Frank H.'s picture

Frank H.

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Justice or Vengeance: Is There a Difference?

 

A reading of the dictionary definitions of the words justice and vengeance reveals why there is so much variety of opinion on this subject. It becomes clear that we have no objective standards by which to make a distinction between justice and revenge, and the two become equated. Our opinions are charged with emotion, thus are subjective. It seems that we will never have a consensus with regard to the state executing a criminal (so-called capital punishment) unless we can evolve beyond the primitive desire for revenge.

What does vengeance accomplish? If you steal from me, and I find a way to steal from you, how does this help either of us? If you rape and kill my daughter, how does it help me, or society, for the state to kill you? Must we become executioners ourselves in our attempt to satisfy our illusion that this will make things better? Execution does not cancel out the wrong as if it has never happened. It merely appeals to our primitive desires and makes us executioners.

As for the prevention of future harm by the same perpetrator, a lifetime in jail will suffice, and we will not have set the bad example of using violence in the attempt to solve a problem.

Webster:

justice: the quality of being just; righteousness; equitableness; the administering of deserved punishment or reward.

vengeance: the act of retaliation for injuries or wrongs (syn: revenge)

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Birthstone's picture

Birthstone

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Absolutely there are differences!  Justice, is good, and desperately needed, and if you ask me, ends up with reconciliation & respect & new life when done properly.

Vengeance just breeds more despair & sadness.

qwerty's picture

qwerty

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Frank ... your terminology is desperately out of date.  They don't call it vengeance any more.  Now "vengeance" is "closure".  As in ..." Mrs. Smith indicated after sentence was passed that she was very disappointed that the defendant was going to be eligible for parole after 10 years saying 'I was hoping for a much stiffer sentence.  This just doesn't give us the closure we need.' "

 

 

Goodskeptic's picture

Goodskeptic

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Justice is achieved through neutral arbitration according to the rule of law and the facts of the circumstances.

 

Vengeance is achieved through the subjective application of emotion, the animalistic desire for revenge.

 

Peaceful, civil society is dependent on the individual sacrifice of our right to defend ourselves - and democratically empowering government (through police, courts) to defend our individual rights. Imagine what kind of society would exist if we were each allowed to, on our own passionate whims, carry out our distorted view of "justice" ... aka... vengeance.

Beloved's picture

Beloved

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Greetings!

 

To me, justice would be what society imposes through the "law of the land".

 

To me, vengeance would be what an individual(s)/victim(s) imposes in reaction to their loss, pain, and anger.

 

If a person steals (or any other act) from me and I want justice, I will leave it in the hands of the authorities and justice system.

 

If a person steals (or any other act) from me and I want vengeance, I will take it into to my own hands to dole out the punishment.

 

Hope, peace, joy, love ...

 

Mendalla's picture

Mendalla

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I pretty agree with the other opinions so far, but maybe I'd put it as:

 

  • Justice is social. It is the limits set by a society to ensure peace, equity, stability, etc. It goes (or should go) beyond simple enforcement of laws, but doesn't always.

 

  • Revenge is personal. It is the individual seeking to rectify a wrong that someone has committed against them, generally by applying the principle of "an eye for an eye".

 

The latter can, and should, conflict with the former since the visitation of personal revenge on perpetrators is not generally conducive to peace and stability. If you kill someone, you will be arrested, even if that killing was done in revenge for that person killing (or otherwise harming) a member of your family. Otherwise, we would have anarchy in the streets as (a) killed (b) in revenge for the murder of (c) and then (b)'s brother (d), who believed (d) was justified in killing (c) due to some offense committed by (c), sets out to kill (a) in revenge and ..... ya da ya da.

 

The former can, and should, conflict with the latter since the latter is often focussed narrow-mindedly on "getting back at them" while the former is focussed on "how can we make society work better and safer".  The goal of the justice system should not be revenge or even "closure" (which doesn't have to be revenge, but could be), but ensuring peace, stability, and equity in society. This necessarily includes things like taking the perpetrators needs (for treatment of mental illness, for rehabilitation, etc.) into account, which revenge generally does not.

 

Mendalla

 

LBmuskoka's picture

LBmuskoka

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Smiles at Qwerty

qwerty wrote:

Frank ... your terminology is desperately out of date.  They don't call it vengeance any more.  Now "vengeance" is "closure".  As in ..." Mrs. Smith indicated after sentence was passed that she was very disappointed that the defendant was going to be eligible for parole after 10 years saying 'I was hoping for a much stiffer sentence.  This just doesn't give us the closure we need.' "

 

Very nice and succinctly sums up how some of the public have come to view the judicial system. 

