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The elusive search for justice


‘If this is justice, I am a banana!’ The sentiments of journalist Ian Hislop’s words uttered in 1989 after a sloppy decision by a British court are now claimed by both Donald Trump’s supporters and his critics. Last week, the former US President’s indictment was unsealed and he pleaded ‘not guilty’ to all 37 charges against him. Round and round we go. His critics and supporters continue to grow in ferocity with every headline. They both claim to be fighting against injustice. 

Cries of injustice from opposing sides of an issue are common. As the Russia-Ukraine war enters its 16th month, both Presidents Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky maintain that their nations are victims of injustice. Closer to home, Australia’s national debate on the Indigenous Voice referendum is following suit. Those from the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camp claim that the opposing side’s preferred result would constitute racial injustice. And the game of ‘who knew what when?’ continues to be played out in parliament and in the media in relation to Brittany Higgins’ allegation of a sexual assault at parliament house in 2019. Again, both sides continue to cry out for justice.

Superman once exclaimed to his nemesis Lex Luthor 'The world is as it always was, with good fighting evil.' Most would agree. But deciding what’s ‘good’ is trickier than it seems. In his recently released book The Saviour Syndrome, Professor of Sociology John Carroll observes that as traditional religion has declined, the label of ‘sacred’ has been transferred onto people. The ‘true self’ is the new sacred. And as per Carroll this call to authenticity is accompanied by a call for justice. 

We’ve set ourselves a tough task. Having lost touch with the idea of a shared notion of the common good, we now find ourselves bitterly grasping for moral certainty in a world that tells us there is none to be found.  

This seems to have led us to be more outraged with perpetrators of injustice than concerned for victims of it. Playing the man and not the ball has never really worked on the football field. But our hunger for justice has been overwhelmed by our anger with people who disagree with us. 

In a recent episode of their ABC Radio podcast The Minefield, Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens remark that the humanity in our dialogue has been lost to the language of abstractions big causes that reduce us from human beings to merely creatures bearing ideologies. We are either pro-voice or anti-voice. We are either Trumpers or anti-Trumpers. We have become abstractions disguised as people. And as per philosopher Albert Camus 'There is no persuading an abstraction.'


'Justice without bitterness is harder to find these days. But the lives of people like Carter and King show us that it’s possible. Opponents need not be enemies. We can choose restoration over retribution.' 


If our pursuit of justice is abstract and angry, then even if we get what we want, bitterness tends to remain. To be sure, outrage even anger has a role in uncovering injustice. But an engine needs petrol as well as an ignition. Getting started is one thing, but keeping things moving is another. Even when our opponents morally exasperate us to the point of disbelief, it helps to remember that anger is a signal, not a solution.

In quoting the Bible, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior called for justice to roll on like a river and righteousness like a mighty stream. For King, justice is not abstract. It’s about people first. It therefore requires us to see each other charitably, humanly even those with whom we disagree. We must hate injustice, not our opponents. 

In 1967, boxing superstar Rubin ‘The Hurricane’ Carter was wrongfully imprisoned for life for a triple-murder after a prosecution and trial mired in prejudice. If anyone has ever had a reason for bitterness, he did. Yet while in prison, Carter said that although hate put him in prison, love would bust him out. His conviction was overturned after 18 years. Carter was released and spent the rest of his life fighting for justice for the wrongfully imprisoned. Somehow, he wasn’t bitter. He looked beyond anger, to forgiveness and restoration. 

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that justice without strength is helpless. Perhaps equally importantly justice with bitterness is toothless. Justice without bitterness is harder to find these days. But the lives of people like Carter and King show us that it’s possible. Opponents need not be enemies. We can choose restoration over retribution. But we must refuse to allow the importance of our causes to cloud out the sanctity of our humanity.





Max Jeganathan served as a political and social policy adviser in the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments. He is an Associate of the Centre for Public Christianity and is undertaking a PhD on the ethics of human dignity. 

Main image: Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 04, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Max Jeganathan, Justice, Trump



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Existing comments

You can't have justice without Truth. And truth is connected with reality which is routinely denied today. For example, the transgender war on cultural norms is about denying biological facts and quotidian reality, and absurd theories that deny scientific facts are promoted by media, medical establishment, corporations, schools and government.
And with Covid, a wealth of studies now demonstrates the negligible benefits of key pandemic interventions: "the collateral damage of the pandemic response was substantial, wide-ranging, and will leave behind a legacy of harm for hundreds of millions of people in the years ahead." (Kevin Bardosch study).
And yet if you disagree with patent falsehoods you are vilified as an anti-trans activist; and eminent medical professionals like Stanford's Jay Bhattacharya were censored on social media and monitored by the government's Counter-Disinformation Unit. Bhattacharya has been proven correct.
Martin Luther King wanted his children "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" and he rejected those "who are color-consumed." Yet today identity politics now carves people up by race, gender and sexual orientation.
Falsehoods masquerading as virtues abound. Beware virtue-signallers! As Shakespeare noted, "what a goodly outside falsehood hath." (The Merchant of Venice)

Ross Howard | 22 June 2023  

Eric Holder: “the arc bends toward justice, but it only bends toward justice because people pull it towards justice. It doesn’t happen on its own.”


But, how hard do you pull it? Should we "refuse to allow the importance of our causes to cloud out the sanctity of our humanity" if the cause is so important that the arc really needs to be pulled?

I don't know what someone who doesn't believe in an afterlife can do about this dilemma. For him/her, the arc has to be pulled hard in this life for a very important cause or the cause is lost. For a Christian, Jew, Muslim or believer in eternal justice, the cause is already won in the next life. The arc will always be terminating in justice, but in the justice of judgement in the next life, not necessarily in justice in this. Still, nobbling the horse on the back of that comfortable thought because the other side also enjoy, like me, the sanctity of humanity, seems like an excuse to avoid the discomfort of courage of conviction.

How important does a cause have to be to give no quarter? How would you recognise the cause?

s martin | 16 July 2023  

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