March 8, 2013

This post first appeared in 2007 on my original Steve’s Not Nice blog on Blogger as part of a series on character. Now that I have integrated my blogs into one site here at Blazing Core, I am posting the series here.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

So then how many does it take?

Justice can be a tricky thing. Balancing the rights and privileges of one person against those of another usually means something has to give and somebody, or both somebodys, give up their rights.

A teenager likes to play loud music in his car—freedom—but the neighbors need to sleep when it’s past midnight, so a city ordinance limits the teen’s freedom.

A homeowner wants to put up a satellite dish but the homeowners’ association, established to protect property values by regulating the appearance of the neighborhood, limits where it can be placed. The homeowner can’t get reception on the dish in the place he’s allowed to put it. The homeowner gives up the freedom to have satellite television to live in the neighborhood.

Most political debates have to do with justice. The children of middle class families are covered by their parents’ health insurance. The children of poor families aren’t. Should those children be at greater risk with their health because of their parents’ financial condition? Should the poor parents be obligated to pay something towards their care? Is society obligated to provide what the parents can’t or won’t? What is just?

A government with a lot of social programs is expensive, so it requires a lot of taxes and fees to pay for it. An average income family of four earns a little over forty thousand dollars per year in the U.S. If they had to pay just ten percent as taxes, that would be four thousand dollars per year, or a little over three hundred per month. Some people think that’s unfair, since paying the basic bills takes most of the family’s income, so they have shifted taxes to higher-earning families.

The average income family doesn’t pay four thousand dollars a year in taxes. They pay maybe fifteen hundred dollars. The family earning one hundred thousand dollars doesn’t pay ten percent, either. They pay more, closer to twenty percent, around twenty thousand dollars.

“They earn more so they can afford it,” is one view of justice. “Everyone benefits so everyone should pay his fair share,” is another view. Justice is hard, because it has to balance competing needs and rights.

One of the biggest hot-button issues in politics in the U.S. right now is immigration reform. It is contentious because of the different views of justice. For years people have entered the country without permission or have stayed past their visas. We now have millions living here in violation of the law. Employers wanted cheaper labor and sellers wanted more consumers, so enforcement was lax. The “two wrongs make a right” view said that if immigration rules were too strict, a reasonable fix was ignoring the rules.

The illogic continues. Now people advocate for granting legal status to people here illegally as a solution—kind of an Alice in Wonderland worldview. Too many people here illegally? Let’s fix it! Declare them legal.

Some even advocate for giving a path to citizenship to those here illegally, while those who are following the rules wait for years. Will all those wrongs make a right? No, they will just make a mess.

But throwing out immigrants here illegally will disrupt lives and tear apart families. The majority living here and working here peacefully are contributing to society, probably at least as much as the resources they are using up. Is it just to evict them? No, but it’s not just to ignore them or give them a pass.

A more reasonable and just approach would be to take the time to find them and begin to keep track of them, giving them a way to stay and work for a prolonged period of time. It may even be just to give them the opportunity to get in line waiting for citizenship, as long as it’s at the back of the line.

“They’re here so they get to be citizens” is simplistic and ignores too much information. “They’re here illegally so they should be punished and thrown out” is also simplistic. The answers to political dilemmas aren’t easy because justice is demanding.

They come from countries with less political freedom, so there is little justice for them there.

They come from countries with limited economic opportunity, mostly at the mercy of wealthy and powerful people, so there is little justice for them there.

They come from countries with police and courts that are harsh, corrupt, and biased, so there is little justice for them there.

But the countries of the world do not want the U.S.. to impose our values and our way of life on them, so we can only offer their citizens justice once they are inside our borders.

So, no, the answer is not easy at all.

Justice is fairness, equality, and a passion for righteousness. Justice demands that rules be reasonable and have a real purpose, and that arbitrary rules be dismissed. It also demands that all reasonable rules be enforced. Justice calls me to defend the vulnerable and the overlooked. It calls me to stand up to the oppressor, the tyrant, or the usurper. It calls me to have courage and confront the lawbreaker when he is causing harm, and to speak up even at the risk of offending other people.


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