I love the movie Minority Report, so much I can even tolerate Tom Cruise. The futuristic 2054 set sci-fi movie envisions a pre-crime unit, made up three pre-cogs who can anticipate crime psychically. This idea, in a sense, reveals a modern problem: justice is always too late. This movie is a response to this problem and experiments with a justice system that is not-too-late. It’s actually right on time. Thanks to the psychic pre-cogs, intervention arrives moments before the moment of crime—the “event”. And so the event never was. This, however, creates all sorts of new problems. Since the “event” did not happen, can a justice system response be truly justified? Can it be confidently be said that the crime would not have happened?

For many of us, justice is always too late. Way too late. The “event” in question has occurred, and no pre-cogs have sent cops in advance of it—here we are, with all of the aftermath and left searching for justice.

It is the absence of this thing called “justice” that calls it into being. Injustice, I believe, is an absence; justice, I believe, is the natural order of things. Justice is a presence.

It could be further said, that justice reveals the natural order of things. It is crucial to admit that most of the time, the natural order of things is unknown to us. We are living outside of it. It is unconscious space. This is precisely where we are invited when faced with injustice: the unknown.

The search for justice, in a way, is societies way of dealing with an absence of justice. To do so, we take a present remedy and equate it with a past crime and call it “justice”. Historically, this has been called the “moral equilibrium” and some call it “retributive justice”—either way, I’m not sure it works. If you have ever said I hope s/he gets what s/he deserves you are at least familiar with the idea. Justice, in this model called “justice as fairness,” is supposed to balance things: a past wrongdoing is balanced by a present (often punitive) remedy.

I don’t think it works, as:

  • Many go through the court process and never obtain what they believe to be fair, anyway;
  • Fairness is perceived, and therefore quite personal. Although there is some effort to design one, there is no universal standard of “fairness”;
  • No equivalence exists between the “event” and the “remedy”—persons and communities impacted by the “event” make take years or lifetimes to heal, regardless of the outcome of a court process;
  • It is better to say “justice is never done” than “justice is achieved” so not to delegitimize the experience of the person who is impacted by the event.

Finding Justice in the process of Grief

Only in grief is the magnitude of the event legitimized—hence, the process is long, drawn-out, and tiring. Emotional pain felt when grieving reveals that justice has high demands—it will not be minimized, “settled,” or otherwise dealt with cheaply.  Grief gives significance to an event rather than equate it with a remedy, falsely. Even though many accept punitive remedies as justice, grief itself is not satisfied by punishment. It requires something else; this “otherness” I believe is what “justice” truly is. It points to what we do not know, and draws from the unconscious to bring forth something truly satisfying. Through the process of grieving, justice is revealed. Another way to say this is grief reveals the “natural order of things” or “the conditions of justice” or contains a “vision of a new world”. Attention to human emotion in grief draws this unconscious vision into consciousness.

Grief, then, accomplishes something somewhat miraculous—except to quantum physicists and philosophers who understand that the space-time continuum can be bent. It achieves justice in both a past and present sense.

First, it makes that past present in emotion, thus revealing morality (and thus, reveals, what justice is).

It is my suspicion that over time, maybe hours, days, years, and even one’s lifetime—remedies equivalent to the crime can be achieved. This is the work of grief; not punishment.

Second, it demands a new ordering of the present to reflect what justice is. The vision of justice is contained in grief and revealed though the ongoing processing of human emotion.

To create a full circle—grief dips into the unconscious to draw forth what has been historically absent. In doing so, grief calls forth a new present: justice.

Finding Justice