I’ve been thinking more than usual about justice lately. My view of justice is centered on equity and reform. In my ideal society, we as individuals, community groups, and the governments in our service would work to identify and reduce or remove systemic problems including homelessness, food insecurity, barriers to mobility, and unequal access to fair treatment under the law. Infrastructure and people who harm others can be shown their error and helped as needed to correct the results of their actions and change their behaviour.
My definition of justice is far from universal. If you insist society must punish and isolate those convicted of crimes, possibly going to the extreme of putting to death people who have committed heinous crimes and are designated impossible to reintegrate into society, we are not likely to find a middle ground on the administration of justice. I view making amends for harm done, rehabilitation, and reform of the offender as primary goals of a successful restorative justice system.
Access to justice is not equal for all. Even the definition of justice seems to depend on who the subject is and what their place is in society. I have read the opinions of some conservatives that it is unjust for one person to fail a high pressure job interview [yes, that one] due to a display of emotion and a view of events that seems to contradict other evidence as well as the applicant’s own testimony. There are those who claim justice includes the use of internment camps for people who fit a particular profile, regardless of whether they have caused harm or demonstrated such an intent. I would no more exonerate a person of high standing without investigation than I would condemn a refugee based solely on their circumstances.
My aim, informed by activism and personal beliefs, is much in line with the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Samuel Vimes: protection of the innocent and the disadvantaged. The differences between Vimes’s view of justice as situationally-informed equity and Javert’s [Les Miserables] view of justice as rule-based punishment of the guilty seem impossible to reconcile. Nonetheless, I live with my opponents peaceably in the same societies under the same or similar governments and we share some basic common beliefs about the ground rules. If we can agree on a large body or what is or isn’t criminal, perhaps we can find our paths eventually to a mutual understanding of justice.
Earlier in the week, I asked for a cup of Sweet Justice as big as my head: it’s a coffee that was on offer at a cafe whose owner prides himself on fair trade coffees brewed to bring out their best flavour. I was served a large cup of a well-tempered drink, as bitter as it was sweet, with a balanced yet surprising combination of flavours. Like justice itself, or any subject of greater complexity than my knowledge can completely encompass, it was nuanced and rewarded me with satisfaction in equal measure to the attention I paid to the details. I will need to come back to the coffee, and to the subject of justice, again to more fully understand and appreciate it.