Friday, July 16, 2010

Equality and Justice, euphemisms?

A conversation I was having with a person on this blog prompted me to write this piece. I was asked if equality and justice mean the same thing…and I comprehend that the questioner has interesting perspectives to share once I give my view.

“Justice is thought by the democrats to mean equality; so it does, but only for equals-not for all. Oligarchs on the other hand, believe that justice means inequality; so it does, only for unequals-not for all. Both sides overlook the relation of justice to persons, and thereby go astray; they are passing judgement upon themselves, and men are notoriously bad judges in their own case.”-----Aristotle-----

That surmises what justice and equality mean to me. They are mere euphemisms, to camouflage an ideology.

Justice means equality, but only for equals. And this is largely what the democratic world believes. Those who do not feature under the umbrella of the tag ‘equals’ includes all those who prescribe to ideologies which vary from the ‘mainstream’ thought….and we all know what happens to them, those unequals who do not deserve justice, because they cannot accept what ‘everyone’ believes is development.

The constitution makers, Nehru and Ambedkar, would be appalled by the course the country they helped create has taken. Nehru wanted a socialist state, and Ambedkar, a caste-less state. It’s as though ‘we the people’ inherently possess the ability to transform anything given to us into something vulgar, devoid of all dignity, selfishly protecting our own interests, and completely forgetting the primary intent.

So, can justice and equality co-exist?

Read the comments to follow-up on the argument...


  1. thammizh, un thammizhJuly 17, 2010 at 6:48 AM

    The words 'justice' and 'equality' are NOT euphemisms.... Well, you can use them as euphemisms, if you want to.... and generally, people who want to camouflage their hideous intentions use these words interchangeably..... people like Aristotle, who is supposedly the mentor of Alexander, who murdered scores of people, over unprovoked wars.... And we, are taught in history to call him, "Alexander, The Great".... Aristotle's words - "Justice means equality, but only to equals".... But who are 'equals'? Seriously, do you think you really understand that definition?

    Anyway, lets get to the actually meaning..... Equality simply means 'mathematically same', for all practical purposes. So, if you and I are given the same job, and earn the same salary, and have the same facilities and luxuries in life, you and I are practically "equal" (in the financial terms mentioned). So, 'equality' as a virtue, aims to achieve or allocate equal proportions for everyone... 'Equality' is the virtue behind socialism, communism, marxism, etc.... They try to split existing resources to everyone 'equally'. These philosophies ASSUME all people are inherently equal.

    Justice, on the other hand, aims to achieve or allocate proportions to everyone, based on how much each one 'deserves'...... For example, if you are a better applicant than me, you get a better job.... if you work harder and smarter than me, you get a better salary... etc... Justice ASSUMES that all people are not equal.... and hence need to be treated as they deserve....

    Justice, is what that is called "neethi" in thamizh.... Its given utmost importance..... Equality is not even a virtue in most cultures, even in our own tamil or vedic culture - not because, we dont think people are equal, its because regardless of whether people are equal or not, they need to get what they 'deserve'. Thats why the court of law is head by a 'justice', not an equalist. For example, if a hindu marries 2 women, the justice is going to rule against it. If a muslim does it, it will be allowed. Why? aren't a muslim and hindu 'equal' under the law?... If I (a citizen) am involved in a case, I can be summoned in court. If the president is involved, he cannot be summoned..... why? isn't the citizen and prime minister equal under the law?.... Yes.... we are all equal.... but thats not justice....

    The truth Sindhu is "yes, everyone is equal..... but, so what?"

    So, you keep talking of "equal means to all".... Lets say, you get a chance to do that! (hypothetically)... Lets say you become the ruler of this entire world.... You get all the money, all the resources, etc and equally divide them for everyone - education, economy, class, etc....and abolish caste, race, etc.... Lets say you then take a nap for 50 years and then wake up - Do you think that 50 years later, people will still all be in the 'equality' that you established?

