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Two weeks after the shooting death of 18 year old Michael Brown, the streets of Ferguson Missouri are relatively calm. The looting and violence which precipitated a military style response by local and state law enforcement has all but ended. This quiet suggests that that either the looters feel they’ve stolen enough stereos and cigarettes in the name of ‘justice’ or that they’ve become disinterested with all the talk of “justice for Michael Brown”. A core group of roughly one hundred or so remain. Marching in tight circles around a roughly four block radius, they continue to demand ‘justice'; insisting that Brown’s shooting death by police officer Darren Wilson – ‘in broad daylight’ – is further evidence of a “war on young black men’ by police, by the justice system, and by the mostly white public at large.
Though few will overtly do so, we should ask what – in the context of Brown’s death – precisely does ‘justice’ consist of for the protesters? Leave aside for a moment the question of prosecuting Officer Wilson. Let’s instead ask “to what do we refer to when we use the word ‘justice?”
Philosopher Ayn Rand asked and then answered the question of the nature of ‘justice':
“What fact of reality gave rise to the concept “justice”? The fact that man must draw conclusions about the things, people and events around him, i.e., must judge and evaluate them. Is his judgment automatically right? No. What causes his judgment to be wrong? The lack of sufficient evidence, or his evasion of the evidence, or his inclusion of considerations other than the facts of the case. How, then, is he to arrive at the right judgment? By basing it exclusively on the factual evidence and by considering all the relevant evidence available.”
Rand went on to elaborate:
“But isn’t this a description of “objectivity”? Yes, “objective judgment” is one of the wider categories to which the concept “justice” belongs. What distinguishes “justice” from other instances of objective judgment? When one evaluates the nature or actions of inanimate objects, the criterion of judgment is determined by the particular purpose for which one evaluates them. But how does one determine a criterion for evaluating the character and actions of men, in view of the fact that men possess the faculty of volition? What science can provide an objective criterion of evaluation in regard to volitional matters? Ethics. Now, do I need a concept to designate the act of judging a man’s character and/or actions exclusively on the basis of all the factual evidence available, and of evaluating it by means of an objective moral criterion? Yes. That concept is “justice.””
Given the fact that the protesters are demanding justice – and given what we now know of the concept – we really should consider the complaints of Ferguson’s protesters. If we are to satisfy their demands we should ask “what, exactly, do they want?’ What are their basic premises? What facts to the protesters point to as evidence of justice denied or delayed? What, for example, constitutes their ‘war on black men’? What do they seek in order to satisfy their desire for ‘justice’ and ‘change’? Read the rest of this entry »