Justice or Revenge?

“Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.” — Francis Bacon

“Justice is revenge.” — Saad Hariri

“Revenge is simply justice with teeth.” — Simon Green

Nowadays, justice is a seriously sought-after ideal in a lot of places where dominant forces of oppression and tyranny operate and trample on people’s rights as human beings. In this sense, the issue of justice connects with that of human rights.

Being just is basically being fair. If justice reigns in a society, it is commonplace to see people doing things fairly with and for others. There’s no deception, manipulation, and exploitation. A society of this nature we call a just society.

A just society is a humanizing society. This is a situation where people experience the dignity of their humanity. Everybody has the opportunity to exercise her/his rights in such a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.

A just society is a moral society where what is good and what is right are measured in terms of how people respect each other. A respected human being feels that her/his life is worth living. And having such a mental frame under normal circumstances, a respected person develops in her/himself a sense of responsibility to likewise give the same respect to others. This is fundamental justice.

In light of the above descriptions, we can examine the kind of human societies we have in practically all parts of the world. Lamentably, we don’t have a single perfect model of a society where honest-to-goodness justice is prevalent. What we actually have are societies where people experience injustice in all forms and patterns, shades and textures at different levels of intensity and harshness. On planet Earth, we have manifold unjust societies. Through ages, injustice has always been a horrible root cause of serious problems, both personal and social.

In many instances, injustice is caused by people of immense power. They look at others who are, of course, not as powerful as they are, like insignificant entities that may be exploited and manipulated, controlled and dominated. In an unjust social condition, the justice system is muffled. In other words, we don’t expect justice served in a situation where the justice system is faulty and at worst, where there is no rationally functional justice system.

There are however cases where the justice system is simply a semblance of the real. In other words, we cannot really expect true justice from such a system because the people behind it are the very agents themselves of injustice at its most distorted form who have caused irreparable damages to society. In fact, many people who have experienced injustice in such a society have resigned themselves in the corner of hopelessness believing that they will never avail of the justice they seek, for such justice is nowhere found.

In certain societies, their very own governments could be the purveyors themselves of the worst kind of injustice. People experience tremendous difficulties in life because of unjust policies and practices that their government imposes on them. In this particular situation, the government becomes the people’s enemy. And in many occasions, corrupt and unscrupulous government officials who are closely associated with their equally corrupt and exploitative counterparts in the business realm intensify the degree of injustice experienced by the people in general and the poor sector of the population in particular.

In such circumstances, we see ordinary people being robbed of their dignity, and at worst, even murdered when they have crossed paths with the powers that be. How and where do their families seek justice afterward while their voices are muted by further threats of aggressive violence and outrageous brutality? When the dominant system itself precludes the call for justice, where do we go to redress the wrong that has been done to us? Can we not resort to putting justice in our hands when there’s no legal agency to turn to? Having this in mind, isn’t it logical to construe justice with revenge?

We do not want to mangle justice; its superior worth remains to be our incontrovertible ideal. We will always promote the virtue of justice as one of the most important–if not the most important–of the human values in us. However, there could be a distortion of its very essence if we necessarily bind it with the concept of legality. Of course, it is one more ideal point to realize such an association but the risk is when legality itself gets distorted and unabashedly identified with the powers that be. What then becomes legal is anything that favors the interests of the powerful and if justice is defined in such a context, it is absolutely stripped off of its moral essence.

Justice devoid of its morality is the corruption of justice. Justice corrupted is justice falsified. When such a tragic transformation happens, an individual who puts justice in his hands is simply fulfilling an act of reclaiming its moral essence. In this connection, revenge becomes a just act–an act of justice. In the final analysis, we arrive at the synthesis of justice as revenge and revenge as justice and who will have the guts to question it? Only those who have redefined justice according to their own demented conception that accommodates, gratifies, and satisfies their criminal interests.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 10 April 2019

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