Justice as Arbiter: Educating for Moral Authority, Legitimacy, and Credibility


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

“While the task is not upon thee to complete, neither art thou free to desist from doing your part.”
Rabbi Tarphon, 200 CE


This paper is about justice! The term “justice” is widely used in our daily life in media, politics, economic, and religion sectors. This has resulted in surplus meaning, and perhaps a dulling of its implicit power as a historical force. There can be no doubt “justice” is an enduring human virtue and value. History reveals our earliest efforts to define human nature considered “justice” among core concepts. This speaks to the importance of the concept, and to the timeless efforts to position justice in our individual and collective well being. Now, as we enter a rapidly accelerating global era of interdependency, justice emerges as critical concern each day. Amidst the turmoil and turbulence — amidst the social upheavals, violence, wars, and endless accusations of who is responsible for the chaos – there is an essential need for a moral arbiter for our actions.

Can justice be that arbiter? If not, what other mandate can be used as victims fall in desperation and death beneath the onslaught of powerful national and corporate interests? It is clear “justice” systems have become corrupt and subject to the influence of the wealth, power, and position. Can justice be salvaged as a word, symbol, and arbiter for action? This article explores this question, not as an attempt to identify and proclaim the endless abuses – injustices — but as an effort to improve our understanding of justice, and as an effort to advance justice as a moral authority for individual and collective (i.e., political, economic, social, cultural) actions. This article will not resolve the issue of injustice; it may, however, raise consciousness about the critical need for an arbiter with deep cultural roots across the world, and a possible shared value for pursuing global peace.

The Nature of Justice

Justice is a sacred word! In its various translations, it appears in some of our most ancient texts (e.g., Code of Hammurabi, Judaic Law, Roman Justinian Codes, Islamic Law [Quran]). This should not be surprising, for justice refers to fairness, equality, equity, civility, parity, love — all of which are timeless and enduring human virtues and values.   Implicit within all of these virtues – and perhaps all others — is the foundation of life itself – the connectedness of all things. This connectedness is a premise in all religions and philosophical discourses, and it reflects the awe and reverence which we have as we witness and experience the beauty, complexity, and mysteries of life (Marsella, 2011 a,b).

But what is the wellspring of justice — this “crowning glory of virtue?”   Why is it that both learned and desperate voices across the centuries have sought it, spoken of it, and died for it? In my opinion, justice has evolved as a human imperative from the earliest days of our existence. Justice, for me, is a biological and social imperative inscribed, I believe, anatomically and physiologically within the human brain and social mind. It is the wellspring of our human social glue and bonding. It is that special impulse that awakens in each of us a sense of alarm, indignation and resistance when justice is denied — when we, or others, are not given our due (e.g., Corning, 2011, Sen, 2013, Valkoch, 2013).

Evolutionary biology research supports the view that the time-honored biological premise of the primacy of self interest, as reflected in the “survival of the fittest” paradigm, may be a seriously erroneous assumption. This view is described in a science news release (http://bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23529849) specifically claims evolution does not favor selfish people (i.e., people who place their interests first, and before the interest of others). And it is here, for me that justice emerges as the most important virtue among the virtues that have endured across time, and that have gathered our respect and admiration.

Indeed, I can imagine, as have others, Charles Darwin pondering about the importance of “serving the collective” as he viewed insects following their reflexive task of supporting colonies at individual expense. While all organisms pursue survival — and this is reflected in their self interest — their survival may be best served when there is cooperation and assistance from others. In other words, the greatest opportunity for an organism’s survival resides not in self-serving actions that interfere with community harmony and perpetuation, but in actions that preserve the social connections so assistance can be available and promoted.

There are certainly many examples of the survival-of-the-fittest rooted in an organism’s selfishness and self interest. This is true for nations as well. Yet, there are also countless examples of humanitarian, selfless, and self sacrificing acts — some at the cost of life itself — that argue there is something more in our human nature (i.e., ontological nature) supporting a human disposition and inclination to seek and nurture justice. Homo Lupo Est — Man is a wolf! But we are also creators of cultures, institutions, societies that promote harmony, equality, and opportunity. Altruism is also part of our nature (e.g., Rawls, 1971: Valkoch, 2013). This too cannot be denied! And extensive research supports this aspect of our nature in which “justice” appears to be firmly rooted and sustained amidst the chaos that denies its presence.

