The old Superman motto of Truth, Justice, and the American Way captured the country’s view of its own virtues as being grounded in both truth and justice where both were intertwined. Finding the truth demanded justice to be served. Serving justice required that truth be established.
To the extent that truth and justice comprised founding principles in the country, they were inherited from a legacy of truth and justice within our legal system and its ideal of the rule of law for all men.
As I look back over my experience as a citizen of this country, I wonder whether these two concepts are really helpful. It seems to me that often our motivation of justice overwhelms our patience to wait for the truth. This works out in all scales from the interpersonal to the international. In most recent years, we enact justice before establishing the truth, or even before seeking it.
For recent examples, any challenges about the truth are rejected as being contrary to our core principles. Justice is the highest good that our country can deliver so that any attempts at its delay or denial is anti-american. Truth is quickly becoming the enemy of Justice. Justice demands that we act on unverified claims. Disproved claims undermine justice of the complainant, and the perceived injustice is proportional to the difference in status between the complainant and the accused.
I suppose this prioritization of justice over truth is nothing new, but it is present currently. Based on recent debates and controversies, it seems we have pitted justice and truth against each other, with a preference toward justice. Given that, perhaps we have other choices instead of the combination of truth and justice (truth demanding justice and justice demanding truth). The other choices are to have one and not the other. I think we are implicitly making this choice in favor of dispensing with the need for truth.
The core judicial principles that our country inherited and refined have the primary goal of delivering justice. The verify the justice, we developed rules for evidence, burden of proof on the prosecution, and rights for the accused. These procedures determined the truth that could convict or acquit an accused. The motivation for employing these procedures is to enact justice on the guilty.
With the recent developments of social media and high-speed peer-to-peer mass-communications, we have new methods to exchange information quickly. These same technologies empower us to reach judgments ourselves and also to deliver punishment through attacks on reputation or through undermining of current or future relationships (such as employment). Even when later information establishes a truth that acquits the accused, the original information and punishments remain in effect. The Internet never forgets, and neither does it forgive.
We are choosing justice over truth. The justice system still defends the innocent through demanding a fair trial or through lawsuits of defamation, libel, etc, but it is overpowered by the Internet. The justice system has few calendar slots available for judicial procedures. In contrast, the Internet’s capacity is unlimited.
As time goes on, I can only see this getting worse. We’ll soon see the time when the official judicial system will be obsolete and impotent. That will come when the social-media punishments go beyond information smears and start physically violating the accused. Given the nature of the Internet, when people start to take justice into their own hands, the government will be powerless to stop them.
At that point, we’ll have a government that has no need for truth. Truth is not only optional for justice, it often will get in the way of this type of justice. The popular opinion wants justice without truth.
Given that the option exists to have just one, truth or justice, there is the other option of having a government based on truth alone, a government without justice.
In an earlier post, I observed that much of our concepts of government are inherited from distant past lessons. Nearly all of human history existed without the modern luxuries of instant global person-to-person communication of a huge repository of just about every possible piece of information. Through this pre-Internet history, mankind has learned lessons about how best to govern its citizens. Those lessons embody our rule of law and judicial procedures. In that post, I wondered whether the modern technologies and global realities may present new options that were never before feasible.
It seems we are blindly making a choice of having justice based on Internet rules of evidence and mob inflicted punishments.
Our inherited rules for government and for law had developed a quality of being very slow to change. I suppose this sluggishness was valuable as there is a virtue to a stable set of laws and procedures. Being too quick to adapt to transient conditions would undermine the trust in the law. This sluggishness may have served us well in the past, but this sluggishness may lead to its collapse when facing the new realities of the Internet.
Increasingly, the Internet is taking over matters of justice for an increasing number of people who will never find adequate relief from the older government system. That older system may not disappear, but it may become irrelevant to daily life for most people. We’ll either be destroyed by a justice system that cares nothing about the truth, or be in hiding to escape the notice of that system.
There is an alternative approach that equally takes advantage of the new capabilities of the Internet and big data. That approach is for truth without justice. The option is a form of government that is not responsible for justice.
Throughout human history, government was responsible for justice. We judge past civilizations by how just they were. There were many types of governments with different theories of justice, but all of them have a responsibility for justice within their populations and among their counterparts.
