft”. That’s how we justify it. That’s what we consider justice. By the same token though, if the facts gathered to explore the morality of any act is not complete, that is to say, the evidence is incomplete, we have no choice but to abide by the rules of the larger morality and let that person go free. Because in the American justice system, no matter what people say, we are innocent until proven guilty. The burden is on the prosecution to show a jury or judge that what the accused did is against the collective moral right and merits punishment.

            I live in Chicago. As of July 1, 2013 there were 184 homicides and 843 shootings in the first six months of the year. There were 101 fatalities in the last six months in Operation Enduring Freedom That’s so startling to me that there’s been more death in Chicago than in an ongoing occupation after a war. Yet the moral outcry is nowhere to be seen. We seem to accept that this is how it is because the moral majority deems it unworthy of attention and therefore justice goes unfulfilled.

            Justice may be blind, yet even the blind can be offensive at times. I’m sure there are blind jerks out there, swinging their cane all over the place, hitting people in the shins and laughing about it. We simply accept it however because they’re blind, much like we have to accept that justice doesn’t always work out the way we think it should. I’m not sure I understand justice any more than when I started this piece. All I know is what was taught to me and that is of course to follow the golden rule; to treat others as I would like to be treated and in that, Justice will be served. 

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