Contemplating justice, again

Overnight someone hacked Tom’s facebook account. It’s not unusual to have your privacy  violated online, and I’ve suffered identity theft in the real world too. It’s one of the most threatening, uncomfortable crimes.


Justice is a topic I keep coming back to, not least because I see so much going wrong, and justice is seldom forthcoming. And yet I’ve read that justice was supposed to be integral to the world views of many of our ancestors. We enshrine it in law, in the druid’s prayer, we talk it up as a druid concept. But where the hell is it? The gods do not bring justice in this life, and I’m no great believer in hoping it all gets sorted out in the next one. I’ve been shuffling towards this line of thought for some time now. Justice after the event, if you can get it, often isn’t that helpful. Where there’s scope to restore and make amends, then that helps. Stolen and broken things replaced, public apology made, compensation offered, but it doesn’t undo what was done.


Real justice is not what happens after the violation. Real justice is not what we do to those who have offended. It’s not even the fine art of saying sorry. Looking in that direction is a distraction, it’s the wrong thought form.


True justice, is lived.


Like so many other ethical ideas, this has to be done by choice, not imposed. What does it mean in practice? Ideas of what is, and is not just are bound to vary. It brings up issues of entitlement and rights, of how you handle conflicting needs. Is it justice to take what you need, if you are starving and another has abundance? It certainly isn’t justice to live in luxury while others starve. Yet when you consider international standards, most of us in the western world have total luxury compared to the poorest people on earth. How do we balance justice for self against justice for others? Should they mean the same thing? The more I poke around at this, the bigger I realise it gets but the more certain I feel about the jumping off point. Justice after the event is not that much help. True justice comes from not being a victim in the first place.


The people who do not choose to live in just ways (by my understanding) no doubt have their reasons. Entitlement, the sense that ‘if I can do it then why not?’ a sense of victimhood that creates justification… and no doubt many others. There are undoubtedly things I have done that others consider unfair, unreasonable… but I do not. I do not believe in any external arbiters of truth. Where does that leave me? With a perpetual negotiation, an idea that has to be carefully tested against each new life experience, something that will take a lot of work and create a lot of challenges.


How do I undertake to live in a fair and just way? How do I make inherent in my actions a compassionate sense of justice that helps guide and shape what I do? With no external rules, no thou shalt nots to lead the way, I have only my own judgement, flawed as it inevitably is. We all do. If we pick external rules to adhere to, we are still responsible for choosing, understanding and applying them.


I think it’s because so many people do not have much internalised sense of fairness of justice that a significant number of crimes occur. I also think that in a fairer, more just and equitable society, people would stand a better chance of having those values be part of their world view in the first place. When all you see is unfairness, how can you hope to know what justice would look like? It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. You can’t get a just society without the individuals in it working for just that, and it’s tricky getting everyone thinking in just ways when faced with all kinds of injustices. But not impossible.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Contemplating justice, again

  • Jo

    With regard to fairness, one of the worst things a person can think is that “life is unfair for me”. That leads to justification of all sorts of terrible behaviour, from benefit fraud to looting and public violence. Chicken and egg indeed – no one wants to be left behind when everyone else is getting things they don’t have – we are a comparative society – I wonder if we are a comparative species as well, or whether that is a sociological factor?

    Almost every time I think of unfairness, I think of Sarah, the protaganist in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth – it was her favourite line. Finally, she said it to the Goblin King (a very yummy David Bowie) whose retort put her in her place and which changed her worldview.

    Sarah – That’s not fair!
    Jareth – Oh, it isn’t? I wonder what your basis for comparison is.

    As you said, the only thing we can do is lead by example. x

  • redgriffithshaynes

    Interesting post Nimue, Lots of food for thought.
    Justice – it is a word I seldom use, quite consciously, I dont like it.
    To look at it’s root meaning we find “the exercise of authority in vindication of right by assigning reward or punishment” (OED) and I realise that I seldom use it because I have problems with a concept of an authority which rewards or punishes as it (or we) see fit. Firstly it is not a concept I recognise in nature and secondly I find it distasteful in humanity, the idea that we can have an objective enough sense of what is right to demand redress – perhaps I am just too much of an anarchist at heart, perhaps now I think of it, I am not even comfortable with a concept of right and wrong, as within the example above, what is our basis for comparison? John Locke perhaps comes closest to something I can understand within his definition of natural law, that is, a system of consequences that naturally derives from any action or choice, thus his definition relies on balance which is inherent in nature, but that of course presents us with the problem of whether nature is actually balanced (and what does that mean anyway), to demand natural justice belies our innate belief that we are right and that nature cares about our own small trials and tribulations enough to mete out the justice. Should I expect redress for the beetle I unknowingly stepped on, or the carrot I ate for supper? Where do we draw the line as to what deserves justice and what does not? Difficult questions, the mistake we make, I think is in not recognising that justice is entirely about our own human perspective. It is really not an oversimplification to say that I truly believe that everything is about relationship. With relationship, there are no rules just a response appropriate to the individual.

  • Julian

    I would fight for the right to be a pacifist and I am very likely to wack anyone I see being a bully.

  • Justice, the follow up « Druid Life

    […] been pondering Red’s comments on Contemplating Justice, again and felt it needed more response than a note back. I’ve also had input from Tom, whose take on the […]

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