I once said that “one cannot fight injustice with injustice”. But I realize now that this only touches the tip of the iceberg. More specifically, it can be said that “one cannot fight objective injustice with objective injustice”, or that “one cannot fight merely subjective injustice with any form of injustice”.
First of all, what do I mean by this? Objective injustice is precisely how it sounds: that which is objectively unjust. If a person slaughters an innocent for no real purpose at all, with malicious intent, we can say that this was objectively unjust. There was and can be no real justification for this. To the accused, the price for their violating the civil liberty of another is rightfully the violation of their own civil liberty. To the murderer, he experiences a subjective by being imprisoned. Can we say that this subjective injustice was objectively unjust? Not in the least. Therefore this subjective injustice was objectively just.
Objective injustice is always morally abominable. Subjective injustice and mercy are the only ways to address an objectively unjust phenomenon. When equality of white and black people was formally declared it released a whole wave of reaction among some white people who felt that they were being oppressed. But on the contrary! This oppression may have been a subjective injustice to the white man, but it was objectively just, and therefore certainly right! Equality always feels like oppression when you come from a position of privilege.
In response to 9/11, a truly abominable act of terrorism, the U.S. found its alleged justification for unleashing a wave of terror of its own against the middle east. Was this just? It may have seemed that way to the United States but this is merely an example of fighting that which is objectively unjust with objective injustice. It is, therefore, a form of injustice which cannot be justified. Abolitionist John Brown found the only truly emancipatory solution to slavery to be the creation of a violent slave rebellion. Was this unjust? Not in the least! It was a response to an objectively unjust institution which perpetually created injustice. The response was subjectively unjust to the slaveowners, but by merit of being slaveowners they were guilty of an enormous crime against humanity. Brown’s response to slavery was therefore objectively just, and arguably, didn’t go far enough against the slaveowners.
What then is the relationship between mercy and justice? It must be said that mercy towards an individual objective injustice in which the injustice is perpetrated solely against the individual who, in contemplation of what to do arrives at the conclusion that inflicting subjective injustice against the accused is just, is certainly admirable and a worthy deed. However, in instances in which the objective injustice is institutional, collective, and systematically reinforced, the act of mercy against that institution or the perpetrators of it, is itself, merciless against the victims of that objective injustice. Therefore mercy against that which has no mercy in its objective injustice towards others, is itself an act of moral cowardice and barbarity. There can be no mercy against that which is objectively unjust and institutional in nature. This is, in and of itself, an act of objective justice.
We go back to an earlier post, ‘The Elements of Leadership: Immoral, Moral and Immorally Moral Pragmatism’, to ask a simple question. Is it not an act of moral cowardice for one to refuse to kill 5 people if it is the only way to save of 5 million? It may seem to that individual to be wrong, to be an act of barbarism, but objectively the act is eerily just. The ideas of objective and subjective justice and injustice are therefore aspects of utilitarianism, and my contribution to it.