Words from a Father

Husband of One, Father of Four

Tag: justice

474. Essay: Clearer Lines

For my drawing class I opted to draw the skeletons and the marble and plastic models rather than the nude model. I was prepared and more than willing to deal with the mockery and questions inevitably hurled my way from those steeped in a culture that no longer understands the concepts of restraint, dignity, and art. Here’s why.

Restraint

I believe it’s important to have boundaries for what you will and will not do. More important is knowing why you make those choices. For me, I don’t need to know intimately about any other woman than my wife. In fact, I doubt seriously that any marriage has been bettered by knowing more about another of the opposite gender than about their spouse. That’s how marriages are ended, not strengthened.

Dignity

I believe humans have immeasurable worth, both as individuals and as a distinct category of being.

Art

I believe art should reveal us to ourselves and invite us into the greater concepts to which we aspire: love, justice, mercy, truth, wonder, peace, selflessness. The greatest instances in the arts do not abandon us in the story at the height of displaying our selfishness, violence, or sensuality. They do not pursue those things for their sake alone, but neither do they erase all ambiguity, irony, and subtlety.

It takes precisely no talent to show a murder or nudity, but significantly more to hint at it without ever showing it in frame. (This is also how mystery and drama are well incorporated.) Even a cursory survey of seminal works reveals how the arts’ great pursuit is for the true, the good, and the beautiful.

I did not draw the nude model because that aspect of the assignment — the nudity itself — failed on multiple levels: it would not have brought me closer to truth, goodness, and beauty; it would not have revealed me to myself or invited me to “the aspirational perfections”; it would not have dignified the model, the medium, or myself; it would have short circuited my pursuit of artistic excellence; and it would have violated the boundaries and freedoms I now enjoy.

Clearer Lines

G.K. Chesterton said, “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.” I would add that whenever art and morality intersect, those lines should be even clearer.

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461. Essay: Justice’s Framework

Justice is always couched in the language of measuring something against a perfect standard. If the thing falls short of what is right and good, we call it unjust; if it upholds what is right and good, we call it just.

But unless a theistic framework is used (and, I believe, specifically a Judeo-Christian one), no individual can level accusations of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, and of what we ought or ought not do.

The two options then become:

  1. Approach justice from within a theistic framework: This means the anti-theist has not only ceded the high ground, but all ground upon which to stand.
  2. Reject the theistic framework: This makes the anti-theist unable to offer any guidance as to what justice could possibly mean, because temporary justice is simply no justice at all — it will either be utilitarian (“Let’s do this because it seems to work and make people happy.”) or humanistic (“We humans make our own rules so we should try to be nicer, I guess.”) or fatalistic (“This is the best we’ve got; we’ve never done better as a species and we probably never will.”).

When Marcus Aurelius wrote that injustice is impiety, I believe he was being perfectly rational and I think he was right. Injustice is an affront to a perfect being. But be certain of this: that thought came from the seedbed of theism. It could not have come from anywhere else and it cannot find its ultimate expression apart from an eternality imbued with perfect justice.

460. An Eternal Anchor

Social justice without an eternal anchor in futile.

If justice is real, then eternity must exist.

If there is no eternity, then there is no true justice.

We may gain slightly better circumstances in our life, but gaining true justice in life is exceedingly rare, if it even occurs at all. Yet we all long for justice, hope for it, believe it is a real thing, and fight for it. So if we do not gain it in this life, then we must acknowledge the possibility of its fulfillment in the next. This also means that “the next life” will not be in this world, as some propose.

459. Essay: Critiquing Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations

I enjoyed reading Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. There are many good things about it, such as how much he focuses on living in the moment, ridding yourself of pride and vanity, becoming at peace with the transitory nature of your life, and always attempting to progress in knowledge for the benefit of yourself and others. However, I found some problems with his logic, beliefs, and thought processes, which I have outlined below.

