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Orlando Hawkins

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Is it possible to have a sense of justice without governments or religions telling us right from wrong

Perhaps a better way to ask this question is do we have an innate sense of justice or injustice?

Let's pretend that we are living in the state of nature or some sort of stateless society that does not rely on some sort of centralized power. Would it be possible to have a sense of justice? Can we trust people to come up with rational decisions w/o a system of government? Or would it be imperative that a system of government be established to tell us right from wrong?

Another aspect to this question would be the issue of relativism and absolutism. Let's pretend that there is a culture who's cultural norm is that "every 2nd child upon the age of 12 must have one arm chopped off". If we are a relativist how do we respond to such an issue? WE all know the dangers of absolutism (i.e. the Gulag) but if someone was to point out the injustice that such a culture is practicing a typical relativist response is "who are you to say that such cultural practices are wrong and a product of injustice"? How do we deal with this issue? Would it be imperialistic to take action?

The second paragraph may have digressed a bit from my original question but the point is, do we have an innate sense of justice (or right or wrong) and if so would we really need governments or God to tell us right from wrong or what constitutes as Justice? If it is the case that we do not have an innate sense of justice, what is the best way to establish our sense of Justice? Religion? Government? Society? What would be the middle ground?

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    Dec 26 2013: An interesting topic Orlando. As thinking beings we are able to create logical justification for any action at all even for something that other people find absolutely heinous. So since we rely very heavily on thought processes to determine things such as justice, we tend to arrive at models of justice that fit a particular group's ideas around fairness. I would like to point out that thought itself is an an action we perform, a tool we use. Thought creates a false reality for each of us and ultimately dangerous unsatisfying societies. If anyone along this thread accepts this concept then it begs a question.what would a sense of justice look like among a group of people who did not overuse the 'thought' tool?. It would come from a feeling instead and that feeling is called compassion.
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      Dec 26 2013: Good points Joanne, and I accept the concept you offer. Do you think/feel those who push their beliefs onto others generally have a sense of compassion? It seems that they may be so engaged with their righteousness that they do not see or feel beyond it?
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        Dec 27 2013: Hi Colleen thanks :).To answer your question, righteousness and compassion are not really the same thing, would you agree Colleen? Someone acting from righteousness is attempting an act of dominance and so its about THEM not the other. I think you raise an interesting nuance into the talk as how do we tell the difference between righteousness and compassion even within ourselves? I think most mothers and many fathers can answer that question for us as its a kind of feeling that stems from selflessness when confounded by love.
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          Dec 27 2013: Joanne,
          I absolutely agree that righteousness and compassion are not at all the same thing, and I did not suggest that at all. In fact, I perceive righteousness, when used to control and dominate others, totally lacks compassion. That is why I asked the question, because I agree with your idea that a feeling of justice may come from a sense of compassion.

          The challenge seems to be that some who try to control and dominate others by pushing their own beliefs onto others, sometimes think they are being compassionate. It seems to go back to another part of this discussion.....what is reasonable? A person who is reasonable may have a sense of justice and a sense of compassion. My perception, is that different people use a different compass to decide what is reasonable, compassionate or just.

          As I said, it seems that those who want to control and dominate with their own beliefs, may be so engaged with their righteousness that they fail to see or feel beyond it. Everyone can create an argument that supports their own personal beliefs.
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        Dec 27 2013: Hi Colleen, I think ethics is a difficult topic to discuss at the best of times. A sense of righteousness is the most common and convenient justification for any action trivial or otherwise . Hitler and Stalin felt extremely righteous no doubt, and I have listened to horrible criminals take a righteous stance too , when asked about their crimes. I think that goes with the territory. In other words its part of the mind and the way it works to use a sense of righteousness to justify actions we, deep down, know are wrong. In this sense, righteousness is the very antithesis of compassion .

        This is because we are not just our mind. Our mind is something we have evolved to assist us to work and collaborate in larger societies. Our unique mental tool actually creates a kind of false reality for us most of the time. If we are to be free, our mind should be our servant and not our master. When it becomes our master we are a slave to IDEAS and illusory consequences . When the mind is only our servant, we do not need governance.
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          Dec 28 2013: Hmm, this is an interesting conversation that is going on here for you both bring up excellent points

          There is obviously an issue here in regards to the relationship between one's motives and one's actions. Personally I do not buy into the righteousness argument too much. There could perhaps be people that are completely ignorant or unaware of their wrongdoing. When we are talking about extremely heinous crimes and just pure human cruelty, could it really be argued that some of these individuals were acting because they thought they were doing the right thing? It is true that both Hitler and Stalin justified their actions by invoking some sort of higher principle but I believe they were well aware of the suffering that was involved.

          I believe at some point, when you see another individual(s) suffer at your hands and see first hand the pain that they are experiencing, you know that what your doing could perhaps be wrong for the person who is suffering.

          Interesting comments though. Wish I would of jumped in much sooner.
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          Dec 28 2013: Hi Joanne,
          I don't agree that ethics is a difficult topic to "discuss"....we've seen quite a few conversations on that topic here on TED. It does however, seem like it is difficult for some people to apply to the life experience.

          I agree that "a sense of righteousness is the most common and convenient justification for any action". That is why I continue to express the idea that one's perception of justice/injustice may be relative, depending on an individual's personal beliefs. I too have heard offenders try to justify their crimes using their own "logic" and "reason".

