Friday, 9 June 2006

Justice and other whims

In philosophy since the time of the Aristotelians a sharp distinction is made between science and narration. In ancient times, both were called ‘logos’, bringing together acumen and substance. In essence, science and narration both said something x about something else y, but in very different ways. Plato and Aristotle expressed their high philosophy as narrative, but after them the more scientific way of drawing up a philosophical discourse had to avoid narration or story-telling, and concentrate wholly on systematic treatises.
Today we consider science to be a discipline of hard facts. Maths, for instance, or physics, would fully qualify as science. But other disciplines that based their conclusion on elusive truths are not deemed worth of the name. Such would be, for instance, medical theory, or even justice.

Justice, and particularly criminal justice, is not a science. It is not about truth. It is not about certitude. It is about arbitrary and subjective laws, evidence, and interpretation. Justice is not about giving everyone one’s due, as it is commonly said. It is a question of impressions. It is a tool of social and institutional control and order. Ultimately, justice, and again criminal justice, is about institutional business, about designating culprits, and about solving nothing. Justice, especially criminal justice, is a laden word signifying the rationalization and the validation of whims; qualified, skilled, competent, practised, licensed whims. But whims nonetheless.

Humankind has a knack of inventing grandiosity out of nothing. Medical practice, for instance, dabbed any non-normative thinking process, and behaviour, as ‘madness’, and created techniques, and professions, to counter them. The same goes with the justice business. The identification of non-normative behaviour brought about a cathedral of institutions that have the pretentious status of reality. Ultimately, such institutions are the play-things of grown-up boys who never matured (which is rare); convenient substitutions for the little lead soldiers of bygone days. But the pretence is the same. And works still.

Truth is the catchword that, even here, apparently gives substance to play; a seriousness that presumes to command respect. But truth is another word for what one agrees to; for what one accepts; for what one likes. It does not have reality in itself. It is a logical, mental, term that is arbitrary, artificial and, if you like, whimsical as any other term that language uses and any other concept that the mind works with. Truth is an interpretation. A whim. And justice follows suit.

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