Justice, the follow up

I’ve 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 justice issue I want to share.


Red commented about the primacy of relationship in her understanding of things, and a dislike of the authority inherent in the language of justice, and its incompatibility with anarchic principles.


My first feeling is that anarchy, like communism and many other beautiful ideas only work when all the people involved are working consciously and ethically in the same way. Wonderful aspirations, but not consistent with how many people are. It only takes one user or abuser to make such an approach fail. My second feeling is that relationship is not always quite such a straightforward option. In the Stone age village in my head, the whole community exists in relationship, but I’ve never lived in that situation. I’ve probably not known the people who stole from me. Often my only ‘relationship’ in threatening circumstances comes from being on the receiving end of something I don’t want. For the kidnapped child, the raped woman, the guy stabbed by a stranger, there has been no relationship with the attacker, no chance to avoid harm, and personally I see no reason for someone who wounds or kills a stranger to get away with that unchallenged. I recognise this means that I want there to be a degree of authority and power able to respond in some way to those who are not able to manage their own behaviour well for the rest of the tribe.


All life causes harm, but my thoughts around making justice an inherent part of relationship, had everything to do with my own desire to reduce the harm I cause. Red spoke of beetles accidentally squashed.  I mostly walk and cycle. I stop for beetles. No doubt I squish a few, but it’s not a bad example, the intent and effort to avoid causing harm is, for me at least, a recognition of the injustice that would be inherent in my killing something by not paying attention. No matter how hard we try, we will cause harm, but the more attention we pay, the less accidental, needless, pointless, careless harm-causing there should be. I think it’s got to be worth a shot.


But where there is no relationship outside of the harm-causing event, I do think community action, authoritative intervention is called for. Every three days a woman is killed by her abusive partner. Every ten days a child is killed by an abusive parent – and that doesn’t count death by neglect, that’s just murder figures. Relationships they could manage? I doubt the children had much say in it. Numbers for child murders by postnatally depressed women have been radically reduced by support and medication. I feel I have a duty to support a system that in any way tries to prevent that kind of thing from happening in the first place. That kind of justice – preventative justice – is increasingly part of how I understand my druid path. That’s not about individual relationship, but about whole community relationship and how we support each other. With so many people involved, we have no hope of doing that without some degree of structure. I believe we should hold a degree of responsibility for each other’s wellbeing. And yes, this is justice by humans and for humans. That which is human is also natural and we are not the only creatures able to reward or punish each other.


Tom pointed out to me that culturally we tend to view things in terms of success and failure, and that this impacts on our understanding of justice too. I am a clever person, I know this because I have lots of money and have never been a victim of crime. Victims are too naïve to protect themselves, bring it upon themselves, or are stupid. Take 2: I am successful because I have earned  lots of money off the backs of other people’s work. I am cleverer than them and therefore entitled. Take 3: I am successful, I have a lot of money because I have miss-sold a lot of products and gambled with other people’s savings, and thank you, yes I will take that bonus this year as well. Take: 4 I am successful because last night I broke into your house and stole all your valuable electrical goods, and I am too smart to be caught by the police.


We are so quick to blame the victims for not doing enough to protect themselves from crime. We are willing to see it as predators and prey, as it being natural to predate. The weak are fair game, because they are weak. Success is all about the bank balance, not about being a good human being. And until we’ve tackled that, as a whole culture, it’s going to remain very hard to think about justice at all.

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

2 responses to “Justice, the follow up

  • autumnbarlow

    I have talked with many prisoners and criminals of all degree over the past 6 years. And what strikes me the most when they reflect on their crimes is this: the total lack of thought at the time. Men who assault others because of drink, drugs, or “someone said something so I saw red and hit him” – not stopping to think. A furious impulsiveness. When asked to consider the victim, many do show remorse BUT they also admit that in the same situation, they’d do it again. They act/react from a primal part of the brain. Conscience is suppressed by whatever – drink, drugs, adrenaline, conditioning of aggression by films or who knows. Most of our prisons are full of these “I just….” criminals.

    The ones who think, who premeditate, who plan and plot and CHOOSE to commit crime – well, their reasons are as diverse as they are. From greed, to power, to helplessness.

  • redgriffithshaynes

    🙂 There is much that you say here Bryn that I completely agree with and which was not expressed well perhaps in my own short note. Of course, we hold the structure of our society with rules and in order to remain a part of that society one must keep them. I do not mean to say that I think all of our justice system should be dismantled, at least not until we all live in stone age villages with much more of a sense of our own responsibility and impact! We protect the vulnerable and have a care for the weak, which means that it is natural and functional to want to remove the dangers from our society. However, whilst honourable relationship and anarchy are ideals, (in my mind at least) I do not think that means we should not live them in our own lives as fully as we can or are able. Relationship to me means more than just interaction, it is the process by which we create empathy which is a cornerstone and guiding principle of my ethics and Druidry. If we can have empathy for perpetrator and victim then I think we are halfway there, understanding that each has a story we may not fully comprehend, the abuser has often been the abused, a vulnerable child or adult themselves. We should remove people from our society, if necessary, on the understanding that they are not functional within it, rather than label them as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, stowing them away for punishment. If we believe that we live entirely within our own perspectives creating our realities as we move through the web (and I do) then I must understand that my perspectives on right or wrong are just that; held and supported perhaps within the prevailing views of our culture and society, but just perspective. This is where the punishment and retribution inherent in justice does not sit well with me. When I had my car broken into and some very precious items stolen, I grieved for them, was angry at losing them, angry with the person that took them. Very. But I also realised my culpability in leaving them on view in the back seat and choosing to live in the middle of nowhere with a high number of break-ins. It would be nice to think that none of these things would make me susceptible to crime, but that to is unrealistic. I reported it to the police, as a part of my care for my community hoping I might prevent it happening to another. I came to terms with it by feeling that perhaps whoever took it had more of a desperate need of it than I did.

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