The blind and the elephant

By Odimegwu Onwumere. Odimegwu is a journalist based in Rivers State, Nigeria. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Injustice and justice differ from one village to another, from one town to another, by ethical injunctions and from one political sovereignty to another. What may seem as unfair or undeserving treatment in one clime might be the beginning of justice and its outcomes in another clime and vis-à-vis.

As injustice is the hypothesis of this discourse, we’ll have to draw experience from injustice beyond the interpretation commonly found in Western philosophy and jurisprudence in modern times. Injustice and justice is a susceptible subject to talk about. For instance, if justice is vehemently the practice of fairness in the society by allowing people to get what they want, do we not think people can be given more than they deserve? Against this influence, we must interpret injustice and justice through the periscope of traditions, cultures, and religions predating modern times. We must draw inspiration from laws of different countries. We must interpret injustice and justice through laws that were before and during slavery. We must not undermine such laws and base our argument on the 10 December 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No. This discourse may not attain the result it was intended to if we base our argument only on human rights. There were other rights before the progenitors of Martins Luther-King Jr. journeyed to the United States of America in the cause of slavery. There were rights that countries observed before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and we must exhume them for posterity.

When the founding fathers of the United States wrote into the Constitution in 1787, there was a provision that absolutely legalised slavery. When they said that “all men were created equal”, they purposely meant the Americans because they did not see the world beyond the confines of their country, their political interest, religious inclination and economy. If they did take to cognizance that “all men were created equal”, they would not venture into slave trade in the first place. They saw what they did as their right – to overlord themselves over others.

By their Constitution in that period of time, slaves were not seen as people but as objects paramount for labour. A quote was credited to Thomas Jefferson as saying. “Blacks and whites could never coexist in America because of ‘the real distinctions’ which ‘nature’ had made

between the two races.” This philosophy by Jefferson which, (without doubt, represented the mindset of founding fathers of America), is what political scientists call Political Injustice. We shall unravel the benefits of Political Injustice in our subsequent lines.

We must consider politics played in different climes, their interest, before we define justice and injustice. This brings to bay Political Injustice. Political scientists say it has great benefits. They believe that “he who has the most guns grabs the most property”. They are not concerned about human rights. They are not talking of a failed state but “he who dies with the most toys, wins.” Those who call the shots in such environment regarded as fiefdom extend their practice beyond their “peons and protégés” they have acknowledged under their authority. They also argue that human rights activists see such environment as a failed state, but decorum and a sense of ‘justice’ prevail in it. Accordingly, the points given here disprove Martin Luther King Jr.’s legendary statement which states that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Ancient and modern

Before the political communities we live in today, we once questioned what justice and injustice was (as rational human beings). We again questioned justice and injustice in religious sects, traditions. For instance, at the beginning of Plato’s Republic, Socrates was seen quizzing Cephalos, afterward Polemarchus and lastly Thracymachus about what they profess justice and injustice is. We often preserved judgment of this to either God or Ancestors. While many of the values we inherited from the past inflect the way we act on matters, the context of just and unjust has shifted drastically, taking on a more transnational concept. We can see that in the past atrocities such as genocide, ethnic cleansing, corruption and the killing of women and children in wars were regarded as a taboo. Then-again, as children, we construct our notion of justice and injustice based on the definitions ascribed to these constructs by society and law. Often, people do not keep to the definitions learnt in childhood due to trauma; hence the situation impacts what they define as social order – justice or injustice. This sheds light on the fact that the mind of a child is constructed by the legal system/ethical principles of their upbringing. This environment consolidates their initial view of justice and injustice.

Justice, injustice and law

It is essential to state that in the past justice and law were like Siamese Twins. They were synonymous. But there is a drift today: injustice can be supported by law; despite most people claiming that justice is the sole purpose of the law.

Let us believe that the type of justice Martin Luther King Jr. was referring to was the justice that morality brews. In the same vein, the world has had personalities like Plato, Derrida and Socrates who insisted that law should make justice prevail. But what they forgot to understand was that the justice they were fighting for was not embodied in the practice of law. Rather, such justice was indescribable, if not erroneous, and dislocated from the personified practice of law.

Justice is indefinable in law. It is in dispute with law. Lawyers would say that justice may apply to disperse issues or engage technical questions, objectivity to judge or give penalty and reward. In history, law, anthropology and political science, the role of justice is regarded as a political statement.

There are two chief definitions of justice. One relates to criminal activities while the other relates to equality. What may be seen as a crime to the people might not be seen as a crime in law. The same is applicable to equality. In some cultures (with emphasis on Islam) the treatment given to men is not the same as women. They measure justice not on equality but on equivalence. Treatment also differs between a man and woman, a boy and a girl in a Muslim community. For this reason, we cannot say that since there is inequality in Islamic tradition – there is injustice. Most Muslims were comfortable with this and no one, seeing through their lens, would characterise their practice by injustice. In this context, justice and injustice is determined by the law governing a given group and country. Conversely, in the face of injustice, a suspect has the right for a plea bargain in a court (in front of competent jurisdiction). Therefore, what may seem as injustice at a local standpoint is not always enough to convict. Even when a suspect admits guilt in a societal setting, to evade extrajudicial punishment, he or she still remains legally innocent.