 

Personally I would like closure on the use of the word closure.  Some events in life can never be closed, they will always be part of the person and by implying that some external event - such as the death of the cause of event - will erase that part of what they have become is harmful to the individual and society as a whole.  It is a road to failure and madness.

 

A court of law is never about one case, yet each case becomes law.  This is a difficult concept for those embroiled in the middle but it should be remembered that every decision made can impact future decisions and may affect you or me.

 

There is also a difference between legal justice and social justice, again a niggling little factor oft forgot.  Legal justice is constrained by the laws of the land.  It can be stretched but only so far by the social conscience of the ruling judge.  While many decry this fact, there is some protection in that it prevents judges from swinging too far one way or the other.

 

Social justice is created by the people - at least in a democracy.  We, the people, vote in our legislators - those individuals who create our laws, systems and their enforcement.  If it is not just then that is a reflection of the creators not the system.

 

Justice shouldn't be about me, justice shouldn't be about us and them, justice is the future and it is constantly changing, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse but always defining the society that creates it.

 

 

LB - lacking Qwerty's succinctness


Men, I think, are ever attracted to the bon mot rather than the mot juste, and judges, no less than other men, are often moved by considerations more aesthetic than judicial.    

John Barth, The Floating Opera

EZed's picture

EZed

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qwerty wrote: "They don't call it vengeance any more.  Now "vengeance" is "closure".  As in ..." Mrs. Smith indicated after sentence was passed that she was very disappointed that the defendant was going to be eligible for parole after 10 years saying 'I was hoping for a much stiffer sentence.  This just doesn't give us the closure we need.' "

 

EZ Answer: Quote of the day.

ninjafaery's picture

ninjafaery

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EZed wrote:

qwerty wrote: "They don't call it vengeance any more.  Now "vengeance" is "closure".  As in ..." Mrs. Smith indicated after sentence was passed that she was very disappointed that the defendant was going to be eligible for parole after 10 years saying 'I was hoping for a much stiffer sentence.  This just doesn't give us the closure we need.' "

 

EZ Answer: Quote of the day.

Agreed.

Justice and vengeance are in many places perceived as the same thing, unfortunately.  If a justice system is vengeful (which includes the death penalty or physical or psychological punishment), it doesn't exhibit justice, but it does say a lot about the fear-based society that embraces it.

 I think wise justice is needed for everyone, not just as a consequence for the perpetrator of a wrong.

 

seeler's picture

seeler

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What is the quote from Isaiah and Micah:   seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly.  I don't think justice in this instance has anything to do with revenge.  And until we get revenge out of the so-called 'justice system' we won't have justice. 

 

And how does a stiffer sentence bring about closure?   No more than having the death penalty and allowing the murdered child's family pull the trigger.  It won't bring back the murdered child.  It won't heal the family.  In fact, an acquaintence of mine whose teenage daughter was kidnapped, tortured and murdered (many years ago) told me that she only could go on living when she accepted that the individuals involved were very disturbed and high on drugs at the time of the murder.  Then she was able to forgive them and get on with her life.  That's closure.

 

Vengence - revenge.  Somebody in A family causes the death of somebody in B family - perhaps by drunk or careless driving, perhaps in a fight.  B's family stabs the person in A family in the back.  A's brother drives by B's house shooting and B's child is killed.  B plots to kill every member of A's family.  Where is justice, mercy, love?

kyle775's picture

kyle775

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Criminal Justice? not all justice requires a "sentence" and not all justice is dealing with individual citizens. 

Frank H.'s picture

Frank H.

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Very good comments from all.  I raised the question in the first place because I observe too many instances in which what a person is calling "justice" is nothing more than revenge.  We need to keep this constantly in mind in order to bring about real justice which is not  contaminated with the desire for vengeance.

Frank H.'s picture

Frank H.

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"Frank ... your terminology is desperately out of date.  They don't call it vengeance any more.  Now "vengeance" is "closure".  As in ..."

All the more reason to talk about it.  If our sense of justice is being contaminated by such distorted thinking, then we need to do what we can to make everyone aware of the difference between "justice" and " closure".

waterfall's picture

waterfall

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Justice considers how a person got to the point of committing a crime, how and why it was committed and a societies desire to dedicate time and effort to rehabilitate the offender to function withn society or to care for them for the rest of their life with proper supervision. Victim and Offender are properly cared for and lovingly restored.(think Indian justice systems)

 

Vengence is a quick fix that satisfies or accomplishes nothing.