    If not, why? Is it because you believe that we are inherently prone to spoil ourselves? or in your words, that "we will turn anything given to us into a something vulgar, devoid of all dignity, selfishy protecting our own interests"? Thats similar or even worse that the traditional Christian belief that all of us inherently sinful..... I accept neither proposition of the Christendom nor your explanation.

    If you believe that we are all not a bunch of inherently selfish, sinful, vulgar beings, and if you believe there IS another explanation for why equality wont prevail 50 years after you wake up from your nap...... let me know.... and shall try to give my explanation, drawn from my understanding of Tamil and Indian literature, which I believe offers more insights than Greek, Russian, Latin and Western philosophers.

    and until then, we shall only try to resolve this issue first.

    And Sindhu, its been more than a pleasure interacting with a budding intellectual like you...

  2. Thamizh: Firstly, let me acknowledge that my blogging experience has been immensely enhanced by these interactions with you.

    From your definition of Justice and Equality, I can safely surmise as follows: that equality is almost a non-issue, what really matters is Justice. Neethi, as you pointed out, which is a great virtue for Tamizhians--Silappadhikaram comes to mind--as it gives a person what he/she deserves. Point taken.

    As for my argument:
    I have been reading the Bhagavat Gita; what Krishna tells Arjuna, when Arjuna argues in the name of Dharma for non-violence... Krishna asks Arjuna to fight saying that God is above Dharma, and that God desires the war. That Arjuna's argument is hridaya-daubalyam/weakness of the heart.

    My point is that the conception of Dharma, Justice, Neethi---which is given to others based on 'what they deserve', is the problem. Does man have the right to judge another man based on his nature?

    Although I do not prescribe to the Christian value of 'all of us Sinners', I also do not prescribe to the Hindu value that one can live guilt-free assuming he is 'doing his Dharma'.

    Considering that I quoted Aristotle from his work 'Politics', I am not going to argue for his sake! But, I also remember that even Ashoka, the Saint-King, treated the people of his borderlands harshly...while the people of the mainland were given justice in the deserving sense.

    I do not think all human beings are selfish, inherently vulgar fact, I believe that all human beings possess an inherent goodness, and that is why I think they would realize their degrading values--Buddha's DharmaChakraPravarthana--Setting in motion of the Wheel of Dharma---when the Wheel (humans) is stuck in mud..someone has to push the wheel...

    If the Neanderthal was content living in a small group, killing the other groups of his own species...if the modern Homosapien had not decided to stop war (or at least pretend), and try out diplomacy......humanity would have ceased to exist. Existence is evolution.

    If we as a species could come to a point where we could co-exist, and accept each others cultures (well, for a second, I'm going to forget the discrepancies)...the next step in evolution is equal means. I do not believe in a Utopia, if that is what you are asking me. But I believe that a world could be created, where all human beings are EQUAL. My definition for this word-EQUAL-is that irrespective of what a man's nature is; say person1 is a craftsman and person2 is good at calculations (of course, a very simplified example), in the new world, they are both equal. They both contribute to society...and therefore, one is not greater than the other.

    One might say this won't work, it's utopian. But if we are to constantly say that everything is impossible....that the system we have at present is what humanity is capable of sustaining.....I refuse to accept it!

    If we as a species were not capable of change, we wouldn't have come so far...and we need to travel the distance....

    Maybe what I described is a version of Anarchism...

    I believe there is much more I need to know from our literature and history. Ideologies which were not popular in the past---but could be applied now.

  3. here are many things that you've said in your reply.... I'd love to reply to all of them. But just to not disperse the argument, let me concentrate on just the main issue.

    So, looks like to me you've settled with part of what I said - that Neethi (a.k.a Justice) is a virtue based on what one deserves. But your problem is "who gets to decide what one deserves?" Thats a great question - and you are right on the bull's eye there. You're smart enough to ask that nailing question.

