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Justice as Active Peace

Justice as Active Peace

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Re-frames discussions of justice in terms of Active Peace, maintaining, in part, that Restorative Justice methods are a sub-set of peacemaking. Traces the etymological history of peace to support the contention of its direct and integral relationship to healing forms of justice.
Re-frames discussions of justice in terms of Active Peace, maintaining, in part, that Restorative Justice methods are a sub-set of peacemaking. Traces the etymological history of peace to support the contention of its direct and integral relationship to healing forms of justice.

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Published by: John VanDyke Wilmerding Jr. on Jul 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 Justice as Active PeaceOriginally published inby John WilmerdingContemporary Justice ReviewFormer Secretarythe Journal of the Justice StudiesAssociationUN Working Party on Restorative JusticeVolume 15, Issue 2 -- June 2012 Dennis Sullivan’s treatise ‘Rambling Through the Fields of Justice’ is a satisfying read, inand of itself. In writing it, Dennis has demonstrated that he knows what justice really is.However, more service can be done to justice’s description and definition. I thought Iwould try to do so by attempting to re-frame justice itself, taking the restorative justiceperspective as a point of departure. We know, of course, of restorative justice as a titular movement for change, for reform of western cultures’ punishment-based systems. That is what the term means in theconventional contemporary context. Yet few stop to think that in the original culturesfrom whom the west borrowed many of the methods we now call restorative justice, allthose who first used those methods were trying to do was achieve something fairly simple… justice itself.  The western concept of justice hearkens back to an ancient people -- the Hebrews. The3000-year-old tablets found in el-Amarna, Egypt tell us that proto-Semitic peoples of thePalestine region once worshipped a goddess whose name (approximated) was, in theirmode of writing (without vowels), S-L-M. From this ancient name, many others andconcepts have sprung, to wit; Salem, Salome, Shalom, Shlomo, Islam, Salaam, Muslim,etc. In Hebrew, as studied by rabbis, this name is still known as holy writ, effectively oneof the names of G-d. That is not to say that the Jews originated the concept of justice, mind you. On thecontrary, it appears that justice is as old as the phenomenon of human beings sitting in acircle and talking things out. It just happens that the tribal traditions of the Jews gave usin the West our primary reference for justice, as the conceptual vocabulary we use todescribe it (and many other things) was passed down to us through Hebraic writings,especially through the Bible. Never forget that among the seven articles of thepostdiluvian Noachide Covenant, the last one -- and the only one articulated as a positive,affirmative instruction -- was ‘Thou shalt establish systems of justice’. So today, when we talk about restorative justice as, say, the peacemaking circles of Native American peoples, or the
of the Rwandans, or the Family GroupConferences passed on to us by the Maori, perhaps we are merely talking about aprocess, outcome, or thing that is universal, as second nature to humanity as sitting in acircle, perhaps around a fire, maybe sharing a meal, etc. Certainly, we are talking aboutmethods that generate vastly superior participant satisfaction than, say, judicialpunishments. Maybe human beings are genetically hard-wired for peace and justice, and
maybe, just maybe, the triumph of evil is only possible when our true inner human natureis interfered with epigenetically by violence and oppression in our lives and cultures.Classical knowledge is sophisticated enough to give us a statuary representation of Lady Justice (akin perhaps to Lady Liberty). Ms. Justice, if you will, is depicted blindfolded,holding a sword in one hand and a set of scales in the other. The scales are oftenlopsided, as if there were an unequal weighing of two things, with Ms. Justice blind to thefact of this inequality. Perhaps the point is that in the real world, and especially in termsof justice, true equality is very rare.I believe, however, that the statuary representation of the scales is testimony to the factthat while justice can almost never embody true equality, particularly in its outcomes,and can, of course, never really return participants to
status quo ante
, justice can assessequity … the state of affairs where outcomes are as nearly equitable as possible. In otherwords, whether harms have been reduced or ameliorated as much as possible, with nonew harm being done. This is why, in answering the perennial questions in matters of restorative justice, ‘What is restored, to whom, and how?’, we ultimately come to therealization that it is the community, via its human relationships, that is restored, thoughthis restoration is all too seldom seamless. Scars from harms and injuries may remain,and indeed, even the most forgiving and charitable of people can be heard to say thatwhile they forgive, they shall not forget.So, while it is a handy