For me, justice is the recognition of the deeply felt truth — the intuitive awareness — the human species can survive and fulfill its potential best as the conscious expression of the cosmic life force. We are, as human beings, ultimately, part of the cosmos itself, and our ability to understand and accept our connections to it and the interdependencies that it engenders is the essence of justice. I choose to see separation and unity as the central principle of our cosmos – fission and fusion – separation for variation and convergence for unity. Of all the principles of physics that we hold, fission and fusion are at the heart of creation and are repeated in every aspect of life. Justice, as I now conceive it, is a representation of these principles in human life (Marsella, 2011a).

It is clear we are capable of both violence and destruction for selfish aims. We have an enormous capability for violence and destruction born of our own personal selfishness; but we also have the capability for caring, nurturing, and pursuing justice. There are genetic, anatomical, and social potentials for both of these expressions of our humanity. What is critical, however, is whether we can create life contexts that will nurture the positive potential of our human nature, while containing the negative aspects. Consider the obvious fact that amidst all of the violence, destruction, and wars at human hands, we also were capable of creating collective governance ideas and ideals in support of justice, including the Declaration of Independence, The Declaration of Human Rights, The Gettysburg Address, the Biblical Beatitudes, and the founding charter of the United Nations.

These documents are inspiring in their prose, breathtaking in their intent and consequence! They leave us filled with awe and wonder at our human potential. Our eyes tears when we hear or read their words because they inspire the deepest roots of our human identity — the recognition we are part of the larger cosmic order of life. In those moments, we are aware we are embedded in an existence much larger than our separate being. We are alive, conscious of a greater purpose and identity, buoyed by those whose lives have served as models for the possible, even as the impossible asserted its presence.

Using the intent of President Abraham Lincoln’s 19th Century Gettysburg Address words as a guide, we are now embarked on a great struggle for the survival of life as selfish interests pursue domination, control, and supremacy. Amidst the destruction, expressed most clearly in its evil intent and malice, is the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) (Use your search engine to locate the Wikipedia Article, The PNAC deleted its material). In its reports, signed by avidly by some of the most notable neo-cons of our day, we can see the opposite of the evolutionary drive for survival via collective identity and assistance. We witness a denial of justice – an intentional effort to remove it as an impulse and idea, in favor of a consolidation of special interests in a hegemonic American Empire. This view stands in opposition to the cries for justice heard around the world. The world does not belong to an empire for abuse and exploitation! The world belongs to no individual, society, or nation.

Contemporary voices of peace and non-violence (e.g., Christopher Hedges, Antonio C.S. Rosa, Noam Chomsky, Mairead Maguire, Thomas Plante, Daisaku Ikeda, Johan Galtung, Haaheo Guanson, Howard Zinn, Marc Pilisuk, Glenn Paige, Evelin Lindner, Code Pink, and scores of others) warn of the dire circumstances of actions driven by the PNAC neo-con mentality and ideology seeking to establish the United States of America as the political, economic, and cultural super- power for the 21rst Century. This is an atavistic and anachronistic response for our times, serving only a limited few at the expense of the many. We live in a global era! Individuals can pursue self interests, but they must not do so at the expense of the suffering of others. War, violence, murder, genocide – evil!

Justice as Arbiter

There can be no doubt the USA’s military, political, and economic power is capable of establishing the USA as a global empire — a Hobbesian Leviathan — looming over others and dictating the future according to its selfish national interests. But, that is the issue! In doing so, the USA is assuring its demise and collapse because of the concentration of self interest must eventually lead to a totalitarian consolidation – a global totalitarian state that exceeds USA influence. Already, uprisings around the world are emerging from the natural human impulse, inclination, and penchant for responding to injustice with justice? This is the very source of terrorism across the centuries. Who is the terrorist?