    Now, before you ask that question to a justice-proponent (like me), why dont you ask that to an equality-proponent (like you). If you say that everyone is equal, and such-and-such is what each one should get (in order to preserve equality), then you are also making decisions on what one should get.... In essence, an equality-proponent is also making a judgement, and that too for everyone...

    Ok...lets not argue whether it is possible to create an equal world.... or whether an equal world is needed.... Lets say you've created it!... Tell me what happens in that world.....Lets say, in that world - person1(craftsman) works 12 hours a day and hence earns more, saves money.... and person2(an engineer) works 5 hours a day, hangs out in a pub daily, watches a movie daily and leads a light life-style. Do you mean to say that both 'deserve' the same house, same car, same food, same dress,???? Avlo en.... take 2 craftsmen itself.... who went to same craft school and started off with the same background in life.... One craftsman works 24/7 and does a great piece of art.... the other chooses a lighter lifestyle, works average hard and does an average piece of art.... Whose art work will you buy (or pay for)?

    You are thinking that creating an equal world is difficult.... No its not. Its not impossible at all to create an equal world.... Its very possible and infact has been created by many people many times.... Mao in China, Lenin and Stalin in Europe, Fidel Castro in Cuba, etc.... The problem is not creating it - The problem is that they all produced the exact opposites of what was intended.... They wanted prosperity, they created poverty.... they wanted rights, they ended up snatching them..... they wanted peace.... they ended up in constant war.... they wanted democracy....ended up in dictatorship.

    Avlo en.... as you mentioned nehru did establish a socialist state...and in fact we followed staunch fire-brand socialism for 40 years...and we became poorer and poorer.... We were bankrupt, had military/emergency rule, essentially by a single party autocratic rule. We were so bad, that we were forced to break our socialistic principles in 1990s. It was after that we have prospered like this now....

    Sindhu....The problem with an equal world (a.k.a Utopia) is not that it is unattainable.... The problem is Utopia is simply a horrible place to be, after it is attained.... And then they start saying "This must not be utopia - because utopia is "supposed to" feel good.

    Thats why Neethi was glorified in tamil/Indian literature.... I've never seen "equality" glorified, ever..... in fact you wont even find the slightest bit of socialism or communism in Tamil literature.... In my knowledge, the only person who ever said something close to such ideology was Bharathiyar (re: "thani oruvanukku unavillayenil, jagathinai azhithiduvom").... which I think is pure crazy (why would we destroy the world over one man's hunger?) .... but that is a hallmark feature of the people who are "equality" cheerleaders - extreme violence.

    Anyway..... atleast now, do you think I have a case here? If so, we can discuss, why some are rich and some are poor..... and why some kids have to beg for money for a bone marrow transplant, while some people can spend that much money at a pub on one weekend.... and we can discuss why pure "equality" is not favored in Tamil Literature.

  4. Thamizh: Of course, you do have a good case to argue in the philosophical sense.

    Before I begin with my case, let me quote Swami Vivekananda,"So long as millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays no heed to them."

    My argument is simple--I am not a proponent for any 'ism' primary concern is that, if I consider myself to be an educated and evolved human being, do I not have the responsibility of making sure that all human beings are treated equally?

    Again, the meaning of the word equal comes to play!

    But let me concentrate on what you said first---the two craftsmen, one is talented and the other is lazy. So you think the talented one deserves more pay. That's fair. And you have a point. But my argument is not that lazy people should live as comfortably as the hard working.

    The equality I speak of, is a phenomenon which sees to it that no person is denied what is naturally and justifiably theirs---freedom. And here freedom is where the craftsman's son and the accountant's son have all the means to achieve all that one is capable of achieving. So is it fair that the a child is made to suffer for the parent's laziness, while the other can live in luxury? The child is a human being, and a human being who is born on earth should have all rights just as any other...irrespective of who his parent is!

    In the system we have now...there is an inherent feudalism. And capitalism breeds a feudalism on the guise of 'they deserve it because they worked hard'. Equality is where feudalism is ABSENT.