  1. He assumes the nature of “the gods” is good.
  2. He assumes that the nature of humans and “the gods” is the same.
  3. He assumes mankind is inherently good, or can at least become perpetually good through recognizing our social responsibility.
  4. He wrongly states that “our actions are what makes us bad” (Book 9, #4) rather than understanding that our actions are secondary to our nature — they are the postscript to who we truly are.
  5. He assumes that with enough knowledge, all humans will choose to do good to all others. (Book 4, #3)
  6. He attempts to simultaneously presume inherent human goodness while railing about mankind’s perpetual evil.
  7. He does not account for: human selfishness, free will, inherent darkness within the core of humans, knowingly blatant acts of evil, opportunism, pain aversion, or seeking pleasure.
  8. He assumes that what he calls “the ruling factor”, “the ruling nature”, and “man’s constitution” is inherently good, with no part of #7 above.
  9. He fails to produce even one example of “enough knowledge” leading to doing good to all. This is especially ironic since all humans admit grievous failures, and even those with arrogance enough to refuse this honesty would have multitudes listing their failures for them.
  10. He fails to understand that justice is inherently a position taken with a fully formed opinion. Desiring justice demands the stance that justice is better than injustice, but judging between two things necessitates a standard by which to weigh the two options in question. This mediating standard that judges between justice and injustice cannot therefore be justice itself; it must be beyond, higher, and greater than either of the two options in question. (Book 6, #52; Book 11, #18, part 7) He attempts to have it both ways by saying injustice is wrong, but that injustice should not be judged. Either, as he stated, “injustice is impiety” and grievous acts are truly wrong, or injustice and grievous acts are fine and should not be judged. (However, calling it injustice is itself an act of judging something as wrong. The question itself has begun to unravel.)
  11. He assumes that anything done “according to nature” is inherently good. This assumes that all natural things are good. This is obviously wrong because it assumes a free-good-will both in the essence and in the effect. Free will, however, is never totally good in that choice negates predetermined goodness. Also, nature makes no choices since it does not have a mind or will.
  12. Because he assumes inherent human goodness, he wrongly believes that any action done by “looking within” and doing what you find there will be good. (Book 7, #58–59)
  13. While exalting “nature’s creation”, he simultaneously calls the body or flesh “bad” (Book 7, #66). But what is more natural than the body, its appetites, and its needs? Logically, Aurelius has already forfeited any ground to call anything bad by asserting the following: the gods are good; human nature is the same as the gods, meaning inherently good; nature is good; and anything done according to nature is good. He has therefore lost all ground upon which to state that anything is bad, especially the body or flesh.
  14. He states humans both are and are not from nature and from the gods. This is problematic for his logic. If from nature, then we should judge only what nature judges and do all things to sustain nature’s balance and self-renewal. If we are from the gods, then we must view and judge all things as they do: with ferocity, intervention, and recompense. If we are not from nature, then we should utilize nature only so much as to be sustainable going forward. If we are not from the gods, then regardless what they do, say, or demand, our only true concern with them should be self-preservation — a far cry from peace with them — in interaction.
  15. He wrongly and illogically states that we should view, scrutinize, and treat acts of virtue differently than all other acts. (Book 11, #2)
  16. He assumes that nature has a will with which things are guided, perfectly in sync, and constrained; and that everything which occurs is according to nature’s will. (Book 12, #5 and #24) But this assumes not a blind force or purposeless energy, but a mind. So if nature is a mind, then of what sort? A mind that guides and constrains must have both purpose for those things and desires. Purpose could possibly be inherent or at least evidenced by a thing’s form and function, but desire is categorically different. Desire means that purpose (form and function) may be actively resisted; it need not be constrained by either form or function. But if form and function are actively resisted or rejected, the thing then loses its purpose since it is now working against nature.
  17. He states, “[the gods] do nothing wrong, either voluntarily or involuntarily” (Book 12, #12). Has he not heard or read the dramas of Greek and Roman deities? Surely he has, and thus he is doubly wrong.
  18. He states, “Men do nothing wrong except involuntarily” (Book 12, #12). This is wrong because it negates the free will and the overwhelming daily evidence to the contrary. Also, has he been sequestered from all children? One hour in a child’s presence should provide sufficient refutation.

Aurelius wrote Meditations to his son, and much of it seems to be written toward the end of his life. My writings to you, my children, are in part due to Aurelius’s words of encouragement to live in the moment, to better ourself, and to pass on something to future generations.

Acknowledging life’s transience is a gift. It connects us to the things that truly matter — to joy, to self-control, to others, to a legacy of love and encouragement. Aurelius seemed to have this connection, and he desired to pass that on to future generations. I invite you to leave something for others that would encourage them and connect them to things of substance.

452. Quotes: Benjamin Nolot on Justice

“The violent and the oppressor do not need to be psychoanalyzed, they need to be stopped.”

— Benjamin Nolot, documentary filmmaker of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls

440. Well Spent

You should spend more time taming your tongue than taming your hair; more time training your thoughts than training with weights; more time taking in ideas than spelling out your own; more time seeking truth than gathering verbal ammunition; more time investing in others than seeking your fame; more time arguing for justice than arguing your case.

362. Essay: Axiomatic Things

An axiom is something that is self-evidently true.

There are several things I believe are axiomatic: love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope. These qualities have no equal in the animal kingdom, they hint at more than biological processes, they are beyond simplistic facts or emotions, and the fact that they even exist seems mystical. On the negative side, selfishness, guilt, and — at times — worry seem axiomatic as well, especially due to their internality and when set in context to the six concepts above.