The National Security State in the United States and its permutations among its allies — argued by selective government and corporate sectors as a defense for national security – is, tragically, the biggest threat to national and international security. It alienates masses across the globe by it oppression and repression, while protecting concentrated sectors of wealth, power, and position, and while increasing their ability to control and dominate others. Imagine the scope of intrusions in individual and collective privacy that the surveillance, monitoring, and archiving of every person’s life from birth to death. Total control and domination by public and private forces is the reality we face.

Global protests against abuses of power condemning individuals and populations to a felt sense of powerlessness and meaning are an obvious signs, symbols, and signals of mass discontent. Unfortunately, the protests are assuming violent proportion in the face of complete oppression. The USA is embarked on a path that is lacking in the moral authority derived from human evolution. The USA is pursuing self-destruction! The challenge for the United States of America and its allies is whether or not we can respond as individual citizens and powerful nations to the pressures of our global era of inter-dependency. This situation raises the issue of our willingness to accept this reality, and to accommodate to its evolutionary imperative.  National and international law and principles of non-violence must be used to halt this effort to establish an empire rooted in selfish interests. Justice must be our arbiter.

Justice, our felt sense of connection and responsibility to others, stems from an inborn impulse that supports and sustains our collective life. From this impulse, arises awe, compassion, empathy, love, altruism, and selflessness – these are positive or transformative human emotions. Perhaps we can say that the natural impulse is justice — equity and fairness for all — and that it is only when this impulse becomes frustrated or denied, that violence emerges. Justice exists when our individual welfare and well-being is extended to the welfare and well-being of the collective. In doing so, we expand our individual and collective identity, consciousness, purpose, and potential for contributing to the advancement of life – not only human life, but life in the broadest sense of the word, as the force that animates the universe and that emerged in the instant of the creation of our cosmos. No one has written more cogently about the need to do the right thing than Thomas Plante (Plante, 2009). His arguments, or rather persuasive rhetoric are essential reading.

Types of Justice

We need to understand the nature and meaning of justice. Justice is more than a word to be used without awareness of its nature and implications.   Justice is the core of human nature and societal development. Recent research suggests the existence of inherent neurobiological impulses for pursuing justice. Justice is coded in our nervous system to assure human survival and evolution. Because of its significant and crucial presence, function, and consequence for humanity, justice must be considered the arbiter for our individual and collective behavior — the moral foundation of our behavior, laws, and social formations and societal structures.

Knowledge and practice of justice is an essential educational goal for our times. It is the foundation virtue for the transformation and growth of person, society, and nation. The emerging interdependences of our global era require every effort be made to assure the needs and concerns of people throughout the world are pursued according to justice. In our globalized interdependent world, massive asymmetries in wealth, power, and position do not foster justice.

  1. Patterns of Justice

Although the word “justice” is reflexively associated with fairness and equality — a level playing field — there are different kinds of justice. Justice as fairness and equality, especially in political, economic, social, and legal realms, is termed “distributive justice.” Fairness and equality in the process of distributing justice is termed “procedural justice,” meaning that the inequities and abuses may be both tolerated and accepted if the pursuit of the justice process has been fair. However, in those instances when fairness has been violated, and victims become apparent in the distribution and/or process of justice, efforts can be made to provide “restitution,” via (1) apologies, (2) financial compensation, (3) promises or contracts to never engage in the offensive behavior in the future, or (4) other means of “restoring” fairness.   This is termed “restorative justice.” In some cases, as occurs as result of criminal acts, or acts of violence and war, the restoration of fairness may call for and elicit a demand or requirement for punishment, revenge, and reprisal for the suffering and pain. This is termed “retributive justice” (e.g., Rawls, 1971).

  1. Social Justice

The term “social justice” refers to social context of justice, especially those societal and cultural conditions that may limit or eliminate any possibilities for individual and/or collective justice.   In the most popular use of the term, “social justice” is concerned with those institutional forces (i.e., expressed or unstated policies, practices, and ideological attitudes/intentions) that fail to foster and sustain justice. And here a note of caution is needed, for it must be noted that while the concept of justice has ancient origins and appears to be evident via inherited codes of behavior, contemporary events have changed the cultural and historical contexts which gave justice — especially “social justice, its powerful meaning (e.g., Rawls, 1971).

