Originally I thought my draft for last week’s writing prompt was going to end with, “…to be continued…”. And I was right.

Reflecting on what justice is, is an important thing for all of us to do. And talking about what justice is might seem straightforward at first because we all seem to have similar instincts and innate perceptions about what justice is and what it is not. However, perhaps ironically, justice becomes a lot less straightforward when we view it from the lens of our legal systems…

Musings About What Justice Is and What It Isn’t

I originally intended to complete a short essay about justice for this writing prompt. But so far in my drafting process, all I have are my own musings about justice to share.

In last’s Tuesday’s post, I asked questions about what justice is, and came to the conclusion (at least for now) that there are two types of justice: what we think of as “legal justice” and what we think of as “vigilante justice.”

The most interesting thing to note about both legal justice and vigilante justice is that they both rely on our codified systems of laws in order to be understood and administered— regardless of whether those laws are determined by an official legal system administered by a government, a family system, a religious system, or a cultural system. And the legal codes and laws of each of these systems (which often overlap and intermingle with one another) are determined by those who administer them, which often consists of a select few individuals in relation to the size of any given population.

Recognizing the above state of legal systems ultimately leads one to question whether “legal” systems carrying out “legal” forms of justice can and do coincide with our more innate and learned sense of what justice is. Especially since we all often feel that a particular law or verdict is not fair or just.

Is killing a woman who is accused of committing adultery justice? Is killing a man who killed someone justice? Is incarcerating someone who sold a pound of marijuana justice? Is excommunicating a loved one who discloses they are a homosexual from a religious family justice? Is someone who is sentenced to paying fines, after embezzling a large amount of money and committing widespread fraud, encountering justice? Why and why not? Because that is what our laws dictate? Because that’s what our legal systems order? Because it’s fair?

The Meriam-Webster definition for “justice” includes the words “impartial,” “fair,” and “conformity.” However, conformity does not necessitate fairness. And justice does not necessarily include impartiality if those who administer justice are not or cannot also be treated impartially or fairly.

When we include our more innate sense of human fairness into the overall justice equation (sources for this are also included in last Tuesday’s post), do we really perceive killing a man who has killed someone else as justice? As fair? What about it makes it fair? Does it really balance the scales of justice to kill a man who has killed? Does real justice that includes fairness also include vengeance then?

Does justice equal vengeance and punishment? For every person? For every “illegal” act any person makes, must they be punished? And if so, then why do those who have money and influence on the administration of justice not receive the same treatment or meet the same fates when they commit “illegal” acts, as those who don’t influence its administration? As most of us can agree, intuitively, this doesn’t seem fair. So then, the whole question of fairness within legal systems of justice is called into question again.

The idea that justice equals vengeance is ingrained in many codified legal systems we know and follow and is especially ingrained in our understanding of vigilante justice. In fact, vigilante justice may not exist at all if it weren’t for superheroes wanting to exact vengeance.

But justice is not always about vengeance. It is simply not true that every person who wants justice also wants vengeance. Or that our legal systems always insist on vengeance. And unfortunately, as most of us can intuit, justice is not always about fairness for a multitude of reasons (some of which are mentioned above). Some convicts get lighter sentences than others or are released from prison sooner than others. Some murderers are sentenced to death row while others are not. And so on…

Both intuitively and according to our own legal systems, it seems that what justice is really about is: accountability. I believe, intuitively, that’s what most of us want when we seek justice: accountability. We feel an injustice occurs when those who have committed wrongs, whether those wrongs are officially recognized by our legal systems or not, are not held accountable for their actions. And we deem it unfair that those who commit wrongs are never fully held accountable.

I am still reflecting on how justice should be administered, especially since there are so many cases and magnitudes of injustice to consider. And I’m still thinking about who is and should be responsible for administering justice… But I do know that most, if not all, instances of justice should require accountability. And it seems impossible that any scale of justice can be balanced without appropriate accountability.

Initial Musings: Justice Is About …

Succinctly put, here are my initial musings about justice in bullet-point format:

  • Justice is determined by those select individuals within a legal system who codify and administer it.
  • Legal justice entails conformity and punishment.
  • Vigilante justice is also determined by legal systems.
  • Justice often entails vengeance, especially vigilante justice, but not always.
  • Our sense of justice may or may not align with our more innate sense of fairness.
  • Our sense of justice doesn’t always align with what our legal justice systems decide is just.
  • Justice seems, more often than not, to entail the need for accountability.

At the end of the day, what I find true and ironic about our understanding of justice is that it is determined and administered by legal systems that do not always include or necessitate justice itself.

My musings and writing about justice are to be continued…


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