Archives for posts with tag: justice

Movies shape our view of the world. We are socialized not just by our parents and peers, but by the stories we consume, and movies are one of the most predominant storytellers of our current era. This makes the content of films of paramount importance. We can learn courage and determination from John McClane. We can learn responsibility from Spider-Man. We can learn about changing the world from Neo. Our virtues are shaped by the heroes we learn to emulate, since the very practice of storytelling puts the protagonist on a pedestal. A generation growing up on anti-heroes is likely to be as cynical and morose as their paragons, learning that these are admiral qualities to embody.


Rick is genuinely a bad and miserable person. The show is quite clear on that. Fans struggle to emulate against him rather than from him because of the nature of the protagonist pedestal. Similar things can be said of Bojack Horseman. I know these are TV shows. Shut up.

SJWs seem to be aware of this, and so a new spat of movie trends throw women and ethnic minorities into the protagonist role, allowing these demographics to see a hero that they can relate to. This then allows black youths to learn responsibility from Miles Morales rather than Peter Parker. We now have Katniss Everdeen to teach us how to be fearless, and Melissa McCarthy to teach us how to bust ghosts.

This seems to anger some people. Those who think that women can’t bust ghosts or that black youths can’t be responsible decry this new trend as ruining film. There are those who, regardless of quality, think that these kinds of movies just shouldn’t even be made. Soon, films won’t have white men at all, and it’ll be the great replacement all over again! It’s that cancer Feminism running amok once more!


What’s next? A remake of Leprechaun with a female leprechaun!? UNACCEPTABLE! Leprechauns can’t be female!

Let’s take a deeper look at our lessons from these common tropes. We might learn to be responsible, but it’s a responsibility to our tribe at the exclusion of the Other. We might learn courage, but it’s a courage to defend the normal rather than a courage of standing up as someone different. We might learn to change the world, but if we’re changing it into an exact copy of what has come before, this type of change is more an enforcement of the status quo rather than its repudiation.

Is this trend truly feminist? Carol Gilligan, a notable feminist, would likely disagree. All of our ethical systems since the ancient Greeks have been philosophized by men. And not just any kind of men, but men who grew up in societies that did not care about women at all. This means that these ethical systems that they devised were not informed by the situations of women whatsoever. Gilligan decided to ask the question, what if we considered women when thinking of ethical systems? Thus arose the ethics of care.

The ethics of care is born in contrast to what is typically called the ethics of justice. The ethics of justice represent systems of ethics that see moral situations in objective terms. There is a right answer, whether that rightness is determined deontologically or consequentially, and that right answer is determined in the abstract. The ethics of care seeks to find rightness is the salvaging of relationships, of meeting needs, and existing in concrete situations that are determined by the individuals and the relationships they share. While Gilligan does not dismiss the intentions of justice, she does seek to imbue care into that system in order to incorporate women’s perspectives into the ethical discourse.

in a different voice

This is coming from a book, one of the least predominant storytellers of our current era.

If this is a feminist ethic, then very few of these movies are actually feminist at all. The latest Terminator movie (Dark Fate) perfectly encapsulates this distinction. The villain is literally an unfeeling machine that will not stop. Regardless of how many Hispanic women you throw into this movie, it is a film defined by a relationship that cannot be repaired. Patriarchal ethics exist in a Manichean dichotomy that pits absolute, rigid and uncompromising evil against absolute (though occasionally nuanced) good. Feminist ethics cannot exist in this universe because the way the villain is written. If these kinds of stories are what shape our virtues, when we look at our universe, it is much easier to see our own antagonists as dogmatically inflexible monsters who cannot be bargained with. What this means is that Doctor Strange is actually more feminist than the 2016 Ghostbusters film because it conceives of a solution wherein the villain (after some degree of coercion, sure) settles their score through a dialogue. The villainy of the ghosts allows no such relationship.

The socialization that these kinds of films are expanding is actually patriarchal in nature. They indoctrinate their viewers into an ethic of domination, of a good guy with a gun ultimately crushing a bad guy with a gun, but now the good guy can be a good black woman with a gun. Those angry with these films correctly assert that they are propaganda, as all stories are propaganda for the ideology that underlie them, Die Hard as much as Into The Spider-Verse, it’s just that the propaganda isn’t feminist.

Post-Script: For those who read the title and expected a listicle, and still made it this far, congratulations on your attention span!

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow describes one of the capabilities of our automatic brain functioning as being able to match intensities between two completely irrelevant things. Lucky for me, the example that he uses is crime and punishment:

If crimes were colors, murder would be a deeper shade of red than theft. If crimes were expressed as music, mass murder would be played fortissimo while accumulating unpaid parking tickets would be a faint pianissimo. And of course you have similar feelings about the intensity of punishments. In classic experiments, people adjusted the loudness of a sound to the severity of crimes; other people adjusted loudness to the severity of legal punishments. If you heard two notes, one for the crime and one for the punishment, you would feel a sense of injustice if one tone was much louder than the other.

For those of you who have read Deuteronomy, this sounds an awful lot like an eye for an eye. We want the intensity of a crime to match the intensity of its punishment, but unfortunately, this thinking is automatic and wholly irrational. This is easy to see when you consider that a tonal range should in no way be responsible for the judicial bedrock of a civilization.

