Monday, February 27, 2012

Justice's Virtue: A Fair Deal For All

Politics, Protest & Society

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. 
Elie Wiesel
Peaceful protest is a legitimate expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and one of the most fundamental and powerful signals to the political elites of injustice in a well-working and functioning democracy. If you dismiss the harsh rhetoric, common in some cases, you will note that one of the things coming out of the protests around the world is the universal idea of fairness, of some form of injustice.

Although many of the young persons involved might not be able to articulate where this idea of fairness emanates from, it is an ideal that is rooted in the religious and philosophical traditions of humanity. Justice, for example, is one of the four virtues of classical European philosophy and of the Catholic Church. Tzedakah is a fundamental belief in Judaism, it the melding of charity and justice. In its simplest form a just decision is one that takes the concerns of all the parties involved in a decision. It involves balancing self-interest with the rights of others.

To make it plain, it's diametrically opposite to what we have been witnessing in the last 30 years with "vulture capitalism," and its winner-take-all approach. Those super-wealthy elites who benefit from such a way of life often defend their actions as legal—no one is arguing illegality here—yet, the question is whether operating in such a ruthless fashion to enrich only one party in a transaction is just. Such are the questions people are asking themselves these days in the wake of "business as usual" the last 30 years. Not only in the world's financial centres, but in the powers and corridors of government.

In democracies, you might hear politicians invoke the idea of fairness (or opportunity), but not justice. This is likely, and I am guessing here, a result of winnowing out virtue and leaving it to the judicial branch of government. While a fair and just judicial system is the hallmark of a well-functioning democracy, that does not abdicate others the responsibility of behaving in a just fashion. In truth, the virtue of justice is something that all persons can apply to their lives, in particular, the high and mighty whose decisions affect many.

The list would, of course include government officials and political figures. But there's more. Justice ought to be the responsibility of businesses. So, that would include the business executive who is considering a decision to lay off thousands of persons, ostensibly to cut costs, but more likely to increase shareholder value, and enrich themselves. Often lost in such decisions is that the persons who "lose" their jobs are deeply affected by its loss, often the only thing keeping their family from sliding into poverty and despair. A job is often the one thing that keeps people from protesting on the streets.

Such is only one example. The virtue of justice needs to be looked at and applied. Doing so would really transform society for the betterment of all, and would form a system of business and democracy differing from vulture capitalism. It's called Compassionate Capitalism. It's one example, and yet it strikes a chord, resonating with the many who have been denied a fair deal. .