    One can always say that in today's FREE world, everyone, the watchman's son and the president's son have the opportunity to achieve big. Although it sounds reality we are a FEUDAL society.

    Communism and socialism tried to get rid of this feudalism and many places like you say...dictatorship replaced it.

    My contention is that the ideology is wrong. We have been taught to believe that rich and poor can's natural! IT's NOT NATURAL. The natural resources belong to all human beings....and how is it fair to say that 'the rich' deserve it? Isn't that feudalism in the guise of capitalism??

    And you say 'equality' cheerleaders are violent! I find it amusing that you say that....look at India, the USA, and the other JUSTICE cheerleaders...they perpetrate violence on a daily basis. And everyone thinks it's okai because they are only killing those poor and stupid people who do not understand that their lands have to be taken away for 'development'-to build factories which produce softdrinks!

    So it seems like the world can tolerate violence when JUSTICE proponents do it, because it's dharma! And when EQUALITY proponents do it, it's wrong....! Is it because, after all, we are the people who believe in CHATUR-VARNA, so how would it bother us if we follow CLASS-VARNA now?!

    I still believe justice comes only after equality. And that justice can only be provided if there is equality!

    In Tamil literature, Bharathi has been an equality proponent and a humanist.

    Do you really believe that pure 'equality' has not been favored in Tamil literature? Don't you think the 19th century writers sought to bring humanism into Tamil?

  5. Thammizh, en thammizhJuly 22, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    Rights, freedom, capitalism, feudalism, humanism – ellam pottu kozhapikaatheenga….

    We both want the same thing – a better world, a world without misery, hunger, poverty, etc. Please don’t think I am ‘tolerant’ to the miseries of the world and am taking refuge in the word ‘justice’ or ‘dharma’ to justify that. I am very passionate about my vision of a caste-less, productive, rich and prosperous India – as much as you are (why is why both of us spend time like this arguing intellectual issues on a blog).

    See Sindhu…. ‘Rights’ are different from ‘privileges’…. What you are talking of is ‘privileges’, not rights (although you call them as ‘rights’). Rights are automatic…. Privileges are deliberate. Equality in rights is justice. Equality in privileges is injustice.

    Oru example solren…. To drive a car, you need a car. And by law, everyone has a right to drive a car (this is ‘equality’ in rights – and if there is no equality in rights….lets say if the law says “No, certain caste people should not drive cars, they should only walk” – then, it is called ‘injustice’… i.e “aneethi”). But just because everyone has the right to drive a car (which is automatically inherent for every citizen of the land), it is not automatic that everyone should be given a car! To be able to own or drive a car is a right. To actually own one is a privilege (which is why poor people are called “underprivileged” sections of the community). To choose to own or not own, and to drive or not drive, is a freedom.

    Similarly – Education is a right. To join a college and attend it is a privilege. To choose to study or not, and how much to study is freedom. Health is a right. To be able to get health care is a privilege. To choose to get treatment and where to get it, is a freedom. In the same vein – Every parent has the right to bear and rear children as they see fit in quantity and quality. To be able to bear and rear children as they see fit is a privilege and to choose what they see fit in quality and quantity is their freedom. Similarly, every child has the right to all means. To have all the means is a privilege and to choose to use them beneficially or not is their freedom.

    Ithula enna vishayam na….. Justice is equality of rights, not privileges. And if equality of privileges is forced, it will result in loss of freedom.

    For example – if one is denied the right for education itself – eg: lower caste people were denied education by the upper caste people – that is injustice (a.k.a “aneethi”). But actually affording to pay for education, or pay for the desired quality of education is a privilege. But if you enforce equality in privileges (saying this is how all schools will be run, and this is the education that all schools will give) – you are snatching the freedom of people….. Simple – you call it laziness…. Someone might call it a ‘light lifestyle’…. And even if you call someone lazy, he has the ‘freedom’ to be lazy. If you try to forcibly enable equality in privileges, you have snatch someone’s freedom. This is exactly why Utopias set up everywhere are now under dictatorship and tyranny – because they don’t understand that the inequalities in privileges are NOT THE RESULT OF DENIED RIGHTS (A “SYSTEM” FAULT) BUT ACTUALLY THE RESULT OF THEIR OWN ACTIONS (A PERSONAL FAULT).

