Justice means Equality.
Stoicism is on a bit of trend these days. It’s mostly just dropped in as a word though, a vague catch-all for mindfulness, stripped of all of it’s meat. People love to quote Aurelius, and talk about accepting bad things that happen to you, and moving on with your life. This is, indeed, part of Stoicism. And that’s a problem.
Stoicism isn’t a perfect philosophy, although I feel like it is the closest we have to a perfect one. But certainly, the people who founded it, and lived it’s practices most famously, where not perfect people. The followed it’s precepts in many ways, but where often unable to extend their perceptions beyond the culture they lived in, so we see in their works often baffling amounts on sexism and tolerance for things like slavery. Despite that, I do find tremendous value in the teachings of Stoicism, and I do think it has a lot to teach us about making our world today better.
At it’s heart, Stoicism is about a life-long effort to be your ideal self. One of the major tools used to accomplish this is to balance the four classical virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Courage, and Justice in your life. To make it incredibly simple, The first three are sort of vaguely covered by modern mindfulness practices and all of it’s derivations, and can be seen in the rise of the “small habits” kinds of books and things.
Justice is ignored. Probably because it is the hardest of the virtues to understand. Cicero’s masterwork on Stoicism, “On duty” is mostly about Justice. And the reality of life today is that none of us feel like Justice is a thing we can control or honestly have any understanding of. Justice is a not a thing to avail ourselves of though, but rather a responsibility to bear.
Justice is Equality. But what does that mean?
The virtue of Justice is seen in the drive for equality with others, and in seeking to make all equal. This is not necessarily equality of outcome, because chance and luck are real, but an equality of opportunity. I might not wish to have the bad outcome that others are suffering from, but I should never fear to have the same opportunities as others.
Let’s be a little blunt. If I head downtown right now, I’m going to see a lot of people living some pretty shitty lives. Ask nearly any person in my city if they want to be equal to them and you will hear a resounding hell no. Press as to why, and you will hear about fear of crime, or disgust about dirtiness, addiction…eventually you will get to the point where they will say that these people brought it on themselves, or maybe if they are open minded they might say how sad it is that mental illness or poverty resulted in this. How sad. Not my problem. Walk away.
That is not Justice. That is not equality. Our country is not the wealthiest, but our standard of living is high. We know what causes a person to fall between the cracks, and we know how to stop it. And yet we actively permit it. Actively. Where is the mental health care? Where are the interventions at a young age, the awareness of the unique circumstances that will tend to lead a person into feeling like they cannot be a part of our society? We have the knowledge but lack the will to commit…not even resources, but even just the will to fix. We lack Justice, because we abandon people to inequality without even trying.
And this is only among those we consider our peers, those from our personal community. How do we react if they are from another community? Another culture? Another country? Do we strive for equality, or do we strive to ignore, strive to not even try to find a solution?
Police are not equality, and they are not Justice. They are hardworking people that we use to band-aid over our wounds, to cover them up so we never have to consider how we wounded ourselves, never have to consider how we should properly care for ourselves. They are our excuse that we are doing something to be just, but they are a sign of our vice. Each of us, as an individual, is complicit in this vice when we don’t demand better.
We are happy to see and expect mind-bending progress in technology…but overcoming poverty or mental illness? Impossible. Just have to accept what is, is.
If you want to make your life better, if you want to really be on that journey to your ideal self, then start to think about what you are just accepting in terms of inequality. Seek out and LISTEN to the voices of those affected. Listen and learn about the experiences of First Nations people, the people who shepherded this land first. Find and listen to the voices of those Canadians born here in cultures that aren’t European in origin, who’s skin colour, dress, or names make them stand out. Listen to the voices of new Canadians, and how they have to cope with a constant wealth of misunderstanding and hatred.
Get angry, because there is a constant stream of injustice happening. If you are not aware of it, you are not excused, you are practicing the vice of injustice. Strive for equality constantly, and when that seems burdensome, then you have found something you can fix for the better of all.
Be your best self. Be just.