Justice Creep


17 hr ago

Freddie deBoer says we’re a planet of cops. Maybe that’s why justice is eating the world.

Helping the poor becomes economic justice. If they’re minorities, then it’s racial justice, itself a subspecies of social justice. Saving the environment becomes environmental justice, except when it’s about climate change in which case it’s climate justice. Caring about young people is actually about fighting for intergenerational justice. The very laws of space and time are subject to spatial justice and temporal justice.

I can’t find clear evidence on Google Trends that use of these terms is increasing - I just feel like I’ve been hearing them more and more often. Nor can I find a simple story behind why - it’s got to have something to do with Rawls, but I can’t trace any of these back to specific Rawlsian philosophers. Some of it seems to have something to do with Amartya Sen, who I don’t know enough about to have an opinion. But mostly it just seems to be the zeitgeist.

This is mostly a semantic shift - instead of saying "we should help the poor", you can say "we should pursue economic justice". But different framings have slightly different implications and connotations, and it’s worth examining what connotations all this justice talk has.

"We should help the poor" mildly suggests a friendly optimistic picture of progress. We are helpers - good people who are nice to others because that’s who we are. And the poor get helped - the world becomes a better place. Sometimes people go further: "We should save the poor" (or the whales, doesn’t matter). That makes us saviors, a rather more impressive title than helpers. And at the end of it, people/whales/whatever are saved - we’re one step closer to saving the world. Extrapolate the line out far enough, and you can dream of utopia.

"We should pursue economic justice" suggests other assumptions. Current economic conditions are unjust. There is some particular way to make them just, or at least closer to just. We have some kind of obligation to pursue it. We are not helpers or saviors, who can pat ourselves on the back and feel heroic for leaving the world better than we found it. We are some weird superposition of criminals and cops, both responsible for breaking the moral law and responsible for restoring it, trying to redress some sort of violation. The end result isn’t utopia, it’s people getting what they deserve.

(cf. Thomas Jefferson: "I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.")

What is "climate justice"? Was the Little Ice Age unjust? What if it killed millions? Is it unjust for Mali to have a less pleasant climate than California? What if I said that there’s a really high correlation between temperature and GDP, and Mali’s awful climate is a big part of why it’s so poor? Climate justice couldn’t care less about any of this. Why not? Hard to say. Maybe because there’s no violation and no villain.

Is that conflating the sophisticated Rawlsian sense of justice with the vulgar criminal sense? Maybe. But do you think the millions of people talking about _____ justice who have never heard of Rawls are somehow avoiding that conflation? I think it’s a motte-and-bailey: justice - as it’s actually used - is catchy exactly because it does draw on criminal justice connotations. I don’t think it’s a coincidence people are talking about "climate justice" at the same time there are 311,000 Google hits for "climate villains":

Slightly edited to avoid repeats. Also, the international group for pursuing climate justice is called COP, and this is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

You can’t "help the economy" or "save the poor" merely by harming rich people. Can you get "economic justice" this way? Depends who you ask, but I notice that "getting justice" for a murder involves punishing a suspect a lot more often than it involves resurrecting the victim.

There’s one last disadvantage I’m having trouble putting into words, but which I think is the most important. A narrative of helpers and saviors allows saints. It allows people who are genuinely good, above and beyond expectations, who rightly serve as ideals and role models for others. A narrative of justice allows, at best, non-criminals - people who haven’t broken any of the rules yet, who don’t suck quite as much as everyone else. You either stand condemned, or you’re okay so far. If it has any real role models, it’s the cop who wins Officer Of The Year, the guy who’s more sensitive to violations and more efficient in punishment than anyone else. Turn this guy into your moral model, and you’ve got, well, the planet of cops.

Here’s a crazy theory: the moral transition from other virtues to Justice mirrors the literary transition from utopian fiction to dystopian. In Utopia, people practice virtues like Charity, Industry, and Humanity, excelling at them and making their good world even better. In Dystopia, Justice is all you can hope for. If I were in Terra Ignota, my fondest wish would be to excel in some way the same way Sniper, Apollo Mojave, and the other utopian characters excel, bringing glory to my Hive and giving its already-brilliant shine extra luster. But if I were in 1984, my fondest wish would be to bring O’Brien and the others to justice; to watch them suffer, to undo the wound in the world caused by their scheming.

Of course, every society is somewhere in between Utopia and Dystopia, and needs values relevant to both. Justice is a useful lens that I’m not at all trying to get rid of. But when it starts annexing all the other virtues, until it’s hard to think of them except as species of Justice, I do think that’s potentially a sign of a sick society.

("A sick society? Sounds like you need some health justice, medical justice, and wellness justice!" —— "You’re not helping!")

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16 hr ago·edited 16 hr ago

Nope. These are "justice" as in distributive justice and corrective justice. Aristotle. If you think "criminal justice" when you hear these phrases, that’s you.

The people using these phrases think, to the extent they think about it, that these forms of justice can be achieved by giving to those who have not, mostly without taking from those who have. If there is a fantasy here, it is utopian plenty, not retributive harshness.

I'm not a frequent user of the schema "X justice", so I could be wrong. But I think retribution is a big part of it. Reflecting on the ways I've heard the term used, its users don't seem inclined towards incrementalist change or giving to the have-nots. Rather, the notion seems to be that the status quo is intrinsically and intentionally unjust, and that a revolutionary shift is necessary to bring about a new just order.

What you've described is redistribution, not retribution. Left wing people sincerely believe that the world would be improved if the wealth of the rich was distributed to the poor. Calling this "retribution" isn't an argument, it's just an insult.

Redistribution involves two things: taking from the haves, and giving to the have-nots. I fully believe you that you're more motivated by the latter than the former. But I think many on the left are motivated just as powerfully by the confiscatory part.

There's raw indignation at the exorbitant wealth and conspicuous consumption of the hyper-rich, totally independent of how that wealth could be otherwise used. As for this being an "insult" - I don't think people are wrong to be indignant or outraged this way. Billionaire excess is very often genuinely outrageous! Confiscatory and retributive impulses aren't always bad or wrong!

Eh. The SS sincerely believed throwing Jews into the ovens would improve the world, too. Sincere delusional belief while executing deep moral wrong is nothing new among humanity, and its existence in any particular situation is no moral defense whatsoever. Only in Marvel movies do the villians think of themselves as villains and enjoy it.

Mostly it's an opportunity to lay claim of being in charge of the re-distributive efforts - to gain power with other people's money as it's gifted through your channels to the supportive masses. It's called 'justice' because that imparts a patina of official-sounding legitimacy to what is really pure grifting. Justice is available through the rule of law, not the law of mobs.

12 hr ago·edited 12 hr ago

This is close to the core of why we should use "justice", in fact :)

Consider the example of USA giving foreign aid to the Marshall Islands. This could be a generous gift (to use your language), making the USA a country of saints (to use Scott's language).

However, put yourself in the shoes of someone living in the Marshall Islands. That person knows that their country will disappear by 2050 due to rising oceans, and it's no fault of theirs at all. Rather, it's the fault of everyone, roughly in proportion to how much carbon they have put into the atmosphere. So if the country with the highest carbon footprint in the world pays some money to the Marshall Islands, this is not just feel-good kindness... it's an urgently needed step toward a bit more fairness and justice in this world.

I looked up the geography of the Marshall Islands and find that (from wiki).

"The average altitude above sea level for the entire country is 7 feet (2.1 m)."

It would take a very large acceleration from the present 3.4mm (+-4mm) for the Marshall island to sink by 2050.

The NYT is basically a tabloid these days. I’m quoting the stats from NASA’s sea level rise portal, https://sealevel.nasa.gov/

Consider reading the article rather than mounting an ad-hominem attack on its source?

More seriously: even if the *average* altitude is 2m, there are plenty of important populated places near the coast that are at much lower altitude. You seen to imply that the problem only starts once the sea rise reaches 2m...?

I was responding to your original claim that the islands would " disappear by 2050 due to rising oceans". So it is you who is expecting a 2M sea level rise by 2050.

That’s all I actually did here. And I started from a position of "that’s interesting, wonder if it’s true" to "no, it’s not likely unless there is significant acceleration in sea change".

I didn’t rule that acceleration out either, in my last sentence I just said it would need significant acceleration to be true.

No, he's implying that your claim that "their country will disappear by 2050 due to rising oceans" will require a much faster rate of rising oceans than currently exists.

A much referenced study on sea rise was reported as projecting that 175 million people would be displaced by 2100. However the report projects that with low relative cost adaptation it will more likely be 20,000

I can agree that richer countries should pay for a lot of adaptation costs but the general headline "x will be underwater by y" appears to be as accurate as "60% of the Netherlands are currently drowning"

And if it leads to still greater urbanization, and distance from traditional ways, thus more ultimate vulnerability to sea level rise - it still was fair and just, full stop?

John Mcwhorter wrote a good example of justice framing diverting from better solutions in the NYT

Racial justice assumes there is an ongoing institutional and prevalent force acting against the well being of black Americans. Mcwhorter examined things like police interactions among black Americans and others of the same income cohort. Little to no difference. Historically, over half of people in redlined communities were white

If we assume there are specific racially villainous actions that can be stopped we fail to help anyone because it's apparent that the problem is racial only at the very margins

Do we attempt to impose justice or to reform for progress? Mcwhorter proposes: teaching phonics to underprivileged kids, ending the drug war, and expanding access to and respect for trades rather than focusing only on college. Racial justice seems to especially propose white people undergo a spiritual change to stop their mystical inherent oppression and punishing those who do not participate in this

Climate change is probably the highest impact instance of justice solutions vs 'positive' solutions

Justice demands that a great wrong exists and must be categorically remedied. Thus the policy focus is that dramatic and immediate action be taken to achieve a grand goal of essentially preventing any major harmful effects. This isn't the kind of issue where you ask economists for input. But according to economists near term hard caps on emissions are something like half as effective as carbon taxes. And the costs will outweigh the benefits if the tax is clearly above the cost of the warming prevented. Justice demands that no bad thing happen but implementing it with that mindset is more costly and less effective. A straightforward analysis of Paris puts the benefit as low as 10 cents per dollar spent

Criminality in any sane society requires mens rea, or at the very least criminal negligence. We do not prosecute for murder those who cause the death of others, accidentally, and notwithstanding exercising due care. That's just bad luck.

Even assuming arguendo your description of the facts (that the Marshall Islands will subside beneath the sea as a direct result of US emissions of CO2), you would need *additionally* to make the case that the US did this deliberately, in order to destroy the Marshall Islands, or with criminal negligence, i.e. knowing full well this would be the result and ignoring any possibility of doing something different. That's the only way this could turn into an issue of justice.

It's not really "their money" if its gained through exploitation and wage slavery. It is simply giving people what is theirs. There's an old trade unionist saying that "Profits are wages not yet distributed".

Is there such thing as exploitation or wage slavery? I'm having trouble with the idea that if I offer to pay someone a wage to do something for me, and they do it, they then rightfully own my profit from that.

Its the workers who create the goods/services which create profits. Why wouldn't they be entitled to the fruits of their labor?

I could just as easily say it is the employer who creates the profits by arranging for profitable goods/services to be made and sold. And obviously the workers are not entitled to the profits because that was not part of our agreement. Seems straightforward? If the workers create the profits, why don't they just do that themselves? Why do they need the employer? Could it be that the employer does something valuable?

