Justice – Week 4

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence and temperance, I now reflect on justice – or the capacity to give everybody their right due. 

Through the week, I considered the narratives that affect our understanding of the relationship between personal and collective benefits.

As a premise to justice, it is essential to define whose interest we serve. For-profit entrepreneurship presents itself as a force for good, developing better products and services for people. However, the for-profit start-up ecosystem could aptly be seen as a constructions that allows capital holders to grow their wealth exponentially, with the benediction of public opinion. Successful entrepreneurs join this small club of investors, and embrace their interest, while all pre-selected players are rewarded by access to subsidised work space, events, and curry puffs. Non-profit legal structures, though possibly more suited to many start-ups, do not service the needs of capital, and are therefore both undervalues and misunderstood.

Technology defines our common living environment, and the way we collectively make decisions. It is unclear, however, who determines our discourse on technology. Hackers, tech-enthusiasts and crypto-anarchists advocate for tech-enabled decentralised power networks, anonymous browsing software, and bitcoins. The latter appreciated almost tenfold in the past few years. Bitcoin advocates happened also to be the first adopters: they care, no doubt, about building parallel currency systems independent from the state – incidentally, this results in their virtual assets exponentially rising in value.

There is a storyline about international politics, whereby ‘Western democracies’ – the US and EU – are international guarantors of good and freedom, while rogue states endanger international stability, supported by two shady powers, China and Russia. On Tuesday night, I watched interviews of Putin by Oliver Stone. Putin is cast as a typical ‘bad guy’, yet, through the empathetic lens of the documentary, some of his claims are allowed to resonate. Why should Russia not assert its sovereignty? Why should it not systematically question American intentions, actions and statements? Why should we doubt the truthfulness of Russian statements more than that of American equivalents?

In the professional context, how does justice apply to various ‘extensions of responsibility’? Should those be seen as a form of managerial generosity, creating the conditions for staff to develop new skills – or do they represent a clear form of fraud, allowing organisations to pay people below-rate for extra work and responsibilities? More generally, this is a question we should raise in today’s capitalist order: where do freeloaders reside? At the bottom of the pyramid, where people profit from the system – or at the top? Those in power, at least, are in a better position to press for handsome compensations. Corruption ensues: rather than asking for a general reduction of salaries in top layers of management, competent leaders in the non-profit sector start complaining about their organisations ‘underpaying’ them in regards to their for-profit counterparts.

Who benefits from a community? I jokingly told the recruiter at THNK that I did their work for them – I had referred a couple of people to their program. Many communities – or clubs – hire community managers who maintain a sense of collective belonging, and harness the goodwill of members towards actions benefiting the group. Members act as volunteers, not so the managers. There are, however, two ways for them to be paid: through the contributions of existing members, or through joining fees of new members. If the latter prevails, then the business model of the community goes against its value proposition: more enrolments ensure economic survival, while a supportive core group is key to members’ experience.

On Friday, I reconnected with one of my life’s great teachers, Andra, who trains THNKers in the art of presence. We spoke about cardinal virtues: instantly, she draw correlations to the work she does in spatial awareness: ‘if there are 7 virtues, then you can project them on the 7 cardinal points, left/right, front/back, up/down, and centre’. We reflected on the symbolic equivalent of each in the Chinese framework of the five elements. ‘Justice,’ she said, ‘if it is about separating what is mine from what is not, would have the quality of metal.’ She placed an arm forward, palm facing towards her, fingers slightly spread apart. I thought then that justice could be seen as part of a natural cycle. In the Chinese model, the five elements that constitute the material world engender each other in a cyclical manner. As long as abundance prevails – in fiery times of abundance and, resulting from fire, earthy times of calm plenitude – there is no need for justice. But comes a moment where distinctions have to be made, and metal must rule. From this comes flow – water, born of metal – and from water, wood, or rebirth. A certain economic model proposes to bypass the moment of justice: the trickle-down effect ensures increasing benefits for all as long as we maintain growth. But Without a transition through justice, and metal, the cycle remains in a state of block, and renewal is impossible.

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