Peace and justice -it’s complicated

Many if not most people would say that justice and peace of course belong together. One is dependent on the other, they are almost identical.

The words “of course” sometimes serve as a warning, indicating that we have not really given much thought to the matter.

My own ponderings show that, sorry to say, the relationship between peace and justice are not self-evident, even are complicated.

For this we need to make clear what we mean by justice and peace.

Possibly our idea of justice is clearer than our idea of peace, because the latter, as far as I have discovered through reading and talking with peace workers, is muddy and vague. Some say it need not even be defined, everybody knows what it is.

Well, maybe until they get the question. What happens after that is more unclear.

These are my own working definitions:

Peace is very close to the concept of HARMONY. Different parts, moving in maybe very different directions, work together, in concord, towards the same end.

The best illustration of this is perhaps music. Witness the motet Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis. Choir music is often in four parts (soprano, alto, tenor and bass). This piece is in forty (!) parts.

It is very harmonious, but at the same time very complex, in the sense that no two voices sing the same melody. Forty totally distinct and different parts! This is as far as we can come from sing-song, where everybody conformistically bellows the same tune.

So here we have total concord, all moving as one, but with all individuality intact. A very rare condition, captured in the expression “unity in diversity”.

This is what I mean by Venusian peace. Allowing differences while simultaneously working together.

However, what we usually see in the world are un-harmonious versions of this. Either unity OR diversity.

Either conformist bonding, mirroring, imitation, where we relish the warm feeling of singing the same refrain, belonging to the same party or shouting the same slogan in a demonstration. This is consonance without real harmony.

The other common extreme is polarization and conflict. Here we relish the feeling of NOT agreeing, of criticizing, blaming and attacking each other. This energy is found in heated discussions, political debates, football hooliganism, demonstrations, quarrels and of course war of different kinds.

In the first instance similarity and concord are too excessively important. In the second not important at all. But in music the two meet harmoniously.

This is what I mean by good peace, dynamic peace. I call it Venusian peace because it is filled with the Venusian qualities of art, love, harmony and beauty.

What is justice then?

A kind of balance (also a Venusian quality).

What is the difference between peace and justice?

It can be the difference between WE and I. While peace is something that you and I or our countries strive for (thus a big WE is involved)  justice is much more concerned with only me or only us.

Justice can be a holistic thing, but often is not. What we term justice can be a mere matter of personal winning that I or my group do not want to be without.

In this way people who work for the rights of others are closer to justice than those who want justice for themselves. Of course it is terrible when you feel that you have been abandoned and badly, unjustly treated. You want to stand up for yourself and get some human rights. That is logical, understandable and right.

However, there is a scale here. Some people are so destitute that they can hardly stand on their feet, even less fight for their rights. Others are much much better off and when they protect their rights only the words are the same.

While the former wants to have a meal and a bed to sleep in the other wants privileges, money and luxuries that he thinks the world owes him. And we know that some people even hurt themselves in order to get money from society. Others practice the game of Suing, something of a national sport in the USA.

So while all these people — from the beggar sleeping in the street to the discriminated rich person who is out to use the system – are talking about rights and justice, they are in effect doing very different things. One wants to survive and have some kind of satisfaction on the lowest steps of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. The other is only concerned with the Pyramid of wants and lusts.

So my critique of the term “justice” is that the same word can mean very different things, and can also be a very egoistic and manipulative thing, not at all concerned with peace (which involves some kind of concord, a WE) but only with personal winnings (I).

In very simple terms: Justice, especially if demanded for ourselves, can be self-centered, an ego thing concerned with winning and gain usually in tune with the normative win-lose model of our world.

Peace, the kind of peace I talk about, can by definition not be that. Venusian peace is a win-win affair, reminiscent of music making.

There is obviously much more to say about this. This is just a preliminary sketch (but still more than the usual fare).

When noting the non-obvious identity of peace and justice, or even the obvious non-identity of peace and justice, one can ask:

Which is the greater, peace or justice?

That question is not amiss nor academic.  Sometimes, quite often in fact, we need to make our priorities clear. Instead of answering A or B I want to rephrase the question.

Which is more important, that you, or me, or the alto or tenor part (or whichever part you sing in) is dressed most magnificently, sing loudest, fastest and strongest, gets the most attention, applause and flowers from the audience — OR that we sing as with one voice, unite in phrasing, breathing and feeling and try to realize as much as possible the conductor’s and, ultimately, the composer’s intentions?

What would YOU answer?

Maybe: I don’t want to choose, I want both!

Yes, in the best of worlds justice and peace go harmoniously hand in hand. I just want to point out that in our less perfect world the matter is often unclear and complicated.

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