This simplified strawman economics model of a business has to stop being used.

The workers that built the capital that the company needed to start, such as the construction workers that built the factory and the manufacturing workers that built the machines the factory runs on need to be paid for their work... and were, with the people that paid them before the first product had rolled out of the factory (the investors) promised a share of the profit. And if the business goes under, as I understand it, it's the investors that lose their money.

The factory janitor doesn't produce a single thing, but their job is just as necessary as every line worker. Same with the truck driver, the HR person, the accountant... and the managers and executives. I don't like that the connections to other business, law makers, and regulators is more important to the success of the business than the quality of its product, but that's not the market's fault, and that's why the people at the top of big business are where they are.

Because labor all by itself doesn't create anything. I can dig holes and refill them all day without creating an iota of economic value. It's labor *plus* capital (machines, technology) *plus* good ideas and leadership that creates economic value. If the workers provided all three, then OK they created the profits, but in that case -- they supply the work, the capital, and the leadership, like a small business might reasonable argue -- then typically these days they *do* receive and enjoy the profits.

But if *all* the workers supply is labor, and the capital and leadership is supplied by someone else, nope. That's like arguing the vast bulk of privates in an army should get all the credit for a military victory, ignoring the role of sophisticated weaponry, intelligence, and good generalship. Basically it confuses a sine qua non with a cause.

>If you think "criminal justice" when you hear these phrases, that’s you.

I think Scott's point is that it's not just him, it's the majority of people who hear the word. Most of them have never heard of distributive justice, or even if they have still mostly associate justice with criminal justice.

Fairness is something that even some animals understand. Almost every child needs to be told that the world isn't fair, because they start from an innate assumption that it should be. Perhaps we should just talk about fairness instead of justice and then this complaint goes away?

how many kids do you have? I have 3, and just can't recall experiencing with any of them that innate sense of fairness you are describing, much less any episode where I told them the ugly truth about the world and witnessed their disillusion. The do understand instinctively concepts like retribution, tit for tat, etc., I think.

Problems with the logic of this paradigm and non-replications:


As Claudia Tennie says "cute videos are mind viruses that produce 'zombie ideas'"

Wikipedia plays this down, but afaict inequity aversion in capuchins etc is considered oversold is the majority of primate researchers.

My kids get really angry when they feel they are being treated unfairly, it’s true. But when daddy says it’s not fair for him that you won’t let him eat breakfast, they don’t care. "The sense that the world ought to be fair" is, I think, much better described as "high confidence that my concept of fairness matters, but the concepts of fairness of other people are irrelevant, especially when they want things I don’t."

"Justice as Fairness" is a line associated with Rawls. But most people don't treat them as synonyms, and their first association for the word "justice" will be things like criminal justice. "Fairness" does sound more suitable for Scott's lens, but I don't know if it gives the same scope for saintliness/utopianism. You can imagine a superlatively fair person, but not as naturally as a superlatively benevolent one.

Nonsense. Having reared 5 of them to adulthood (or close enough), I am confident no child is *born* with any sense of "fairness." Generally it has to be beaten into them, in fact. "No, it's not OK to take your brother's toy just because you want it and he's too small to resist."

Fairness is a sophisticated adult social value -- nature has no such concept, and if you could talk to a lion and ask whether it was fair that she preferentially targed young and weak members of the gazelle tribe for eating, she would be very puzzled indeed. It's certainly true that adults sometimes train their kids to expect a little more fairness in the wide world than they can expect within the confines of the family, but this has more to do with inadequate parenting than social failure. Anyone who trains his kids to expect a society of 300 million to function with as much intelligent insight into each of its members as a family of 4 is...kind of dumb, honestly.

Reading the replies, enough people agree with him to constitute decent evidence that he's right about how "justice" sounds to the average ear. My point is just that if he's right about that, the use of "X justice" is less a cynical attempt to sneak a free ride on the popular sense of justice as retribution than a sincere misunderstanding of how the language of justice will be received. These phrases are coming out of an academic/activist community where people read and listen each other and debate what is best, and where the sense of justice as retribution is at its weakest. If anything, this is a group with a thin theory of mind about popular understanding, not a thick theory of how to hijack people's natural retributiveness for their own ends.

Also, RIP "with liberty and justice for all."

I disagree, the people in the activist community who use these terms have a pretty thick theory of mind; the phrasing is meticulously tuned to manipulate.

It's boilerplate modern political rhetoric about unfairness, victims and oppressors.

I think Scott has a better take on what people are mostly thinking. However, I don't know a good way to adjudicate who has the correct take.

Not many people have read Aristotle. In common parlance, "justice" implies a crime, a victim, and a perpetrator. Justice is achieved through punishment. Yes, making the victim whole is also an objective to be pursued, if possible; but the primary goal is to harm the perpetrator in proportion to the harm he inflicted on the victim (modulo situational circumstances). Thus, while "helping the poor" can be achieved by e.g. giving them money or food, "financial justice" can only be achieved by harming rich people -- ideally, but not necessarily, by taking away their money and giving it to their victims, the poor people.

I think this might be easier for speakers of other languages than English. For example, in German "Gerechtigkeit" means justice in the sense of "fairness" and "treating everyone equally". There would be other words related to courts, such as "Rechtsprechung".

Thus terms like "Klimagerechtigkeit" are clear and don't have the negative connotations that Scott writes about.

Using and abusing the word "justice" is quintessential for mob mobilization. You don't get to fly on the wings of memetic spreading unless you use that particular word. And that has absolutely zero to do with Aristotle, in whose times the Twitter handle @theRealAristotle would not have existed.

As for "gerechtigkeit" - which is rooted in the German word for "right" - it might also be translated as "righteousness". In any case, "selbstgerechtigkeit" pretty much does translate to "self-righteousness".

In general, I believe it is unproductive to blame miscommunication on the other party. After all, you can't control how they'll hear things, only how you say them.

In light of that, and insofar as Scott is not an isolated example of hearing this way, perhaps this sort of phrasing could be improved.

(Reflexively, you also can't control how other people will say things, only how you hear them. Therefore, that my view also implies that Scott could improve the discourse by hearing these people better. Your comment is not without merit, but "that's you" is an unproductive accusation.)

>Nope. These are "justice" as in distributive justice and corrective justice. Aristotle. If you think "criminal justice" when you hear these phrases, that’s you.

I don't get it? That's like saying, "if you hear the word 'Nazi' and think of concentration camps and invading Poland, that's you." We're talking about the typical connotation of the word as any average person would think of it, and gluing an adjective on the front doesn't change that. Maybe I misunderstand?

>The people using these phrases think, to the extent they think about it, that these forms of justice can be achieved by giving to those who have not, mostly without taking from those who have. If there is a fantasy here, it is utopian plenty, not retributive harshness.

Whenever I see a person talking about (fill-in-any-adjective) justice, they tend to be the most eager to vindictive people you've ever met in your life. They often act like they'd prefer punishing their chosen evildoers to helping their chosen victims.

5 hr ago·edited 5 hr ago

But the term "Nazi" is not nearly as broad as "justice" so it's not really comparable. Personally, ive only really seen these vindictive people on the internet (which i dont think is an accurate representation of the general public). And while the term justice may be more popular now, I think more people are also questioning what exactly justice looks like.

The idea of a world of good people and "saints" lends itself more readily to the concept of villains deserving of retribution. It's more useful to have discussions about the nuances of the concept of justice rather than simply saying "your idea of justice is wrong or incomplete. Stop using that word". It's more useful to strive for a just world rather than a good world of saints.

That's my opinion anyway.

Aristotle? When did Aristotle talk about distributive or corrective justice? Aristotle's definition of justice was about interpersonal obligation and primarily a personal trait. That is what the term social justice originally meant when it was invented by Catholics. But distributive and corrective justice are 19th century terms meant specifically to criticize that conception of social justice. People like Mills then read that backward into Plato (but not Aristotle, as far as I know).

Though notably Mills ultimately said justice was of secondary interest to utilitarianism which is how he justified things he admitted were unjust. Yes, it's not fair to take a rich man's property simply because he's rich, but it produces utils by giving it to the poor. Justice thus had to give way to higher moral, utilitarian principles, which were unjust in particular but were a form of what he called distributive justice. He specifically admits that this is justice GIVING WAY to higher principles, not just some obvious application of morally intuitive justice.

Check out Nicomachean Ethics, book 5 where Aristotle discusses the different kinds of justice. At 1130b, Aristotle brings in the kind of justice "exercised in the distribution [dianomhs] of honor, wealth, and the other divisible assets of the community, which may be allotted among its members in equal or unequal shares" [taken from the free translation on Perseus]. His major treatment of this subject in his Ethics occurs in the following chapter, NE 5.3. But he discusses this topic all over the Politics, and gives and reasons from principles of distributive justice all over the place there, most famously in his principle that the best flute ought to be given to the best flute player.

It's just not plausible to read distributive justice as something Mill invented in the 19th Century, in the face of this 2400 year old text that is plainly talking about this subject.

Adam Smith also wrote about commutative justice and distributive justice in Theory of Moral Sentiments, at least from the second edition off their of my head, in the mid 1700’s, pointing to Aristotle and Cicero I believe. Might be wrong about Cicero.

I've just searched my version of the text (as in ctrl+f) and can't find the term distributive justice. So I'm not sure what you specifically mean but I can't find it.

My kindle version (can't find the hard copy) puts it in Book 3, Section 2, Chap. 1 "Of those Systems which make Virtue consist in Propriety." That part describes it as "a becoming use of what is one's own," akin to Grotius' (not Cicero) definition of justitia attributrix. Somewhat later Smith compares it to the distributive justice of Aristotle which "consists in the proper distribution of rewards from the public stock of a community" in a footnote.

Edit: if you meant to ask where it was in Nicomachean ethics, Smith notes "See ... 1.5 .c.2." I don't know how that might translate to Aristotle, however, or if it is the editor of TMS making that location reference or something.

I'll take a look. But distribution of rewards doesn't strike you as different from utilitarian or progressive distributive justice? Reward implies desert is earned through action, not through simple necessity, doesn't it?

2 hr ago·edited 2 hr ago

It isn't plainly in the text.

If you take "distributive justice" to mean "the concept of whether society is fair" which includes economic aspects then of course that's been discussed forever. Long before the term itself was invented. You could argue it's a theme in the Iliad where the king deprives Achilles of Briseis and disrupts the just distribution of war booty. But that's not usually what distributive justice means. It instead means a specific modern conception of what is economically fair in society.

In that sense, no. You're quoting that out of context to read a 19th century concept back into Aristotle. Remember, like Plato Aristotle was a member of the oligarchal political faction, not a democrat and not a utilitarian.

The Bekker translation on Perseus inserts all kinds of anachronistic terms like political science. The Greek word used in that line is dianomais (διανομαῖς). I think that's what you mean by dianomhs. Dianomais means distribute in the sense of deliver, like distributing mail. Notably, it is what herders do to animals. It specifically does not mean distribute in the sense of justice or desert. A better translation, "one type is that which is created in distributions of honour or money or the other things that fall to be divided among those who have a share in the polity." I expect he's thinking, for example, of one year when Athens ran a budget surplus (due to a particularly good year in the state silver mines) and debated about where that money should go. They ultimately bought ships but they thought about just giving it out as a kind of political dividend.

