Justice in Modern Society

By James Lim. James, 19, lives in Singapore. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Injustices seem to permeate every aspect of our daily lives. Cable news and social media platforms boardcast the injustices around the world, bringing the worse of our society before our eyes. We consequently became cynical, even pessimistic, about the future of our world when nothing seems just and fair. Martin Luther King Jr. serves as a timely reminder for what to do in such a circumstance – to fight back against injustice and prevail. Justice is the foundation of our society and it is up to us to protect it.

Injustice threatens justice by undermining the sacrosanctity of justice in our society. When we perceive a situation in which injustice has managed to escape the due process of law and remains unpunished in society, it calls to the cynical part of ourselves to start doubting the validity of justice and the institutions responsible for upholding it. After all, if someone has managed to avoid the repercussions of committing an injustice, it stands to reason that we too could to do the same. The institutions we put our faith in to preserve justice in society are now proven to be failable. Each successive injustice that is committed further degrades our faith in their ability to maintain justice, until the institution loses its legitimacy entirely. An example of this would be the increasing loss of faith in the police force in America following a series of unjust shootings of racial minorities, including the shooting of 17-year-old Trevor Martin. The subsequent outrage and Black Lives Matter protest it sparked illustrates how destructive an unjust act can be on the faith we have in our institutions. Even one unjust act can erode decades of hard work spent building up that trust. The only way to preserve the concept of justice and the institutions that protect it is to have zero tolerance for any acts of injustice by punishing any such that transpires swiftly and justly. This is of special importance in the sensationalized world of today, where news of an unjust act can travel far and wide in minutes, via a tweet to Twitter or a video posted on Youtube and Facebook. An unjust act can never go unnoticed, making it more important for institutions to act justly than ever before. An injustice threatens their ability to maintain justice in society.

Furthermore, prolonged injustices in the world can corrode the very meaning of what is just in a society, inducing society as a whole to adjust for the unjust element by including it in their conception of what constitutes justice in society. A society that is steeped in corruption will begin to consider corruption as an essential part of social life and start to reconstruct social structures to account for the unjust act. The exemplification of such a moral corruption can be observed in reality when the Romanian government voted to make corruption legal, enshrining what was formerly an unjust act in society into the core of the judicial system itself. Similarly, in China, the act of corruption has been so ingrained into social norms that not being corrupt can be considered a social faux pas. Society begins to twist itself to adapt to the injustice, ultimately resulting in a perversion of what was originally just in the society. The institutions that are supposed to protect justice become the purveyors of injustice instead. That perversion of justice and the institutions that govern them can have horrific consequences. Nazi Germany, Communist USSR, apartheid South Africa and many other instances of mass injustices stand as testaments to what happens when the perversion of justice has reached the roots of society. Prolonging injustice makes injustice justice.

We need to recognize, then, that injustices are everybody’s concern. An injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The concept of justice permeates our lives and stands as a cornerstone of modern society. There is no situation in which we can maintain justice in the domain of the legal system while ignoring injustices in the domain of culture and society. We, as individuals, cannot offload the responsibility of acting justly to someone else. The attitudes we foster in one domain regarding injustices ultimately will affect our attitude towards justice everywhere. When we act unjustly in our daily lives, our actions will ripple across society and affect the wider social institutions that govern us. A case in point is racism in the United States during the 20th century. The act of being racist, the injustice towards the blacks by the systematic biases fostered in society, eventually bled into the jury system of the judiciary, resulting in a correspondingly higher conviction rate for blacks. We, the vox populi, are the ones that govern how society is shaped. When we tolerate injustice in one domain, we find it easier to tolerate injustices in other domains. Injustice then becomes virulent in our society. Soon, our legal and political system acts to reflect that injustice. When injustice occurs, it is up to all of us to stop it. We, too, are responsible for ensuring justice in society. By stopping injustice as it occurs, we prevent it from spreading across society and safeguard justice everywhere.

However, the world of sensationalist media and fake news has made it harder and harder for us to identify when an unjust act has occurred. We can never be sure that what we are outraged for is indeed an act of injustice. What may seem to be an injustice to us could be a form of justice to another person. Injustice may not necessarily pose a threat to justice – we are not even sure if we can identify it. The social justice movement illustrates this dilemma we face perfectly. On the one hand, to those involved in the movement, their push for greater inclusivity, non-gendered pronouns and pro-immigration seems to be justice. They believe they are the ones fighting the injustices society fails to correct. On the other hand, to the rest of society, the social justice warriors are unjust. Their attempts to push their agenda has generated a backlash against what the social justice warriors are fighting for. Some believe that social justice warriors are curtailing the right to free speech and being overtly inclusive with their policies. Other think they are excessively pushing their ideas and polarising the discussion about the issue by being too monolithic. They, too, have valid concerns against the social justice movement. Both sides are right and both sides are wrong to some extent. There just doesn’t seem to be a way to ensure that we are supporting the correct side. This lack of decisiveness and uncertainty regarding our actions has led to an avoidant attitude towards fighting for injustice as a whole. We choose to ignore injustices because we are not sure if that is indeed an injustice we are facing. After all, during the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. was once labeled a terrorist by the FBI.  Who could fault us for being cowardly and refusing to choose a side?

What complicates the fight against injustices further is the multi-faceted nature of the injustices we face. Injustices in society exist because of a huge variety of causes. There is no easy solution. We can never be certain if our solutions to the injustices we face are correct. We may be creating a greater injustice with our actions. It may be necessary, in some instances, to even tolerate injustices. An illustration of this would be the treatment of women in our society. There exist a wide variety of reason as to why women face an unequal treatment in our society. A lot of the reasons are structural and not easily resolved. We have moved leaps and bounds ahead of where we are at a century ago, but there are still injustices present that we cannot eradicate. In more recent times, feminist movements attempted to eliminate such issues once and for all, resulting in a huge backlash by both genders alike. The end result was a regression and polarisation of attitudes regarding women in sectors of society, even amongst women themselves. Some even suggest that policies are now unjust towards men instead. A new injustice may have been created in place of an old one. Perhaps a better alternative would have been to let those issues remain and wait for a better opportunity to offer a solution, rather than acting hastily. Sometimes, it may be beneficial to tolerate injustice if our meddling makes it worse. Tolerating a small injustice can be much better than creating a bigger injustice. Injustices are not necessarily always a threat to justice.

Utopia does not exist. The world is always going to have injustices present. The fight against injustice can never end. An injustice can truly prevail only when we give up the fight against injustice. We can only strive to make the world a better place, with all its imperfections present, hoping that it becomes ever more just.

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