Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Can I by justice or by crooked ways of deceit ascend a loftier tower which may be a fortress to me all my days?
The answer to this question concerns the notion of justice. What conclusions are we to draw from the results of leading a just life -vs- an unjust life, and which life, the just one or the unjust one, yields the most pleasurable, worldly outcome?
This question has plagued the world's inhabitants for centuries.
Lobby to Main Reading Room. Government mural by Elihu Vedder.
Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.
Is there profit to be found in being good... in being just... in philanthropic or benevolent pursuits? What if one puts these pursuits over their own well-being? Is the act of putting one's own well-being above philanthropic gestures a selfish act, or is it merely as aspect of living well, such as putting on one's own mask prior to helping another?
In theorizing whether one reaches a loftier, more pleasurable state of living by being just or unjust in their actions, I must invariably draw from my own life choices if I wish to find a clearer understanding of how I perceive and respond to both concepts ~ justice and injustice ~ and how those concepts affect my thoughts, and most importantly, my behavior and actions.
To claim that a person is just or unjust is to assume that we have insight into their personal, subjective personhood. Rather than assume this is possible, I find it easier to simply comment on an individual person's behavior or actions, or lack thereof, when describing the nature of justice.
If we relate justice to consequences, such as positive or negative ones associated with helping someone when there is no personal benefit to do so, we reduce justice to an expenditure of time, effort, or resources.
No wonder people question the nature of justice.
The world in which we live is dictated largely in part by the resources at our disposal. Most everyone has a specific way or manner about them, a potential that can be harnessed into a resource, but not everyone is equally distributed with the resources that would more easily yield a healthy, productive world citizen who possesses knowledge of themselves, knowledge of the world, and has the capacity to utilize their resources in a way that improves or beautifies the environment we all inhabit.
Sometimes a person is of low intelligence or low drive and lacks an interest in contributing to the common good, sometimes a person has a high intelligence and high energetic drive, but lacks the financial resources to contribute to the common good, and the maldistribution continues.
Given that resources are not equally distributed among all the world's inhabitants, one must take what they are given and do their best to achieve a state of equilibrium, in terms of meeting their physical needs, before endeavoring to help others.
Of course, there are those who do not have all of their physical needs met, and might even be homeless, and yet they find a way to write or create something meaningful for others that instantly improves their financial or physical circumstances. While the latter example does happen, it is not always the norm.
It is to the norm that we look when it comes to expounding on whether justice vs injustice serves a better means to achieve worldly success (and maybe even happiness). As the examples above indicate, there are an endless number of examples on how resources are and are not distributed equally among people, thus I return to my own life for study and reflection.
Not being born into a life of Royal obligations, into a life of global philanthropic concerns, or into a life of cultural understanding beyond what personal preferences my family held on the subject cultural contribution, my early life could be described as provincial. How my interests grew in complexity is in part due to sheer luck as well as to the resources I did possess, which was an inheritance of physical allure, what was described to me as a regal presence, an affable, good-natured disposition, and a quickness of wit and intellect that allowed me to maintain volumes of information in my working memory whilst simultaneously being able to draw upon deeper, more philosophical considerations that, for better or worse, made me and others around me think twice about their thoughts and actions.
While not possessing an abundance of worldly resources upon which to embark a lifetime of experiences, I did possess the above-mentioned natural resources that, once out in the world, enabled me to support myself and others, as well as learn and grow and reach toward greater heights as a result. Given enough time, these results were exponential in their growth to the point that questions of justice and injustice came into my conscious awareness.
My family might tell you that I exercised a number of philanthropic-minded gestures throughout childhood and young adulthood, but in my mind, beyond building companies and offering employment to those seeking it, my first truly philanthropic gesture was directed toward the inhabitants of a very poor, desolate region in the middle of the Mexican desert, a place through which I drove returning from a shopping trip in the United States.
As we drove along the freeway, I noticed people out begging along the roadside. At the time I didn't understand why they were out "in the middle of nowhere" and was told that they lived in the mountains and came down to the roadside in the winter to beg for food.
The moment I heard this my heart sank and I asked the driver to pull over so I could give them some food and extra clothing. I was nearly ripped from the car and we had to speed off for our own protection, not because they wished to hurt me, but because they were so very desperate for resources.
Immediately upon returning to Mexico City, with the aid of some generous friends, we arranged for a delivery truck to return with food, blankets, and toys for the kids. Each year thereafter we sent a truck with much-needed supplies.
These actions might be considered generous, but are they just? What is just about leaving these people out in this barren region to fend for themselves? What is just about some individuals having more resources than others?
Justice seems to me like a manmade concept more than a natural one. If justice were natural, we would all be endowed with the same level of physical beauty, the same strength and physical stamina, the same talents and abilities, and the same cognitive abilities to help us circumvent life's challenges.
Promoting justice is a bit Robinhoodish, taking from the rich to give to the poor. Whether or not the poor are deserving beyond their being poor is an entirely different matter.
When it comes right down to it, most of us would much rather do the giving than the receiving, which perhaps is nature's way of correcting injustice.
Returning full-circle to the question of whether or not it is better to live an unjust life, taking or keeping for oneself as many resources as possible so that one might erect an Ivory Tower for oneself, or whether it is best to redistribute those resources among our fellow citizens is perhaps a matter of preference.
Drawing from my own life, in which I have chosen the latter, I can only say that while it feels wonderful to feast, it doesn't feel right to feast alone.
Perhaps that is what Marie-Antoinette meant when she was misquoted as saying, "Let them eat cake". Perhaps she merely wished for everyone to join her in enjoying cake and was not as informed as she could have been about the state of affairs in France given that she had grown up in an Ivory Tower. When you don't go outside, you don't really know what's going on... and can only trust that those who are supposed to manage such things are doing so for the benefit of all the nation's citizens. Had she known they did not have bread, she would have shared her cake without hesitation. Not out of a sense of justice, but from the generosity of heart that is required to combat injustice.