He is specifically not talking about the redistribution of private property to create social equity. Plato does actually talk about that and he directly condemns it as a tool of wannabe tyrants. But certain people read it back into the text for ideological reasons.

Actually, question for you: It's clearly important to you, in some sense, that the idea is old and longstanding. Why is that? Let's say I'm right and that distributive justice is a creature of the 19th century. Do you feel this weakens it in some way? I ask because I run into A LOT of people dubiously trying to read things back into the Classics. I've never understood the instinct.

Absolutely. I'm disappointed to say this is probably one of the worst pieces Scott has written in a while. Like, it's just nitpicking about something which is just exposing an absence of familiarity with a really non-obscure, non-ingroup core aspect of political philosophy.

It really reads as a parody:

"I can’t find clear evidence on Google Trends that use of these terms is increasing - I just feel like I’ve been hearing them more and more often."

Does nobody see any issues with starting a *rationalist* piece like this?

Scott then spends a paragraph doing... what exactly?

"What is "climate justice"? Was the Little Ice Age unjust? What if it killed millions? Is it unjust for Mali to have a less pleasant climate than California? What if I said that there’s a really high correlation between temperature and GDP, and Mali’s awful climate is a big part of why it’s so poor? Climate justice couldn’t care less about any of this. Why not? Hard to say. Maybe because there’s no violation and no villain."

This is such a shallow pass at a topic which ought to be a great topic of discussion. Discussing whether justice/fairness are concepts which apply in the absence of human intention is pol phil 101- see here for example https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice/#JustAgen

I think Scott is fully aware of all this and has just gone on a bashing of climate/"woke" justice because it gets used by an out group. Even the wikipedia article he links to explains the concept relatively simply.

By all means, there are really interesting discussions to be had around the scope of justice, the impact of justice as a tool of analysis etc. But the piece as a whole is just shallow and ungenerous, with lots of strawmanning and feigned incredulity. Disappointed.

The general point that Scott seems to have abandoned the premise of steelmanning is pretty sad. I get that he is trying to churn out more and more content, but it really detracts from anything he isn't already pre-disposed to engage with on an equal level with.

I concur, and this is one of the few posts of Scott's that I simply think is flat wrong--or, at least, he should have stopped at noting that the language exists in order to create a moral duty, not to punish. I don't really identify with the XXXXX justice groups, but they are a huge proportion of my wing of the labor movement, and I can say with some confidence that even if they do believe in retribution of the rich, that's simply not how they're understanding "justice" in the phrase "social justice."

I applaud you for referencing Aristotle, but deduct significant points for assuming more people are familiar with the index of justices than have seen >1 ep of 'Law & Order'.

1 hr ago·edited 1 hr ago

An amazing amount of weight is carried by the "mostly" in "mostly without taking from those who have." I have the uncharitable suspicion that "mostly" doesn't have its usual meaning in this particular sentence.

It is "on us" and our "fantasy" that "soak the rich" rhetoric really sounds like prioritization of retribution over relief?

(Possible?) copyedit thread:

"the guy who’s more sensitive to violations and more efficient and punishment than anyone else" —> not sure what was intended but I think the "punishment" line is truncated

I can’t recall hearing or reading anyone use the term climate justice. Google says people do…so it’s a thing.

Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in real life use the term woke. It’s wildly popular among Very Online People.

Very Online or sufficiently young... I don't know if you've visited a college campus recently, but I can attest that the term "climate justice" is very common there.

Similarly, people on campus may not use the word "woke", but only in the sense that fish don't frequently use the word "water."

I visited my alma mater a bit ago, and every other light pole had an official university banner with the phrase "stay woke" on it. And it’s not even a particularly "woke" campus. So I think it’s safe to say that the younger generations are actually using the term on a regular basis, or at least regularly interact with it.

It looks like a little over 1% of the population consists of full time traditional college students.

And an even smaller percentage of the population is at elite schools most in the thrall of this BS rhetoric. Nonetheless, that small group of people tends to end up establishing standards for journalists and other elite tastemakers, so their linguistic and ideological quirks are important to examine.

Melvin cited an Australian example, and the American "paper of record" has plenty of examples too: https://www.google.com/search?q=inurl%3Anytimes.com+"climate+justice"

Is it important to examine - or is it just clickbait targeted at Very Online People?

Both? I think both. The propaganda most influential on our elite is probably important to study. And yes, this is that.

Also, I think the NYT's audience doesn't substantially consist of the Very Online. Even if there's minor overlap, the Very Online probably go to trendier, angrier sites and consume news through podcasts neither of us have ever heard of.

" The propaganda most influential on our elite"

Is it? You assume the elite give it anymore thought than anyone else. I see no reason to think that they do.

They don't give it thought, it gives thoughts to them.

That said, it's fine if you're not curious about this quirk of modern elite language. I still am.

I’m curious about it. I just don’t think it’s that important. It seems to exist as an online phenomenon wildly in excess of how much impact it has in my real life.

I'm inclined to believe it points to something deeper about how a class of people thinks, so I'll keep poking at it.

With that said, it's easy to get caught up on things like this. An example - in rhetoric about police brutality, there's a turn of phrase, "violence against black and brown bodies" (rather than e.g. "people"). I find this choice of phrasing super weird, and I know I'm not alone in that. But however weird it is, I think it's just a shibboleth. I've heard people say it's illustrative of a worldview, and my reaction has always been - nah, that's reading too deep into something shallow. It's just a weird turn of phrase that caught on with that crowd for no especially good reason. If you think that's what's going on with "X Justice" too, I get it, even if I disagree.

I graduated over a decade ago, and I took classes on subjects like environmental justice, although that was at least broadly related to my major.

For what it's worth, I've come across climate justice online and IRL a fair amount

I've encountered both "woke" and "climate justice" a fair bit IRL

I saw this article just the other day in a mainstream newspaper: "International Women's Day Highlights Climate Justice As A Feminist Issue"


A related TLP-esque theory: the move away from virtue, away from agency, is *precisely the point.* By placing all of these domains outside of individual control, they're removed from your power, and you're absolved of any real responsibility or personal failing.

Currently, many are powerless and frustrated in their individual lives. They start out convinced that nothing they do can help the world because of their own deep-seated insecurities and inadequacies. But recognizing, confronting, and overcoming your insecurity is hard. Reframing everything as "justice" scratches the same itch, allowing people to express their sense of powerlessness, but doesn't make them feel like it's an individual failing of theirs, since "justice" is systemic, broad, administered by the state and beyond any individual's control.

Hrm, that doesn't feel right to me. Mostly I see X Justice used as a call to action. A call to be a superhero and do battle with the unjust.

Interesting - I think I've more often seen it used as a call to "caring" or "awareness", which has motivated the wallowing-in-powerlessness theory for me. But that could be motivated reasoning on my part.

Once we move beyond the object, we tend to see what we want to see. Is the word "justice" a call to action or an excuse to not act? Is 50 stars and 13 stripes a symbol of freedom and opportunity, or imperialism and racism, or decadence and degeneracy?

The correct answers are "It's a word" and "it's a flag".

This seems too skeptical. Yes, different words can mean different things to different people, and ultimately they are just words. But if we can't "move beyond the object" and look at its use(s) and meaning(s), we'll hamstring our ability to understand society.

3 hr ago·edited 3 hr ago

Oh, there is meaning beyond the object, but it's impossible to get to that meaning by talking and talking and talking and talking, which is the only thing that you can actually do in a comments section. You're trying to get water from a well using a colander and then wondering why it keeps coming back empty. Meaning exists beyond language- the only thing words can do is gesture at an illusion of a shadow of the real world. Hieroglyphics and art are better at actually communicating meaning than words.

For what it’s worth this hews very close to what I perceive to be the truth for many young/collegiate/woke-adjacent communities who discuss things in terms of _____ justice. It is almost verboten to have a discussion about climate change, for instance, with those who frame it in terms of climate justice, in which individual choices people make are acknowledged as important. I.e. suggesting to a group of organized college Dems that they might drive less, take shorter showers, or participate less in fast fashion or frequent consumerism is considered hostile and beside the point. They would argue that they couldn’t possibly make a difference through individual choices, only large scale corporate/systemic change, and distractions like the above suggestions would be coded as neoliberal, vaguely un-hip, or insensitive; at least this is true in my experience. Try ruminating about individual changes we can make to flight climate change on a forum such as r/Politics and you might be surprised to find yourself decried.

It is besides the point, though. The "individual choices" narration is a red herring kept in the memesphere by corporate interests. The idea of personal carbon footprint was championed by... BP.


To be fair, unless you have a personal jet, individual choice is probably irrelevant. I wouldn't say that about most moral issues--individually helping a poor person is quite relevant. But climate change, in as much as it is a cataclysmic problem, isn't going to care about a single person's impact.

I think you're right, and that Scott missed an important point there: It's hard to divorce "helping the poor" from actually, you know, helping the poor. Pursuing economic justice, on the other hand, doesn't have to involve helping anyone.

Climate "justice"—"just ice."

16 hr ago·edited 16 hr ago

henry george wrote very movingly about how this framing contests with hypocrisy around charity, without being so foolish as to say good things aren't good.


Sometimes the zeitgeist swings too far and perhaps it gets annoying when people talk about justice as a buzzword instead of the result of reflection. I think what you identify is use of justice as a buzzword, and yeah the internet rotates through them aggressively. At best it does have the function-in my opinion- of not letting rich liberals off the hook for some of the harms they've driven in this country (particularly around housing), where helping and being nice is contrasted with legitimate support of some of the greatest drivers of huge economic problems.

But then people say "housing justice" and oppose supply increases anyways. So I shrug and stop listening to the word justice until I trust the speaker to actually be able to argue why something is just.

To summarize the strong parts of what Henry George said:

1. We need to think about the systemic root causes of bad outcomes, and reform the system to prevent those systematically. In the same vein as "giving a man a fish feeds him for a day, but teaching a man to fish feeds him for a lifetime".

2. handouts strip away dignity and the poor could provide for themselves a lot more if the system stopped actively screwing them.

There's also a lot of confused stuff about theology and about the rich being thieves and fallacious arguments about how no good will come of constructing public works.

It's less that no good comes of constructing works, but that public works raise land value, which means they won't solve systemic inequalities deriving from land. This is basically the most rudimentary form of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_George_theorem Henry George Theorem, which posits that the maximum revenue a government can generate without deadweight loss is, exactly, the land value within its borders.

But I do think he is right to point out that people can tell the difference between 'just redistribution' and 'handouts', and that building a system on the unjust redistribution will lead to frustration from the taxed and the recipients.

16 hr ago·edited 16 hr ago

An essay which reframes the question of "justice" from a Buddhist perspective titled "Wisdom over Justice" https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/uncollected/Justice.html

an excerpt

"... the Buddha never tried to impose his ideas of justice on the world at large. And this was very wise and perceptive on his part. It’s easy enough to see how imposed standards of justice can be a menace to well-being when those standards are somebody else’s. It’s much harder to see the menace when the standards are your own."

Ring the right bell for the right cause - scratch the right itch with the right term - and the guilt ridden tend to come running, wallets in hand. It's pavlovian. Righteousness is very marketable, especially when people are eager to show off their progressive bona fides and what have you.

Turning everything into "justice" supports moral absolutism and attempts to eliminate the possibility of debate. If you disagree with justice, you're just evil.

