Justice: Oh, say can you see

I have heard it said that justice is usually depicted as blind, except for one statue in Italy. That is of course Italian propaganda. There are plenty of statues and images of Justice without blindfold, including the infamous one in the Justice Department, which then Attorney General Ashcroft had partially covered up, because he did not like anybody to get the idea that justice could possibly have a nurturing aspect to it.

There are two sides to human life of which we often say that they are blind: Justice and Love. We do say that rage and hate can turn into blind rage and blind hate, but that is a special qualifier, since both rage and hate can also look with fiery eyes.

One might assume that the blindness of justice and love would make them similar, as indeed an abusive parent might claim to only administer loving justice, as he or she thrashes the defenseless child in blind rage. But beyond such distortions, we tend to assume that justice should be blind and love unfortunately is, something that it should overcome, perhaps.

Hegel pointed out, profoundly I am sure, that in the night all cows are black. That seems to be the general recommendation for the justice system. “All other things being equal, treat everybody as equal.” (It is not fair to give special privileges to the rich, such as better lawyers.) Be that as it may, if justice is indeed trying to be blind, then where can we look for judging what is good and bad without closing our eyes?

This may be the prerogative of ethics, as it is emerging in some parts of our world. Ethics is about persons. Persons are individuals who are unique and therefore cannot be treated fairly if their uniqueness is not taken into account. What so proudly we hail as ethics should not be reduced to another blind system of rules and principles, but as a way of counteracting the unseeing ways of justice and moral rules, if not love.

Of course, as Martin Buber pointed out, only persons can see persons. So, in order to be ethical we do not only have to see the other person as fully, from all sides, as possible.

Person

Person

We have to stand in relation to them as unique persons, ourselves. That is the beginning of ethics. Everything else, including the 500 page ethics manual of the US House of Congress, is just so much more soft law, for the general class of the privileged, with or without distinction.

If we cannot be ethical with each other as persons, then we are not human.

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