Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Society

The belief in Justice is probably the breeding ground for injustice

I have long identified myself as an atheist – even though I’m an agnostic – in religion, an existentialist in philosophy and “anti-apocalyptic” or “anti-ideological” person in politics (i.e. a pragmatist). I have long struggled with this last definition, not because I don’t know what I am – I know exactly what I am, politically – but rather because I have trouble encapsulating it in one word. Politically, I am a centrist or, as I used to jokingly describe myself, a libertarian social democrat with a conservative streak. But I’m not a centrist because of a lack of conviction; I cannot pick my ideology because of a lack of values. I choose not to pick an ideology. This position stems from one, fundamental belief I have had since my early to mid twenties, one that I have never been able to shake, and one that I have written a book about.

My belief is this: the belief in one single idea as the overriding goal of humanity – or even the belief that humanity has a goal in general (or goals) – is, no matter how appealing, incredibly dangerous and the source of most if not all political problems in the world. Another way of putting it is that any metaphysical goal is inherently bad.

Now, a lot of people have trouble accepting this argument from me, in part, because all religions (that I know of), most philosophies and most political ideologies have this as a fundamental tenet. They do not always agree on what that end goal is – they often do, it’s usually Justice, differently conceived – but they do agree that there is a goal. (I understand there are a few exceptions to this.)

This is the way I worked it out in my mind, for political movements:

  • Person makes assumption (for whatever reason) that the world should be a certain way but isn’t, due to some reality of human existence.
  • Person believes if that reality (or realities) is eliminated, world will be better, or even perfect.
  • Person convinces others of this “truth.”
  • Group propagates belief and more people believe (or roughly believe, they usually will not totally agree).
  • Eventually group gets opportunity to exercise power.
  • Group gets frustrated that, even though it seems to have mostly eliminated reality of human existence that was in the way of the goal, the goal is still not accomplished.
  • Group blames certain other people for the failures of their own beliefs.
  • People die (or are just imprisoned, when it’s less extreme).
  • A different group identifies the real problem.
  • Lather, rinse and repeat.

But people don’t believe it’s that simple. People believe I am over-simplifying when I talk about this. They refuse to think ideas have this kind of power. ItĀ seems like it’s something that’s very hard for people to accept. It flies in the face of everything we are taught. Perhaps, it’s deeper than education. Perhaps humans are wired to believe in a purpose, in an end-goal. I don’t know. (And, if that’s true, I would have no idea why.)

But as we have come to learn more about the biological, chemical and psychological motivations of human beings, we are learning something: this view is actually correct. Specifically with regard to the concept of “Justice” – just one of the many end-goals I oppose – we are learning that the belief in a “just world” leads human beings to perpetuate injustice. It’s more pervasive than I ever would have guessed. I always just assumed it in the most extreme ideologies and religions. But it’s everywhere. Essentially, if you believe that the world is just (which is obviously, demonstrably not true), you believe that people deserve what they get. Therefore it is someone’s fault that they are poor, sick, dumb, etc. Therefore nothing should or can be done to help these people. QED.

And we don’t know that we’re doing it, which is the whole problem.

We need to not just understand that the belief in cosmic justice – or in any end-goal – is dangerous, we need to teach it. And we need to start sooner rather than later.

Read more about this problem.

4 Comments

  1. There have been numerous attempts at some sort of basic ontology that drives humanity – Freud’s ‘sex drive’, Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’, Frankl’s ‘will to meaning’, and, apparently this notion of justice. Perhaps there is something to be said in the propensity to try and encapsulate people by these basic ontologies that is at fault. Maybe, aside from say basic survival instincts, the problem lies in these attempts to define, when there is no basic definition.

    1. I don’t agree, and I worry that, because the intent of this post was more to point out research I just became aware of, I wasn’t clear as to my point.
      Though I agree us humans can indeed struggle to define things – and regularly mis-define everything from the important to the mundane – I was not trying to provoke a discussion about definitions. I am very wary of all philosophical discussions because they are not only essentially unresolvable but because they distract from the point.
      The point, in this case, is that psychology is indeed discovering that human beings often “blame the victim”, not because these human beings are evil or what have you, but rather because their fundamental beliefs in a “just world” allow them to believe that those who suffer might deserve it. “If I earned my success, someone who isn’t as successful as me must deserve their lot.” etc. I have long felt this to be true, but now there is mounting evidence. And it’s a problem. Not just a philosophical one.

  2. There have been numerous attempts at some sort of basic ontology that drives humanity – Freud’s ‘sex drive’, Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’, Frankl’s ‘will to meaning’, and, apparently this notion of justice. Perhaps there is something to be said in the propensity to try and encapsulate people by these basic ontologies that is at fault. Maybe, aside from say basic survival instincts, the problem lies in these attempts to define, when there is no basic definition.

    1. I don’t agree, and I worry that, because the intent of this post was more to point out research I just became aware of, I wasn’t clear as to my point.
      Though I agree us humans can indeed struggle to define things – and regularly mis-define everything from the important to the mundane – I was not trying to provoke a discussion about definitions. I am very wary of all philosophical discussions because they are not only essentially unresolvable but because they distract from the point.
      The point, in this case, is that psychology is indeed discovering that human beings often “blame the victim”, not because these human beings are evil or what have you, but rather because their fundamental beliefs in a “just world” allow them to believe that those who suffer might deserve it. “If I earned my success, someone who isn’t as successful as me must deserve their lot.” etc. I have long felt this to be true, but now there is mounting evidence. And it’s a problem. Not just a philosophical one.

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