“O Son of Spirit!
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.” Excerpt From: Bahá’u’lláh. “The Hidden Words.”
Let’s consider that we could, in an adult world, do whatever we choose, without external constraints. We might, in such a world, choose to follow a moral formula. We might choose to follow no formula at all, making random choices in every circumstance that surrounds us. In such a world, we might reasonably question, “what about the social contract?”, “what about harming others?”
In considering harming others, we could consider turning the whole framing of this question around. Consider that, in an adult world, we accept that, in doing whatever we choose we might, advertently or inadvertently, offend the life of another or others. Consider that we all, then, have access to complaining about that offense. It seems possible that a justice system could be developed that is based on the complaint of offense against a life.
To consider what offense against a life might constitute, we can immediately consider those offenses that are often listed as ‘criminal’ such as stealing, assault, rape, murder. Starting from a place of strongest offense, society seems to consider that murder is about as strong as it gets. If we look at murder, we see that, as an offense on the life of others, it creates a conundrum. However it is in unraveling that conundrum that a more enlightened justice system can be established.
The conundrum of murder is that, while the victim has had a serious offense against their life, they no longer have a life upon which to offend, not do they have the possibility of complaint against that offense. However, the victim is not the only complainant in the case of murder. Consider that a murder victim is a 20 year old woman who has living parents, a brother and a sister, a life partner, ten cousins, 30 close friends and work colleagues, an employer, etc etc. If we conservatively estimate that the woman’s close circle is around 50 people, and her secondary circle of acquaintances is 200 people, then a case can be made that each of these have a complaint of direct offense on their lives by the murderer.
Putting that scenario aside for a moment, consider that a complaint-of-offense based justice system would have two roles: to determine that an offense against life had been made, and the degree of that offense; and the recompense, reconstruction, or transformative action required around of that offended life. These three accountabilities can be defined as: recompense (restoring the loss); reconstruction (providing alternatives where the loss is permanent); and transformation (creating complete and radical forgiveness from the offended through a caring relationship). How would we estimate what that would mean of 200 complainants of a life taken? Would it make any sense that the perpetrator spend 15 years in a prison? The evidence is that imprisonment rarely creates recompense for the offended, and even rarer, a transformative act for perpetrator and offended alike.
Consider that we might be able to have an authentic conversation about the degree of offense we believe we have suffered. Perhaps such a conversation, even with 200 people, might be facilitated by specialists in clarifying impact. In the case of the murder, that impact (degree of offense) would vary from the loss to a parent to the shock to a recent neighbour. Nonetheless, it seems very possible to be able to compile the full degree of offense. In each case (rather than as a whole), it is also possible to make a formulation about what it would take to transform that offense from the extreme separation and loss it has caused to a state of forgiveness and recompense. Without going into speculation about how each individual case might resolve, it is relatively easy to imagine that the perpetrator of a murder would be confronted with not being able to recompense for the social loss of any of the 200 people, although financial recompense could be argued by an employer who has lost employer productivity and costs to re-hire. In the case of murder it is difficult to see what could be reconstructed as an alternative to that loss to the close circle. It is then, left that the murderer becomes accountable for fully transforming their relationship to the close circle and the whole 200 people, into radical forgiveness and a caring relationship).
An offense against life based justice system has, as it’s core modus operandus, to create access for the perpetrator to transforming their relationship with the offended. For any similar offense, for some perpetrators such access may take many years, for others, much less, and for a few, the whole of their life. Such a system would necessitate that perpetrators play vital roles in community, and around the offended. While it may require certain restraints of the perpetrator, imprisonment would be far less necessary than the current vengeance systems. An offense against life based justice system would be able, maybe even more able than now, to ensure safety around violent perpetrators who have poor self management around their violence.
An offense based justice system can deal with neighbour’s compaints, family complaints, trading complaints, property theft, loss, and damage complaints, political complaints, and social complaints such as denigration, prejudice, or moral shock. An offense based justice system doesn’t work in prescription but can be completely flexible to the circumstances of perpetrators and offended. It can be imagined that an offense based system might be commonly used for many small offenses in life to cut across simmering resentments and optimise relationships across community.