nom de guerre
for a handful of methods that are being used byscholars, researchers, practitioners, teachers, and activists to wrench modern so-called justice methods back to the origins and precepts of true justice, restorative justice mayactually be said to factually and truthfully represent nothing more nor less than justiceitself.[If you have noticed the reference to an ancient proto-Semitic goddess, and the allusionto justice as a classical statue of a woman, you may also wish to infer that justice -- thepostdiluvian version -- is also essentially feminist. I make these references deliberately,and would be inclined to agree.] Much of what Sullivan has written is in the character of a lament. Why is justice nottaught in schools? Why do so few people understand what justice really is? The answer,in broad strokes, is that tribal teachings are, by and large, still only passed on in the tribalcontext. But also that, for today’s ‘modern’ world, the tribal context, by and large, simplyno longer exists. Most of us no longer live in, or migrate among, our hunting grounds.We have settled, beginning with agriculture, and begun to produce more than what weneed to sustain ourselves. And since we began to produce more than what we needed,our populations commenced to grow far beyond what the old tribal ways would, or could,have supported. We have found ways to produce geometrically more and more. Withthis questionable outcome also came feast and famine, hardship and prosperity, givingrise to wars over resources, beginning of course with food and water, and progressing
to the current trans-global struggles for energy resources and accessto rare technologically-useful minerals. Yet still, in addition to tribal ones, a few modern-age societies have realized
en corpus
that western ways have gone ‘beyond the pale’, and have forgotten cardinal virtues suchas justice. The Amish in the USA are a good example. While, at first blush, their plainclothing, primary educational system, and refusal to adopt higher technologies seem tobe a knee-jerk reaction to western advancements, when studied closer, one finds in theAmish a very valid final arbiter to their policies -- family and community relationships.From television, to automobiles, to profligate telephones and computers, the Amishrefuse to adopt anything that would take them away from one another; that is, fromfamily and community into their own little individual worlds. You can perhaps recognizepart of the sentiment behind this when you reflect on the last time you spoke in personwith a teenager as they started texting someone else in the middle of your conversation.Are Amish concerns valid? Obviously by their standards, the answer is in the affirmative.Do they take things too far? Many would say so. However, the 2006 incident at NickelMines, Pennsylvania taught the world a lesson in forgiveness, and is still widely remarkedupon as an example of true, ‘pure’ justice.In a world rife with injustice and inequality, how is it possible to teach justice, particularlyin the academic setting? In western societies, justice-making is, by and large, relegated to gowned and decorous judges, sitting in staid and ornate courtrooms, who are appointed largely because theyhave demonstrated their support for, and non-threatening stance toward, the hierarchicaland economically inequitable systems in which they live. Our only gesture toward‘justice-keeping’, if you will, is the guns and other weapons we place in the hands of ouruniformed service members, mostly the police and armed forces, along with thepronouncement or tacit premise that the state has a monopoly on violence.From a whole host of observations, I have come to the conclusion that justice is a functionof true community, along with the corollary belief that the state is pretty muchincompetent to foster justice. Hence in Vermont, from whence I write, restorative justicehas become, at least in name, the law of the land, as a new institution – the community justice center -- has sprung up in our 12 largest cities and towns to practice mediation,family group conferencing, and a Vermont hybrid method called Reparative Probation.Since these centers also benefit from State funding, the mission of justice cannotreasonably be said to have fully been taken back from the state by our communities. Butat least a large plurality of our residents have come to realize that this would beacceptable, even desirable.So what is restored, to whom, and how? For me, the answer is
, best understood asthe equitable fabric of relationships which constitute true community. What is restored,in effect, is ‘the peace’.

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