Israel, China, Capitalism… There’s just us

from‘THERE’S NO JUSTICE,’ Terry Pratchett’s personification of Death said (in hollow capitals) in his novel Mort, ‘THERE’S JUST US.’ And while I don’t want to go around accusing comedy writers of profundity, I think there’s something in that. There is no justice, precisely because there’s just us to bring it into being. And I’ve come to believe we don’t really want justice.

We really want revenge or retribution, as last week’s Telegraph headline, ‘British Justice Fills Decent Citizens With Disgust’ made embarrassingly clear. The piece, obviously written by one of the ‘decent citizens’ who has thus never served time inside a prison, told how criminals get it easy, while decent citizens suffer for it. ‘Justice’ here, means harsher punishments. Not for everyone, you understand. Just for those guilty of crimes we decent people don’t commit. That’s justice.

Decent people don’t steal from other people’s houses. They buy from Ikea or John Lewis. Or they steal from pension funds. If decent people do commit crimes they are ‘white-collar’ crimes, like fraud. One fraud, resulting in the collapse of a savings plan, for instance, can ruin thousands of lives. Yet one rarely hears The Mail, The Sun or The Rest of Them demanding that bent accountants get put on a register to warn us when they move into our business district. There is little popular demand to refuse bail to fund managers (keeping them in jail with burglars, away from their families), regardless of how many pensions their mismanagement might have destroyed. But that’s because we don’t want justice. We want a system that is skewed towards very specific kinds of injustice, some of which we are perfectly aware of, others not.

We claim to want justice but when people can cause the deaths of their staff or the degradation of the environment through their personal decisions, we are fine with their getting away with it as long as they were acting on behalf of a limited liability company. We want justice, but not as much as the freedom to make wads of cash, unencumbered by too much personal risk.

We want justice for the victims of human rights abuses, but as last week’s news showed, not as much as we want important trading relationships. If they are Iranian we will stand with the victims through strong diplomatic gestures, but if they are Chinese, we will stand with them by making it clear that China is an important partner and making nice with the abusive government.

We want justice, but not as much as our own safety, so we will willingly sacrifice rights and freedoms based on our understanding of justice to fight our enemies. We want justice, but not as much as we want to promote our own eschatology or vision for the middle east, so Israel can in many ways behave exactly as Apartheid South Africa did (or shut off power supplies to Gaza as we read last week) and we will call it the will of God.

from liberalhistory.netWe want justice but we are happy to take the advice of capitalist economists like Lord Keynes, who urged us to act in economics as if ‘fair is foul and foul is fair, for foul is useful and fair is not’ when it came to economic theory. ‘Avarice, and usury,’ Keynes said, ‘must be our gods a little longer,’ in order to promote economic growth. We want Christian justice but not as much as we fear or loathe economic theories that suggest those doing the work (rather than owning the land or providing the capital) should reap the wealth.

As long as we don’t want it, there will be no justice, because the people paying lip-service to it are just us.


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