It's like "equity". Instead of arguing about what's fair, some people want to change the definition of fairness so it aligns with their cause.

Great Craigs think alike.

I mean I think this is basically all coming out of the SJ community; they have their own idiosyncratic meaning of "justice" and are applying it to lots of things. I don't think it's some distinct phenomenon that's broader than SJ. And indeed many of the things you say here apply to SJ more generally.

Slight disagree. Wikipedia says that eg spatial justice "is promoted by the scholarly tradition of critical geography, which arose in the 1970s." While it's a pretty obscure justice, this suggests they already had a tradition of doing this kind of thing back then. I agree that 1970s critical geography is lefty, but I feel like it's a broader type of lefty than just "the SJ community".

Interesing! Huh. Still, as you say, I think it's basically a feature of that social justice/critical theory/leftism cluster (I realize these are not the same thing but I typically group them together because their ways of thinking seem essentially similar to me).

16 hr ago·edited 16 hr ago

"Critical X" reads to me as "woke X" (edit: and therefore "SJ X"), at least as far back as the 70s. E.g., "critical legal theory" is the foundational underpinnings of a lot of modern woke stuff, even though it was also that far back.

I thought this was common knowledge.

Like many things, it is a superposition of common knowledge and conspiracy theory, depending on which side you are on.

15 hr ago·edited 15 hr ago

spatial justice I found kind of interesting. One thought is that it’s just a fancy name for land management. I think of a river that serves thousands of people over thousands of miles and somebody screwing around with the headwaters oblivious to the downstream effects. There’s really no excuse for that happening anymore. (Although I’m sure it does.)

Working that out is a form of spatial justice.

The term climate justice I find absurd.

Until we can move "climate" around.

do... you think "justice" is just a word that means "moving things around"? That's not what that word means.

"climate justice" could be rephrased more accurately as "climate change response justice". The world has to choose how to respond to climate change, with mitigation, adaptation, etc. The "climate justice" movement is a movement that attempts to ensure that the response results in outcomes that are "just", according to their definition of "just", which corresponds to left wing values such as fairness. So for example, they would want to ensure that coal workers are compensated and reskilled when their coal plant shuts down, so the poor are not impacted by the energy transition.

> The world has to choose how to respond to climate change, with mitigation, adaptation, etc.

In my view the world doesn’t have to choose anything. A very large cohort of communities geographical locations and nation states will have to decide either alone or amongst themselves how to manage any crisis that occurs such as climate change. India does not have the same problem as northern Canada for instance.

I don’t see how the word justice factors into this.

1 hr ago·edited 1 hr ago

> So for example, they would want to ensure that coal workers are compensated and reskilled when their coal plant shuts down, so the poor are not impacted by the energy transition.

We might want to start a fund for the benefit of the descendants of the cotton gin debacle While we’re at it;

I know I sound rather Hobbesian, but there is a fundamental truth in that worldview that should not be ignored. When the reach of justice exceeds its grasp it turns pretty quickly into either tyranny or anarchy.

I also think that what justice means is very contigent on context; There are conflicting goals. Is the decision to be made in the context of the greater good? That means that certain marginal influences will not be treated well almost by definition. If marginal interests are what is paramount in any discussion of justice then there is a cost associated with that for others. Pretty quickly boils down to either collective or individual notions of justice . in the collective sense I think the word becomes for too vague to be of any use.

I think that the mentality behind Gall-Peters & similar pretty clearly lines up with SJ types. If anything it's just a very early precursor that ideologically matches the current SJ.

I think the line of causation runs in the other direction. I think social justice largely descends from, or at least draws much of its framework from critical theory. My impression is that this was more visible 10-20 years ago, but that might be more due to a change in my own circles. Critical theory and the social justice movement have for at least a few decades (since before "woke" was a term in popular consciousness, ) essentially existed as a feedback loop with each other.

Beyond a feedback loop, I have trouble differentiating the two entirely as there appears to be significant membership overlap

Reminds me of this comment : Process vs outcome based orientation


Thanks for the note, also things to consider: the four dystopias (Darren Allen), X types of leadership, Lewis Model of Culture. The social structure/topology has surely changed.

12 hr ago·edited 12 hr ago

Seems like a good way of putting it. Justice focuses on outcomes of rule/norm violations, virtue focuses on devising and applying those preventative norms.

This may be a variation of Crotchety Crank's point: acting in the name of 'justice' is acting in the name of a greater good, a higher principle. Whereas 'helping others' can easily be construed as condescending (which it often is) and even self-serving (which it often is). Any whiff of self-serving condescension creates dissonance for those who like to think of themselves and others as being altruistically motivated. They may feel on safer ground as the Keepers of The Obviously Unimpeachable Justice Faith.

It's interesting that Christianity (and any other established tradition that has an element of charity) has some pretty strong memetic defences against this, and many Christians still fail at not being condescending assholes. Now if you introduce a new ideology completely devoid of all these failsafes...

> helping others' can easily be construed as condescending (which it often is) and even self-serving (which it often is)

I have a hard time understanding how substituting the word justice protects one from those downsides.

6 min ago·edited 4 min ago

Agree. That is kind of my point - but I think the concept of justice might be considered my many to be a cause beyond reproach. Personally, I think it is a red herring and a pretty suspect concept altogether but in doing so, I feel I am teetering on the edge of a destructive cynicism. Who is bold enough to deny that justice is good?

You left out "food justice"

Justice justice, for all the missing justices.

Justice justice is for Justice (the band/musical-group) not being more popular!

you know, people who don't live near a good spot that serves avocado toast

When you don't know a word, but don't have a dictionary, you can often determine the meaning from how people use the word. The pitfall of this is that it may result in one thinking that "criminal justice" means "making bad people suffer".

Maybe the people you’re thinking of who use "climate justice" and "economic justice" and "X justice" don’t realize how these phrases land with others. But this not a motte and bailey. They are quite sincere in also thinking that "criminal justice" is not justice and is not a model for what they want.

Again, maybe these phrases are poorly chosen give their goals and beliefs. But they very much don’t come out of an attempt to ride the coattails of criminal justice.

It's been interesting to see my friend group evolve on criminal justice tbh. Maybe 2014/2015 they all clearly thought that retribution was a bad criminal justice goal and that it should all be about rehabilitation.

Now they still believe the criminal justice system is broken, but not because retributive justice is bad - it's just that the wrong people are getting punished.

This is just a survey of my Facebook friends, I don't have data about the broader culture. But I worked in criminal defense for a while, have an interest in this, and had noticed this trend before this article.

7 hr ago·edited 7 hr ago

I don't doubt that the internet is full of hypocrites, but I'll also point out that "the justice system gives nice rehabilitative treatment to some groups and harsh retribution to others, due to factors like racism and classism" can be a systemic criticism, not just a complaint about the wrong people getting punished.

I mean I agree with that and don't even think that this is hypocrisy. It's more like a frame change from "why does a black man caught with cocaine do ten years in prison when tax evaders go free" to "why do tax evaders go free when a black man with cocaine does 10 years in prison."

That's a nitpick but the post *is* about semantics. The former framing emphasizes the injustice of the harsh sentence, the latter the injustice of a lack of sentence for a bad guy. Because of my background I see the harsh sentence as the greater evil and would prefer to address that. I do not believe putting more tax evaders in jail will do that.

>They are quite sincere in also thinking that "criminal justice" is not justice and is not a model for what they want.

Is that because they disagree with its approaches or simply aren't in control of it?

My suspicion is that we talk about "helping" when the pie is big enough i.e. the economy is growing, and the average person sees a chance at advancement. When it becomes more of a zero-sum game due to low economic growth or stratified classes, then "justice" comes more into vogue.

11 hr ago·edited 11 hr ago

I don't remember encountering the "helping" rhetoric that often, but the difference makes intuitive sense. There also seems to be a directional aspect; "helping" implies voluntary initiative from above, whereas "justice" implies conceding to demands from below, the human motive of economic redistribution shifting from generosity in good times to fears of social unrest and political instability in hard times.

16 hr ago·edited 16 hr ago

It's simple: it's all "justice" because justice implies the existence of both victims and perpetrators. Unfairness and disparities in outcomes between people, rather than bad things that can be improved in absolute terms. It's a justification for attacking a person, rather than helping a person. It's just more of the same political stuff.

16 hr ago·edited 16 hr ago

"Justice" also connotes someone somewhere intending to do harm where there isn't always intent. Justice can be demanded, there's moral certainty, whereas anyone can just shrug off platitudes. The term's connotations are satisfying simple and simply satisfying, which is perfect for the social media age.

That's a cool way of looking at it. What I want to know is whether people using [X] justice are actually more concerned with exacting justice against someone instead of helping the original group. I don't think Stalin called it "Economic Justice", but did he call it "helping the poor"?

From the wiki article on economic justice, it doesn't really sound that bad. "Economic justice aims to create opportunities for every person to have a dignified, productive and creative life that extends beyond simple economics." Isn't that a good goal?

I agree that it sounds annoying, but mostly because it sounds like the latest term in a long line of saying things without really helping. I don't really see how [X] justice is any more pernicious than committing yourself to War on [X].

This sounds very motte-and-bailey. "We just want to create opportunities for every person," the motte; "let's punish the 'oppressors' we hate," the bailey.

There's a few other meanings of "justice" which I think are more relevant for some of these justices. There's fairness, which fits best with the "justice" in "economic justice". There's also restitution, which fits with "racial justice".

I recall hearing in childhood religious school back in the early 90s that the English word "charity" comes from the Latin "caritas" meaning compassion, and it's about a feeling of caring deep in your heart. But the Hebrew "tzedakah", often translated as "charity" comes from the root "tzedek" meaning justice.

So if they're smelly and obnoxious and ungrateful and no one could blame you for not feeling compassion, you still need to give because justice calls for them to receive. Similarly if they are so numerous that you can only relate to them abstractly.

I never saw this as rejecting utopianism. It's just that in the Jewish vision of an ideal economy, there are still some people who can't take care of themselves and everyone else just steps up and takes care of them.

14 hr ago·edited 14 hr ago

That's correct. But not only is it not caritas, the CRT-inflected understanding of justice is not tzedakah in support of the inevitably unfortunate (who might be any of us--a Job, for example). Rather, it is retribution on behalf of the "victims" of sin, the sin being advantage itself (styled as "privilege").

Tzedek is closer to righteousness than justice in my understanding.

I agree. This reminds me of the eternal debate on philanthropy vs taxation. As long as we are talking about charity, giving more is better - but it is perfectly alright if people choose not to give. If we frame it as justice, nobody should be allowed to prevent justice from running its course. The powerful should not have the right to withhold justice.

So if one wants charity for the poor they would organise a fundraiser. But if they want economic distributive justice they would try to Tax the Rich.

So it makes perfect sense to me that a movement that uses the term justice inflationary also devolves into cancel culture and a general jungle of formal and informal norms.

I think there has been a general shift towards villifying our social/political opponents. "I believe in helping women" leaves open a discussion of "how". "I support justice for women" implies that all persons who disagree with my beliefs are evil. Similarly we use words like "misogynistic" and "racist" with ever widening meaning because those words label our social opponents as evil.

I talked with a Unitarian minister recently about the difference between moral issues and political issues. She asserted with certainty that there was no difference whatsoever. Apparently those who disagree with her notion of "justice" are simply evil.

