Essays from "The Theosophical Path" by Talbot Mundy

Miscarriage of Justice

By Talbot Mundy

March 1924

Justice, according to Xenophon, was defined by Socrates as "knowledge of what is due to man." There is no other recorded instance of Socrates having committed himself to definitions, his purpose having been to show what things are not, rather than to limit the boundaries of what they might turn out to be if men would only apply themselves to the discovery. However, as far as it goes, the definition will serve well enough as a guide toward correct conclusions, and injustice, accordingly, might better be defined as ignorance of what is due by man to every living creature.

There are a great many grades of ignorance, some wilful, some inherited, some due to sheer stupidity, and some that are the consequence of evil habits which have so corrupted thought that even temporary good intentions fail to disperse the mists of prejudice. The effect of ignorance is inevitably disastrous, unless knowledge can by some means be brought to the rescue.

Mere sentimentalism fails; and mock heroics masquerading as reforming zeal serve only to increase with a cloud of hypocrisy the evils at which they profess to be aimed. Mere appetite for knowledge to be used for personal advancement, being itself only a form of ignorance, is worse than useless in the effort that must certainly be made to lift the world from the state of ignorance into which it has fallen.

Injustice and ignorance go hand-in-hand invariably, and their result is a degenerating and self-propagating state of selfishness that descends from bad to worse, until it becomes so insupportable that nations wilt as from disease. As far back as we have any historical records, the invariable rule has been that nations which ignored the principle of justice have reaped want, revolution, and dishonor. No nation has ever become great, or sustained its greatness, except by adhering to the highest standards of justice of which it was capable. No armies and no fleets since history began have availed for long to enforce injustice; nor have all the votes of all the electors of any country succeeded in advancing the common prosperity one step when the majority opinion has been unjust.

There are plenty of instances where ignorant majorities, with dust thrown in their eyes by those who believe they can profit by injustice, have agreed to enforce laws and penalties which favored this or that adroitly organized minority; but there is no instance where the process has succeeded permanently. Despoiled and despised crowds have a way of waking suddenly and transferring the spoils and the scorn to other recipients. Thus ignorance proceeds from bad to worse, injustice finding no remedy by merely making an exchange of victims.

As great an effort as ever has been made on the material plane to relegate injustice to oblivion was heralded by the famous phrase "all men are born free and equal." Regarded as an effort, an expression of intention, it was admirable, but there are probably few who pretend that much proof of its truth has been forthcoming. There are many who can point to daily, hourly evidence that seems to prove the contrary.

The phrase has been explained to mean equality of opportunity. But are there any who will venture to assert, as a result of actual observation, that equality of opportunity exists anywhere in the world today? Conceding that the United States stands alone in advance of all nations in the exercise of justice, is it true, for instance, that the poor man enjoys equal opportunity with the rich before the courts? Is it true that the sons of the poor enjoy the same opportunity to be educated as the sons of the rich? Is it true, to take another instance, that a teacher of Theosophy is as immune from persecution as, say, a politician who advocates international mistrust and rivalry?

From what, then, are all men free? And to what are they equal? The great nations -- great, that is, in wealth and armaments -- exclude the weaker nations from an equal voice in international affairs; big business crowds smaller business out of existence; big political organizations suppress individual liberties; men with big brains and no squeamishness mock law by its manipulation for their private profit. Are men or women free from tyranny, robbery, blackmail, prejudice, oppression, violence, libel, slander? And if not, why?

There are laws beyond count -- so many laws that nobody pretends to exact knowledge of more than a small proportion of them. It is evident that the greater the number of laws, the greater the opportunity becomes for clever men to perpetrate injustice, and for rascals to enrich themselves. Yet there are few who will pretend that in the aggregate the intention of those who elect the law-makers is not to provide equality of opportunity for all. The intention fails; all over the world it has failed so dismally that more than one nation has repudiated democratic government and has submitted to a dictatorship. Nevertheless, not even those dictators will pretend there is no miscarriage of justice in the countries they control. They have contrived to organize intolerance and to make injustice function profitably for a while. They have made material efficiency a goal, without attaining it; but have they even attempted to provide all men with equal opportunity?

To what are we all equal, or were born equal? Is a rich law-breaker, out on bail, the equal of a vagrant, held in the common lock-up awaiting trial? Is a man born with a genius for music the equal of another man born from a drug-soaked mother in the slums? Is a prize-fighter the equal of a poet; or a painter of landscapes the equal of a man born blind? Do any of those enjoy an equal opportunity? And if so, to do what? To live? Then has a man born with inherited disease an equal opportunity with another man born healthy, amid clean surroundings? It is true, there are many agencies, supported by compassionate and earnest people, who endeavor with all their energy to provide opportunity for those born in poverty and ill-health. But have they succeeded? Why not?

