Is Justice a zero-sum game?
April 4, 2006 5:54 AM   Subscribe

Is fighting for justice really worth it if Justice is the fight becomes a zero sum game in which you either stay alive or do the right thing?

The regret over the inhuman oppression, either imprisonment or murder, of innocent people often leads to moral advocates to condemn the indifference of those who stood by and watched their neighbors carted off to a hellish fate.

But implicit in that moral condemnation is the belief that one should act, without worrying about consequences, to save your fellow man. Taking Nazi German and the Soviet Union example, such active intervention might immediately cause the hero to be hanged or shot, or if he is somewhat less unfortunate, imprisoned or tortured.

So, considering the circumstances of a brutal political regime, is it just to condemn a good-hearted, well-wishing person who nevertheless out of his own safety chose not to save others from imprisonment, torture, death, etc.. etc.. I think condemning indifference often entails also condemning the refusal for self-sacrifice.

Condemning refusal for self-sacrifice is hard to do because it's hard not to sympathize with someone who wants to avoid torture, prison, execution. However, if you don't condemn it, you end up with the other alternative of condoning people's indifference to the evils of their government.

After all, if everyone is looking out for their own personal safety while ignoring the well-being of others, then the ideals of human compassion and concern for others become inoperative. In this way, people would live in a world of individualism and inability to rely on others for protection against evil. That is a rather grim and hopeless scenario many of us would hate to see.

(Note: I know in some cases helping others doesn't involve personal risks.. But I want to limit my considerations to cruel political circumstances where it does.)
posted by gregb1007 to Law & Government (3 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: hypothetical "what if your parents had never been born" chatfilter

Response by poster: Sorry for the grammatically incoherent question. It should have said: Is fighting for justice really worth it if the fight becomes a zero sum game in which you either stay alive or do the right thing?
posted by gregb1007 at 5:56 AM on April 4, 2006

If by allowing yourself to die you save a 1000 lives, or go back in time and kill Hitler, how is that a zero sum result?
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:17 AM on April 4, 2006

Response by poster: Well, sometimes its possible to save a 1000 lives through a heroic act. But of course, there's absolutely no guarantee of success. One person against a bunch of armed government officers coming to take away his two neighbors (say Russian police coming to haul away a farmer who refused to give his land up to the government collectivization proram) may succeed in saving a person or two, or may become another casualty and not save anyone.
posted by gregb1007 at 6:31 AM on April 4, 2006

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