The Many Flavors Of Justice

We’ve all heard about the recent shooting in Colorado, and the much popularized and talked about Trayvon Martin case. In both instances we all have our own ideas and hopes of what kind of justice we want to see or not see delivered. Or maybe we’ve recently had an instance where we felt an injustice had been done to us, by being underpaid or undervalued at work.

However it may be, justice comes in a variety of flavors, social psychologist have taken these many flavors and narrowed them down to three types of justice. Distributive, which revolves around outcomes, procedural, which revolves around how things are determined, and restorative, which revolves around the actions taken to restore justice.

Distributive justice: satisfying the public’s rage. This type of justice is one of the most common the public is exposed to en masse. It is essentially the sentencing handed down by the judge and our reaction to that sentencing. Is ten years a long enough time for an alleged child predator? Is five years in prison too harsh a sentencing for downloading a movie illegally?

These are all examples of distributive justice. But you don’t have to be in the courtroom or in the eye of the media to experience it. It can and does also occur at home, in the work place, and among friends.  When you take away your child’s cell phone for texting at the dinner table, or get suspended from work due to the fallout of an angry customer, you’re experiencing distributive justice.

In the above examples distributive justice is presented in ways where social expectations or company policies keep the person handing out the justice in line. What about when a CEO or company board awards themselves million dollar bonuses, or spouses withhold funds or knowledge of an avoidable incident?

While the reasoning behind such actions may differ and vary on a case by case basis, the outcomes are all instances of distributive justice.  Those reasonings are what is known as procedural justice.

Procedural justice: This is the justice that is found in the process of dealing out rewards and punishment. It centers around whether or not structuring the requirements for awarding bonuses to be skewed in the favor of top managers is a justice or injustice.

Consider the following, a rich and powerful man has been convicted of rape. At the end of a well publicized and drawn out trial the jury concludes that the man is not guilty, (when in fact he is). Despite having committed the crime the man never worries about being convicted since he has managed to bribe the jury to vote in his favor. Years later at a retrial the man is convicted guilty and sentenced to twenty years in prison. Has justice, procedural justice, been served?

While it was the second time, it was not the first time, by bribing the jury our wealthy rapest has managed to influence procedural justice.  The following is another example; you are in charge of assigning tasks for a group project at work, within your group is someone who you find very attractive. As you assign tasks you subconsciously decide to give this attractive group member the easier task. This is another example of procedural justice that has been influenced to the benefit of one and the determinate of many. Eventually you become aware of the group’s unhappiness and seek to make amends, this is known as restorative justice.

Restorative justice: the actions we take to make amends for a perceived wrong.  When your spouse or significant other confesses to cheating a number of things happen. They may begin to apologize profusely and lavish you with gifts which in their eyes might be enough, to them restorative justice has occurred. Meanwhile, you may subscribe to the belief of an eye for an eye. For you restorative justice will not occur until you feel that your significant other or spouse has suffered and felt an equal amount of pain. This can take the shape of many things from cheating yourself, to public humiliation, to depriving them of your affection.

What amount of punishment or amends must be taken in order for a victim to feel as if restorative justice has occurred can vary greatly depending on their attachment style and other factors. Whether it’s distributive, procedural, or restorative there are many different types of justice that can be handed out. Regardless of what they are they all revolve around our sense of morals, what we believe to be right and wrong. So the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of an award or punishment, directly involved in determining who deserves said reward or punishment, or attempting to atone or suffer for a wrongdoing ask yourself, is justice really being served.

I Was Just Following Orders…

“I was just following orders,” how often are those five words uttered in defense of crimes committed during both war and peace times. It’s a phrase everyone is familiar with, and one that has both let men go free and sentenced them to a life in prison. Despite the immediate attachment those words have with war crimes and acts of torture the situations that create them occur on an almost daily basis to everyone everywhere.

When children go to bed at nine, after brushing their teeth and preparing their bags for school the next day, they are in essence ‘just following orders.’ When a person hands their license and registration over to an officer that has pulled them over they are also ‘just following orders.’ When a gang initiate robs a corner store to prove his worth he is also ‘just following orders,’ but what about when the robbery goes a step further and becomes a homicide. Is he still ‘just following orders,’ or is he now acting according to his own free will?

This is where the power of situational factors come into play. At any given time there can be as few as half a dozen, or as many as hundreds. However, there are a few in particular that play a significant role in allowing people to ‘just follow orders.’ The first, and most universal is the need to belong, everyone has this need whether we acknowledge it or not we all want to belong to something and someone.

The desperate teenager joins the gang because of the need to belong to something bigger than himself, something bigger than the small home that holds too many people with too little resources. The child prepares for bed because of the need to belong to his/her family, the need to gain the approval of his/her parents, and the inherent idolization of their parents. A person handing over their license and registration may do so because they feel hopeless to alter the situation and the pending outcome. The opposite is also true, the officer feels obligated to process the person’s information and crime because he/she is part of something bigger than themselves, something that is for the betterment of their family, their society and a host of other things.

That is what allows the soldiers to torture their prisoners, the fearful teen to rob the grocer his family has purchased groceries from his entire life, the naive child to do as they are told whether they want to or not. It is all fueled by the belief that the actions performed are for the betterment of [insert cause of your choice]. It’s only when their behaviors and actions are questioned by a higher authority, that “I am just following orders,” is given as the reasoning.

So if we are all ‘just following orders’ in one way or another, how can we hold each other accountable for the actions we are ordered to commit? How can the teen be held accountable for the robbery and possible murder, the customer service rep held accountable for luring a client into an extended warranty, the solider for mistreating prisoners that he has been trained to think of as less than human.

This is the power of situational factors, they allow people to reach a sense of defused responsibility. “I didn’t want to burn that man I was ordered to,” “I didn’t want to rob that store, I had to,” “I don’t care if you buy the extended warranty, its company policy.”  When the personal sense of responsibility is low, and a powerful external identity is present it becomes frighteningly easy for people to engage in actions they would never be capable of under different circumstances.

“I was just following orders,” is a useful and ready reasoning to fall back on when being held accountable, the question is, how much of it was orders and how much of it was real?