Love

Love has a singularity to it; it is focused on only one person, not on the many or all. Even for all our attempts at defining and expressing love, it still retains its mystique and majesty. It is experienced but still not understood. It moves the strong and the weak, yet is aloof from explanation. It makes kings fall and raises paupers in the experience of grandeur. It captures the masses but finds its expression only in the singularity of relationship. Love is mystical in that it is the one-in-a-million lightning strike that happens every minute of every day. Love is common alchemy.

Justice

Justice is simply not attainable in this world. Yes, thieves are caught and murderers serve their time, but how often do the guilty go free and the innocent receive punishment undeserved? To be true justice, it must inherently have many necessary components. It must firstly be exhaustive — in its knowledge of the people involved, what makes them who they are, the beliefs they hold as true, the background of the situation, the cultural milieu, their psychological and biochemical state, their intentions, their actions, their emotional dullness, and much more.

Justice must also be perfect. It must be correct in its assigning of blame and innocence. It therefore is not mathematical, but intensely personal. The act of administering justice is not by rote, but by intervention and distinction and intuition. Justice uses something outside of itself while reaching within the complexity of humanness to judge. Humans are able to distinguish between facts, but justice is more than factual distinction. However you want to phrase this, justice is completely moral, or righteous, or pure. It is right and never wrong. Justice is also imbued with impartiality. It shows no favoritism and employs no emotion even while penetrating the heart — the core — the essence — of who that person is. This is the paradoxical part of justice, the non-emotional part that reaches within the emotions of a human to satisfy this great longing of every person.

What about the personal part of justice? Not the part that holds to a justice out there somewhere, but the part that has experienced a tragic wrong. The part that says, “I was wronged and it needs to be put right.” In that situation, our heart cries out for payback. This again demands a person able to step into our situation, feel our devastation, know all the external issues, and move swiftly on our behalf. This kind of justice is partially a move to satisfy our heart and restore peace within us. But how would anything impersonal know us within? Neither a rock nor a dog can know the internal workings of a grasshopper. A gorilla does not intuit what it would be like to be a hummingbird, but we humans do. We can even imagine what a gorilla would think being a hummingbird would be like. Personhood is the only thing that can open this kind of knowledge for investigation, and justice is intensely personal and interior.

Have you noticed that children, in their innocence, have a distinct love of and desire for justice?

I say justice is axiomatic because there is nothing so pure, so wise, so exhaustive in its understanding of mankind, and yet so unsentimental as true justice. And this, to me, is what makes justice an expression of a person.

Humility

We are by nature self-centered hoarders. Humility is the only thing standing in the way of our nature; humility is undeniably the hinderance to what makes us human. Achieving is no longer about being the best at something, but about having the most. Interior qualities — what was called character in bygone times — have been replaced with fleeting stratosphere-bound counts. It’s now the most gold medals rather than the best match; the most world records rather than the best attitude and form; the most money rather than best life; the most sponsorships rather than the best product; the most readers rather than the best content; the most votes rather than the best plan. It’s now about having rather than being.

Children are the generational reminder of our selfishness. Their perpetual clutching is interrupted only by outwardly congenial play contrived to gain more, and by fleeting bouts of tears over what is not clutched, their intention to clutch more, and who stole what from their clutches. Selfishness is to humanness what air is to breathing — necessary, pervasive, interior, and insatiable.

So then why teach humility? Humility is not an impulse we have, and “to deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.” Humility makes us weak, takes away our resolve, and leads us to unnecessary self-sacrifice at times. There is nothing so devastating to our own nature as humility, so there is no applicable reason to encourage its existence.

But who can deny the position of greatness that humility holds within the human experience? Becoming a good cook has its roots in who we are: we need food to survive as a species. There’s an obvious connection there. Humility, however, is categorically alien to humanness. There is no precursor within our nature or our needs. I say humility is axiomatic because there is little else so admired while emerging out of nothing mankind finds within their nature.

Mercy

Mercy is the desire of all who encounter true justice. Mercy is the human request when faced with our undeniable self. Our known guilt — that internal neon sign with the blazing letters, Wrong Way — drives us to beg for mercy. We want what we don’t deserve. “I admit I did wrong, but please do not hold me accountable for what I did. Please do not hold me to the standard.” The request for mercy does not lie or color the situation favorably, it simply asks, “Please. Please don’t.” Mercy relies on the fact of a personality who has the power and the will to make just such a decision. Mercy cannot be acquired from a force or an automaton. It claims that there is something beyond the right and the wrong and it asks to be judged on a scale of intangibles. It is an appeal to a standard beyond and above justice itself. From a being who is perfect, mercy asks nothing short of a miracle. And without mercy, mankind becomes something it was not intended to be.

But where is mercy in nature? The cyclone shows no mercy to the land or its inhabitants, neither does the earthquake or tidal wave. The prey does not beg for another chance; the predator would never give it. It is not just that nature has not produced mercy of a sort, but it could not ever even imagine it.

