Standard wisdom is that they don’t, I think. That’s the phrase anyway. A half stern admonishment to a raging child: ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’.
Yet oddly, the theory seems to be behind most of the conceptions of justice in this world. Punishment and restriction, some form of removal of civil (or human) rights constitutes our key way of equalising the bad things people do.
And common knowledge, or at least common phrasing, says that it doesn’t make sense.
I don’t think it makes much sense either, but then, I don’t really have a viable alternative, so I feel unable to criticise.
Justice is, to me, one of the trickiest issues in ethics, and one of the reasons why I avoid getting into philosophical debates. In this situation, it’s not because I find most amateur philosophers to be dickheads, but because I’m worried that some of the things I’m likely to say will cause offence.
If you start saying that prison is a cruel bullshit, then you sound like you’re talking about letting murderers, rapists and child abusers go free and unpunished.
Which I don’t think I am. I just don’t have an answer to that question. I’m not even sure how I feel about rehabilitation programmes (albeit for different reasons). It’s hard not to define rehabilitation as ‘brainwashing back to societal norms’; and given my issues with societal norms. Well. I’m not comfortable with that either.
But I don’t believe in eye for an eye. I don’t know if it’s fair to imprison somebody. I don’t have a solution.
But I’m fairly certain that two wrongs, no matter how many procedures are in place to ensure the second wrong is the right one, don’t make a right.
The mathematics of it just doesn’t fit together.
My favourite interpretation of karma basically boils down to something like:
- if you do good things, there will be more good things
- if you do bad things, there will be more bad things
It’s not the most complex philosophical concept. It is in fact one of those things that seems so obvious as to be trite and useless, but it isn’t.
That’s a whole moral universe right there. All you have to do is decide what you want the world to be more like: good or bad. (Realistically, you may also need to do some/much groundwork establishing what good or bad actually mean, this can be more troublesome). Then you do the things that fit into the category you like.
All of the stuff with karma being about cosmic realignment and the universe creating justice strikes me as absurd. I’ve never seen the universe be obviously fair. But, if good things mean that more good things are, then that means you are, indirectly, more likely to experience good things, because there will be more of them around.
It’s like the law of averages. Two rights increase the odds of rightness. Two wrongs don’t.
Elements of all this are more complicated than they appear.
Illustration by Rosie.