It would seem -- if we accept the surface-view -- that miscarriage of justice is an ineradicable evil, due to ignorance, creating deeper ignorance in which to propagate itself. But due to ignorance of what? For twenty centuries the churches have thundered dogmas that, they say, would solve all human problems if accepted. But countless millions, generation after generation, have accepted them. The churches boast of their conversions, of the thousands of their congregations, of the increase year by year. And has injustice ceased? Has it seemed to begin to cease? Does justice dwell among the churches? Or do they rail at one another, split asunder in loud disagreement and tear up the tenets they have hitherto proclaimed as being statements of divine law?

We are told, and we cannot be told too frequently, that education is the panacea that shall redeem the world from its distress. But who shall do the educating? With the proponents of a hundred creeds, and the protectors of a thousand policies insisting that their way, and only their way, can be right, who shall decide among them? Who shall trust the advocate of this or that theory of education, when so few among them are agreed, and so many admit that their method of teaching is devised expressly to prevent the evolution of individual thought but to establish fixed and arbitrary sets of principles, no two sets of which are alike?

There are those who say the Bible should be rigidly excluded from the schools. There are others who insist that it should be the basis of all education. There are advocates of a purely 'business training'; others of a military system; others who insist that nothing matters except citizenship (forgetting, perhaps, that those who must be depended on to teach this elusive quality belong of necessity to the generation whose crass ignorance of the rudimentary elements of true citizenship produced the worst disaster in recorded history -- the war of 1914).

Insistence on the need of education presupposes ignorance, so there is no need to labor that point. The whole world is ignorant, although there never was a time when so much money was spent on education, nor when so many subjects were taught in schools. There were never, in all history, so many men, women, and children legally and illegally confined in prisons; never so many lunatics; never so many law-suits; never so much law-breaking; never so much propaganda in behalf of remedies for every ailment that the world is heir to. There was never less pretense at justice in the conduct of international affairs; there has been no period in recorded history when the truth about any aspect of life had less chance of unprejudiced consideration; never, since the stories of the nations first began to be written, have there been so many fads, recipes, and 'cure-alls' (some intentionally fraudulent, some honestly conceived and offered desperately for a world's salvation).

One section of the world is 'rolling in money,' while another section lacks the mere necessities of life. Two thirds of the world is arming itself deliberately in preparation for 'the next war,' which all agree will destroy civilization if allowed to happen; and taxes are being laid on unborn children to defray the cost of a war which concluded in a treaty, whose clauses none of the signatory nations has observed, or ever intended to observe.

Under a specious pretext that publicity is purifying, scandal has become an hourly entertainment, published in big-type editions as fast as the wires can collect it and enormous presses can be made to whirl. Injustice in the courts is ensured by incessant and untruthful propaganda, so adroitly handled that none can trace its origin, and yet no juryman can truthfully declare that his mind has not been prejudiced. Men of integrity and self-respect refuse to offer themselves for election to public office because of the certainty that their honor will be called in question and their past will be raked for incidents to which slander may be linked. And yet the very newspapers that hourly perpetrate all these injustices and by constant example increase the tendency toward unfairness in the public mind, preach justice, presumably believe in justice, and bemoan the miscarriage of justice when the all too frequent fact is called to their attention.

Ignorance is the reason, obviously. No man, unless mad, and no body of men, unless victimized by what has recently been renamed crowd-psychology, would deliberately do what they knew would react disastrously upon themselves. Who takes a red-hot iron in his naked hand, or stands in the way of an express train? A madman now and then, perhaps; a suicide; a child -- a very young child; never a grown man in full possession of his reason and possessed of enough intelligence to recognise cause and effect. And yet, it would be safer to do either of those things than to continue in the way the world is drifting.

There is no escape from consequences. No deed can be separated from its ultimate effect, nor can it be dissociated from the doer, whether done in love or hate or ignorance (which is the mother of all crime). In the practice of law it is conceded that ignorance of the law is no excuse. It is so in nature; ignorance will not protect the man who touches a hightension wire, or save the animal that walks into a trap. Mass-ignorance is no better (and perhaps worse, because self-multiplying) than that of individuals, and no number of ballots will avoid the ultimate conclusion; as for instance, if a million men should vote to have no earthquake, would the Law that governs Nature change itself to suit them? Ignorantly, men may build their city in an earthquake-zone, but it is they, not Nature, who must reap the consequences.

Who, if he knew with utter certainty that he must undo and redress whatever wrong he does, would perpetrate a wrong? Yet such is the fact, and there is no escape from it. The fallacy, that the Psalmist's three score years and ten are the sum-total of a man's experience, is at the bottom of the ignorant delusion that a man may do wrong and not pay for it in full. There is no escape through death's door, because death is no more than a period between two lives, and we return to earth again to face in naked justice the effects of all we did or left undone.

Precisely there is where the churches fail. They preach the Sermon on the Mount, but teach that men may not revisit scenes of earth-experience or meet again in justice those whom they have loved, neglected, wronged. They lull the conscience of the race to sleep with fables of vicarious salvation, and invent a death-bed remission of sins to disguise the sheer injustice of the doctrine.