Have you ever noticed that we, being not children anymore and knowing the depth of our wickedness, naturally desire mercy? When the police pull us over, all we really want is mercy, the precise thing we don’t deserve at that moment. And when someone has crashed into us, all we really want is to withhold the exact thing they don’t deserve as well. Since we can choose to request, to grant, and to withhold mercy in the face of guilt, and since we do all this while minding the scales of justice — none of which is observed in the elements or among the animals — I say mercy is axiomatic.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the sister of mercy. Mercy chooses not to act; forgiveness chooses not to keep record. Forgiveness wipes away what was done. Without forgiveness, our indebtedness for carrying out our nature in selfish acts would be insurmountable. Mercy without forgiveness would also breed a kind of contempt — the kind that chooses to not seek justice, but despises being continually wronged and has vowed to keep an account.

Forgiveness is the bridge between mercy and hope. Without the hope that things can change, that situations can get better, and that people can improve, forgiveness is futile. Said in reverse, because we have positive hope, we can choose to not keep record (forgive) and extend the hand of peace to those who have wronged us (mercy).

Forgiveness is not seen amongst the animal kingdom. No cheetah bumps into another during a sprint and genuflects, “Pardon me.” A bird accidentally pecking up the wrong morning food gives not the slightest apology for his absentmindedness to his unintended prey, but we offer an “Oops” with a nervous laugh if we grab the wrong cup of coffee from the prepared orders. Animals find no need to make something right because they have no standard of right and wrong. The utter lack of oughtness in nature makes ours all the more distinct, and therefore sets forgiveness in the category of an axiom.

Hope

Hope seeks more. Trust is inherent in hope. Better is inherent in hope.

Hope is not seen in nature; where it is hinted at, it is being superimposed by us. Winter is boundaried by the turning of spring, but this is not hope. The animal world and the insect population and the non-evergreen foliage do not wait in hope of spring, they simply travel the course of their instinct or according to nature’s seasons. Plants do not hope for a more lush location, do not seek out greener pastures, do not long for equality or fight for rights. Animals do not hold out hope that next year’s harvest will be better, that humans will be more humane, or that they may be represented fairly amongst their predators. And when predators do strike, there is no protest of fair warning or accusations of cheating the system. Nature has no hope of better and does not experience trust issues. There’s no job market for “Fawn and Foliage Counseling Services.” Nature is comprised much of instinct; hope, however, is definitely not instinctual.

Humanness and Beyond

On one hand, we humans are such selfish beings that we must invent ways to deal with the entailing guilt. “I want” and “Mine” do not need to be taught. We want to enjoy drinking soft drinks but despise the calories, so we buy a diet drink. If we don’t want caffeine, we choose a caffeine-free diet drink. And if we don’t want a manufactured sweetener, we can get an all-natural caffeine-free diet soft drink. In almost any flavor, natural or unnatural. Putting ourself first comes natural; assuaging our guilt, an imminent second place.

On the other hand, we seek so much of what we do not deserve, what is contrary to our own nature and to nature in general. But these undeserved things — love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope — are necessary for our existence. They are ideals made tangible in small glimmers. They are the sublime qualities seen in irregular pulsar bursts from another human’s actions.

We feel them, we know them, we need them, and — mark this — we are not human without them. Examples of the person who has removed one of these from their life are only found in two places. The first is in the self-imposed exile of despair, leading to bitterness, leading to aloneness. The second is in the volumes of tragic works produced by “artists” which crescendo in stunning sorrow. Without one of the six parts of our axiomatic humanness, we end up with either the masquerade of fiction or actual wretchedness. One makes for dramatic tension, the other for detestable company. We take part in one because it is “just a story,” the other is avoided because of its life-draining misery.

It seems clear to me that these six concepts are from something categorically different than nature or biological processes, mathematics or emotions, chance, or philosophy. They do not arise from anything lower than us or equal with us, but from something beyond us, from someone more pure and whole than we ever have been. They are eternal, personal, interior, and necessary, which when taken together serve as an introductory summation of God.

319. Abortion Argument

You can rightly be pro-life as well as for the death penalty because there is a grand difference between the innocent and the guilty.

308. Resist

Resisting small injustices will prepare you to stand against great evils.

250. Quotes: Marcus Aurelius on Injustice Being Impiety

“Injustice is impiety. [. . .] And whereas [mankind] had previously been endowed by nature with the means of distinguishing false from true, by neglecting the use of them, he has lost the power. [. . .] And he who pursues pleasure will not abstain from injustice, and this is plainly impiety.”

—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IX, #1

That first three-word phrase above is, to me, one of the greatest, truest phrases ever penned. Sadly, it is so fraught with assumptions as to be logical swiss cheese.

It is far from axiomatic. But it is really, really good.

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