          That was the reason for the "cognitive self change" sessions I co-facilitated with incarcerated offenders. We simply asked "how would you feel if someone did to you, what you did to that person"? We tried to light a little spark of compassion, and tried to get the offenders to question their actions/reactions which usually put them behind bars. We tried to get them to see and feel that the logic and reason they were using was not really very logical, reasonable or practical.

          I agree that the mind has evolved to assist us to work and collaborate in societies, and the stories we tell ourselves with mind chatter, can indeed create a false reality. Until we change those stories, we continue to function with a story that supports behaviors, and behaviors that supports our story as we have accepted it.

          If we are to be free, I suggest that it is important to KNOW THYSELF.
    • Dec 29 2013: "what would a sense of justice look like among a group of people who did not overuse the 'thought' tool?."

      What about a group of indigenous hunter- gatherers who obviously don't overuse the ' thought ' tool ? Most likely they wouldn't understand what justice means. They have the sense ( a sense not a notion ) of of interconnectedness of all things instead. Everything is happening here and now, condensed at the present moment ; what is , simply is, it can't be unjust because it can't be otherwise. If it is the case the notion of justice has no meaning.

      But the truth is, i don't have a clue how they perceive reality, alas !
    • Dec 29 2013: I would say we misuse the ' thought' tool. We use it to think our problems into existence and when we face them we perceive them as an 'objective reality' and start to think how to solve them inevitably creating new thought-hurdles to overcome.
      It's misuse. Would you agree ?
      ' Thinking' is a precious commodity and we don't have enough of it to answer the question
      " Who am I ? "

      What would a sense of justice look like for a person who knows ?
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        Dec 30 2013: I agree Natasha and I think you have picked up on the point I was trying to make. Unless we learn this lesson we are forever caught on the mind's treadmill and are lost from our own humanity.
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        Dec 30 2013: I agree with your ideas Natasha and Joanne,
        Joanne, you mentioned compassion in a previous comment as part of a sense of justice. Natasha mentions a sense of interconnectedness of all things, and I believe these concepts to all fit together. When we have a sense of interconnectedness, there tends to be more compassion, which contributes to a sense of justice?

        I agree that the thought process in relationship to justice/injustice can be overused, because with thoughts, people can justify almost anything. So perhaps with certain thoughts, some folks may not have a sense of justice/ interconnectedness/compassion? It is very difficult to feel compassionate if one is focusing on his/her own personal gain, and I believe that what we focus on expands. As you insightfully say Joanne...."unless we learn this lesson we are forever caught on the mind's treadmill and are lost from our own humanity".

        How do we apply this information in the daily life? What is the practical use for this information? Back to Joanne's original question...""what would a sense of justice look like among a group of people who did not overuse the 'thought' tool?."

        I suggest that people are NOT going to stop thinking. Who decides, or how is it decided, that the "thought tool" is overused or underused?
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          Dec 31 2013: Hi Colleen, the mind evolves an endless array of scenarios, rules and expectations that are increasingly complex and compelling. A lot of it is quite useful stuff that we need to participate in, in order to run our encreasingly complex daily lives. A lot of stuff we think and believe and worry about is just useless delusion that wears us down and uses up our precious life force for no purpose. However it IS a relatively simple learning experience to begin to connect with ourselves without the monkey chatter. It is very fulfilling and satisfyimg to live like this, not as a slave, but as a free human. I think when people practice this and understand it they usually want to continue like that. I cannot predict whether or not people will begin to try to find this path but I hope they do.
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        Dec 31 2013: Natasha, I think people have an inner guide that is compassionate. At the moment,, as our world is currently, most of us rarely connect with it.
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          Dec 31 2013: I agree with what you said in your previous comment Joanne...."a lot of stuff we think and believe and worry about is just useless delusion that wears us down and uses up our precious life force...."

          I believe it is MUCH MORE simple and useful to genuinely connect with ourselves without the mind chatter (monkey chatter as you call it) because, as you insightfully say, the mind chatter is often delusional....either rehashing the past, or projecting the future....neither of which is the reality in the moment. I agree that it is fulfilling and peaceful to live like this.....in the moment. One of the first steps, is to recognize it for what it is, then there is a possibility of changing the pattern.

          I also agree that people have an inner guide that may be compassionate, and I believe the majority of people DO connect with it. Although I am very aware of injustice in our world, I am also very aware of all those who demonstrate compassion, a feeling of interconnectedness and justice in every single moment. What we focus on expands.....in my humble perception:>)
        • Jan 2 2014: Probably, this inner guide is the sense of interconnectedness, which is the precondition for love, compassion. We have lost touch with this sense, because of intellect, thinking . I don't see another way to bring it back, but through thinking intellect....i think :)
          Happy New Year !
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        Jan 3 2014: Hi Natasha....Happy New Year!
        You say...."probably, this inner guide is the sense of interconnectedness, which is the precondition for love, compassion".

        This stimulates the question for me.....which comes first? Is the sense of interconnectedness a precondition for love and compassion? Or is compassion a first step toward feeling interconnectedness?

        I feel that we cannot give something out to others, that we do not have in ourselves. So, it seems that a sense of compassion and justice (love) in and for ourselves might be needed before we can feel interconnections with others? What do you think?

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