Peter Corning (2011), in his recent volume entitled the “Fair Society,” seeks to recover the ethic and ethos of solidarity and concern for social justice. He calls for a new bio-social contract:

“A Truly voluntary bargain among various (empowered) stakeholders over how the benefits and obligations in a society are to be apportioned among the members” that is “grounded in our growing understanding of human nature and the basic purpose of a human society” (Corning,2011).

Historical Roots of Justice

The history of human concern for justice can be traced to the earliest days of written and spoken reflections on human purpose — those explorations into creation, meaning, and behavior. For example, the era of the fabled Rig Vedas (Wisdom of the Verses) of ancient India which dates to 5000 BCE, and the Aryan people of the time. (Not White Aryans associated with the term in Nazi German). The Rig Veda is one of the oldest sacred texts of in the world, consisting of 10,552 verses (collected into 10 books) of hymns and mantras. Its origins — that is the sources of its writings — are unknown, but its topics and concerns continue to be pan-human as they extend across millennia and various geographical locations and regions in exacting their influence on religions and philosophies (http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/texts/vedas.htm). The Hindu religious and cultural traditions that have emerged from these writings give justice a position of priority in understanding both human nature and the qualities of a moral and ethical person who is in harmony with the human and natural world (Dharma, 2012).)

Concerns for justice are also found in the texts of ancient societies in the Middle East such as Babylonia, Mesopotamia, and ancient Israel. For example, in some of the codes that go back to 2500 BCE, there is considerable concern for the poor, widows, orphans, and the care of the weak. In a hymn to the god Shamash, praise is lavished upon the god for his upholding justice: “You create justice for the weak, give justice to the orphan girl, the weak you make a hero, the insignificant you make rich (Malchow, 1996, p. 1).

Later, the prophets of ancient Israel — Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah — during the period between 760-580 BCE, advanced Israel’s first substantive calls for social justice., something which Israel would do well to acknowledge in its governance today. It is noteworthy all the ancient prophets were educated and wealthy (Malchow, 1996, pp. 31-49). The prophets attacked the injustices of the legal system and the inequities of wealth. For example, Isaiah (10:1-2) wrote: “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice” (Malchow, 1996, p. 37). Advocacy of justice in the Old Testament is frequent as presented in the Book of Job (29:11-17), in which Job speaks of his efforts to bring justice to those about him in need:

. . . I delivered the poor who cried, and the orphan who had no helper. The blessing of the wretched came upon, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it was clothed with me, my justice was like a robe and turban. I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger, I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made them drop their prey from their teeth (Malchow, 1996, p. 71).

Ancient Rome, with its concerns for law, order, and civility manifested a considerable interest in the concept of justice resulting in the famous Justinian Code (Corupus Iurus Civilis) developed in 535 CE at the behest of the Roman Emperor Justinian. This code is the foundation of much of Western law and begins with the statement: “Justice is the constant and perpetual wish to render every one his due.” Thus, justice requires the distribution of both “the benefits and the burdens of society.” Justice has been recognized as the hallmark of a civilized society through the ages. Cicero (106-43 BCE – Marcus Tullus), the ancient Roman Orator and philosopher said: Justice is the crowning glory of the virtues.” Only my ignorance keeps me from knowing better the Islamic sources for expounding justice. I am sure they are present, and spoken with great eloquence, as Islam is founded on principles of justice and equality.

The Quandary of Globalization

History informs us – compels us – to consider justice, to hold it before us as an arbiter of our individual and collective actions. It is difficult to do so amid the spectrum of forces and events that impinge upon us, asking us to compromise in favor of self-interests. Ultimately, justice is tied to power.   The distribution of power is both a source of injustice, and an answer to righting the wrongs committed. Encouraging a sharing of power, or minimally, a redistribution of power is a critical possibility facing our nation and the world at this time. We now live in a global era, an era in which “interdependency” has become the hallmark of well being. Our interdependency, denied for too long, is now beings rushed into our lives by globalization (e.g., Marsella, 2012)

Globalization, the process and product of transnational and borderless communications, financial transfers, and military alliances and pacts, has created new levels of “interdependency” among the world’s people. This interdependency has created opportunities, but it has also encouraged conflicts, violence, envy, frustration, and criticism as the issue of “justice as fairness” has too often been sacrificed for the personal, societal, national, and regional interests of those in power. Indeed, it is more accurate to term the current process and product of globalization, “hegemonic globalization” because the controls for change are reside within the power of a few nations (e.g., USA, UK, France, Germany, Israel, Japan) who pursue their selfish national interests at the expense of others. More than sixteen years ago, Tehranian and Reed (1997) called attention to the emerging consequences of “hegemony.”

