Thursday, September 10, 2009

People Justice is Quick and Terrible

The quote in my title is on page 194 of a novel, "Brick Lane" by Monica Ali, and I think represents something profound in the way people behave in crowds. One reviewer says of this author, "She is one of those dangerous writers who sees everything" (Kirkus Reviews). Ali's observations are as acute as they are descriptive.

A character in her book makes this statement, "People justice is quick and terrible," after watching a crowd beat and set afire two men who had attempted to rob a bank in Bangladesh. The girl laments that there is lawlessness in her country where people take things in to their own hands and hopes it is different for her sister in London?

I had mentioned in an earlier post that according to Confucious, the very least a leader must have is the trust of his people. Otherwise people do what they want. Anarchy.

I've met Anarchists, of whom I am violently - strike that - vehemently opposed to their position. For them, it is government that is inherently evil and have taken the extreme position that people are most content and peaceful when unhindered by government or laws.

To that argument I ask, who is the "government"? At the end of the day, they are people just like us, just trying to make the best way they can. After twenty years in the public service, I can confidently say that there is no "cabal" or secret society. We end up the way we are by our own error; both in our personal lives and in our communal activities like democracy.

The second problem I consider is the application of anarchy in practice. Mouse over this interactive "conflict map" that shows various conflicts around the world over time. The picture is not pretty. Conflicts are the chief cause for disruption in trade, poverty, and starvation. As Ali's character so sweetly expresses, people in crowds, aroused, are swift and terrible. Somehow, like a pack of dogs, we are capable of far worse when we have companions agreeing and egging us on.

I understand the temptation. When we see criminals go free with apparently no hindrance; when our homes or families are violated; we may ask, is there Justice? The swift answer is "Lock them up." But the solution, like life, is not so simple.