    That is why in Thamizh – it was said “theedhum nanrum pirar thara vara” meaning, “All the good and bad things in life are not from outside, but from our own actions.”

    I am not asking you to tolerate the hunger and misery of the world. I am simply asking you to realize that this hunger and misery can be solved by changing their actions. Its in their hands! Lets go change that! And you can, with your pen.

  6. thammizh, en thammizhJuly 22, 2010 at 4:04 PM


    Something that I must say – although I do disagree with you on many things, I am overcome by a deep sense of admiration for your unadulterated passion and vision in life…..

    I generally don’t speak to people who agree with me, which explains why I have spent much time on your blog.

    Writing is not just an art. It’s a power. It can change the world. Few people have the gift of writing, but fewer have the passion to change the world with that.... and even fewer have the right ideas to change the world… You have the gift and the passion. With the right ideas, you can do it.

    Do you remember Sindhu, how slavery ended? It didn’t end when the slave-masters understood that slavery was wrong. It ended when slaves understood that slavery was wrong. If you want to see feudalism, poverty, etc to end – follow that same principle.

    That’s why I said – you have the gift and the passion. With the right ideas, you can do it!

  7. I don't think i have much to say after what has already been said.. But I would like add here that it was a great pleasure to see you guys argue about justice and equality. It was extremely though provoking...
    Somehow I feel that both justice and equality are just concepts that we as humans developed to create a society and to curb the primal instincts of man which is the survival of the fittest... Because the true nature of man is that he only wants what he desires and everything else follows that fundamental trait of his...

  8. Thamizh: The difference between equality and privileges has been well elucidated by you.

    I hate summing up arguments, as I strongly believe there is no end to such discussions.

    This whole argument commenced on what equality and justice mean. Our definitions of this seem to coincide on many counts. But our point of bifurcation comes with 'privilege' and 'right.'

    Let us not get caught up in a maze of words. The vision is what matters, and yours is of a world where everyone has RIGHTS, which makes them equal. And such a world seems surreal to me too.

    Privilege as a choice between services is one thing. That I have no qualms with. What I have a problem with is----we have not yet gotten to a place where we can say that all have the rights to choose.

    As a quantum of philosophy, this debate can be endless!

    So, thank you for sharing your profound thoughts with me.

    I appreciate you taking time to debate this with me, as these discussions have immensely helped further my opinions, and triggered my mind to concentrate on certain aspects of equality and justice...which I did not think of before.

    Also, thanks for your inspiring words. I do believe that WORDS can change the world. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will someday.

  9. Pradeep: Justice, equality, rights...they all seem mere euphemisms, don't they?

    The more I repeat those words, the more I feel that they were created to give a sense of direction to society.

    As you say, 'to curb the primal instincts of man'...

    That's why I believe that we have a lot of evolving left to do. We need to come up with new words, new ideas, with which we can make people understand the truth.

    To Take off the veil of hazy ideas, and stop human pain. And make everyone see that a better future awaits humanity...

  10. On the contrary what i intend to say is that pain is the driving force for evolution of any sorts. Equality is a concept that is supposed to mitigate that pain. But therein lies the problem.. Because equality can never be achieved because it stands in the way of evolution. Because there will always be rich and poor.. Look at this way.. Assuming we do attain the equality that you seem to desire, what else is there to do??? There is nothing to do... We reach a dead end... But there are no dead ends as we are in a constant cycle of change. Pain is in the very nature of being human and no matter how developed a society is, pain will always be there and equality will always remain a dream,( the world we escape to when we cant face the pain around us..)