Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Justice

Tarot of the Master by Giovanni Vacchetta , Lo Scarabeo 2002

There is a movement beginning in the United States that started with a small, rag-tag group that decided to protest something intangible but felt tangibly by millions of people.  Occupy Wallstreet began on September 17 in response to a call by Adbusters on July 13.  Since then, thousands of people have taken to the streets of New York and the protest has spread to other cities in the US.  The protests are not springing forth from any particular political party and the agenda isn't entirely clear except that people are sick and tired of being treated as if 99 percent of the population are disposable by a small, wealth-controlling minority.  We're tired of electing public officials that tell us one thing but relinquish their promises in favor of the whims of those who bought and paid for them to secure office.  What the protesters are seeking is Justice, both karmic and legal.  It's rather fitting that the protests are still going on and this month is the anniversary of peace activist John Lennon's birthday.  He once said, "If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace."   He firmly believed that the people already possess the power to change things, but they aren't aware of the incredible power they already have.  He devoted a significant amount of his life and resources to advertise for peace, to helping people become aware of the power we have, both individually and collectively, to change the world. 

So often we think the power lies "out there" and it's all a matter of  what other people and forces do that affect us, but we're the ones that create and shape our world.  Justice always seems like an "other" type of force, something outside of us that decides for or against us.  Thing is, we are the ones that set Justice in motion. Even if one views her as a kind of karmic balancer, rather than an internal virtue, then she is still profoundly influenced by our actions: past, present, and future.  St. Thomas Aquinas defined justice as the constant and perpetual will to render to everyone his due. Injustice, then, occurs when a person or group receives either less or more than what is due to them.  The problem, as Lennon observed, is in the lack of awareness that most people possess, either because of apathy or ignorance.  People who are educated, informed, and aware of injustice react to it, almost instinctively, and seek to set things to right again.  The only way a small, albeit powerful, group could have succeeded in tipping the scales so profoundly in their favor and against the majority without Justice intervening is because the majority wasn't looking or they thought Justice is something done by others and not something they themselves produce by their own decisions and actions.  
Ancient Minchiate Etruria by Pietro Alligo, Lo Scarabeo 1996


It is in justice that the ordering of society is centered. ~Aristotle


Among the opponents of the recent protests are those who think the people who are protesting are just pissed off that other people are wealthy and have made something of themselves and that the protests are nothing more than folks with a bad case of sour grapes. What I see instead is the awakening of many people to the reality that we, both individually and collectively, wield Justice's sword.  While it is true that Justice represents the decisions made by the "powers that be," what is often overlooked is that we are the creators of those offices, those powers, and it isn't by divine right that those in power maintain their positions.  It is all of human artifice and design and therefore can be balanced only by human influence.  


Because Justice is a Major Arcana card in the tarot deck, the idea that its power is "fated" or "destined" and is somehow outside of one's control comes into play in many tarot readings.  It isn't entirely untrue, that interpretation.  As a society, we do vest power in our legal institutions to decide for us, on our behalf.  Therefore, when we find ourselves in a situation in which our "fate" must be decided by they who are granted those powers, we can feel quite powerless in the court of Justice.  And while our power may be limited in its influence in that moment, we are not powerless.  Sometimes Justice rules in our favor and sometimes she doesn't, but nevertheless when Justice is served we know it.  It's when we see the scales of Justice totally off kilter that something within rises up, attempts to seize the sword from her hand and start hacking away at whatever resides on the weighty side, and yes, that is our right and duty.  It is at Justice's invitation and and plea that we act upon that inner sense of hers inside of us that ultimately determines her final decree.

The problem with human justice is that it is limited by our perceptions.  All the checks and balances placed within the system can be circumvented and corrupted by the very people who rely on it to serve them.  There is a well-known story in the Gospel of John called the "Pericope de Adultera" about Jesus and the woman taken in adultery.  The governing authorities brought a woman who had been caught "in the very act" (ahem) of adultery to Jesus for dispensing of justice.  The story illustrates something very important about not only Justice, but who should, and more importantly, who should not wield her sword.  Adultery was a capital offense in ancient Jewish society and the sentence was to be carried out by stoning the offender.  When the officials brought the woman to be judged, the crowd gathered with stones in their hands in order to, they thought and believed, exact justice.  All too often, this is how most of us respond to the call to justice.  We follow what we have been taught and so believe to be right.  Our inner scales are already weighted with our customs, our upbringing, our cultural mores.  With one sentence, Jesus strips the blindfold off Justice by saying, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."  The statement blatantly reveals that not one of us is unbiased, impartial, nor unstained with personal opinion that renders the human being incapable and indeed unworthy of passing such a serious judgement upon another.  


All we can do is strive to balance the scales, but we must do so in the understanding that our perceptions are probably skewed and that perfect human justice is probably unattainable.  No social movement will ultimately "fix things."  However, that should never stop us from trying.  The next time Justice appears in a reading, consider where balance ought to be restored and how one might contribute to that effort.  If it indicates you are in the position to "render judgement" then consider carefully that you, too, carry the human flaw of bias.  If you are the defendant in Justice's court, don't lose heart or feel powerless, but seek to understand your own influence in the events.  In human affairs, Justice is something we all work to achieve, but never quite possess.





 

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