“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
-Martin Luther King Jr. in “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
It is the precedent set by one that justifies the actions of thousands. This rather imperfect manner of thought has existed throughout the course of human history as made evident by horrendous events of injustices—the Holocaust, to name one, and the Mongol conquests, to name another. Atrocity after atrocity has been committed on hapless human beings since time immemorial, and for what? On the word of one who rules them all? Why is it that this dreadful philosophical throne continues to pervade the modern day? Why is it that injustice is capable of being ignored despite its true form? As Albert Einstein boldly stated, “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” The precedent is the authority; injustice is the truth.
Throughout the course of civilization, humanity has been guided by principles to distinguish right from wrong. Inherent morality stems from the individual, legality from the government, sin from religion, and nurtured morality is, arguably, a byproduct of the former three. Culture dictates how we uphold ourselves—outstandingly moral individuals are praised, and immoral individuals are forgotten for all but their wickedness. Yet injustice prevails. Despite all we hope for, all we strive to do, there is always mirrored evil in the world to counter our benign deeds. Is it easier to enact injustice than justice? Is it simpler to give into our primitive instincts—arguably stronger in some than others—and do wrong as opposed to good? Why is it that the pendulum can shift from light to dark in the blink of an eye?
We are no strangers to virtue, nor are we strangers to evil. Humankind is capable of vast benevolence, and indeed this is often proclaimed to be the righteous and true path, but we are also capable of vast malevolence—and this may woefully be true of even the kindest soul. We are creatures who sometimes surprise ourselves with the levels of depravity we unintentionally achieve. Does this explain why humanity is so easily swayed by the ideologies of the time? We are fickle, indeed, but no more capricious than the cultures we are apart of. It was epoch-making circumstances that pushed Germany into Nazism following World War II. An absolute tragedy, without question, but the millions who blindly followed the precedent set by Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders are often excused in modern perspectives. Why? I believe it is because we—as humans—understand how times change and how cultural circumstances can easily dictate the minds of the many. While those who propagated the ideologies and executed the injustices can never be forgiven, those who followed them because it was relative to the era must be excused—and ironically done for the sake of justice and morality. The precedent was set.
Why was it that Socrates died? Recall that Socrates was not rightfully charged with crime and, by all means, should have been acquitted from a modern and moral standpoint. It can be discerned from his final arguments that Socrates willingly died to preserve not only peace in the budding Athenian democracy, but to set himself a model for the billions that he supposed would follow his legacy. He did not die because he believed himself guilty. He died because he wanted to ensure that justice would prevail far beyond his own death. He labeled himself a criminal in these final moments and died solely for the purpose of showing every onlooker that the law must be examined. Foresight, then, was what called Socrates to the grave. Again, the precedent was set.
It is the precedent set by one that justifies the actions of thousands, indeed, but did not Martin Luther King Jr. also state that “Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals?” If the idea that every benign deed in this world is countered by an evil one, then the opposite is also true: for every single evil deed in the world, there is yet another virtuous act gracing humanity. One cannot succumb to the concept that evil and injustice is endemic without cure because evil is no more prevalent than good. Justice everywhere may be unbalanced by injustice anywhere, but the constant workings to establish unwavering universal justice by the sufferings and struggles of others—in Martin Luther King Jr.’s words—far outweigh the evildoing of a moment. Authority may always be the precedent, but the truth does not always have to be injustice.