Just Defend Injustice Already (Summer in the Republic 43)

Photo John Mark Reynolds
The Tyrant’s Berlin Wall

Just Go Ahead and Embrace Injustice: An Example  

Imagine sitting in a meeting and hearing a “Christian educator” assert that some students, especially hicks, did not need the best education, just a credential. If you questioned this condescenion, then you were called an elitist, because why would you want to set high standards for “them.”

If you grew up in West Virginia, you already knew that such people, our “betters,” would come and build houses for you, but not scholarship your education at their college. They were here to “help” and we needed basic stuff (not really) and not beauty and books.

Too many educational discussions are about how to get some kids to give up cash for a credential to maximize profit in the educational enterprise. One administrator knew that every student could not get the help they needed given planned student-professor ratios, but this did not matter since those students did not ask for help. If they wished to play games in the back, then they would pay for the “real students.”

Nobody bothered to hide the fact that some students would be “cash cows” and others would be given their monetary milk. That was bad, but the irritation came when nobody would admit that we were just making money and not educating those students, even though the fundamental discussion was never about education, but profit in the programs they entered.  Yet when this was pointed out, people postured: “We are giving people what they want and need. If we do not do it, bad pagans will. We might as well do it.”

It was endless hypocrisy: justification by rationalization of educational exploitation. Sometimes, however, after a good drink, you might get some honesty.

Of course this is not education, but we are doing some good for some and meanwhile we can survive to do real education someday. 

Injustice was stronger than justice.

Let’s Admit it: the Proud Unjust Ruler is Hard to Refute

Oddly, the bold admission that one had to do an injustice stated openly, acknowledging that this was unequal and unfair was harder to refute. The bolder the admission, the harder the refutation. The world is broken, so maybe injustice really is stronger than justice.

Aye.

There is the rub.

If you said that it was good to give some students inferior education (on purpose) to make money to build a cool campus for other students, that sounded bad. Such an argument is easy to refute, because doing evil and calling it good is contradictory. The contradictions shows and shames the person.

However, the tyrant can make the case better. He knows that injustice is necessary and boldly (at least in meetings) embraces the injustice. He will do injustice, so the school may thrive. In Republic, Plato has Socrates confronting an educator who advocates for injustice, not just in practice, but as a great good. Socrates wants to defend justice, but Thrasymachus (educator of tyrants) supports injustice. Thrasymachus says:

Injustice is goodness of judgment: I should call it good policy.

It follows, I suppose, that you consider unjust men to be wise and good.

Yes, if they are capable of pushing injustice to its logical limits by conquering tribes and cities and imposing their wills on those they conquer and govern. If you imagine that I am talking about ordinary purse snatchers, I am ready to assert that even the lowest form of thievery is profitable if the thief is not caught. But I am not concerned  with such petty activities; they do not compare with the kind of injustice on the grand scale to which I refer.

I understand, Thrasymachus. But still I am astonished that you would actually associate injustice with virtue and wisdom and consign justice to the realm of vice and folly.

That is my position. It is a bold position, and it is not so easy to refute.

Were you to assert, as many do, that injustice is profitable but at the same time morally odious, we could then argue the matter along more conventional lines. But having equated injustice to wisdom and virtue and justice to their opposites, you will want to say that unjust behavior is honorable and a source of strength.

Spoken like a prophet.

A prophet speaks for the gods, he is inspired. Thrasymachus takes the “courageous” position and so does not apologize for injustice. He will do what must be done and he associates his actions with strength. This is always the way of the tyrant: only he has the courage to outrage the little people and do what must be done. He is an honorable man, because he admits what others do: act in his own interest. We can trust the tyrant due to his honesty.

There is truth here. Obviously, the open grifter is better than the sly one. Pretending one is educating the online cash cows is much harder than just stating openly, they are building some sweet buildings on campus. The tyrant gets stuff done.

He acts like a god: doing what he wills.

Is injustice good? Socrates will spend the rest of Republic showing justice is greater and even better for the soul of the tyrant! Thrasymachus himself changes and becomes a member of a better and more just community. (See the start of Book V.)  The temptation for those of us who wish justice to be defended (like Glaucon) is to assume we are just, when our failures have given room to the man who defends injustice. We must ask for mercy and the grace to keep doing better knowing that something greater is possible.

God help us!

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*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21. Part 22. Part 23. Part 24. Part 25. Part 26. Part 27. Part 28. Part 29. Part 30. Part 31. Part 32. Part 33. Part 34. Part 35. Part 36. Part 37. Part 38. Part 39. Part 40. Part 41. Part 42. Part 43.

 


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