Globalization from above and indigenization from below have resulted in a clash of cultures unparalleled in history. In sharp contradiction to the traditional views holding nature and human relationship as sacred, hegemonic globalization considers them as commodities. Resistance to hegemonic globalization is thus expressing itself in a variety of complex forms including localist, ethno-nationalist, pan-nationalist, regionalist, environmentalist, feminist, and religious movements. . . . Tensions between democratic and hegemonic forms of globalization are a prevailing feature of our own era. (Tehranian & Reed, 1997, p. 1).

Military and financial power control and dictate the “hegemonic globalization” process. For example, the fierce competition for energy resources, financial stability, and political domination is visible in the United States decision to confront China by limiting Chinese presence in Central Africa under the guise of helping the Congo area battle a war lord, and by moving USA troops from Europe to the Pacific Region to surround China Much as we did in Europe with Russia (e.g., Guzman, 2013; Reed, 2013). Amid this frantic game of global control and domination, we face a critical decision regarding the arbiter of our actions. We can choose to abandon justice as an arbiter or we can grasp the responsibilities that justice in the presence of power, brings to us.

Justice Today

The recognition and acceptance of connectedness brings with it a responsibility to position “justice” as the arbiter of our actions, for it is “justice” that prizes the connectedness of all life, and insures its growth and development. Because of this, every effort must be made to raise consciousness about the nature of “justice, and its essential role in promoting and enhancing life at all levels. When justice is ignored, or abused, when injustices abound, the interwoven fabric of life is threatened, and the world as a place of harmony and balance is in risk.

This, unfortunately, is the situation for the world today. Injustice abounds, and those in positions of power in government and corporations are hesitant to address the massive global problems arising from injustice, too often remaining indifferent and unconcerned for the consequences of their actions.

The writer and peace advocate, Rebecca Solnit, the popular author, cited the Chinese scholar, Confucius, in calling attention to understanding the use and meanings of a word. This is especially true for the word “justice.” Confucius wrote:

“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”

Because globalization is presenting the world with challenges to “justice,” every effort must be made to understand the nature of justice in a global era, and to promote justice as an arbiter for domestic, national, and international policies and practices. This concept paper calls for increasing our knowledge and awareness of justice by positioning justice as a central or core value of education via the curriculum and related educational activities.

Three Examples of Injustice

But lest my words be too abstract, and the tangible meanings of “justice” be lost or minimized, I will point out a few examples of abuses of justice occurring in our world, especially those in which the power of the United States government and its various political, economic, and social interests and established traditions, are a major source. The list, of course, is extensive. But consider, for a moment, the following three examples of injustice that are sustained and perpetuated, even as the abuses are recognized and acknowledged as egregious offenses. There are so many, these are only examples:

