Monday, July 27, 2020

Justice- class 9

Notes from class

Prof. Mehta appreciates AOC's work. Must tell Sravani.

When we speak of Justice typically, you might say it is forward looking. The idea is to create a new social reality. The other dimension is backward looking- some event happened in the past, the object of justice is to come to terms with that past event.

Is punishment corrective or retributive? 

Reparations- colonialism, slavery, caste, the curious case of South Africa

Truth and Reconciliation commission on Partition, Kashmir etc.

Treaty of Versailles- Keynes thought was fundamentally unjust

The assumption was that reparation was subsumed under current social contract. If our current conditions are made just, where does a question of reparation arise? If the contemporary condition of the historically oppresses is fairly just now, why should we go back into history? Opposition to that concern is that, even if we have made current society more just, there is still an independent issue of wrongs done in the past. 

Question of reparations are not the same as retributive justice. 

Nozick- Just outcomes are whatever come out of free transfers as long as those original positions are just.

If a harm was done in the past, are we, the descendants, responsible for it- How do you attribute causal responsibility? When you think of harm, you should have some baseline account. But how do you actually come to the determination that those people would've been better off if not for your actions (Eg: colonialism).

I don't have to get into a debate if India/ West Africa would've done better if they weren't colonised. It is enough to understand that harm was done- but by who's standard. What is the counterfactual you're thinking while ascertaining that harm?

Warren Hastings trial- Edmund Burks

My thought: A pall is cast on those who are given reservations now for injustice against their predecessors. In that sense, they will keep suffering from social injustice.

Susan Faludi- Backlash

Pankaj Mishra essay on How Germans handled their Nazi ancestry and why doesn't the US or India do it

You could say that I'm not a casteist/ racist/ colonialist, then why should I pay? The issue is not that. It is not about individual responsibility. But because of the patterns that were instituted, you have been and are a beneficiary of something that was acquired "unjustly". You can acknowledge the harm without punishing someone. The act of injustice was perpetuated over centuries. The simple question is: Am I identical to my white ancestors. No but you are part of the structure which created those injustices. You may not have committed the crime but you are a beneficiary.

participant: When the EIC came in, they colluded with Indians for symbiotic gains. 

The problem with people who say let's start with a clean state is that you're not acknowledging the pain and suffering my people had to go through. 

Culturalist argument- "It is true that we are better than other people, that white Americans are doing better than black Americans, is less because of our oppression than inherent flaws in them". This is also a favourite colonialist argument.

"I like my black neighbour but the fact that he moved in means my property price is going down"

There are ofcourse variations but the idea is not to count of every single act in history.

Shashi Tharoor's accusations against British colonialism is similar to caste oppression.

Billy Brant- German chancellor went to Warsaw, got down onto a knee and cry. It is a society coming to terms with its unjust acts. But then again, some actions are easier to account for than others.

participant: Can the Indian state morally ask for reparations from Britain when it hasn't resolved its own internal contradictions.
Prof. Mehta- In principle, the moral quality of the entity asking for the reparation is not important. I may have wronged someone but if I'm also wronged, then I don't need to solve the former to get justice for the latter. It is hypocrisy but it can be done.

Some have argued that caste is way more complex than colonialism. But even colonialism is not simplistic, we're just choosing move convenient options. 

We as colonialists have done wrong but it's not differed from most states always. If the British hadn't done it, maybe the French would've or the Marathas. There is no ideological reason behind this ebb and flow of history.

What is the continuing harm?- We don't know because we can imagine the counterfactuals. But then isn't that the question with any justice? Or any understanding of the past? Also, what about looking at these from a modern lens of what's justice or not? Apparently, this is a classic relatavist's argument: That a wrong was done in the past comes from our standard. And the production of the standard of the time, is a collaborate effect in it's own way. It may look horrible to us but caste seemed to have been accepted then. The perpetrators didn't have epistemic access to our formulation of injustice. They were not moral agents who were capable of seeing the truth as we now see.

participant: Isn't injustice an absolute term or am I always having to compare them to other possible injustices and weigh which is less worse.

Is there ever a closure to this grievance? Today Tharoor says that give me a pound a year as gesture. What if someone comes tomorrow and says that is not enough?

Q: In one of our first classes, we discussed about a modern society considering birth an accident and doing everything, atleast in principle, to bring people to a common, equal ground. Then by constantly bucketing people into different identity groups and saying that there is inherent trauma suffered by some, aren't we negating that axiom? If someone discriminates against me based on my caste or colour now, that's wrong. But if they don't, do they still have to acknowledge and apologise?
A: That's the normative goal. One of the common things about caste, race, gender, colonialism is that you as an individual are part of an ideology that denies your individuality. They are denying you a right to be an individual. The objective of reparation is not to keep you as prisoners of this identity. It's to liberate you from that burden. We are using this as an identifier to understand how freedom has been snatched. 

Judith Butler- Medicolegal issues around gender

Post-Apartheid South Africa- You will make society whole by acknowledging the truth. In order to facilitate truth and reconciliation, you have to move away from retributive justice.
Truth and Reconciliation commission- We want them to acknowledge that there was injustice perpetrated. And we want the acknowledgement of truth to be separated from retribution, compensation or punishment. That will create a better new social contract.

participant (regarding acknowledging the truth and seeking forgiveness): Consider India's incidents like the 1984 riots, or Godhra, or Babri. Someone can say that I'm generally a decent human being and I was brainwashed during that period to be part of a cult or a clique, and now I'm saying I'm sorry. But is that enough?

On TRC- By giving on the demand of reparation, it didn't create the foundation for an ongoing just society. It more or less provided exoneration. For all its problems, it is interesting because it provides an alternative mode of thinking than just crime and punishment. The reason people, and communities, came out on a dialogue because the perpetrators were promised amnesty. They took a bet by saying that that was better for society than punishing a few perpetrators. 

In so many areas of our life, we need to confront injustices of the past to move on. And the question of restoration doesn't go away because now you're trying to make a more equal society.

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