I'm not sure how her stance as you've described it implies that people who disagree with you are evil. Just because you consider something to be a moral issue doesn't mean that you necessarily have total certainty that you are right, and even if so, those who disagree with you could easily be mistaken rather than evil.

In addition to conflict theory maximization, once you define things as unjust you stop doing cost benefit analysis on them. I noticed this when I talked about raising minimum wage with people. To me, it's a matter of whether the higher pay outweighs job loss. To some other people, paying less than $X/hour is just immoral like slavery or something. You can't make good policy that way, especially on complex stuff like economics or climate.

Another great thing about the "justice" framing for the disingenuous political actor is that it doesn't actually require you to commit to any specific end point or set of policies.

If you say "Everybody should get paid exactly the same" then you have to defend that particular proposition. If you just say "Economic justice!" then you can just point in a general direction without committing to anything in particular.

I think whether increasing minimum wages will in practice cause job losses is one of those partisan arguments that makes people assume their opponent is from the other tribe and therefore pointless to argue with.

I note that I don't consider people with different moral beliefs than mine 'evil'. My wife thinks praying to God and apologizing for sin is importantly moral. I think God doesn't exist, and that all moral rules involving him are incorrect. But I don't think she's EVIL. I just think she's wrong.

In the same sense, I think there's room for a *tolerant* form of moral-politics. If you're tolerant of people with a different moral code than yours (presumably within some range of moral codes), you could see politics as an extension of morality and still not vilify those who disagree with your politics. No idea if the minister you were speaking to was tolerant, but I know Unitarians are generally noted for it.

That's not quite Pete's point, though. Yes, there is room to disagree while only considering someone to be wrong, rather than evil. When someone is pro-life, a person who is pro-choice can think that they are wrong (factually wrong, morally wrong, whatever) and not necessarily think them evil. By calling them a "misogynist" that seems to be very directly saying "and therefore evil." It's hard to hear the terms racist, misogynist, white supremacist, etc., without understanding the meaning as "and therefore evil." That's distinct from the ambiguity of disagreement, and seems to be exactly Pete's (and I believe Scott's) whole point.

I generally agree with Pete's first paragraph and was responding only to the second. Sorry for not being clear!

I was taken aback recently when an otherwise intelligent person said "TV show X has bad politics". Bad, of course, being any option other than their own.

I welcome the pendulum swinging in the other direction, it's about time.

Perhaps it allows people to support a cause without having to propose any specific solution since "justice" should be self-evident.

I mean, on the neoconservative right everything is war: war against terror, war against drugs, spiritual warfare. I think the framing resonates depending on your moral framework.

Left wing liberals are focused on a notion of equality and fairness as justice (I think Haidt's moral foundations theory is really helpful here). So the idea that wealthy nations create the most CO2 and cause the most global warming, where poorer nations (mostly already hot) will disproportionately experience the worst effects, is inherently unjust.

Has anyone used the term "war on drugs" in the last sixty years without being opposed to it? As far as I can figure out it was a short-lived Nixon-era slogan.

The US, of course, never had a meaningful war on drugs, and certainly doesn't today. The Philippines has a war on drugs. The US has a half-assed enforcement with no hope of taking a meaningful bite out of the problem.

Meanwhile the "War on Terror" was an actual war, and "Spiritual Warfare" is a term that I am willing to believe exists but I've never seen it used.

15 hr ago·edited 15 hr ago

> Meanwhile the "War on Terror" was an actual war, and "Spiritual Warfare" is a term that I am willing to believe exists but I've never seen it used.

I can promise you, as someone who grew up in the American South going to Church every Sunday, the idea that you have *never* seen the words "spiritual warfare" used (or similar phrases, like "Lord's Army" or "Armor of God") is wild to me.

Yeah I grew up evangelical. "Spiritual warfare" was all over the place in the 90s, and as far as I can tell is still a dominant paradigm in evangelical circles.

To be fair, it does sound cool (until it's associated with boring church people).

Also, compare: jihad.

I don't think the war on terror was an actual war. It was the framing for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (and other involvements), true. And these were wars. But it covered a lot of other legal, domestic security, and international policy shifts.

My point being, it's a framing that a certain segment of the political right commonly uses to frame policy and moral goals. And it brings with it a set of normative assumptions and methodological practices.

War on X, like X Justice, or like Free X, is the same kind of moral framing that everyone does.

The "War on Poverty" was a well known phrase in the 1960s associated with the Johnson administration, so this is not exclusively the domain of neo-cons.

It seems to me that we have made great progress in the war on poverty, and that this progress is mostly unrelated to any Great Society programs.

Good point. I fell into a rabbit hole last night reading about "war on x" examples. I was surprised how many were from the left.

So about the "311,000" hits for "climate villains": this estimate is completely wrong.

I don't mean that it's not what Google says on page one of the search results. That part is true. But if you click through to page 15 of the results for this search, you find that the estimate reduces from 311,000 to 149 results. Google has decided that want to always provide an estimate of the total number of results for every search, but they have neither precomputed accurate estimates for all possible searches, nor do they wish to spend the compute to calculate good estimates on the fly for every search, when most people never go past page one. Their estimates can be ok for searches on common words (where they most likely do have cached in a database somewhere the current number of web pages associated with that term), but for compound phrases, they take each of the component words, and do some kind of math to estimate the value. So here, they would look at both "climate" hits (4,470,000,000 results), and "villains" hits (2,190,000,000 results), and maybe a few other parameters, and make a guess as to how often these appear together. Unfortunately, these guesses have almost no relationship to reality.

I often see these number cited as evidence for how prevalent something is. Given Google's reputation and prevalence, I find it pretty irresponsible that they still list these estimates despite knowing how wrong they are. But presumably some product manager likes showing users a lot of zeros to give an inflated impression of how comprehensive Google's web crawling is.

Here's a longer analysis. It's five years old, but not much has changed in that time:


Apparently, Google is currently experimenting with removing this number, which I applaud: https://www.seroundtable.com/google-estimated-number-of-search-results-gone-33016.html

I'm less sure the estimates (of the number of search results) is wrong and think it's more likely that Google decided to more aggressively limit the number of results you can see. (And that makes sense – keeping some kind of 'paginated results' data, with thousands (or more) of results in some server's memory is expensive at their scale.)

I personally miss the days when there were (or could be) literally hundreds or thousands of pages of results for a search, but I think Google noticed (a while ago) that almost no one bothers looking beyond the first or maybe second page anyways.

I defy the data that there are only ~150 results for "climate villains"! That seems way too low to be plausible.

The intrinsic lack of justice in the world (as it is) is disturbing, to say the least. Arguably human beings have been in a struggle to make the world more just for a long time, but at its heart, the world is not just. How could it be? For the same reason it’s not unjust either.

It seems to me a lot of people aren’t really able to come to terms with that truth in a fundamental way, and they start looking for someone to blame.

Feels to me like saying "we should pursue economic justice" is a way of saying "we should help the poor, and I went to college!".

There's definitely a lot of signaling going on with the phrase. Maybe more so signaling allegiance with SJ causes more generally, rather than college specifically. Of course, many people learn these terms in college and the affiliation is probably pretty strong.

Some of us rather think "we should arm the poor" though I suspect I'm in the minority here.

Depends what exactly you mean. I, for one, strongly support the constitutional right of the American poor to bear arms.

Arm the poor and watch them cut your throat for your wallet. Once you've told them "everyone richer than you is The Enemy" (and this is what "Hang the rich" boils down to), it'll take them about 5 seconds to work out that hey, that guy with the nice haircut and college education and all those lovely books on Theory is richer than us!

Not to mention that lots of those "poor" are already armed- and probably have worldviews you'd find horribly reactionary.

Meanwhile, the rich can afford their own security. It is the honest working man who suffers the brunt of this wretched philosophy.

All of this, of course, comes with the counterpoint that collective bargaining and unions (actually productive use of labor instead of Theory-laden myopia about a Revolution, Permanent or otherwise) actually gets good results for the poor and the working man- which is why most would-be revolutionaries are as anti-union as any arch-capitalist. If the working class can genuinely improve their position, after all, that might mean the Revolution might not happen!

Not at all. I am strongly in favor of Second Amendment rights for the poor. Nobody needs a gun more than some struggling single mom in a drug-infested neighborhood. She should be able to wear some honking big .45 on her hip when she goes to the store for baby formula. I would offer her state-subsidized training at the local range every Saturday, too, so she knows how to use it.

So... as someone who actually does use "___" Justice, quite frequently, I'd like to say that I think it's a good thing to reframe "helping the poor" or "saving the poor" as "pursuing economic justice." I don't think it's a good thing for people to think of themselves as saviors, to me that's a really unhealthy and unhelpful mindset which results in people who aren't themselves poor thinking they can be the experts and the decision-makers, and that there is something wrong with poor people, that they need to be "saved" or "fixed." We live in a world where there is enough food to feed everyone, yet people go hungry; enough shelter to keep everyone warm, yet people go cold. To me, that says there is something wrong with our system of resource distribution, not with the people who ended up, for one reason or another, being left out of it.

Does that result in a sense of responsibility to fix the system? Yes! Does it imply that we don't live in Utopia? Yes! Because we don't. And I don't think we should pretend to. But it also implies that we *could* live in utopia. It demonstrates a real hope about the possibility of utopia. It says, "if we could figure out how to live together better, we could all have enough to eat and be warm."

Several more points:

-I agree with James Grimmelmann that what is meant by all these forms of "_____ Justice" is very much restorative justice, not retributive justice. Which I encourage you to look up if you haven't heard of that "_____ Justice" before :)

-Climate Justice means responding to climate change in an equitable way, recognizing that its impact is greater on some groups of people than others, and thus that as we plan how to mitigate the impact of climate change, we need to do it in such a way that historically marginalized people don't continue to bear the brunt of the impact.

-Now don't get too made at me for attempting to give this community the opportunity to learn to better steelman SJAs. To an SJA like myself, your article screams that you need to check your privilege because your white fragility is getting triggered (would love to explain those terms more if requested). It sounds like you want to cling to the sense that you still live in a utopia, want to feel good about being a generous, saintly person, and want these so much that you don't want to recognize the systems that oppress people with historically marginalized identities and instead would like to rationalize their situation being their own, individual fault.

15 hr ago·edited 15 hr ago

The rhetorical shift to e.g. "environmental justice" is, I think, genuinely puzzling to people outside a very narrow sphere of hypersensitive life. I don't think we need to appeal to uncharitable notions of white fragility to explain why people might find them confusing. (I fully get what it means, you don't need to explain, but it also seems like bulverism which avoids engaging with the subject matter at hand.)

With that said, I absolutely think more woke perspectives are a necessary addition to a conversation like this, so thanks for chiming in even if I disagree.

15 hr ago·edited 13 hr ago

I think that talking in the context of social systems and the outcomes they provide is illustrative of the difference between the contexts.

Let's assume system that has unequal outcomes that are bad for some group and an alternative system that has very different outcomes which are more equal. A discussion in terms of "justice" presumes that the former system needs to be dismantled and the latter system is inherently better. A discussion in terms of helping people implies a burden of proof to show that the suffering group will actually be better off given the proposed changes - since you can easily have a system which is simply equally bad for everyone, or you can have a failure in building the hypothetical new system after dismantling the old one which makes it worse for everyone. And this is not hypothetical, there are all kinds of naive proposals with the intent to increase justice which would make poor people even worse off.

