‘What is truth?’ Asked Pilate …

But did not stay for the answer.
I just felt like having a little, utterly pointless, rant.
While I do not, nor have ever believed, that bin Laden was a good egg, or anything other than deluded, extremist murderer-at-a-distance, I do rather think that his death is not to be applauded.
By this, I do not refer to the understandable but hypocritical celebrations in various countries. And, for the record, they’re not the same as the celebrations when the tower fell, not in the least, but they are wrong.
What troubles me is the rabid abuse of the word ‘justice’. Obama, Cameron, Milliband and lord knows who else have repeated the anodyne and utterly fallacious formula ‘justice has been done’.
No. It has not. What has been done is revenge at best, straight murder at worst. Justice is something very, very different.
But first, revenge. Yes, the Old Testament says, ‘an eye for an eye’. Ghandi suggested that way led to blindness. The Bible also says ‘Justice is the Lord’s’ – that and that with regards the first murderer, revenge was reserved for god. Francis Bacon called revenge ‘a kind of Wilde Justice; which the more Mans nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out’. Revenge was, for Bacon, incompatible with the rule of law.
Justice was the subject of Plato’s Republic, and in the widest sense concerns the application of fair and reasonable principles. But in our ordered (ish) and measured society, justice must be codified, a set of behaviours notionally agreed on by the mass of people – a codification of Rousseau’s Social Will. What is ‘just’ behaviour? This, in western democracies, is in large part based on the idea not only that justice be done, but that it is seen to be done … that is, that those who transgress against society in any way whatsoever are treated reasonably and fairly, and given the opportunity to defend their position or actions. In this way, the theory goes, those convicted of offences against principles of right held in common will be punished or acquited according to strict rules.
Justice, in the modern democratic world in which we live may be creaky, and splutter, but it is the best thing. It works quite simply. Those who are deemed to have transgressed by a jury of their peers, beyond all reasonable doubt, are found guilty. Those who are not, are acquitted.
What is utterly irrelevant is whether they actually did what thy are accused of or not. A murderer acquitted due to lack of evidence? Justice is done. If someone is found guilty when they did not carry out the crime? Justice is done. A miscarriage of justice is not related to the actual guilt or innocence of the party (and you never hear about the former), but to whether the process of justice is allowed to occur unimpeded. If evidence is hidden, perjury committed and so forth, there is a miscarriage. If a mistake is made, that’s not a miscarriage, merely very, very unfortunate. The system can fail, can seem too skewed in favour of acquitting the guilty. In fact, it must be so. Otherwise the risks of innocent parties being convicted are too great.
When Cameron, Obama and Milliband talk of justice being done they are wrong. They mean the same as when someone comes out of court having failed to get the verdict they wanted. ‘Justice has not been done’. Actually, it has – you simply don’t like the verdict. Camoband simply got the result they wanted. It may well be right that bin Laden be executed for his crimes, but summary execution is not the same as transparent, judicial execution.
For justice to have been done in the case of bin Laden, he would have had to have been tried in a court of law. Unpleasant, embarrassing, messy. But just.
Well, what about Bacon?
Bacon, you may or may not know, was impeached for taking bribes while Lord Chancellor. The fact that everyone took bribes because that was how the world worked is neither here nor there. Ponder this:
Bacon was accused (rightly) of taking bribes to influence the course of various court cases. By the men who bribed him. They weren’t upset about him taking bribes, but by the fact that even though he took bribes, the cases in question didn’t go the way that they wanted. Or, to put it another way, Bacon was impeached as a result of a simple trades dispute – failing to deliver on goods or services agreed and paid for.
Justice? Revenge? They are not the same thing. Bacon once more:

This is certaine; That a Man that studieth Revenge, keepes his own Wounds greene, which otherwise would heale, and doe well.

Justice is dispassionate. Revenge is personal. It really is foolish to confuse the two.

2 thoughts on “‘What is truth?’ Asked Pilate …

  1. Pingback: The Turing Test | pete langman

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