Why All the Fuss?
The word “justice” conjures different things for different people. Very often discrepancies between definitions arise when we attempt to apply the word in relatively isolated situations. Current events in Washington, DC involving a phone conversation, a whistle-blower and a flurry of allegations of wrongdoing represent a collection of those isolated situations. They too frequently give rise to partisan interpretations (perhaps driven by ideological myopia or something far worse). As reflected in social media and most news reporting, assessments (which is to say “judgments”) of these events tend to cluster around political leanings rather than more philosophical principles reflecting profound ideals. When we begin to depart from those more limited notions of “justice”, turning instead to consider a more general understanding of systemic societal wrongs—when we stop yapping about what we wish for and focus instead on considerations of who we are—we might find our definitions begin to coalesce.
Most of us carry in us a pervasive although sometimes vague sense of “Good”. Some of us push on this feeling, attempting to express it within (at least certain corners of) our lives. Others keep such urges under wraps, flinging them out only in the face of abject outrage, guilt, when feeling cheated, or perhaps merely disrespected. Still, when our underlying heart-felt leanings manifest themselves, they too often settle (reduce) into ideas and behaviors we think about rather than profound commitments and mores we tend to reserve for ourselves and those we love. “Justice” —the word and enactments we assume reflect it—tends to fall prey to surface applications of indignation. However, if we really want to understand justice, we can usually find an effective litmus test for more appropriately defining the word in expressions as old as the human race.
Solomon spoke about “justice”, proposing a harsh but superficially “just” solution to a problem that forces the revelation of a deeper truth. In our attempts to find the peace we sometimes think this notion of justice will evoke, we always need to consider what we are willing to sacrifice to get it. Are we willing to offer ourselves as the ransom for the rectification of our perceived wrongs or are we, presuming we understand the nature and motivations of others, more likely to offer someone else—anyone else—to cover the cost of our societal pain? Furthermore, when we attempt to consider the appropriate boundaries of punishment or retribution, we too often pontificate about the perspective of others in aphorisms about walking in another’s shoes. Most often, the true key to understanding justice is much closer to home. What we really need is to walk in our own shoes with a more comprehensive knowledge of just who is doing that walking and why (or as presented in an August 2019 post, we need to continually confront ourselves with the question “what are we doing?”
Allowing as Doing
Early in 2019, the now famous novice member of the House of Representatives, Ms. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez tweeted the following:
“He can stay, he can go. He can be impeached, or voted out in 2020. But removing Trump will not remove the infrastructure of an entire party that embraced him; the dark money that funded him; the online radicalization that drummed his army; nor the racism he amplified+reanimated.”
“This is the REAL conversation we need to have as a country. As horrific as this president is, he is a symptom of much deeper problems. Even foreign influence plays on nat’l wounds that we refuse to address: income inequality, racism, corruption, a willingness to excuse bigotry.” ~Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”) , March 24, 2019.
Pressed to provide an appropriately broad definition of “justice”, most of us will admit that the key to true societal or even individual justice does not reside in a single act nor even a collection of disparate actions. Rather, justice tends to exude organically from a quality within our lives that inevitably connects us as human beings, in patterns rather than particulars, connections we can only fully understand once we better understand ourselves, what we really want, what we consider truly “Good”—that which we wish for ourselves and for our children.
The current calls for or against the notion of impeachment for instance could point to a “good” of some sort, but do they? If we really do (should?) operate in accordance with the rule of law, then if an elected official (or anyone entrusted with our collective well-being) has behaved inappropriately such behavior is worthy of some manner of censure. But is such a reaction truly the solution to the real problem? Have we moved closer to the notion of a just society, for instance? In what ways? Having implemented such a political or even legal corrective, have we truly addressed the ills that beleaguer our daily lives? More important, does the attitude we bring to the table in the midst of such issues bespeak progress toward forging the life we all seek or something far less?