Also, do note your phrasing, for example, with respect to climate justice, that you directly go from recognizing certain facts, which is reasonable, to recognizing a certain duty, which is very different. The fact that impact of something is greater on some groups of people than others does *not* automatically imply a duty to ensure that this does not continue. Your phrasing assumes this as axiomatic, which I fundamentally refuse - you can *debate and convince* me of the notion that in this particular case for particular reasons one particular group should be forced to sacrifice something to ensure that historically marginalized people don't continue to bear the brunt of the impact; there are all kinds of arguments for this situation that make sense; but if you start with an assertion that this simply needs to be "recognized", presuming that the debate must end with that conclusion, then that's not a debate I'm going to get involved in, it's something like another commenter pointed out (https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/justice-creep/comment/5562310?s=r), that this use of "climate justice" starts with the presumption that your proposed intervention is just and appropriate, while it very much needs to be debated.

Or perhaps that's the key difference that's hidden by the different, incompatible interpretations of the very loaded word "justice" ? Because for me, even restorative justice starts to apply only when there is actual guilt involved and does not involve redistribution of resources from someone who is in a privileged position unless they actually *personally did* something unjust and abusive to get there; and my inherent understanding of justice is that I consider group punishment as fundamentally unfair, so implying collective guilt for something their countrymen or ancestors did can't possibly facilitate justice in my mind.

For climate justice in particular, there is in my opinion a clear duty for better-off countries/people/groups to help those that are worse off. However, the duty does not arise because there are unequal *outcomes*. The duty arises because climate change is caused by carbon in the atmosphere, and different groups have very unequally contributed to this carbon.

With that in mind, the USA cannot just say "we don't care about the disappearance of the Marshall Islands, it's their problem". Because the USA, being the country with the world's highest carbon footprint, is also the country in the world that is most responsible for the rising oceans. The Marshall Islanders on the other hand have contributed ~zero to the climate crisis.

Traditionally, people did not have to pay for some negative externalities of their actions. For example, everyone could pollute clean air or put carbon in the atmosphere without a cost. This was clearly unjust, because some people (the rich ones who could afford fossil fuels) used a disproportionate share of a common good, without any cost to them. In my opinion, this leads to a clear moral duty to help those who now suffer from a carbonated atmosphere.

"Traditionally, people did not have to pay for some negative externalities of their actions. For example, everyone could pollute clean air or put carbon in the atmosphere without a cost.This was clearly unjust, because some people (the rich ones who could afford fossil fuels) used a disproportionate share of a common good"

Unless the rich already contribute a disproportionate enough share to the common good that it compensates for climate stuff. If they have to pay for negative externalities, they should also get paid for positive externalities.

Or to put it another way: If westerners had not started using fossil fuels to drive the industrial revolution, would the third world be better off today? Maybe they owe us?

Is that a form of "positive externality justice"? ;-)

"Alright, after crunching the numbers we find that you owe Jeff Bezos 200 dollars worth of positive externalities."


I'm sure that all my Amazon purchases have made him 200$ richer already :)

Seriously though: the link between fossile fuel consumption of the rich and negative outcomes on the poor is scientifically undisputed, whereas it is much harder to establish such causal links for positive externalities.

6 hr ago·edited 6 hr ago

I don't know about that, seems pretty obvious that economic activity generated by the rich also benefit the poor. It creates tax revenue and jobs for example.

The larger point is that compensating for positive and negative externalities would not necessarily make the world more equal or better. A few geniuses produce huge positive externalities while millions if not billions of people produce more negative externalities than positive.

You're a burden on your community because of disabilities, incompetence or lack of opportunities etc? Well, the community now owns your ass because of economic justice.

Meanwhile the soviet guys who stopped nuclear armageddon are presumably owed half the world.

Personally I tend to think in terms of maximizing utility rather than maximizing justice or fairness.

> seems pretty obvious that economic activity generated by the rich also benefit the poor.

Really? If I look at a country like DRC, where the majority of people is below the extreme poverty line, it is hard to imagine how these people benefit from the economic activity in rich countries. It's hard enough to establish how they benefit from targeted aid... Even harder to find a causal link for untargeted economic activity.

The opposite seems often true. You don't have to go far in DRC to find people who are being exploited by foreign mining companies... That's just one of many striking examples of economic injustice there. If you go back to colonial times, the picture gets even worse.

Finally, isn't economic justice great for maximizing utility? Given that an extra dollar goes further for a poor person than for a rich person, maximum utility is reached when wealth is evenly distributed

They trade with those rich countries and benefit from technology developed there. Before the industrial revolution population increases ate up any increases in food production, only thanks to the industrial revolution which started in the capitalist west has absolute poverty declined.

"Given that an extra dollar goes further for a poor person than for a rich person, maximum utility is reached when wealth is evenly distributed"

No, because that would remove incentives to create wealth and hand control of important assets to less competent people.

6 hr ago·edited 6 hr ago

I've got to say, the line "If they have to pay for negative externalities, they should also get paid for positive externalities" did make me stop and think. I will note that in practice, humans seem to not think that these are symmetrical. Pretty much every legal system lets you recover damages from someone who harmed you (in at least some contexts), while I don't know of anywhere that lets you sue someone you saved to recover a portion of the utility you provided them. And similarly you don't get a pass on assault charges if you also were the surgeon who cured your victim's cancer.

To be fair, we do offer subsidies for some things with positive externalities, such as green energy, food, and education. You might debate how well those are targetted, but an attempt is at least made

It would be an interesting system. Take that kid in China who got ran over by a car and nobody helped. What if a bystander knew he could get big bux for saving the kid? But then people would start faking near-deaths to make money, so maybe not so good.

"And similarly you don't get a pass on assault charges if you also were the surgeon who cured your victim's cancer."

Presumably he got paid for that already.

But is there a way to conclude for all or most members of the set "poor people" that there is never something wrong that requires fixing? If there is ever something wrong that needs fixing, and it is something immanent in the individual, does the need to fix it require that the poor person be at fault?

Incidentally, I would love to see some non-tautological evidence for the existence of "white fragility." Is it like phlogiston?

White fragility is more like presumed guilt, since the more you argue against an accusation of it, the more fragile you display yourself to be. It's inarguable and therefore unhelpful to bring into just about any discussion. And, of course, it's hopelessly racist.

Yes. I feel like there should be a term for this particular style of float-burn presumed guilt, but if there is I am insufficiently caffeinated to recall it.

I've heard "Kafkatrap" before.

Glad to read this understanding of failures of our resource distribution systems, and what justice could be ie an absence of marginalised and oppressed people denied access to fundamental requirements for a decent existence.

And how many of you glibly finger-wagging *are* "marginalised and oppressed people"? I see a lot of talking on their behalf by precisely the well-meaning white saviours which is decried by the 'justice for X" talk.

Maybe too loaded to answer. Yours, a white, marginalised and oppressed woman.

Oh, comes it to that, I can tally up a nice little list of marginalisation and oppression myself, but it's as artificial an exercise as the antipodal one of telling me I have more privilege and status than a famous wealthy African-American man, for instance, based purely on "you're white".

We'd really have to define terms. And time is too short for this.

5 hr ago·edited 5 hr ago

Not too short, however, for someone to trot out the "white fragility" accusation. The problem is one of definitions, and as someone has mentioned, definitions creep. "Racism" had a particular meaning, however limited or non-comprehensive it was, but now "racism, racist" just means "If you disagree with me you are a bad person".

So it's not black and white then...sorry. We attempt to be clear, we define out terms. Clearly to use labels whereby we exclude or decry a point of view, we have to be talking about the same thing. I'm just dead keen on fairness and justice -for all.

" To an SJA like myself, your article screams that you need to check your privilege because your white fragility is getting triggered"

And this is why I argue above that "X, Y or Z Justice" is a way of having your cake and eating it - you're certainly not clothing any naked or feeding any hungry by these buzzwords but my oh my, the bright comforting warm glow of virtue by scolding the naughty!

Now *you* can be the saviour swooping in to rescue us, mired in our ignorance and complacence, fixing us with your expertise on all the talking-points of social justice. Doesn't it feel just *yummy*?

You encapsulate precisely what I said about "saviours and saints" being regarded with suspicion, and about how being the Morality Police is the way of abrogating that virtue for yourself but in line with the new directives about not putting yourself up as a leader. It's different when you do it to outsiders, though, because it is recognised and agreed that *those* people (the fragile triggered whites) *do* have "something wrong with [them], that they need to be "saved" or "fixed."

Can you tell us what "people go hungry" means, in explicit detail? I assume you don't mean it literally, because most people are hungry sometimes. I was really hungry yesterday. Does it just mean "people don't have everything to eat that they'd like to eat"?

The dystopian comparison is not applicable, as there is Orwell and Huxley (and if you insist, Kafka and Phil K Dick). Orwell (or Kafka) deals with force and redistribution of power as "justice", Huxley (and likely PKD) deals with subverted utopias as "freedom". People are starting to forget about Huxley, whilst overly obsessing over Orwell. https://expressiveegg.org/2017/01/03/ur-kinds-dystopia/

Social justice, the first one of these I heard 20+ years ago, still doesn’t make sense to me. I read about it and it still sounds like white noise or laundered ideas passing as an excuse. What the professor said here: https://youtu.be/YQ-Upb4Szms

No more kicking the monkey !!!

Long ago, I asked what the difference was between social justice and justice. I never did get an answer.

[Attempting to create a steelman definition] 'Social justice' is the subset of justice regarding harms caused by societal causes, just as "criminal justice" is the subset of justice regarding harms caused by criminal causes. Criminal harms are easily covered under the law by definition, as the law is what makes something a crime; the law will specify some combination of restitution to the victim and punishment to the offender that constitutes 'justice'. Social harms are not as easily covered, often because society, and not an individual, is responsible for the harm.

As someone on the right, I don't like 'social justice' and its derivatives because the harms are often subjective and their causation is often indirect. When the cause of 'harm' is 'society', it's impossible to end up with a 'fair' result.

Alasdair MacIntyre, call your office. By which I mean: we can only frame ethics as justice because (as MacIntyre points out), we in the modern West lack a common vocabulary of virtues and values, which would (in his view) derive from a notion of the telos (purpose) of a human life. In the great religious traditions, justice is balanced with mercy (at least theoretically), but justice as SJW's use the term isn't the justice that Aristotle thought of as one of the virtues: it's a demand for intervention by some authority, not the practice of fairness towards another person. Mercy, on the other hand- at least, as I see it- can only be an individual virtue, but woke/Successor Ideology/SJW theory doesn't have any room for individual virtues, so all we have is justice without its necessary counterbalance.

I could be wrong about all of this, but I think MacIntyre has a lot to say about where things went off the rails.

I agree with the thrust of your point, especially regarding the "demand for intervention by some authority". But I disagree that we've really "lost the vocabulary" to discuss or promote these ideas. Not many study Ancient Greek, true, but I think we can express "τέλος" just about as effectively by talking about "the meaning of life", and we don't need to deeply understand Greek "ἀρετή" to communicate the idea of "virtue". There must be other reasons why those memes have lost their force, relative to "justice"-focused versions.

Indeed, the vocabulary still exists, but the concepts it refers to are devoid of shared meaning. Nobody agrees these days what the "meaning of life" or "virtues" are supposed to be, which is exactly the point.

