Justice Requires Basis in Offense of Life

justice“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.

Why the Baha’i 7 matter.

Katrina Lantos Swett, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, writes in CNN Global Public Square , that she was was honored to have the opportunity to address gathered supporters earlier this month when the “Five Years Too Many,” campaign came to Washington, D.C. This campaign is a demand for the release of the Seven Baha’i leaders imprisoned in Iran for the past five years on account of their faith.

Katrina goes on, ‘Since May 2008, six of them have been jailed on baseless accusations ranging from espionage to “corruption on the earth.”  The seventh was arrested and imprisoned in March of that year. Along with other Baha’is jailed on equally groundless charges, these leaders testify to the abuses visited upon the 300,000 members in Iran of this peaceful faith.’ Of the latter she reminds the reader that, since 1979, the authorities have killed more than 200 Baha’i leaders and dismissed more than 10,000 from government and university jobs. Baha’is are also barred from establishing schools, places of worship, or independent religious associations. Their marriages and divorces are not recognized; they have problems obtaining death certificates; they may not inherit property. Baha’i cemeteries, holy places, and community properties are often seized or desecrated, and many Baha’i religious sites have been destroyed.

The public propoganda against Baha’is is vehement. “They are accused of being [imperialist] agents,” it said. “[T]hey face…utterly unfounded allegations of immorality; they are branded as social pariahs…The propaganda is shocking in its volume and vehemence, its scope and sophistication, cynically [targeting]…a peaceful…community whose members are striving to contribute to…society.”

‘Since 2005, they have arrested nearly 700 Baha’is. By the end of 2012, at least 110 were being held solely because of their beliefs, ten times the number in 2005. Rrecently the authorities have been given to imprisoning mothers with small babies.

Baha’is in Iran have done no harm to their country, pose no threat to its people, and seek only to live in peace and worship in accordance with their conscience. As June elections approach, the world should demand that Iran free all Baha’is and drop the charges made against them on account of their faith. Iran should rescind every law permitting Baha’is to be killed with impunity, and Baha’is should be allowed to practice their faith fully.’

Liar, liar: Why deception is our way of life

Abdul-Baha wrote, “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.” Perhaps it is our constant deception, then, that makes of virtue the struggle that it is. I was so taken by this article by Dorothy Rowe, about our self-deception, that I have copied it out here.

How did we get ourselves into this mess? Continual wars and conflicts, climate change and economic crisis loom at the international level, while as individuals we continue, generation after generation, to inflict pain and suffering not only on other people but on ourselves. Why do we have such difficulty in learning what we most need to know to mitigate our most destructive behaviours?

Throughout history there have been a few individuals whose insight into what goes on inside us is as clear as their understanding of what goes on around them, yet with what looks like self-induced stupidity most of us have been wholly unable to learn what they have been telling us.

Take the Stoic Greek philosopher Epictetus. He commented on human behaviour this way: “It is not things in themselves that trouble us, but our opinions of things.” In other words, it is not what happens to us that determines our behaviour but how we interpret what happens to us. Thus, when facing a disaster, one person might interpret it as a challenge to be mastered, another as a certain defeat, while a third might see it as the punishment he or she deserves. Crucially, the decisions about what to do follow from the interpretation each person has made.

For me, this uncertainty lies at the heart of what we need to know if we are to understand ourselves and behave differently. And yet throughout history we have denied this truth because what it tells us about ourselves is that, while we are not responsible for most of what happens to us, we are always responsible for how we interpret it. And we seem to dislike taking responsibility for ourselves as much as we dislike uncertainty.

Over the last 20 years or so, neuroscientists have shown that Epictetus was right – and given us important clues about our neuropsychology. They have found that our brain functions in such a way that we cannot see “reality” directly. All we can ever know are the guesses or interpretations our mind creates about what is going on. To create these guesses, we can only draw on basic human neuroanatomy and on our past experience. Since no two people ever have exactly the same neuroanatomy or experience, no two people ever interpret anything in exactly the same way.

This is frightening. It means that each of us lives alone, in our own world of meaning. Moreover, if everything we know is a guess, an approximation, events can, and often will, invalidate our ideas. Each of us lives alone, in our own world of meaning. This is frightening

Can you bear to remember that time in your life when you were going along feeling secure and thinking, “This is me, this is my world, that was my past, this will be my future,” when suddenly you found that you had made a major error of judgement? When you realised that many of the ideas underpinning your whole sense of being a person – that sense of “I”, “me”, “myself” – had been invalidated by events?

