Justice is putting up the bathmat. The bathroom is a slippery place, and when your filthy flatmates always take those long showers, the floor can become as hazardous as an oily igloo in the late spring. But justice is more than this. It’s about wiping your wees off the toilet seat and adjacent walls. It’s about turning down your blaring Carly Mae Jepson when your roommate has a migraine, an exam the next day and worse musical taste than you.
To define without tasteless analogy, justice is doing what is right. It is about realising that you are not isolated and that your actions do have consequences. You see, dear reader, if you don’t put up the bathmat, your unfortunately fragile flatmate may slip and simultaneously dislocate both his knees. If you don’t feed the dog… Well, you’ve got another funeral on your hands–and we all know that you’re terrible at canine eulogies. In all these situations, you would hate to be on the receiving end–you know how shit it is when other people fuck you around. Justice is treating people with the respect that you yourself expect. Empathy, and that.
But, you know what? It’s hard. At heart, apart from those saintly few among us, we’re often such selfish, venal creatures that acting justly is more an aspiration than a reality. There are times when it’s all too easy to throw up one’s proverbial hands and say, “I’ll do what’s best by me.” Because that’s the easy thing.
Unfortunately the easy choice, putting oneself first, so often falls short of being the right choice. Yet knowing this is no solution. Oh, no. You’ll keep fucking it up. At least justice offers us a chance to balance our wrongs. When you err, justice demands you fix it. Or when you can’t fix it, you put your hand up and say, “I did it. I’m sorry.” You do your best to glue the broken bits of the world back together. And you promise, perhaps in vain, that you’ll do better next time.
This view of justice is different from the phrase ‘justice’ in common use–punishing people for their wrongdoings, making them pay, giving them what they deserve. Attitudes like that pervade our legal system and, in particular, the way the public often chooses to view offenders. But these attitudes are just a shirking of one’s responsibility. Justice should be done by people, not to them.
The defense of provocation was recently legislated away in a reactionary fit, and the last Minister of Justice hoped to ‘streamline’ away the right to silence. Before we sell civil rights wholesale, we need to look at the myriad injustices we commit every waking moment by tacit assent to the systems that are the root cause of conflict in our community. Our democracy happily maligns the minority, and entrenches fortuitous privilege. Our economy distributes opportunity more by luck of birth than merit. That’s an injustice greater than forgetting to put up the bathmat.
It’s not a closed door though, when we speak of justice. There remains the promise that we might rectify our failings. There’s still time to hang up the bathmat.