Nitpicking here - justice is balanced with charity, mercy is the mingling of justice and charity. Mercy springs from charity and justice. However, charity is more than mercy and justice is more than law. Charity and justice are cardinal virtues, mercy is a secondary virtue. We nowadays tend to translate "faith, hope and charity" as "faith, hope and love", and love is a better way to think of charity, especially in relation to God.

Charity is first and primarily love of God which then conduces to love of our neighbour, justice is equality and equity between people as individuals and as members of society, and mercy is the principle which derives from both, spurred to love our neighbour as ourselves by charity and to repair deficiencies by justice.

Like many semantic shifts, I suspect this is because using the justice framing is more successful in arguments. People need to fulfill justice/obligations but want to be saviors.

Also, the idea of being any kind of hero has become seriously fraught. Most of us still dream of being praiseworthy paragons on some level, but even if you’re actually a selfless saint, once you’re recognized you can look forward to being scrutinized and torn apart for myriad reasons. Just wanting to feel like a good person is pathological now. You can never get goodness or virtue quite right on the front end, because all you really have are intentions, and any negative impact might be deemed to outweigh the good by someone somewhere.

As others have pointed out, we’ve lost a common language of morality such that no person or action can really be good. Instead, thinking you’re a good person is basically the root of all evil. This idea has been in the water supply a long time. No one wants to feel like their motive is to boost their ego, assuage their guilt, or serve some kind of savior complex. So we’ve had to find a way to rebrand our basic desire to be moral and pro-social beings with something that doesn’t feel like self-indictment.

The way "justice" is being used in this post implies something systemic, so beyond the level of an individual. When I think about "helping," I think about what I can do. It's neither justice nor being a savior. It's just the right thing to do.

12 hr ago·edited 12 hr ago

And to most people these days, you saying this means you MUST have some kind of sinister, scheming ulterior motive, like FEELING GOOD about the fact you did something good when you're supposed to instead feel constant scrupulous guilt at every waking moment over all the evils in the world and how you aren't doing enough to stop them.

I instead subscribe to the radical philosophy that it feels good to be good.

I agree! And your comment reminds me of the Talmudic maxim that while we as individuals are not responsible for healing the world, we are not free to desist from the task.

It seems like Marketing 101. Define the name of your movement in a way that makes it very difficult for your opponent to argue against it.

If I support more foobars and you support less foobars, we can have a sensible discussion about whether foobars are good or bad. Or, I could label the pro-foobar position as "Foobar Justice" and hold a big "Foobar Justice" rally. Now, in order to make the opposite case you need to either come out and say "I oppose Foobar Justice" or else attempt to make the case that "actually it's the less-Foobar position that's Foobar Justice".

But of course this is an asymmetric weapon, it only works for the sorts of people who have the sort of social power that allows you to redefine words; if you don't have all the journalists on your side then you're not going to be successful.

See also: "-phobe". You don't have to win an argument that bazqux is good, if you can simply label anyone opposed to is as a bazquxphobe, clearly motivated by an irrational fear of bazqux.

Foobar Justice made me giggle like an idiot for at least 15 seconds.

This vaguely grasps the vibe but not the essence. You can't just call whatever you want justice and expect people to accept it without a justification (pun intended). The reason why this "justice creep" is so memetically successful is becase there are indeed valid resons and arguments to look at some issues from this point of view. Same with -phobes. It doesn't replace the argumentation, it works as a link to it.

What happens when you actually try to replicate such vibe without having a propper justification can be very well seen in modern Russian propaganda. They keep talking about russiaphobes everywhere, keep claiming to be on the Right side of history, how current war in Ukrane is just, because they are fighting literal nazis brainwashing poor ukranians into hating Russia. How democracy and liberal values is just an ephemism for USA zone of influence and the West is just brainwashed by their own propaganda to notice it. And even people in Russia don't buy this crap. Well, some do but much less then in a counterfactual world where such claims standed to the scrutiny and russian media had any credence at all.

But what is the standard for whether "justice" or "phobe" makes sense, other than "I agree with the position"? The "valid reasons" appear to be entirely in the eye of the beholder.

You say "Russophobic" doesn’t make sense as a label for people who oppose the Ukrainian invasion, and I agree. But I feel the same way about applying "transphobic" to someone who thinks more honest research is needed on the long term effects and efficacy of puberty blockers.

You read the arguments, counter arguments and counter counter arguments, check multiple sources, listen to the experts in the field and people whose rationality and intelligence proved to be high, try to account for your own biases, use heuristics which proved to be successful in producing valid knowledge - you know, do the usual epistemology stuff.

Ironically, your comment proves it's incorrectness.

> The reason why this "justice creep" is so memetically successful is becase there are indeed valid resons and arguments to look at some issues from this point of view.

No, the reason it's so successful is that all major relevant institutions in the West (academia, entertainment, news outlets) are overwhelmingly left-wing. Sure, there a red bubbles of media, but I'm sure many here be the first to say OANN and Fox News are not good news outlets. (I think the same, incidentally)

> What happens when you actually try to replicate such vibe without having a propper justification can be very well seen in modern Russian propaganda. They keep talking about russiaphobes everywhere, keep claiming to be on the Right side of history, how current war in Ukrane is just, because they are fighting literal nazis brainwashing poor ukranians into hating Russia.

Reporting in the NYT or NPR or some random university's statements on relevant topics reads exactly the same to a conservative.

> No, the reason it's so successful is that all major relevant institutions in the West (academia, entertainment, news outlets) are overwhelmingly left-wing.

You are mistaking cause and effect here. Academia wasn't always left-wing. It wasn't somehow coerced to be left wing through violence. It became left-wing naturally due to the fact that leftist arguments were more persuasive.

That is a traditional "invisible hand" argument, and entirely orthogonal to the discussion at hand.

I don't see how it's orthogonal.

I claimed that substance is required, you said that just huge popularity is enough and I pointed that this popularity was achieved through substance.

If my last claim is wrong, then yours is valid, otherwise it's not. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

The existence of valid reasons for something doesn't necessarily imply that it's wrong. My point was that there is no dissenting voices in the mainstream, and therefore claims of e.g. "islamophobia" are not absurd to you (and many here) as "russophobia" or "christophobia". Whether that arose due to the arguments actually being better than counterarguments has not been established.

Er, imply that it's correct, rather

15 hr ago·edited 15 hr ago

One consequence of the excessive justice-speak is that it has, along with my predisposition towards contrarianism, made me skeptical of the concept of "justice" at all. Someone asked me about a year ago, why "justice" is an important virtue, and I realized it was a question I had never considered.

Surely it's important for a governing body's legitimacy: a government which does not uphold the commonfolk's expectation of justice will face social unrest. But among utilitarians, is there a reason to pursue justice as a first-order virtue? I can't summon an argument for it.

Well, if we're working with the standard definitions, your question has a clear answer. Among utilitarians, there's no reason to pursue anything whatsoever except utility as a first-order value.

With that said, most people have very strong primitive intuitions that justice (in some sense) is important. That's probably why thought experiments like Nozick's "Utility Monster" have been very effective arguments against strict utilitarianism. Motivated in large part by such arguments, many nominally-utilitarian philosophers have developed theories which build in distributive justice (and sometimes other factors like retributive justice) alongside utility, trading them off against each other in a way which doesn't result in those unpleasant conclusions.

Low social credit score?

Even from a strict numbers game point of view, I would prefer a world wherein all 10 billion people on the planet get 1000 utilons, than one where 9,999,999,999 people get 1200 utilons and one randomly selected poor bastard gets -10,000,000,000 utilons. This, I suggest, is the utilitarian version of justice.

Actually I think this point is the key to the question posed above. Because of human intuitions that justice/fairness are important, I think fairness should increase utility overall. In your hypothetical model, this would be something like everyone getting a 'bonus' 100 utilons just from the system being fair. Note that this is already the higher utility situation in your example, because you prefer it, demonstrating that you'd get extra utility from knowing you were in that world rather than the second world.

There's a fairly hard cap on how much this can help utilitarianism's inequality problem. Do people prefer a fairer world? Yes. Are they willing to give up their own resources to get there? Somewhat - but not usually to a great extent.

People regularly confront this question in the form of "should we pay more taxes so the state can provide more services?" And the most reliable way of getting people to vote "yes" is if you can tell them *other people* will be the ones primarily doing the paying. And virtually no one volunteers to pay more in taxes than they're required to - even though there's a box for that, at least in the US!

In general, most people would love to keep their full paycheck, even at a cost to social equality. I think this speaks to a mild preference for social equality, but a far stronger preference for having more stuff personally.

8 hr ago·edited 8 hr ago

So, I would prefer the second one personally. But I wouldn’t call it just. I think utilitarianism just doesn’t really care about justice. Also, isn’t this Olemas?

Also it’s worth noting that if you believe Christian lore, Jesus was unjustly killed so that we could go to heaven. Which is basically all of us getting extra utilitons for one person suffering horribly in some undeserved way

(1) I think you mean Omelas

(2) Why do you not call it just? What is your view, upon which you base the decision, that it is unjust for that one person to suffer such massive injustice? I think you have a point there, and that is a question that utilitarians need to answer, but I think it is a lot to assume that the philosophy doesn't care about justice - I imagine the very reason for it is that they believe it is the most just system by comparison with what we already have

(3) Theology of the Atonement is one version of the substitionary death of Jesus. In His own right, He was unjustly condemned, but by becoming human He paid the debt owed by humanity, which could never be paid by ourselves, for the punishment due to our disobedience and fall. By taking on human nature, He as man incurred that debt, and by dying paid it.


There are several different theories of the atonement, not just one, but whichever one is in favour at any particular time is a matter of how thought has developed at that time.


1) yea, good catch

2) Didn’t you just acknowledge in your question that the person suffered a massive injustice? I guess a system in which people suffer injustices isn’t a just system, almost tautologically. To more directly answer the question, I guess it feels not just, so I wouldn’t be confident in my ability to defend a label of "just" if I tried to attach it, and whether or not it has the "just" seal of approval seems a bit beside the point.

3) That’s interesting, I hadn’t heard that perspective. I’d never heard it phrased as him incurring the debt, rather it was always phrased as he chose to take on the debt by becoming human and dying on the cross. I’ll be curious to see what the pastor of my church thinks of that one

5 hr ago·edited 5 hr ago

I do believe in justice and injustice, but I imagine a utilitarian would ask, in return for "where is justice in your system?", "what makes you think there is such a thing as justice, what do you mean by just and unjust, where do you derive those?"

There's a couple of theories of the atonement and my particular understanding may be shaky, but it's that (1) mankind incurred the just (there's that word again!) penalty for our disobedience, which was separation from God (2) we could never, by our own efforts, pay that penalty (3) Christ assumed humanity to pay it for us as both True God and True Man. As truly man (and not divinity wearing a skin suit) He, a man like us in all things but sin, did not incur the penalty Himself but as part of general human nature which He shared. As perfect man, in perfect obedience to the will of God (see the Garden of Gethsemane), He paid the penalty for us in His own flesh by dying on the cross.

The vicarious satisfaction theory is not a merely judicial one (Christ pays the penalty like someone paying bail for another) but involves sacrifice, and there we get into the higher airs where my wings won't take me.


"But the appearance of St. Anselm's "Cur Deus Homo?" made a new epoch in the theology of the Atonement.

