re: justice and freedom
Wed, 22 May 1996 22:12:32 +0000

Bill Ramsay sums up my dilemma, and indeed goes a long way towards
resolving it, when he says:

>If we are to be wary of absolutes then isn't the shift we need a shift to
>>construing acts, policies or what you will, as "just" or "compassionate"
>>rather than pursuing "justice" and "freeedom" as absolutes.
>From the point of view of, say, terrorism, is it easier to adopt a stance
>that one does what one does in the pursuit of (our own absolute idea) of
>"justice" or to answer in an acceptable way the question "Was the killing of
>these particular Saturday afternoon shoppers (peasant farmers etc.) a just

Indeed. Even if I feel ultimately downtrodden and oppressed, I'm capable of
examining my action against my oppressor in terms of its justifiability;
and that is likely to be more morally productive than defending my action
in terms of my search for "justice".

Thank you, Bill: you remind me that hurting the innocent, the "killing of
these particular Saturday afternoon shoppers", is surely unjustifiable,
regardless of whether or not I happen to be searching for "justice", and no
matter how badly _I've_ been oppressed. It's certainly one line of argument
in support of Hemant's original difficulty with the very concept of
"justice", as he presented it in the mailing which led to this discussion.


On reflection, there's just a bit more to it, though. In removing the
appeal to "justice", you do leave the (legitimate) struggler against
oppression with a problem: what objective is s/he to adopt now that the
utility of "justice" (and "freedom") as objectives has been eschewed in
support of the "justifiability" of actions towards some goal? There does
remain the human feeling that ultimate, existential "fairnesses" exist for
which one may, at times, be compelled to fight. And there's still the
problem that no fight is entirely clinical, with exactly the right people

And _here's_ subtlety. Apart from anything else, there is still, (even when
one gets it right and manages to avoid hurting the innocent) the problem of
"friendly fire": that one may have to accept hurts to one's own values in
order to achieve some ultimate objective (= superordinate value). Can this
be "justifiable" in your terms, I wonder?

Listen. I'm not just playing with concepts. My mother spent 2 years in a
Siberian work-camp during the second world war, deported by the Russians
who had invaded Poland shortly after Hitler had come in from the west. And
do you know what she construed as her greatest moral problem during those
two years?

As a forced labourer, she was required to plant vegetables, onions and the
like, to help feed the Red Army people guarding her, as well as herself and
the other deportees. The only form of protest open to her was to plant the
onion sets upside down, hoping that this would in some miniscule way "slow
up" the Russian war effort!

And she found that she couldn't do it: in the midst of so much
"unnaturalness", she felt it went against her own values to work against
nature in this way in order to achieve her tiny, tiny (but superordinate!)
objective. She wasn't prepared to accept even that degree of "friendly

It's still rather difficult!

Kindest regards,

Devi Jankowicz