Further problems arise with this method of justice in other areas which Kahneman investigates. Automatic thinking is prone to extreme bias, and one of these biases is anchoring. Anchoring is an estimation being influenced by an offered baseline. For example, when estimating the price of a painting, and being shown on an irrelevant slip of paper the number 10, the estimation will be closer to the number 10 than if that irrelevant number was 100 (where the estimation would be higher). It’s why haggling salespeople will always start their initial offer extremely high as this baseline will strongly influence the buyer’s counteroffer. Relating this back to justice, if we assign the punishment of murder to being drawn, quartered, and mounted on a pike on the intensity scale, then it seems somewhat reasonable that a punishment for bank robbing might be getting one’s hands chopped off. If our baseline for murder was lower at say, 25 years to life in a modest correctional facility, then robbing banks might get 5 years or so in a similar institution. Our baseline scale of intensity will anchor how we determine what is an appropriate punishment for any given crime.

Another bias of our automatic thinking system is priming. A study Kahneman refers to shows that individuals who are exposed to words that signify being elderly, even without explicitly stating it, will actually cause them to physically slow down. The same is true with being exposed to symbols of money causing people to act more selfishly. Human beings are incredibly susceptible to subconscious influences, so if, for example, one person was exposed to the shooting of Philando Castile, while another was exposed to the subsequent shooting of the Dallas police officers, you can imagine the views they might have on the intensity of certain crimes and their reflective punishment.

Demanding an eye for an eye is thus entirely arbitrary, and therefore pointless to enforce, yet people clamour for it all the time. I don’t want to attribute this stupidity to visceral animality just yet, so let’s go back to Deuteronomy for a bit.

You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

I suppose that the eye for an eye is supposed to warn others to avoid following the criminal path. Nobody wants to lose an eye; it’s when things stop being fun and games, after all!  Except punishment has never been a deterrent. Harm actually perpetuates the opposite of justice, further destabilizing its already tenuous hold. Plato dismisses harm, even against one’s enemies, as plain preposterous. He compares it to harming a horse, as harming a horse reduces its capacity to be an excellent horse. Similarly, harming a person reduces their capacity to be an excellent person, and if we consider justice to be a form of human excellence, then punishment actually increases injustice. To show its true absurdity, I thus quote: “Will good men use their goodness to make others bad? It is not the function of heat to cool things, but of its opposite.” I’ve explained why punishment is barbaric on top of stupid before, for those seeking greater confirmation.

Plato offers another insight into the eye for an eye metaphor, asking us to consider justice as the settling of a debt. If something is taken, it must be returned in kind. This is a somewhat more civilized version, but it is just as quickly disregarded as Plato says that if someone lends you a weapon, and then falls into a murderous rage, it is not just to return to them their weapon. The context both of the initial contract, and the circumstances of its fruition, are both dependent on factors outside of the contract itself that make it just. A debt incurred out of necessity or coercion, for example, or a payment demanded at an inopportune moment are both insufficient to be declared a form of justice.

No matter how you look at it, eye for an eye justice is only ever an excuse to act out our sickest fantasies. It’s probably why Jesus Christ decided to get rid of it as a religious tenet:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

So unless you’re Jewish, any religious excuse is irrelevant. However, we still clamour for a providence of violent retribution. A perfect example is Vince Li, who brutally murdered and cannibalized the man sitting next to him on a Greyhound bus because he believed that God was telling him to do so. Li was declared not criminally responsible due to mental illness, and so the population expressed through various comment sections that Vince Li needed to die. I suppose they claim the same right to divinely ordained violence as Li, only they do not have a mental illness justifying their frothing wrath. People tend to place the responsibility for their sadism at the feet of the original victim and their family if not at the feet of God, as if granting them the right to schadenfreude is the perfect means for healing. Vengeance is no form of justice, no matter whose name it is done under.

What is justice, then? Well, I’ve already answered that one. Those of you who have read that earlier article can feel smug for knowing the answer this whole time.

Why have rules when you can let people figure things out for themselves! Libertarians frequently chastise governments for implementing silly things like “banking regulations” to prevent the worldwide devastation of financial crises, and they are absolutely right to do so. The Free Market will decide how banks ought to be run, and if people don’t like it, they can just keep their money underneath their mattress, or start their own, ethical banking system out of their garage! Both are completely reasonable things to do in modern society that will undoubtedly topple the oligarchical banking system.

But really, why stop there? Libertarian principles can and should be applied to all aspects of life. Consider the justice system. A man rapes a woman, and in doing so, his peers would distance themselves from him, his business associates might prefer to do business with someone else, and he might have problems getting a girlfriend later on down the road. These negative indicators would push him toward a non-rape-y disposition. On the other side, if he was too kind to people, they would begin to take advantage of him. After being taken advantage of for so long, the man would become less kind. This invisible hand of the justice system would thus create a social balance without any regulations imposed upon it from any so-called “government.”

Who’s in favour? No one? Shocking.

Like all Libertarian fantasies, we really ought to have started worrying about our ideology when any consideration for the rape victim was tossed aside, but the obvious inconsistencies don’t stop there. Anyone imagining a lawless society has no issue coming to the conclusion that the mightiest would rise to the top to dictate how the world ought to be run, while the rest scrounge to survive as best they can within its rugged hellscape. Our rapist could simply find others who agree with his rape-y tendencies, and if they were strong enough, they could impose those tendencies on the population without any repercussions. He could really just end up “taking” a girlfriend, since there would be nothing ultimately stopping him from doing so. This is basically how gangs work, which are already organizations that exist outside of the law. Remember the ethical banker starting their business in their garage? We can use our imaginations again to see how things would go if this person started offering real competition against the gang leaders in a world without any rules.

This is no different from the banks, or any other big corporation that wants to abolish the rules that govern their behaviour. They want to collude with other like-minded businesses to be able to impose their tendencies on the rest of the population without any oversight, with no consideration for those of us being raped.