Too often we hide behind presumptions of “right” when in fact, we seek advantage, misplaced recompense or even revenge sometimes amounting to little more than a maintenance or a reversal of the current power hierarchy at play in U.S. governance. Sometimes cries for “justice” amount to little more than forms of “Yay for our team!” When our focus on chosen acts of justice tacitly deny a huge swath of society common “goods” we all seek, have we truly arrived at a just society or something else entirely? In this light, how should we rate our current circumstance? Perhaps a better question is this: “What is our current circumstance?” What tools have we to accomplish such perspective taking? How do we know what is true and how we can manage to consistently find ourselves at the doorstep of such truth?
In the Corridors of Mesmer
Consider this video regarding the “counterfeiting of the news process” through a technique perhaps best described by George Orwell in his book 1984. These days, attempts to honestly assess our current circumstance often renders us wandering the corridors of Mesmer following strategically placed breadcrumbs designed to protect the genuine drivers of the wrongs, the “not-goods” we continually experience. Turning to normal avenues of enlightenment, we confront Orwellian newspeak—that manner of describing so called “reality” that intentionally obfuscates what is really going on, keeping us confused, in the dark, and far too frequently triggering a frustrated reliance on easy answers and opinions.
In our recurrent choice of easy answers, snap judgments and unthinking ideological framing of issues are we not complicit in the various political machinations afoot by allowing ourselves to become mesmerized by the dizzying array of skewed “facts” and politicized opinions? This post references Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Rachel Maddow (in the video). Does the presence of these names—left leaning individuals…and both women—signal something significant (positive or negative)—significant enough that your focus hovers on them, causing you to miss the underlying message we all need to consider? Similarly, the name “Solomon” appears in the text above as if referring to an actual historical person who proposed an idea. Those proud “non-believers” among us are likely to balk at such references. Does this reference really refer to actual events or is this “just” a story?
Stories are as real as we make them—and we “realize” them every moment of every day. Most often our stories—those we live more than those we merely retell—tend to focus more on the personally profound significance in which we swaddle those we love most. These true stories tend to reflect a deeper understanding of reality—our own genuine, reality—rather than the particulars of any given socio-cultural tale. Why all the fuss about quid pro quo and collusion? What are we really doing here? As we elevate reactions to Biblical references, news headlines, the political leanings of various personalities, and alleged conspiratorial machinations to the forefront of our awareness, have we not fallen prey to our own forms of “injustice”. Allowing ourselves to become so enthralled by the sensational spectacle presented to us, do we not systematically fall prey to the prompting of those who would have us call “Down” “Up” and “Left” “Right”—becoming mesmerized, missing the point, getting it wrong and finding ourselves the inevitable victims of our own folly? Why all the fuss indeed!
At any given moment, how do we know what is really going on in the world, in our country, even within ourselves? When we get up in arms about this or that, presuming we can accurately read and understand the sociopolitical landscape, do we really possess such understanding? Focusing on those agendas presented to us rather than deciding our own life agendas, finding our own battles in which to engage, have we not become a part of the problem—perhaps the problem? Having read the introduction, the AOC comments and watched the Rachel Maddow video, do you think this post is about impeachment? If so, look again. Do not misunderstand. Some degree of wrongdoing does appear to have been committed by several individuals within the Unites States government. Inappropriate behavior should be dealt with. However, if we are seeking true justice for the society as a whole (and after all, that is what piecemeal acts of recompense are supposed to be aimed at), we need to look beyond the “obvious” meanings, past the words and phrases alone. We need to develop a lifestyle of looking past the particularity of news headlines, notions about collusion, corruption, political malfeasance and the plethora of opportunities to scapegoat our situation. In our current world sociopolitical climate we find ourselves lost, wandering the corridors of Mesmer, desperately searching for a portal of escape, encumbered by the task of exorcising demons we ourselves have evoked. We should be attempting to understand the paradigms of socio-cultural interaction in order to adequately address our predicament. How did we get here? How long will we remain? Regardless of our individual focus or tribal affiliation, we arrived at this point in history either through a lack of attention, hubris, or blatant disregard of our most fundamental desires as they apply to others. No one did this to us—but Us. What are we going to do about it? Who should get “impeached”?