There are modern examples of government that is not responsible justice. The examples are often described as failed states where local populations contend with competing gangs or warlords despite being citizens of a larger state. The larger state does exist but it is powerless in terms of delivering justice. We call these failed states because they are ineffective at living up to their justice responsibilities. Living conditions in such states are such that they result in large populations of refugees.
The proposal to remove justice from the state’s responsibility is risky. But so is the proposal to remove truth from the state’s responsibility for justice. We are heading, perhaps inevitably, to the second option. We could at least consider the first option.
In earlier posts, I proposed a dedomenocracy as form of government that is very different from the modern governments of office holders or bureaucrats. Instead of relying on office holders or bureaucrats to pass and enforce laws, a dedomenocracy would automate these actions based on algorithms and data. Instead of office holders representing people, we will have data that represents the best assessment of truth at the time.
In order to work, this form of government needs the best approximation to the truth. To get this, it needs to minimize any bias on the population is observing. With this motivation, a dedomenocracy would minimize the number of laws in effect at any time, those laws would cover only the most urgent needs, expiring as soon as the urgency subsides. With such a government of automated rules that are few in number and with very short life-times, sentencing for any disobedience needs to be completed while the laws were in effect. Within such a government, it would not make sense for someone to be serving a sentence for an act that is no longer a crime.
I discussed this idea in earlier posts, but I may have only hinted the implication that such a government has no responsibility for justice. Most things we consider illegal today would necessarily be legal in this government in order to observe the actual human behavior unbiased by laws. Also, the focus on only the most urgent needs would ignore all other actions.
A dedomenocracy devotes its attention to the truth in its data. As a result, it will take advantage of the judicial processes developed in the past. A dedomenocracy would continue to value the skills of investigation, prosecution and defense, rules of evidence, trial by jury, and basic rights of the accused. However, once a judgement is reached, the dedomenocracy has no further interest in the accused. The goal is merely the establishment of the facts about some event.
I see such judicial procedures being used to establish the facts of any topic where there is an interested in finding of fact, including acts that are not currently forbidden. The goal of such a procedure is to capture the facts for future analysis of new rules that address the priorities at that time.
In the extreme examples, such a form of government may not explicitly outlaw heinous crimes such a murder. Such acts will of course still occur. The state would have an interest in finding out the facts of the case. If it convicts a person as guilty, it merely records this information as an indelible part of that person’s database. The state need not have a responsibility for obtaining justice beyond that.
In such a government, the justice will come out of the fact of the publicly available information from the trial. Given the reality of universal access to Internet and its public data, all future associates of this person will have access to this past and make decisions based on that information. The data itself will provide a justice by restricting his opportunities within the community. In addition, future automated planning by the dedomenocracy will use this information to determine the opportunities or restrictions for that convict. Justice will still be served, but it is just not the direct responsibility of the government to give it.
The dedomenocracy does have responsibility for the future of the population. Among the types of urgency it must consider are the future risks to the populations. A person convicted of some act poses a risk of some future violation. The government has a responsibility to address this risk, but this is distinct from justice. If the state determines that the convict is more likely than the general public to commit future problems, the state will release the person. However, there may be burden on the convict to prove this to the state. If unconvinced, the state can assign the convict into some program of reform to reduce this risk, but such programs must have a reasonable chance at reformation within a relatively short period of time. This further involvement with the convict is solely for the purpose of quickly reducing the risk of future violations, with no expectation of justice for the original act.
This idea needs far more development. It is relevant for discussion because its alternative of justice without truth is already becoming a reality. We can passively accept the current trends of Internet-enabled vigilantism, or we can choose its opposite. The third option is reinforcing the established rule of law based on truth and justice to counteract the current trends, but we should consider whether this can succeed in the modern era with Internet and data technologies.
Meanwhile, the modern word, within nations and globally, is facing very large challenges that require difficult decisions. The data we have present us with feasible options to solve these challenges and assure a successful, peaceful, bountiful future. For most of the problems, the solutions will not be compatible with any justice that will be accepted by a majority. The feasible solutions necessarily will be unjust for the majority.
We have the Internet and data technologies to solve these problems, but we may need a government free from responsibility for justice in order to enact these solutions and eventually enjoy the benefits of avoiding disaster.
Meanwhile, we are choosing the opposite approach of dismissing truth in favor of maximizing justice with emphasis on justice for the perceived most oppressed. Continuing down this path will make inevitable the disasters that require truth-driven solutions.