Nevertheless, settling a matter out of court is often seen as more important than justice. They call this a win-win situation in law, whereby both prosecutors and defense attorneys’ interests are managed. We can see that in this type of situation, the victims and the community have no place in the world of justice but the suspect has. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are often faced with pressures that lead to a compromise. This brings societal justice as the compromise has guiding principles and rules. There is no special treatment. Here, the law is not evenly and equally applied to all.

Not evenly and equally applied

Analysts would say that governments at all levels are keen to promote social injustice christened as social justice. This is where the interest called political correctness comes to play. Many governments convert this political ideology into law, which ought not to be so. There are suspects that receive special treatment to the peril of private citizens. Now, we have governments all over the world who prefer the gathering of special interests above the law. This is to say that Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries were children of circumstance at the time. Today America allows millions of migrants into her every year and allows them to enjoy welfare.

To the government, this is a way of showing justice to those outside America (in need of coming into the country). But for the taxpayer, it is blatant injustice against the whims and caprices of the American Refugee Act of 1980 which specifies a limit of 50,000 refugees. Some Americans would say, “Executive decisions removed limits.”

Conclusion: The blind and the elephant

Proverbially speaking, justice and injustice are like the elephant in the eyes of the blind. The blind can only define an elephant from the side he or she is allowed to touch. Thus, the great Martin Luther King Jr. was a blind man in the definition of justice and injustice without considering social, religious, ethical, traditional, political, economical and sundry differences around the world.

12 comments on “The blind and the elephant

  1. azubuike on

    If birds could migrate without barriers sake for environmental concerns and humans are placed on restrictions including obtaining visas which are denied most often depending on the clime you are coming from while speaking as an African living in African soil, the west impoverished us enthrone stooges as our rulers kept miserable and yet denied us entering into their so called heaven, then i have to think twice that an injustice somewhere is injustice elsewhere

  2. Uche Chilaka on

    The writer is able throw light on the subject. Justice or i justice is highly relative. The subject mater cannot be exhuastivyly discussed without reference to prevement situations ecimimically, religousely, socially, politicaly and so on.. The law of the land cannnot be used as perfect deteeminat of what is just or unjust. This is because some laws may be made to satisfy a particular person or small powerful political group at the espense of others. The federal cheracter in Nigeria for instance placed the north at advantage at the expense of the south. This is seen in the enrollment in federal schools, employment into the civil service, political appointments, etc. Therefore what is just to a people may be injustice to other people within the same enclave

  3. Madu Osita Thaddeus on

    Justice is indeed relative & can be influenced by socio cultural & political realities prevalent at the material time. Interests, personal and/or collective, help shape & define what constitutes justice in a given clime within a given period. Overtime, when such interests wanes, the course & definition of justice surely changes accordingly.

  4. Imodje Victor. on

    Justice and Injustice Are Subjective On Accepted Norms, which Could Be Documented in Prints or in Hearts of Men Upon Which a Deviational Act is Injustice While Compliance Is Justice!!

    These Norms Are Never Uniform Across Societies; as They are Founded Upon Prevailing Circumstances , Which are Bound to Differ Between Communities Per Time.

  5. Nnamdi Ikeh-akabogu on

    Thank you very much Odumegwu Onwumere for a thorough and painstaking research on the discourse. It’s a well known fact that what works in one clime could be a taboo in another. And that’s why we often hear that, “one mans Meat is another’s poison. As such it will be difficult to conclude that Justice and injustice as applicable in one state could be acceptable in another.

    Since we live in different environments practice different religions, speak different languages and have different cultural beliefs, it will amount to crass ignorance, to say the least, to say that Justice and injustice as we have them in one entity could be exactly obtainable in the other.

    However, in a cultural homogeneous society, it may or may not be possible.

  6. Sidney Davis on

    You wrote,
    “When the founding fathers of the United States wrote into the Constitution in 1787, there was a provision that absolutely legalised slavery. When they said that “all men were created equal”, they purposely meant the Americans because they did not see the world beyond the confines of their country, their political interest, religious inclination and economy. If they did take to cognizance that “all men were created equal”, they would not venture into slave trade in the first place. They saw what they did as their right – to overlord themselves over others.”

    The phrase “all men are created equal” is not in the U.S. Constitution.” It was a clause included in the Declaration of Independence. Legally, by the Constitution, only citizens were enjoined to human and civil rights. Slaves were not citizens until the passage of the 14th Ammendment. By law (i.e.. the constitution) slaves were only considered as 3/5ths of persons. Slavery was a legal issue only, not a moral issue except in terms of their treatment as chattel property. There was no compunction of conscience as to the morality of slavery as far as equal, civil, human or moral rights were concerned. Your article is begging that question on a faulty premise IMHO.

    • C.N Geraldine on

      Sidney, I’ve read your viewpoint and was happy that you did not disprove the citation of “all men are created equal” no matter where you think it was cited as the writer used. However, I’m yet to see any cogent point you have made to disprove the writer’s stance that Injustice in one place is not injustice everywhere as against MLK Jr.’s position. Without acting on emotion, I would appreciate if you can disprove the writer by citing what Justice and Injustice are from political, legal, sovereign, religious and sundry angles. I would not want to say that you have made the same mistake MLK Jr. made by seeing what is Just and unjust from the moral angle. Thanks for commenting.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our newsletter!