Thursday, May 19, 2016

Write about Justice #My500Words #227

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

- George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945)

I saw an animated movie version of Animal Farm by Halas and Batchelor (1954) when I was young - I remember crying when Boxer was being driven off in a van to the knacker's yard near the end of the movie. I was young and had no understanding of what George Orwell was writing about in his novel "Animal Farm". Even later in the 1970s when I read the book (it was on the English Leaving Certificate reading list) I don't think I understood what the book was really about. The whole movie is available on YouTube here. According to information on the YouTube page the CIA "paid for the filming" as is was "part of the U.S. cultural offensive during the Cold War". If you grew up in the 1960s and 1970s the Cold War was always in the background - the Communist/Capitalist debate raged for decades. Propaganda would have us believe that in socialist USSR, where everybody was "equal", there was no justice. And of course - we all had justice in the West.

I don't think anybody really believes in Injustice - I don't imagine someone getting up in the morning and saying to themselves: "I'm going to be unjust today". Our legal justice system is based on an "Innocent until proven guilty" foundation - even a cold blooded murderer, caught in the act with blood on his hands standing over the dead body shouting "die you bastard", gets justice in our courts. Recently there has been a lot of coverage of the "Justice for the 96" Liverpool fans who died in Hillsborough in 1989. I remember watching this unfold on TV and being horrified at what went on. Just four years earlier I attended the Ireland vs Italy friendly soccer match in Dalymount Park (5th February, 1985), and got caught up in the crush when the gates were opened due to over-crowding. I was terrified. I was one of the few who had a ticket to the match, but this was never checked for as the FAI opened the gates and thousands poured in. Many in the Justice for the 96 campaign feel they will not have final justice until someone, preferably Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, faces a day in court. To many justice, is served by the "unlawful killing" verdict from the enquiry, for others this is not enough.

It is not easy to determine what the right thing to do is - we all think that we would instinctively know the difference between right and wrong. I know it is wrong for me to steal a loaf of bread from the shop - and that I could be fined or even end up in jail for doing so. But what if a starving man with no money does the same thing to feed his starving family. Is it just that he be fined or end up in jail?

One of the topics that I cover in some of my classes is "Ethics in Technology". I usually start out with asking the class what ethics is and would they always know what the right thing to do is. Usually I get a positive response to this question. Then I tell them the story of a runaway train bearing down on five railway workers, and ask them what would they do if they were the driver. Would they turn the train down a siding (where there is only one railway worker) or do nothing and let the train kill the five workers? Mostly the class will opt for the siding under the Utilitarian Principle of "the greater good". This story is taken from an on-line lecture series, "Justice", by the brilliant Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard University - he opens the first lecture with this story (see the first five minutes in the video below). But what happens next? Just when you think you know what you would do in this situation, Prof Sandel goes on to develop this story, and others, to show how hard it is to answer the question "What's the  right thing to do?"

I highly recommend Prof Sandel's lecture series on "Justice" - it's the only series of on-line lectures that I have viewed from start to finish.

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