Truth, Justice and the American Way (?)

Screen shot 2013-07-22 at 10.32.46 AM.png

The truth is I really don’t want to talk about this – I think I’ll scream if I have to hear the names T_____ M________ and G________ Z____________________ again. I promise to avoid them, but I do want to talk about justice and recently those names appear in neon conjunction with the concept of fairness -- a key idea in any civilized society and it’s one that we’re beating nearly to death. I feel honor-bound to come to its rescue.

The Merriam Webster dictionary gives the following definitions for justice:
o    the administration of law;
o    the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
o    the quality of being just, impartial, or fair
o    the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action
o    conformity to this principle or ideal i.e. righteousness
o    conformity to truth, fact, or reason.

As a student of linguistics, an English professor, a writer, and as a Bible-studying Christian I have a strong interest in the integrity of language. Language is a solemn contract we have with all those with whom we speak – words mean what they mean. I can’t replace the word eagle with nincompoop and successfully convey anything about eagles. I can’t amend the word mouse with, say, the word murder – a murder-mouse – and say anything useful. Without the agreed-upon meanings communication disintegrates and chaos follows.

Granted, languages change; we can’t stop the metamorphosis of a language any more than we can stop a glacier. Sometimes these changes are nostalgic for me as an English teacher – the words less and fewer no longer have separate meanings. A lot is now recorded in dictionaries as one word. Alas. The efforts of exhausted English teachers notwithstanding, languages always simplify; there’s no point in bemoaning that.

There is, however, a point in mourning the loss of crucial words that have been mutilated for nefarious purposes. If a person has an idea that he wants people to accept, but it won’t be in their best interests to do so, and he doesn’t have a good, logical, factual reason for them to do so, how does he proceed? He starts by monkeying with the language. If enough of the key terminology can be altered, twisted, misused, overused, under-defined and over-generalized, then the thinking processes of the citizenry can be thoroughly disrupted and our villain will succeed in dividing and conquering because communication will have been destroyed.

The word justice has been attacked for just this reason. I knew I was going to have to write this piece when I heard a discussion between Greta Van Susteren and a lawyer for the T____ M_____ family. Her name is Jasmine Rand. I felt myself suck in a sudden breath when I heard this young woman (a lawyer!) exclaim her satisfaction that public furor had brought about the arrest and charging of G_____Z___________. The police did not find adequate reason to formally charge him. The local prosecutors did not want to pursue the case because they knew it was a weak one that they could not win. That is what the law allows; those with the specific authority and with the best access to pertinent information make the decision. These people were administering justice – see the final dictionary entry above – “conformity to truth, fact, or reason.” But Ms. Rand thought it a superior form of justice for the outcry of emotionally wrought people, none of whom were witnesses to the incident and most of whom did not even reside in Z___________’s community, to determine whether or not this man was charged with a crime.

She admitted – quite proudly – that she was more than a lawyer (I would have said less), that she was involved in social engineering, the mechanics behind our president’s favorite cause -- social justice, which is evidently, in her eyes, a higher form than plain old justice. She was quite pleased that the governor of Florida had illegally appointed a special prosecutor to illegally force a trial. No grand jury was impanelled. No legal indictment handed down, but people had raised a ruckus – a ruckus that it now appears was partially financed with Department of Justice (!) funds. But then this is social justice, premium justice, not just regular, denim-clad justice. Ms. Rand’s idea goes way beyond personal responsibility for personal sins. She wants to engineer our society. Did any of us ask her to do that?

She wants G______ Z___________ held responsible for every miserable thing any white person ever did to any black person, anywhere, ever and she doesn’t want a silly old jury having any say in the matter. Or she wants to sacrifice the freedom of one innocent man to bring about enough mayhem to justify more heavy-handed government. And it looks like our president and our attorney general agree with her. I’ll have to admit, it’s such a much grander concept, this social justice -- never mind that no black person, anywhere, will be enriched by hounding G______ Z___________ to his death. Never mind that a jury of his peers declared him not guilty of any legal fault. Never mind that the evidence reveals a man intent on being responsible (oh, the irony), a man under attack with no help in sight. Evidently social justice doesn’t require “conformity to truth, fact, or reason,” nor is it dependent at all on “the administration of law,” in fact it seems social justice cannot be accomplished within the boundaries of law.

Law. Now there’s another term that’s dying a slow and agonizing death. For over 200 years this country has operated on a well-designed, well-researched system of law. We haven’t done this perfectly, but we have striven to be a nation that holds all of its citizens to the same standards and these standards are set in law – a system that leans heavily on truth (as best we can know it), on fact (provable information) and on the rational use of both (reason). We hold our leaders to those same expectations – at least, we used to.

Now it appears we have switched to an older, more tribal form of justice known as revenge. A white man shoots a black man. It doesn’t matter why or under what circumstances. Someone from your tribe killed someone from my tribe so my tribe is going to hurt someone from yours. This is the work of progressives (another suspect word) and yet it is a massive jump backward to human kind’s oldest and ugliest past. Tribal revenge, after the initial infraction, has no interest in personal guilt, draws no distinctions between tribal members, cares only about inflicting pain – to anyone. If we sink to this uncivilized level, chaos will reign and martial law, law enforced with tanks and machine guns, will replace all that we know of justice. Look at the Middle East.

Justice, perfect justice, is one of God’s most important attributes. It is the attribute that demanded punishment for sin. (It was His Love that sent His Son to the cross to pay that penalty for us.) Because we were originally created in God’s image, we have justice engraved in our hearts. Even small children know when something is unfair.

My youngest grandchild’s first sentence was a commentary on justice – she remarked on the fact that her sister was enjoying a lollipop and she wasn’t allowed one. (She was only 17 months old and had forgotten that her sister Julia had saved hers from the night before.) Violet pouted her little lip out, tears welled up in her eyes, and she said, her voice dripping with accusation, “Julia lolly.” It was a pronouncement, a legal argument, both an opening and closing statement. As far as she could see life was unfair and she was outraged; the apparent injustice hurt her soul.

Injustice hurts all of us. And today we are surrounded by it.  Teachers aren’t allowed to fail students who refuse to learn. We can’t do anything about illegal immigration. We have to pretend the radical Islamists are good people. We are to swoon at the heart-throb picture of a terrorist on the front page of a magazine. We are to forget Benghazi because “it makes no difference.” We are to ignore the will of a jury. We must “respect” a president who demonstrates disdain for all that is American, including our system of justice.

Justice is a holy concept, a foundational concept, and no society can prosper without it. Since God is just, we can know that eventually balance will return, and those who would break the laws nature builds into every human being will pay for their trespasses. In the meantime, we must guard the contract of our language and speak out when others try to maim it. Language, too, is holy – one of God’s greatest gifts. Let us not abuse it.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1