Friday, March 05, 2010

Justice and Dehumanizing People

A proposed definition of justice: the equal treatment of fellow human beings.

Another way of putting it: do unto other human beings as you would have them do unto you as a fellow human being.

If justice is indeed equal treatment, then equal outcomes are impossible. To get equal outcomes, you have to have unequal treatment of people. Thus, equal outcome, by the above definition of justice, is unjust.

A government that does anything to promote equality of outcome, including redistribution, is unjust.

Anyone who treats one member of their own society -- that is, those who are considered to be human -- differently than they treat another member acts unjustly. This does not mean that we do not take into consideration people's differences. Quite the contrary. But taking people's differences into consideration doesn't mean you don't treat everyone as a human being.

This is the soul of ethics. In fact, I would argue that any individual cannot treat unethically anyone they see as a fellow human being. The first step in treating someone unethically is to dehumanize them.

For example, murder. To murder is to kill a fellow human being. Traditionally, only those who are a member of your tribe or society are considered to be fellow human beings. As we have globalized, many of us have extended who we consider to be fellow human beings to include everyone. To the extent we do that, we become more ethical.

So how do we make sense of murder? Well, it depends on if you see it from the point of view of the killer or of the society the killer is a member of.

A sociopath doesn't see anyone as being a fellow human being.

If you catch your spouse cheating on you, in that momeny you no longer see that person as a fellow human being -- and the law typically reflects that (you have to kill them in the moment for it to not be 1st degree murder because any time to reflect and plan makes it first degree murder).

The mugger sees you as a mark, not a fellow human being.

The assassin sees you as a job, not a fellow human being.

More, societies have typically had rituals that allow us to remove people from their societies, allowing those societies to kill them.

Thus, it is allowable to kill people in war, because when war is declared, one ritualistically separates out the people one is as war with from yourself and the rest of the world. Things like the Geneva Convention nevertheless ensure we try to keep most of the people in the country we are at war with considered fellow human beings. That is why murder, rape, and theft are much less common in war now than it has been in the past (where it was expected).

Further, we can make sense of human sacrafice because a religious ritual is performed to first remove the person from the society so they can legitimately be killed.

Finally, we can make sense of capital punishment here as well if we consider the trial as a ritual to remove the offender from society so that the person can be legitimately killed.

Now, one may in fact disagree that these rituals actually perform these functions. That is what is really at stake in the opposition to capital punishment, for example. But it helps to know what you are really against: the performance of a ritual to dehumanize a fellow human being.

One can apply this to theft, rape, or lying as well. Well, the latter is a bit more complex than that, as it oftentimes requires that you deeply understand the one you are lying to as a fellow human being to lie to them. The issue with lying may lie more in why one is lying.
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