Monday, April 20, 2009


Every so often, I read something that really forces me to examine a preconceived notion. This article by David Friedman (quoted in it's entirety) is one such time.

If you want war, work for justice

I think it is a more plausible slogan than the usual version. If you and I disagree because I want an outcome more favorable to me and you want an outcome more favorable to you, there is room for compromise—as we see whenever people bargain over the price of a house. But if we disagree because I see what I want as just and the alternative as unjust and you see it the other way around, compromise looks to both of us like moral treason.

Consider the issue, currently a live one in Europe, of whether people should be fined for saying or writing things critical of Islam. For those who support the traditional liberal view, agreeing to a fine of five hundred dollars instead of a thousand dollars isn't a solution—any punishment at all is an intolerable violation of free speech. For some orthodox Muslims, on the other hand, permitting people to slander the Prophet is clearly unacceptable; if the government will not impose a fine large enough to stop such an outrage, it is up to the believers to stop it themselves.

That, I think, is part of the nature of beliefs about justice—they are absolute, bright edged, in a way in which preferences are not. The point is summed up in the Latin phrase Fiat justicia, ruat coelum—let justice be done though the sky falls.

Those whose bumper stickers read "If you want peace, work for justice" simply take it for granted that there is no question what is just; if you want to find out, just ask them. The problem with the world as they see it is merely that other people are insufficiently virtuous to act accordingly.
IMHO, this is spot on. I just took it for granted that peace requires justice. Now, to be fair, I do think that there is a lot of unanimous ideas of right and wrong. But not all of it is unanimous, and there's a great deal of disagreement on some topics, like abortion. I'm sure you can easily come up with others.

And this reminds me of some of the things that Rob Bell talks about in Velvet Elvis, e.g. brickianity.

I love it when I can find things that are surprising, but persuasive enough that I'm forced to think differently. Very cool.


Niffer said...

I finally had enough time to actually read this (more like enough energy - it's been hard for me to stay awake for anything these days).

I LOVED this. I had never thought about it from that perspective before either. You're right. It's really cool when you read something that makes you rethink an opinion you've always had, or one that you've always taken for granted.

Thanks for sharing!

mjh said...


After having thought about it for a bit, I think that this may have changed my mind less than I initially thought. I think I may have already been skeptical of the phrase, "If you want peace, work for justice." I'm remembering that I frequently had a reaction to seeing that bumper sticker. Specifically, I would want a definition of "justice". In other words, I think I suspected that I was not likely to agree on that definition.

So what I think this article did for me was put logic around my skepticism. It may not have actually changed my mind.

Thanks for the comment.

Niffer said...

I think I'm in the same boat, because I've never liked the bumper sticker either. However, regardless of how much it may have (or may not have) changed my mind about a topic, it's always nice to read something that gets you to rethink an opinion. You may come to the same conclusion as before, but I think it's a good exercise for us to do - re-evaluate our beliefs to make sure they still make sense and are what we would decide if we were to make the decision for the first time today.

mjh said...

Can't argue with that.

Niffer said...

With your list of books off to the side of your blog, can you change the description? I'd like to include a list of Ellie's favorite books on my blog but I want to also include a short reason of why they're our favorites.

mjh said...

Yes you can. I configured my widget to say "My Bookshelf". But you can call it whatever you want. You can also create more than one widget. Sign up w/weRead. It's free and pretty cool. It also links into facebook. So I can link to my friends bookshelves and suggest books to them or get suggestions from them.

Niffer said...

Let me reword my question. Can you change the description of each individual book? The reviews under your books seem to be the standard ones you might see on Amazon. I want to display my own.

mjh said...

Oh. No. I didn't select that. I chose the books, but not what's said about them. I can choose to not have any description at all but I can't choose the description.

You can, however, go to each book and provide a specific review of that book. But there's no way (that I know) to get that review to show up in the widget.

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