...Anselm's answer to the question is simply the need of satisfaction of sin. No sin, as he views the matter, can be forgiven without satisfaction. A debt to Divine justice has been incurred; and that debt must needs be paid. But man could not make this satisfaction for himself; the debt is something far greater than he can pay; and, moreover, all the service that he can offer to God is already due on other titles. The suggestion that some innocent man, or angel, might possibly pay the debt incurred by sinners is rejected, on the ground that in any case this would put the sinner under obligation to his deliverer, and he would thus become the servant of a mere creature. The only way in which the satisfaction could be made, and men could be set free from sin, was by the coming of a Redeemer who is both God and man. His death makes full satisfaction to the Divine Justice, for it is something greater than all the sins of all mankind.

...Thus the Greek Fathers, who delight in speculating on the Mystical Redemption by the Incarnation, do not omit to speak also of our salvation by the shedding of blood. Origen, who lays most stress on the deliverance by payment of a ransom, does not forget to dwell on the need of a sacrifice for sin. St. Anselm again, in his "Meditations", supplements the teaching set forth in his "Cur Deus Homo?" Abelard, who might seem to make the Atonement consist in nothing more than the constraining example of Divine Love has spoken also of our salvation by the Sacrifice of the Cross, in passages to which his critics do not attach sufficient importance. And, as we have seen his great opponent, St. Bernard, teaches all that is really true and valuable in the theory which he condemned. Most, if not all, of these theories had perils of their own, if they were isolated and exaggerated. But in the Catholic Church there was ever a safeguard against these dangers of distortion. As Mr. Oxenham says very finely,

'The perpetual priesthood of Christ in heaven, which occupies a prominent place in nearly all the writings we have examined, is even more emphatically insisted upon by Origen. And this deserves to be remembered, because it is a part of the doctrine which has been almost or altogether dropped out of many Protestant expositions of the Atonement, whereas those most inclining among Catholics to a merely juridical view of the subject have never been able to forget the present and living reality of a sacrifice constantly kept before their eyes, as it were, in the worship which reflects on earth the unfailing liturgy of heaven.'

...It will be enough to note here the presence of two mistaken tendencies.

The first is indicated in the above words of Pattison in which the Atonement is specially connected with the thought of the wrath of God. It is true of course that sin incurs the anger of the Just Judge, and that this is averted when the debt due to Divine Justice is paid by satisfaction. But it must not be thought that God is only moved to mercy and reconciled to us as a result of this satisfaction. This false conception of the Reconciliation is expressly rejected by St. Augustine (In Joannem, Tract. cx, section 6). God's merciful love is the cause, not the result of that satisfaction.

The second mistake is the tendency to treat the Passion of Christ as being literally a case of vicarious punishment. This is at best a distorted view of the truth that His Atoning Sacrifice took the place of our punishment, and that He took upon Himself the sufferings and death that were due to our sins."

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Of course people will disagree: some will prefer the second option. Winning overall utility just depends on more people preferring system 1 to a great enough degree that the system 2 people are outweighed.

Obviously I don't know that this would definitely be the case, but given that this seems to be a common objection to utilitarianism, it seems likely more people would prefer system 1. But maybe not! ‍♀️

Maybe it's cynical, but considering that we do live in an unequal world, and the vast majority of us on the top of the system do pretty little to correct it, that suggests to me that most people in Omelas would leave things the way they were.

Is a world where all people get 1000 utilons better or worse than a world in which the lowest person gets 100 utilons and the mean and median people get close to 1100 utilons? That uneven world is less fair, but is it definitely less just?

Our world isn't Omelas. We have multiple overlapping mechanisms in place to help those at the bottom of society, to the point where those mechanisms are often at cross purposes (for example, we want people to get mental help, but we don't want to force them into institutions to do so). That inefficiency wastes resources; it reduces the overall utilons available for society, if you use that logic. Some waste is unavoidable, but the closer you get to evenly distributed, the more resources you waste on trying to achieve balance and the worse everyone does.

That's very much how I see it. I'm not happy about large groups of people sitting at 100 utilons, and hope for ways to improve that. I am not in favor of a solution that brings the 100 group up to 500 by dropping the mean and median to, say 800. The total loss of utilons far outpaces the increase in that bottom group. Though it depends on specifics, I feel as though many attempts at doing that have actually resulted in that 100 group essentially staying at 100 (or alternately, a different group and that group switching places).

That's how I've seen the attempts at switching to communism. Willing to drop the mean/median to help the bottom, but only succeeding at dropping the mean/median without actually improving the bottom.

Among utilitarians there isn't a good argument against building a supercomputer that experiences functionally infinite utils and allowing it to turn the entire universe into computronium so it can experience more utils. Until Utilitarianism can actually give a good answer to utility monsters beyond desperately praying they can't exist in reality, I don't think it's going to have a future as the replacement for spiritual reasoning about ethics.

"Someone asked me about a year ago, why "justice" is an important virtue, and I realized it was a question I had never considered."

From the religious side of the question:


"St. Thomas in the Summa Theologiae understands the virtue of justice to be founded upon the notion of jus or right because, according to the classical definition of the virtue, it is by justice that one renders to another his due by a perpetual constant will. Justice directs man in his relations to others according to some kind of equality or rightness. This relation of rightness is what is meant by jus. It is a right that is due to other men, and it is this object which specifies the virtue. As such, it is logically prior to the virtue itself which perfects a man so as to render this object swiftly, easily and gladly. Hence Thomas treats the question of jus before he does that of justice.

The notion of jus then is a complex notion. It is a relation that at once incorporates equality and the fact that it is owed, or a debitum. These two poles of what is involved in the notion of jus, i.e. being equal because it is natural and being owed, seem to create an incoherent tension. All men are equal in being owed rights by others, which are their rights by nature as rational beings. By means of the jus, i.e. right, humans are related to each other as equals, since it derives from common human nature."

Even utilitarians have some notion of "actions that increase benefit and reduce harm". Justice means working out how that is decided, how they are apportioned, etc. How do we decide between benefit for A which may cause harm to B? Justice is involved there - does A have a *right* to that benefit? Is the harm to B greater than the benefit to A? Is there a case for permitting harm to B?

"Climate Justice" and "Environmental Justice" are well-defined terms with their own Wikipedia pages. I don’t get what you’re going for, Scott, talking about this as if you knew nothing about the concepts or about ideas of Justice other than criminal justice.

Should we discuss this by trying to fill in the missing context? Denouncing Justice as a woke concept? I have no idea.

For what it's worth, I was in the same position as Scott with regard to these words. I doubt it is that rare of a position to be in.

He’s discussing the labels on the map, not the topography of the territory.

I notice this phenomenon basically exclusively in left-wing cause areas, and I think it's because social justice, specifically, is about distribution not output. Outside of hardcore utilitarians, people don't think of the total quantity of a desired resource/welfare as something you can get right or wrong. Whereas whether a distribution is right or wrong is probably the first moral belief a person develops, e.g., try giving just one baby sibling candy. The word we have for what we are trying to achieve when we solve a distribution problem is "justice." People who are predominantly interested in solving distribution problems then overextend that paradigm, and so we end up with weird stuff like "reproductive justice," even though the top priority of its supporters isn't really to correct some distribution but to protect a right.

15 hr ago·edited 15 hr ago

The Justice trend likely also connects back to Critical Theory / Marcuse / the New Left. These guys were/are busy critiquing every aspect of The West in order to tear down the system. For each identified injustice it was only natural that a corresponding Justice movement be built up to further the cause of Revolution.

And let me add that Critical Theory, which is now pervasive in our culture, has no positive vision to build up, only (by definition) a criticism. So there can be no great deeds to memorialize, only wrongs to call out.

Yes. Needing justice means that there are "bad guys" preventing justice or promoting injustice. The 21st century is all about splitting the world into good-guy and bad-guy categories, assisted by our preferred sources of media and propaganda. The West is in a very bad spot.

The fun thing about this is that without the criminal justice connotations e.g. "climate justice" just means "the normatively correct policy towards climate" so being in favor of it becomes a tautology.

15 hr ago·edited 15 hr ago

This seems to be tied to a shift in worldview that I'm tempted to label "post-Christian": the "Christian" view (though, not exclusively held by Christians) is that we live in a fallen world, and while we should always strive for justice and loving our neighbor, we'll never achieve it on this side of eternity: the world is and always will be fallen. Evil is natural and good is the exception.

But the "justice-oriented mindset" (held by many good Christians) seems to come from (and encourage) a perspective where "utopia" is the default state and anything keeping us from utopia, is an injustice inflicted by perpetrators. It carries an expectation of perfection, and anything short of that is something to be angry about.

In short, it's a question of whether we live in rotten world where we still have the opportunity to do good, or in a good world that we have the 'opportunity' to mess up?

The first view encourages an admiration of "saints" and an equanimity towards "sinners" who are doing "no more than what you'd expect of them". The latter encourages a righteous anger towards sinners, with an apathy towards everyone else, who are doing "no more than what's expected of them".

(Just to be clear, I'm not trying to disparage Christians who believe in and support "X justice" - again Christians *are* supposed to strive for justice - but I think the frequently associated worldview of "Utopian Expectation" conflicts with a Christian worldview)

Slight correction; while the world is fallen, evil is *not* natural. Matter is not intrinsically evil, the creation was good and only tainted after the Fall. So good *should* be the rule, not the exception. It is the bad effects of the Fall which make us do what we know is wrong, or desire that which we know is not good for us.

> a perspective where "utopia" is the default state and

Justice, to a conservative christian, is defined as "getting what you deserve". Which is death/punishment, because everyone has sinned. Mercy is, then, "getting [a good thing] that you don't deserve." Mercy gets a huge focus these days, not so much the justice.

> anything keeping us from utopia is an injustice inflicted by perpetrators.

If you mean demons/Satan, sure. If you mean people, then no. And it's not an injustice per se, it's an action toward a negative end. Perhaps, if it's preventing someone from getting something good that they've earned it could be, but not generally, no.

> It carries an expectation of perfection, and anything short of that is something to be angry about.

Although perfection is the _goal_, Christians all recognize this as not being achievable. Hence.the mercy.

> whether we live in rotten world where we still have the opportunity to do good

This sounds like every Christian perspective I've experienced, save that you can do both good _and_ evil in the world. Or neither, alternately.

> a good world that we have the 'opportunity' to mess up?

I've never heard this position from conservative christians. Perhaps liberals might?

> first view encourages an admiration of "saints" and an equanimity towards "sinners" who are doing "no more than what you'd expect of them".

This is a fundamental (ha) misunderstanding. Christians generally are "saints" in the sense that our sins have (and are continually) being forgiven. Some branches have formal Saints, which is a different thing.

Sinners are not some class of people who always do evil, but rather are _everyone_. We are _all_ sinners in need of forgiveness. As such, one's _actions_ are good/bad/neither depending on some nebulous categorization. And one can be a "sinner" in that one consciously chooses the evil option. But you can still ask for forgiveness and be saved (yes, even Putin, but God would have strong words with him, especially if he continues choosing evil afterwards.)

"Love.the sinner, hate the sin" is not homophobic propaganda, but a fundamental outlook on how one is to treat people. You can -- and _should_ -- oppose evil _actions_, but still recognize that the person performing the action is also a child of God in need of forgiveness. Just like we all are.

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