Anchor for this item posted by Bernard (ben) Tremblay at Tuesday, February 11, 2003; Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Squaring the Circle: justice and "rules"

Discussing strategy and tactic with an eye to the World Summit on Sustainable Development this past August in Johannesburg, my correspondent pinned me with a one line message, and I tried to say something about the role of community at large:

"I'm afraid I'm still back with Thrasymachus and Plato, and wondering in what sense we can say that justice transcends the rules."
In criminal proceedings where the rest of someone's life hangs in the balance we let 12 people (free from the fear of threat and the hope of promise) make big decisions. Even to set aside the rules. I think that's a concrete example of how the transcendent makes itself sensible, through the common law. (I don't know if I'd feel at ease with 12 like Socrates as jury, but I certainly wouldn't want to be tried before 12 of Thrasymachus' peers!) The concept loses its perfection as it becomes manifest? (The dynamically stable system appears to be subject to our understanding, and yet as it enters into and goes through a chaotic tranformation it escapes us entirely, as though chastening our hubris!)

Rules ... like history? Perhaps better than merely "lies we've decided to agree on", but in any case constructed at best by honest representatives, and there's the rub. Each with interpretations based on experiences that probably differ substantially from that of the majority, irrespective of their intentions and their integrity. A rational rule can have unreasonable consequences, but how can that be conveyed to those who do not experience them? [NB: to you seperately an anecdote concerning Stiglitz and IMF's Ethiopia policies] It might be rational that those who control and direct wealth accumulate vaste fortunes, but I can't undertsand how this can be presented as reasonable with the consequences visited upon the unfortunate seen as costs in human terms.

In my studies, "squaring the circle" came up in the domain of law and psychology: the justice system actually has two goals, one being to render judgement concerning the facts, the other being to resolve conflict. It seems neither axis is sufficient for closure, and yet the two together strain our language to near the breaking point. And so we accumulate our judgements and refine our estimates.

When it comes down to it *Ah! Such synchrony! as I was writing this, Archbishop Tutu has come in the radio documentary I was listening to ... his speech opening the truth and reconciliation hearings!* I suspect even the most recalcitrant can be convinced of the facts. But how how to bring justice to bear? I've heard that the mill of justice grinds slow, but fine. We should be humbled by considering the rough mill of history, which can grind so quickly.

Pressed hard, I would suggest that it is the sociopath that cannot be reasoned with, whereas the psychopath is (in my understanding) compelled by only his self interest.

BTW, I think in the sophist's perhaps sneering, "Yes, but what _is_ justice?" (ala Thrasymachus) we hear a fearful and pain-filled cry for reassurance.

Huh! Such are the mutterings of a mediocre meditator, inspired by poor faces in pain. My only hope is to not slip too far into pridefulness.

Here's an interesting article from an interesting magazine: "Social Ecology - Politics of the Future" at RedPepper

Anchor for this item posted by Bernard (ben) Tremblay at Monday, February 10, 2003; Monday, February 10, 2003

A friend just pointed me to this, from Channel 4 - "Between Iraq and a Hard Place" ... it aired last month but is now online.
"If you were to spend 26 million dollars every day since the birth of Christ, you'd have spent less than the Americans have spent on "defence" since the end of the Second World War.