Thursday, 2 April 2015

On Bottom Up and Top Down Thinking - Parts 6/7

6. Justice and social justice

The bottom up thinker sees justice as a fair balance of the interests of each individual against the interests of others. Why else do we talk of “the scales of justice?” Pondering this, he asks questions like: Should some be allowed to behave badly towards others, and to get away with it? And, do some deserve to be treated badly, even though they treat others well? The bottom up thinker comes to answer both these questions in the negative.

So, he concludes that each individual deserves to be treated, over the long term and in the round, as he treats others. And therefore that innocent people, who don’t harm other innocent people, deserve not to be harmed. Furthermore, those that do harm to innocents cannot complain if they themselves suffer harm in return. As Richard Hooker put it in the 16th century: “If I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should show greater measure of love to me than they have by me showed unto them.”

The bottom up thinker also sees that justice of this kind is a public good. That is, it brings a benefit to all. For it gives an incentive for everyone to behave towards others with respect and concern, rather than without.

The top down thinker, on the other hand, has little or no concern for individual human beings. And therefore, he has no interest in individual justice. Instead, he parrots some good sounding Cause like “social justice.” He uses his Cause as an excuse to bias the scales of justice, and to harm and oppress innocent people who have done no wrong to anyone. So, as seen by the bottom up thinker, the top down thinker’s desire for “social justice” actually creates injustice.

7. Deserts and needs

The bottom up thinker wants to see each individual treated as he deserves. So, in his view, anyone who fairly and honestly earns good things has earned the right to enjoy them. “From each according to his abilities,” declares the bottom up thinker; “to each according to his deserts.”

He will, of course, be charitable towards those who are unable to earn satisfaction of their needs for reasons outside their control. After all, if you aren’t willing to help others when they are in need, you can’t reasonably expect them to help you when you’re the one in trouble. But he doesn’t feel that he owes any charity to those whose failure to earn is due to their own laziness or dishonesty.

And what if an individual treats others badly? If, say, he is violent or fraudulent? Or if he promotes, supports or enforces policies that harm innocent people? Or if he commits, or supports, violations of human rights? Can such an individual have any complaint if his victims – and their friends – refuse to help him? The bottom up thinker answers: Surely not. Should Jews feel obliged to help nazis?

The top down thinker, on the other hand, believes in Karl Marx’s aphorism: “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” He wants to break the relationship between what individuals deserve and what they receive. He wants to re-distribute good things from those who earn them to those that don’t. So, he actively seeks to impose injustice on innocent people.

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