  • Farm Labor Example: Is there anyone who does not recognize that Latino laborers in the fields of California and Florida are compelled to work under tragic conditions of heat, toxic substances, indecent housing, and abusive hours for minimal pay. The conditions and circumstances are violations of human dignity and worth. Men, women, and children are victims. And we must ask openly, who would do the offensive and difficult work that Latinos do in fields, slaughter houses, and construction. And yet, our politicians have the audacity to call for building walls along national borders, imprisonment and isolation of border crossers, and controls on whom may be granted citizenship after years of birth and achievement of in the USA. The failure to recognize that the USA is a nation of immigrants, and that immigrants offer much talent and labor for the national good. The work of the civil rights activist, Caesar Chavez (1927-1993), who organized field workers, and who encouraged labor strikes for justice continues, but so do the abuses and indignities. The Latino workers – citizens and non-citizens are too often victims of prejudice and laws that are major sources of injustice, as evidenced in the border crisis.
  • Iraq Invasion Example: The illegal and unjust invasion of Iraq by the United States under the guise of “weapons of mass destruction” is now well known to have been a facade more concerned with establishing USA hegemony in the area for control of oil and for the protection of political interests. Iraq, today, is in shambles, and deaths mount as struggles between religious factions and the interference of foreign political powers continue. As civilization, nation, and people, the very identity of Iraq’s history has been destroyed, as millions died, and millions were forced to seek refuge from the social upheaval. Even as our involvement as a nation is illegal and immoral, yet no one in government has been prosecuted. The Iraq invasion offered the West a foothold in the entire North African and Middle Eastern regions. Is this anything other than an abuse of power — an example of injustices brought as the virtues of democracy and liberty are pronounced as the motives for invasion and occupation have created a death trap for millions even as the USA entered and killed for no reason beyond greed and the self-interest. And now we witness the seeds of Iraq’s decimation and collapse, as well that of neighboring nations. Cui Bono?
  • National Security State: The United States of America, in cooperation with public and private national and international leaders and forces, developed a national security system that conducts complete and total surveillance, monitoring, and archiving of all people. These activities are   conducted under the protection of various congressional acts (e.g., Patriot Act, FISA, DHS) offering “legal” justification, even as there are massive violations of laws, regulations, privileges, and traditions. Using fear of terrorism as an excuse, there is now an expanded network of government and private resources that gather information on all internet (email, social networks), telephone communication parameters and content, purchases, medical information, automobile travel and other transportation, and historical and developmental information. Everyone’s medical, financial, and private lives are now in control of an elite.

These activities are being done on everyone around the world, and they are being done in cooperation with private companies (see Project Infra-Guard, global search engines and telephone companies) and foreign nations (i.e., recent admissions by governments of UK, France, and Germany). It is an excess that permits control and domination of citizens and constitutes an abuse of human rights and liberties. Using high technology equipment and methods (e.g. drones, lasers, microwaves, communication and information processing and storage) and collaboration of human spies and information providers, we are faced with abusive methods and processes under government approval and authorization.

The end result is assassination, imprisonment, entrapment, reputation destruction, and other forms of destruction. The one control cited many times by authorities is the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), courts in which eleven judges appointment by the Chief Justice of the United States hear national security agency appeals for even deeper penetration into a person’s life. No one is present to contest the charges. It is Carte Blanche in so many ways. Cui Bono?

These are examples of the massive injustices now occurring in the USA and around the world. So much more could be written about racism, classism, gender bias, labor exploitation, regime overthrows, poverty, and corruption. What happens to “justice” amidst this storm of injustices in which the very public and private institutions we rely on for justice become the perpetrators of injustice? Is justice to be cast aside and dismissed as an arbiter for individual and collective actions? How can this be when justice is considered an enduring virtue? If it is not, how can we make it so? And what has caused a decline in its priorities for policy and action?

Socializing Justice

Justice is not an abstraction, although it is symbolized in many ways, and is the subject of endless legal debates and interpretations from community forums to the Supreme Court. Justice manifests itself in tangible ways in every day life. But, too often, we fail to grasp in our thoughts and actions, that justice is central to them. What we eat, what we wear, what we use for transportation, what political view we hold are all sources of for understanding justice.

For centuries, the socialization of children resided in the family (their parents, grandparents) and the church of their choice. Both of these institutions provided moral guidelines for the child that was supposed to be in accord with the larger society in which the child was raised. The socialization of justice guidelines was, under these circumstances, often enforced or accompanied by threats, warnings, and risks of corporal punishment, and/or eternal damnation. But, as societies grew in scope and complexity, the task of socializing a concern for justice increased, and schools, friends/peers, and media became critical sources for justice. This is the situation in which we find ourselves today, as peers and advances in technology now contend moral traditions, leading to societal fractionation and partisanship that threatens to destroy our social order.

