Maps and justice

I assume, though I might be wrong, of course, that most people feel very strongly about justice or, at least, that they resent injustice. We tend to think that the concept justice needs no explanation, that it merely requires that everybody does his or her bit.

However, situations of discord remind us that what each of us considers injustice depends on where we live and with whom, what we’ve seen and heard and, of course, our means or lack of them.

In my country, some of the most bitterly resentful voices are not those of the poor or dispossessed, but of owners of expensive cars. Yes you heard me. It goes like this: The media are heaping guilt on us all, telling us that we – yes, we – are to blame for the climate change. Obviously, all consumers are covered by the collective pronoun we and made to feel guilt, but in my country, those who are actually made to pay are owners of powerful cars running on gasoline or diesel.

And they hate the likes of me, “climate people”, who keep ranting about an apocalyptic future. Frankly, I understand them! Because people like me drive electric cars, which are heavily subsidised, while gasoline and diesel driven vehicles are subject to heavy taxes. I mean heavy. Really heavy. It seems very unfair.

Do I feel pity? Yes. (It is well known that ownership of an expensive car does not necessarily reflect the owner’s social status. Where I live, there are a lot of immigrants, and a strikingly large proportion of them drive Mercedes, Audis and Teslas.) Will I do anything to oppose the taxes? No. I honestly believe that every effort must be made to stop people from driving hydro-carbon driven vehicles. (In my country the transport sector (not including international air traffic) accounts for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions, up 24% since 1990).

Now for the international scene: We are currently witnessing touching global consensus about the Saudi killing of a Washington Post journalist in a foreign country. There are limits to impunity, it seems. Good. However, I don’t quite understand why this undoubtedly heinous criminal act raises a greater outcry than the ongoing crimes of, to my mind, genocide in for instance Burma, Jemen and Palestine. No doubt the perpetrators feel that theirs is a just cause. But what do the rest of us feel?

I put to you that what the rest of us feel is bewilderment.

I turn for a moment towards past crimes against humanity. (You tend to get a better understanding of the landscape from the top of a mountain, than from down by the river.) The Spanish Civil War has been described by some as a Holocaust. The figures regarding the number of people killed and/or mutilated are still very disputed, not least in Spain, where the conservative party is adamantly opposed to opening the innumerable mass graves.

In my country, we learn in school that the Franco side was notoriously bad, while the republican, democratically elected government was fighting for a noble and highly legitimate cause. And though we politely admit that “atrocities were committed on both sides”, we are convinced that the Franco side killed 4 or 5 times as many people as the republicans during the war, and continued killing on a large scale throughout the following decades.

The trouble about mountain tops is that by zooming out, you fail to see a few important details that are absolutely crucial for warring parties. In fact, even in peacetime, not least in peacetime, they are crucial. Now take the Spanish Cicil War again: How do you think a decent lower-middle-class mother or father might have felt to hear that atheists had taken power? At the time, people were good Catholics, devout even. Spain was a fairly medieval sort of country, where most people still were unbelievably poor, accustomed to harsh treatment. The Church was immensely powerful on the political stage, and at the micro-level, every sinful thought went on record, as it were, during confession. Most people dared not even think, let alone speak or act.

I am convinced that very many people supported the Falange for highly legitimate reasons: They wanted to defend the church, to uphold morality. They defended respect for their forebears, the crown, everything they had always been told to believe in. They loathed and feared anarchy, not to mention communism, just as most people do to this very day. They were defending justice.

In fact both parties were laying down their lives in a ghastly battle for justice, against injustice.

The US is still not on the brink of a civil war. Europe is still not on the brink of internecine war. For that we should be glad. However, maybe it is time for the so-called “left” to try to understand the people who voted for Trump, maybe even to talk to them! Maybe it is time for us lefties in Europe to understand the growing proportion of voters who are turning to politicians that claim to be defending traditional patriotic values. These politicians might well be sincere, but they are also very rich neoliberal wolves, just like Trump.

Maps, like technology, like globalism, should be used discerningly.