Posted by Mike
Is the universe just or is it unjust [or is this title just a vehicle for my musings]? We humans think in dichotomies much of the time; likely too much, as thinking that way abstracts information from the whole of reality and conceptualizes in ways that at times leaves the baby out as well as the bath water. Part of the problem, of course, is that, for us to use our thought processes, it is necessary for us to abstract and conceptualize, using information that seems to us, based upon our experience, most useful. Virtually all of this process of perceiving, analyzing, thinking, retrieving from memory and integrating to current perceptions, and conceptualizing occurs automatically, outside of our awareness. And the process is generally so rapid that we are able to quickly have a perception, then make a decision, then act. At times we do think on things — ponder — consciously using our power of thought to process perceptions, memories, and conclusions so that we end up with deliberate conceptualizations. And these are those that are generally about matters that are more subjective than objective, such as opinions, values, conclusions, decisions, rather than about things that we can touch, see, or hear.
What exactly does one mean by “justice?” It’s an abstract term; you can’t see or touch justice; it has to do with the reasonableness and fairness of outcomes. The word is derived from the Latin “jus,” meaning law, or right. And it means being fair and reasonable. “Just” is defined as “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair [Oxford American].”
So, let’s segue back to the case of the universe. If we narrow that down a bit and talk about the “natural world,” it gets us back to the arena that we actually know something about, the earth and its constituents. Immediately I think that the concept doesn’t apply, that the natural world doesn’t operate that way, that “justice” is a concept made up by humans to reflect a feature of human behavior, not operations in the natural world. Maybe, however, if we look at the animal world, at our nearest relatives, the mammals, or even the primates, does justice apply? Primate society is tribal, like human society, and has many features in its social apparatus that are similar to what we see in human society: there is sharing, quid pro quo relationships, dominance, submission, acting out aggressively. But would we ever talk about the presence or absence of justice in primate or other animal relationships? I don’t think so. They are just doing what animals do, sometime engaging in complex social behaviors, but is “fair and reasonable” ever an issue? I doubt it. I suspect that being fair and reasonable is likely unique to humans on this planet. We don’t know for sure. For all I know, pods of whales or dolphins are breaking through the barrier of reflection at this very moment and learning what it is to be fair and reasonable, or already have, for that matter. The concept also has something to do with withholding personal gratification and allowing the other to benefit from the delay. We humans have learned to do this, to disregard personal power in a situation and defer to the other on the basis of “fairness.” [it’s interesting how the more we seek to understand the meaning of words and concepts, the more complex and full of meaning they seem to become – is it possibly because all subjective abstractions have a “deep structure” that is impenetrable, perhaps something like the “felt meanings” suggested by Carl Rogers (?) – language being inadequate for ultimate meanings].
Conclusion: The universe is neither just nor unjust. It operates on what we call “natural laws”; I guess we would include the laws of the physical universe (physics) and the law of “action and reaction through time.” It may not be just, but it operates with regularity, with occasional bumps that man has not yet been able to predict or control; bumps on earth like hurricanes, vagaries of the weather, volcanic eruptions, slidings of techtonic plates. There are obviously bumps out there in the solar system and within the galaxy; but I have no expertise to be able to speak of them. Though there may not be justice in the natural world, there is regularity and consistency generally speaking, and we can take comfort in that. There is no comfort for the wildebeest fording a river full of crocs or for a late flying robin in the North, finding itself with no food to eat and freezing temperatures. There certainly is a lot of pain and suffering in the world, for creatures besides humans, but it is not because the world is unjust. It is because it is the way it is, nature is consistent in its gifts as well as its withholdings. To a large extent, we can count on it remaining so for a while.