Justice is the fountain of our moral and ethical codes, even as the law may refuse to endow justice with its essential position via interpretations that serve special interests. What is the answer? And how do we begin the process? We must begin a national and international program of educating people regarding the abiding nature of justice, its essential consequences for human survival, and the destructive consequences of injustice. Do the right thing (see Plante, 2009)!

At this point in time, it is essential efforts be made to increase our knowledge and awareness of justice, especially among our youth and young adults. This can best be done by inviting educational institution and systems to promote knowledge of justice by making it the central theme in education. Ultimately, justice must be experienced as more than a virtue. It must be understood as the “nature” or “way of being in the world” (ontology); “the way of knowing and ordering the world” (epistemology), and “the way of acting in the world” (praxiology). Fancy words, but the message is clear. Either we begin to respond with justice to the injustices, or we face widespread domination, control, humiliation, and indignity.

Social justice materials — definitions, examples, history, implications, offenses — can be taught in every course, whether it is business, engineering, education, law, social sciences, art, literature, medicine, nursing, psychology, and on and one. There is no course that could not incorporate social justice material. Think about it! Everything we do has implications for either encouraging social justice, avoiding it, or limiting it.

Educating for Justice

There are many activities that could be used to place justice at the core of education. These include:

  • Distributing of Copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to all Students and Faculty as they enter school or college or university;
  • Inviting faculty members in different courses to introduce the relevance of “justice” to the course material. This can be done with examples of both justice and injustice. There is always Shakespeare as a source of virtually any topic;
  • Distributing copies of definitions of types of justice to all faculty and students;
  • Establishing an organized programmatic effort and institutional identity embedded in justice.
  • Awarding a Certificate of Concentration in Justice Studies;
  • Inviting external speakers each year to lecture and conduct conversations on justice;
  • Positioning justice art, sayings, and photographs at conspicuous campus locations;
  • Developing electronic and materials as resources;
  • Developing community outreach programs that use “service” learning as a integrated goal.
  • Creating a “justice across the curriculum” orientation for a college or university;
  • Supporting student and faculty projects concerned with the study and application of justice (e.g., travel support, research support, teaching support);
  • Developing educational materials for justice in schools K-1;
  • Inviting students upon entrance and graduation to take a “justice” pledge:

“I pledge to explore and consider the individual, social, and environmental consequences of any personal or employment actions to improve the human social condition through an awareness and understanding of justice.”

  • Begin each college or university’s student orientation week with a statement of an institution’s commitment to justice, using justice as an arbiter for behavior and educational development.

A Closing Comment

There can be no doubt that among the many challenges facing individuals, societies, and nations in our global era, knowledge, awareness, and practice of “justice” must be assigned a high priority in human socialization and development.   While traditional socialization institutions (i.e., family, religion, media, schools), must be encouraged to teach and promote justice, it is my opinion that institutions of higher education have a particular responsibility for preparing students to be aware of the complexities they will be facing amidst the confusion, chaos, uncertainty, and unpredictability of our times. A focused and systematic emphasis on “justice as the arbiter of behavior” offers hope for a better world. Forgive the obvious intensity of the rhetoric, and the repetition of the concerns. Some things may not need to be said, but they should be said again and again.



References and Suggested Readings:

Berliner, P., Arenas, J., & Haagenson, J. (2005). Torture and organized violence: Contributions to a professional human rights response. Copenhagen, Dk: Dansk Psykologiisk Forlag.

Brecher, R. (2007). Torture and the ticking bomb. Walden, MA: Wiley/Blackwell.

Corning, P. (2011). The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Dharma, B. (2011). Spirituality and Indian Psychology: Lesson from the Baghavat- Gita. NY: Springer SBM.

Dutton, D. (2007). The psychology of genocide, massacres, and extreme violence: Why “normal” people come to commit atrocities. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International.

Guzman, T. (July 30, 2013) http://wwwglobal research.ca/the battle for oil in central Africa fighting Joseph Kony, and the Lords resistance army or confronting-chia/5344311

Irani, K., & Silver, M. (1996). Social justice in the ancient world. Portsmouth, NH: Greenwood Publishing Group

Lifton, J. (1993). The protean self: Human resilience in an age of fragmentation. NY: Basic Books.

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Anthony Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at marsella@hawaii.edu.


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