Have you ever had the sensation of falling through infinite space, shattering, crumbling, of being about to disappear like a raindrop into the ocean? Perhaps you knew that what was falling apart was not your sense of self but some of your ideas. You knew that you now had to go through a period of uncertainty until new ideas emerged.

But if you did not know this, you would have been utterly terrified, so terrified that you would do anything never to go through such an experience again.

Psychiatrists and psychologists have either ignored this experience, maximised its significance as a full-scale “breakdown”, or minimised it as a “panic disorder”. Yet this feeling of falling apart is an essential part of our lives and of most of our narratives. In The Wizard of Oz, for example, Dorothy and her companions emerge wiser and strong from the invalidation of their idea that the wizard could solve their problems, while paradoxically Othello is destroyed by the invalidation of his belief that his wife Desdemona had been unfaithful.

We first experience the terror of being invalidated when we are small children, but by the time we are 3 or 4 we have learned a way of avoiding it: we have learned how to lie. From then on, whenever we glimpse the faintest possibility that our “selves” might be threatened with annihilation, we lie.

First of all, we lie to ourselves. Why? Because we fear that we do not have the strength and courage to face the truth of our situation. We even lie about lying, preferring to call our lies anything but a lie. We say: “He’s in denial” or “She’s being economical with the truth”.

We lie in our private and work lives, to friends, family and colleagues. Often we tell them what we call “white lies”. Some of us do so because we need people to like us: our greatest fear is of being abandoned and rejected. Others tell white lies to avoid the chaotic feelings they get from seeing other people being upset by the truth: they know the world is a chaotic place, and to survive in it they need a personal island of clarity, order and control.

At a public level, we lie about nearly everything, from the true level of corporate wealth to expenses and evidence that humans are responsible for changing the climate.

When it comes to such global-level events, you might think finding out what is true would be a top priority, especially as we start out neurologically blindfolded. But it is not. For all of us there is something more important than finding the truth. We are too frightened to confront the facts because doing so means confronting the danger that most of what supports our sense of who we are could disappear.

Unlike lies, truths require evidence to support them. But no matter how much evidence we accumulate, our truths will always be approximations and absolute certainty will exist only in our fantasies. Lying gives us the temporary delusion that our personal and social worlds are intact, that we are loved, that we are safe, and above all, that we are not likely to overwhelmed by the uncertainty inherent in living in a world we can never truly know.

We can never escape uncertainty: it is part of our very being. Scientists struggle daily to accept uncertainty, and still search for “evidence”. In our personal, professional and collective social lives it looks as if we may have no choice but to confront uncertainty if we are to survive – and survive well.

So we will need to be very careful in future about choosing the situations in which we lie. All lies have networks of consequences we did not expect or intend. The lies we tell may well protect us and our personal – or collective – sense of self in the short term, but in the long term and in a linked-up, complex world, the consequences can be truly disastrous. After all, when we lie to ourselves and to others, we multiply a thousandfold the inherent difficulties we have trying to determine what is actually going on inside us and around us.

One day, neuroscientists may be able to describe the damage we do to our brains when we lie to ourselves and to others, when we create confusion about knowing something that we deny we know. Let’s hope that by then we can start to believe – and to use – the scientific truths we will be telling ourselves.

COMMUNITY DISARMAMENT REQUIRES AN ONTOLOGICAL APPROACH

And the ontological approach requires a hermeneutic method in a great social conversation.

It is 14 years since I first wrote a university paper on guns and  violence in my rural community. In that small enquiry, I found that the use of guns as threats including the discharge of weapons, was a disturbing aspect of domestic abuse.

By the time I wrote that paper, Australia had already regulated and destroyed many weapons after the last massacre (Port Arthur, Tasmania)    to have occurred in Australia. However it has only been this latest massacre in the USA (Sandy Hook School, Newton, Connecticut)  and the conversation that has followed, that has hade me revisit the idea of being a gunless world. My first responses have been to castigate the NRA of North America for its own culpability. However, a sport shooter called me out on the idea of prohibition of firearms. Here were my responses:

Me: I realise firearm sports are even on the increase in Australia, and I have some empathy for the draw it has. I’m not a prohibitionist, and don’t see there is any evidence that it works for any issue. What does work is strong community conversation and regulation. Training and licensing are the key elements of working regulation. However, even in Australia, while we have a reasonable grasp on workable regulation, what we lack is strong community conversation. Peace will only be won by peaceful conversation. In spite of my approach here, I do think peaceful conversation also can’t be rampantly derogatory, just that it doesn’t have to be nice. My challenge here is really to say, “Think about this. What would you do, here, now, to support the next step towards a gun less society?”