Freundly-Giant's picture

Freundly-Giant

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I think justice is when you punish someone in hopes to correct them in some way or another (eg. making some pick up garbage for littering) whereas vengance is making someone pay with no salvation for a crime. (eg. death sentance, putting them in a prison.)

 

At least that's how I see it.

seeler's picture

seeler

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Freundy - making a person face the consequences of their actions (picking up garbage for littering) is part of redemptive justice - not punishment.  Punishment might be strewing garbage all over a clean yard for the offender to pick up (add a bit of humiliation by having him do it on his hands and knees).  It usually doesn't do any good, but can do harm in building resentment.  Justice is helping the person see the wrong he has done, perhaps helping both sides to understand why he did it, and finding ways to create or restore a balance. 

 

kaythecurler's picture

kaythecurler

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Publically thrashing and releasing a person who steals or destroys property sounds like cruel and vengeful treatment to me.  True justice would assist the person to become aware of how their behaviour affects others and society in general.  Learning is needed to determine what caused the damage to the 'offender' - frequently there has been a lack of love in their life so far.

 

No one operates in isolation, we are all connected.  What happens to one affects all.

qwerty's picture

qwerty

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There is no public benefit in "vigilante justice".  "Vigilante justice" is just another term for "private justice" and a demand for "private justice" is just a a more high falutin way of demanding vengeance.  One should also enquire whether it is in the interests of the public good (or even possible) to provide an alternative to something whose very characterization is an oxymoron.  "Vigilante justice"!  That's rich Goodskeptic!

Goodskeptic's picture

Goodskeptic

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Qwerty - I'm confused. Are you disagreeing or agreeing? You mentioned that it was impossible, practically speaking, to equate the life of an individual to years of life in jail for another. As you indicated it was not possible - what are you advocating in its place? My question was: neutral arbitration, according to some rule of law, is the best we have and is preferable given the alternatives... ie: vengeance... or... vigilitante justice. ( <--- reminds me of the Punisher :)  )

qwerty's picture

qwerty

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I am advocating that we follow the principle that criminal law is law intended to protect and benefit the public (as it is funded and administered by the public) and that it use two complementary and exhaustive techniques to achieve the public good, namely, sentencing to protect the public from the danger of (primarily) re-offence by means of (a) incarceration, and (b) rehabilitation.   (Where possible, rehabilitation provides a preferable outcome because it is cheaper.)

 

It appeared to me that you were advocating that there, indeed, ought to be a weighing and balancing of (as Beshpin put it) "the life of one individual to years of prison for another".  Further, it was my impression that you were advocating that this could be accomplished by some process of "neutral arbitration". 

 

I assumed that you were putting this forward on the basis of an assertion that this was a necessary alternative to "vigilante justice".

 

But perhaps I was mistaken.  Maybe I was reading too much into your comments (or misreading them entirely).

 

 

Goodskeptic's picture

Goodskeptic

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By what process is "sentencing" carried out? I though it was a form of neutral arbitration - ie: judge, jury, rule of law (in short). No? 

 

Further, "protecting" the public is a public benefit - the only public benefit. Unless the process of rehabilitation is considered a public benefit.

seeler's picture

seeler

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I certainly would think that rehabilitation is a public benefit.  If, by sentences served in the community, retraining, counselling, we can turn a violent offender into a productive member of society - then certainly it is a public benefit, far cheaper than keeping him in prison to serve his sentence.  Just because it also helps him to turn his life around, doesn't mean that it isn't also a public benefit.

kaythecurler's picture

kaythecurler

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Beshpin I appreciate your sharing but we do seem to differ in our conclusion. 

When I was thrashed as a child (for minor theft) I just became more careful and devious.  The problem that lead me to theft remained in my life and I continued to steal.  A caring parent, teacher or adualt at church could have helped me solve the problem or find better ways to handle it.

To  me it sounds like you want to use the 'eye for an eye system', using punishment, not justice. I see this as a way to create a world full of damaged people.

I think it is time to set about healing damaged people and their extended families and communities.  A slower system but the only one I can imagine making a positive change in destructive behavior.

qwerty's picture

qwerty

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OK Goodskeptic, I guess we agree except maybe on terminology.  I think judges do a good job on sentencing and if a judge is what you mean by a "neutral arbitrator" I'm all for it.   Once there has been a finding of guilty the court is no longer "arbitrating" or "trying" anything but moves on to something a little less adversarial, namely, sentencing wherein both the Crown and the defendants representatives make submissions to the judge (and call forward experts if necessary) to assist the judge in deciding the best means of attaining the objective of public protection and rehabilitation of the accused.

Goodskeptic's picture

Goodskeptic

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Fair enough Qwerty. Appreciate the clarification.

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