Truth, Justice, Silence, are the Keepers of the Law. No pompous rituals are needed; no observances of fasts; no censored prayers. In silence the whole ritual of Nature, sun and moon and stars, the seasons and the sea, the grass -- the very insects -- are the witnesses of Truth. And prayer, in its highest form conceivable, is no more than acknowledgment of Justice.

For Justice is not mocked, although men mock themselves in ignorance of its unchanging Law. No pessimism can avoid the truth, that men reap mercy where they sowed good-will; no optimism can avert the consequence of wrong. Selfishness, whatever tyrannies it may invent, can find no enduring substitute for the Fact of Universal Brotherhood, which is, and was, and will be until the end of time, and must be recognised before the world can be redeemed.

The Law is silent. Tumult of elections and the roar of massed artillery are as useless to modify or cancel it by one degree as psalms sung to a cathedral roof are impotent to delay the procession of day and night or alter the position of the North Star. The Law is silent, but not secret: as a man sows, so shall he reap. He who takes the sword shall perish by the sword. Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you.

There is nothing in the Law imposing blame on others for disasters that befall ourselves. There is a line in one of Rudyard Kipling's poems (Tomlinson) that states the case exceeding clearly:

"The sins that ye do by two and two
Ye shall pay for one by one."

Therein is the conclusion of the matter. There is nothing there of dogma, no convenient side-exit to salvation through the medium of some other man's responsibility, or through repentance murmured on a deathbed when the consequence of wrong deeds seems to have no further personal significance and nothing can be gained by continued hypocrisy. The Justice of the Universe does not miscarry, and the Law cannot be bribed, deceived, or flattered.

The grand responsibility has been imposed on us that we create our destiny. The dignity of true divinity, the right of Universal Brotherhood, the power to control and discipline ourselves, are ours. The Law adjusts all balances and measures the exact effect of every thought and deed, detecting each hidden motive, registering justly. Energy is not lost. One tear shed, one sigh, one effort made in behalf of Brotherhood is as sure of its effect as is the act of multiplying two by two, no matter what all the creeds proclaim or all the legislatures try to do about it.

Neither man, nor cataclysm, nor the Hierarchies can undo one detail of the past or help one individual to avoid his full share of responsibility. The juryman who casts his vote on the score of prejudice, or for convenience, or because he seeks a personal reward, has no escape in the excuse that he was one of twelve; as he judged, so shall he be judged, his every secret motive taken into reckoning, for him or against him. The judge who misdirects a jury, the attorney who connives at falsehood, each, alone is answerable for his thought and act; each, for himself, has outlined one inevitable issue of his destiny.

There is nothing haphazard or unjust in the Universe. Each man, each insect, each imponderable atom, is exactly placed in the conditions it deserves, in which it must meet the consequences of the past, may profit by the accumulated strength of past experience, and may evolve to higher consciousness by dint of self-directed effort. Duty is the keynote of the Universe -- duty and responsibility: Duty so to discipline and control oneself that every thought and act may make life grander and more frictionless for others; Responsibility before the Higher Law.

The fashion of the moment is to seize on personal advantage and to blame other men, other nations, other modes of thought for every failure to attain the momentary goal. And yet, each pauseless moment holds for every individual in all the Universe these three essentials -- Duty, Responsibility, and Opportunity. As surely as a seed can spring to life in silence, burst asunder granite rocks and grow upward toward the invigorating light, each individual can, and each eventually must, allow the secret promptings of his heart to grow within him and expand until the very prison-walls go down and each steps forth with new and grander fields to conquer.

For there is no calculable end -- no limit to the depth to which the careless may consign themselves, nor any limit to the heights to which each one of us may climb. Responsibility begets responsibility. Each duty faced, accepted, done, begets a greater duty and the power to deal with it. None knows whose duty is the greatest, whose the least. A hand extended to a man in jail, a word dropped quietly in a bewildered ear, one step taken, or not taken, can have immeasureable consequences; and the unknown motive is the element that counts.

The ignorance that halts us all and throws the world into confusion is the blind, insane belief that all life is material and limited within the actuary's law of average the three score years and ten that begin with nothing and end nowhere. Viewed within those limits, through the matter-legend lens, there is neither purpose nor motive in life and all, as the ancient preacher said, is vanity -- with thirty thousand guesses at the nature of a hypothetical after-life to choose among, and no certainty but that woe is for the weak. Such thinking leads inevitably to the grossest forms of selfishness and to the vilest crimes; just as the belief that a man may save his soul by accepting the legend of another's sacrifice opens the door wide to cant, hypocrisy, and guile.

It is not until we ponder and absorb the oldest teaching in the world, Theosophy, that there is evoked within us knowledge which makes the heart sing, and understanding of the purpose and the justice of the Universe begins to dawn. Duality and the divinity of man, once recognised, bring laughter with them and a sweeping view of endless Evolution, forever mounting through a grand Eternity, in which no stone is overturned, no sigh escapes, no deed is done, and no least thought expended without exact, proportioned recompense.

For lo! -- we are the brothers of the stars, and of the wind and rain and of the sunlight shimmering on azure seas.