He: As you do, I can commit to initiating and continuing a rational, gentle conversation about the balancing of public/personal safety in our Australian ( and to a lesser extent international) society with legitimate, safe and peaceful pastimes which happen to use firearms. As a left of centre voter with a strong sense of social justice and an abhorrence of violence, I still don’t see your presumption that we need a gun less society is correct anymore than one that might say we should have a carless, ropeless, drugless, knife less , Bungy-jump less etc society. But I am astounded by the American refusal to balance individual ‘rights’ with public safety in the face of such evidence. The massacres are not numerically significant whilst shocking. The 10000 gun homicides vs Australia’s 19 per year is more shocking. That anyone could have a concealed weapon next to me in a supermarket queue if i lived in the states is shocking. Thankfully I think Australia has found a balance. Our psyche is different. Our civil society is very different and we can have great discussions without being polarized or extremist. Thanks.

Me: This is essentially an ontological argument ie an argument for BEING gunless or BEING people for whom the idea of weapon is strange and unusual. I can’t be sure that the future of the human society will be weaponless, I simply offer myself the possibility that (while)the rationale of my own mind isn’t capable of going to that place where human society lives in 100 or 500 years, it may indeed be weaponless. However, from that possibility I know (expect) that weaponry at least need be scarce for what the hell would there to fight over, kill. If it is scarce in 500 years, it can be scarce today. Why, because the reason it is not scarce today is because humans believe they are important for something, mainly killing someone, secondarily to kill an animal, thirdly to shoot an inanimate object. However, if you rank all the beliefs and reasons, and you really desire to have them on that basis, I am happy to concede to you. And all the ones that have no belief or reason, well let’s get rid of them. And I am happy to make the same deal with a Neo Nazi with his cache of assault rifles. However, if I ask everyone for their list and then apply hermeneutic conversation to the one’s that are off each list, until we have some clear 90% agreement what can stay and what should go, then I will be extremely happy with that conversation and that outcome. And once we have seen that outcome applied we are already far done the track of a cultural change in which the weapon is a strange and unusual idea.
 
I am glad this engagement has lead me to review the possible approach to a big community conversation. Such conversation can translate to many, if not all, issues of governance, policy and public health. The hermeneutic approach is no easy method to translate on a mass scale but when doing that research back in the 1990’s I realised that a combination of household survey and an analytic approach to select representatives of the diversity of opinion, for a hermeneutic group approach is do-able. For the application of the hermeneutic approach to community problem solving I used the 4th Generation Evaluation concepts of Gubba and Lincoln.

No More Namby Pamby

On this Christmas day of 2012, I am reminded of the moment that saw Jesus ben Joseph entered the waters of baptism, open himself to the Holy Spirit, and become to completely, wonderfully reflect the Glory of God. In every instance of His life, thereafter, He demonstrated that power through His unremitting stance for the spiritual requirements of all the people living in His moment, towards that day that ” shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2:2-2:4)

I am reminded that Jesus, forsaking every comfort so that He could establish the law of love with humanity and exact the promise of the Covenant of God with humanity, saying ” I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” (Gospel of John 16:12 – 16:14)

And, even in that, He made it clear as he felled the tables of money veiling the sacred place, the place of worship, that there is necessity in the spiritual stance to go to the priests of rituals of the ego and yell loudly, “NO! NO! NO!, GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!

For Jesus, that stance was completed in His recognition that they would, then, find an excuse to kill Him. For the money makers asked Him,” “What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then they said, “Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?” But He spake of the temple of his body.” (King James Bible, John 2:18-2:21). His death would be the opening of the hearts of His disciples to the Holy Spirit and the establishment of Temple of Christ in the hearts of people throughout the world.

And, so, here, at Christmas 2012, my ego railing within, reminding me of the words that Christ gave us to use to put voice to that ego and its soothing, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”(King James Bible, Matthew), I take this stand. I commit to the promise of love and peace. I commit to saying to the priests of rituals to the ego, war, and hoarding. “NO! NO MORE, NO EXCUSES!” I commit to turning guns into plough shares. I commit to turning violence into calm and peace. I commit to raising the children of the world with physical and spiritual nourishment. I commit to empowering the youth as peacemakers and community builders. I commit to turning prisons into playgrounds. I commit to caring for the planet for every living thing. I commit to the dance of extending love and justice across the planet. No more Namby Pamby. I take this stand.