Justice and order

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Over the weekend, I was mulling a few different concepts over, and one got stuck and wouldn’t go away until I wrote it out. In the news, we see lots of stories about police brutality and the police state. We see lots of stories on social media about companies that rule over their employees with an iron hand or berate customers that step out of line. We see the United States government intruding on personal rights and privacy in countless ways, from NSA spying to the dispensing of military equipment to school districts.

Why do we see these patterns? It’s easy to blame politics, race, and a variety of other surface factors, but there might be a bigger concept to pay attention to. When we see behaviors that we identify as unjust, what we are seeing is the triumph of order over justice.

Order and justice can sometimes be correlated, but order does not necessarily mean justice. In small communities, justice is implicitly built in. In a small town, justice occurs to some degree because everyone knows everyone else’s business; you can’t hide for long. In small companies, it doesn’t take long to ferret out the people who are not pulling their own weight. (and yes, this can be perverted – a white community can behave unjustly towards black citizens, and vice versa).

Once a community, an organization, a company, or a country grow beyond a certain size, justice gives way to order. People want order. They crave order, because order begets stability and predictability, even at the expense of justice. Most importantly, the average man on the street cares less for justice than he does order. Order means the market is predictably open, even if it’s not well stocked.

Ideally, justice and order work together, but very often, they diverge. This occurs because beyond a certain point, one sub-group’s concept of justice is not the same as another sub-group’s. Order becomes the priority, and justice takes a back seat.

When police are buying military hardware to patrol schools, order is in the driver’s seat.

When peaceful dissenters are spied upon, harassed, and even harmed or killed, order is in the driver’s seat.

When a minority is oppressed even when expressing a just viewpoint, order is in the driver’s seat.

Dr. Martin Luther King speaking against war in Vietnam, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota

When you look at the news today, you are seeing the triumph of order over everything else. Those who are at the top of the pile, those who are in power (regardless of party or perspective) will champion order, because the current conditions are what brought them to power, and they’d like to stay there.

If that’s not okay, if what’s in the news isn’t just and you want justice, you have to be willing to accept disorder. You have to convince your fellow citizens to accept, embrace, and even foment disorder, because only through disorder can you re-emphasize justice. (obviously, being a practicing Buddhist and a lawful citizen, I strongly recommend peaceful, non-violent disorder)

Disorder means the trains may not run on time. Disorder means that people aren’t where you need them to be. Disorder means that things don’t run as well as they should, and that emotions run hot. Disorder means heated disagreement. But disorder is essential in order to re-organize around a more just order.

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