The evolution of culture and consciousness is mirrored directly in the evolution of justice.
We might say that there have been three great periods of history in regard to the development of our idea of justice. Roughly, these three periods are referred to as the the pre-modern, modern and post modern period. Each does justice in a fundamentally different way. How we do justice tells us who are as a society more then any other measure.
In the pre-modern period justice was dispensed by the authority of the religion which demanded obedience from its adherents. Alternatively it was dispensed by the King. Although there were formal rules of justice in virtually all societies, the rules were both made by the church or kind and could be overridden at any time by the whim of the monarch or the edict of the church.
Justice evolved dramatically in the move from pre- modernity to modernity. In modernity the scientific method supplanted dogma even as formal checking of evidence through a careful and objective process of gathering information became the cornerstone of the new vision of justice.
It was the English jurist Blackstone who said, “better ten guilty men go free then one innocent man be hanged”. Thomas Jefferson amended that idea and changed the number ten to a hundred. This new idea of justice is bedrock of the democratic way of life. It is core of what has been called Sacred America.
Then along came post –modernity. In post modernity facts stopped mattering. Everything was considered to be matter of perspective and context. The idea of one truth being higher than another truth was rejected by the leading edge of the western academy. Narrative replaced information gathering and justice did not evolve but regressed.
Justice does not merely refer to formal proceedings that take place in courthouses. Justice is about the the judgements we form that directly impact on peoples lives. Just like a court procedure must be guided by principles of justice, so to the way we talk about a person, especially in the public space must be guided by similar principles.
For example, engaging character assassination or smear campaigns on the internet based on false or distorted claims, in a way that intends to destroy the life of a competitor or colleague or former spouse or partner, would obviously be a gross violation of justice.
They key issue in justice is how we gather information, whether it be for trial or an internet post.Click to tweet
How we gather information in order to render judgment tells us what kind of society we live in. This was the great gift of modernity to the evolution of justice. Fair process, genuine fact checking, researching evidence and motivation, as well as reporting information accurately, are the cornerstones of a good and just society.
It is for these great principles of integrity that so many human beings have fought and died. In a democratic society, our trust in how information is gathered and presented is the core building block of both our personal safety and our public culture.
Specifically, we need to be able to trust our newspapers of record to gather information with an intent to seek the truth following the trail of evidence and facts. When facts stop mattering, which unfortunately has become the norm in our so-called post-truth and post-fact culture, the core structure of society breaks down.
Indeed post-truth is the Oxford dictionary word of the year for 2016. The essential structure of the internet supports the post truth world:
- There is no mechanism for fact checking
- Many news sites are revenue driven
- Revenue is driven by what has come to be called click bait, sensational titles about scandal and sex that draw clicks which then drives up advertising rates
- There is no recrimination for lying
- The of google searches creates a reality in which the most extreme and provocative views that are more prone to be clicked come up first in the click engines
Moreover the internet has become according to all the experts, an echo chamber in which one’s own views are reinforced by like minded people. Assertions are therefore rarely challenged.