Justice and Naruto

Anime’s Moral Compass.

I learnt more about justice from watching Naruto, than from my Law degree.

I studied Law at City, University of London, which included a year abroad at Université Toulouse 1 Capitole. Like most 17/18 year olds beginning their degrees in Law, I began on the basis of having a “strong sense of justice” and a “wish to do good things in the world.”.

Ironically, my law degree barely developed my “strong sense of justice.”. If anything, it numbed me to such noble overtures. It reduced justice to numbers and figures as opposed to people’s stories and the pursuit of righting wrongs.

pain
Pain, a character from the manga Naruto

Enter: Naruto.  Most are quick to dismiss anime as childish, infantile nonsense for nerds And yet, the show presents a deeply nuanced perspective on justice. A character from the show going by the name of Pain has a deeply thought provoking method of gaining World Peace. His method is a complex theory based on three pillars: Pain, Justice and Peace.

According to to Pain, there is no justice in the world as human beings have shown over time that we are incapable of resolving conflict in ways that bring about long term peace. Pain believes that this inability to solve problems is derived from our lack of understanding of one another.

Pain suggests that the only way human beings can understand one another is by going through pain. This is because once both sides of the conflict endure pain, anytime conflict arises again, both sides will think back to that moment of pain that they both went through. This knowledge and remembrance of the products of conflict will inevitably lead to a resolution between the two for fear of ever having to suffer the pain caused by conflict. This leads to peace.

This theory made me stop and think. What exactly is justice? Is it tit-for tat? You’ve caused me pain, so I want you to feel the same pain that I felt? Is it restitution? You’ve caused me damage, so now I want to restore my situation to what it was before the damage was caused? Is it preventative? You’ve caused me damage, and so now I want a resolution that should deter you from ever causing such damage again?

This made me question, and therefore learn more about justice than I did during my law degree. A law degree focuses more on who is receiving the justice, why they are deserve justice, and from where they obtain  justice, as opposed to finding out what justice actually is.

Pain’s theory holds merit: Can human beings really come to a true understanding and thereby have peace, if they haven’t felt each other’s pain before? It’s easy to preach about peace when you’ve never felt the pain the other party has felt before. It’s easy to say “Yay, peace!” rather than “I want revenge.” Is justice, therefore, vengeful?

The thought process does make sense in that there is an undeniable vengeful element to justice in itself. In justice systems worldwide we see prosecutors requesting higher sentencing for defendants. In the famous South African case of athlete Oscar Pistorius, he was handed a 5 year sentence for the “culpable homicide” killing of his girlfriend of which he only served 10 months and was then released to house arrest. Prosecutors went back to appeal the sentence and overturned the “culpable homicide” charge to “murder”. He was again, only sentenced to six years. The prosecution again went to appeal the sentence and got it increased to 15 years.

The family of the victim welcomed the decision as they confirmed that their “faith in the justice system” had been restored. Clearly this would indicate that their form of justice contains the same vengeful aspect as Pain’s. They are suggesting that the person responsible for the conflict in the situation (Oscar Pistorius) must feel as large an amount of pain as possible in order for them to feel as if they have received justice.

Can we blame people who feel that this is justice to them? Would you be ok with the sentencing of 5 years in prison for the person who “recklessly” killed his girlfriend, if said girlfriend was your daughter, or sister or aunt or niece? Would it be wrong to say that your desire to see a longer prison sentence is not motivated by a separate desire to have the perpetrator feel a comparable amount of pain to what you’d be feeling in that moment?

Pain’s solution to the question of justice (which leads to peace), is to inflict pain on the individual/entity responsible for conflict. This pain will lead to swift conflict resolution for fear of more pain being sustained. This will eventually lead to peace. However, eventually this fear of never wanting to feel such pain again will wear off and someone will cause pain to someone else. The cycle must then restart with an act of inflicting pain that leads to conflict resolution as well as the fear of feeling said pain again, which results in peace.

Of course, it must be said that Pain’s solution is seriously flawed. The very fact that the cycle has to be repeated is a flaw in its own right. If humanity has to repeatedly have huge pain inflicted on it to deter it from causing conflict, then quite clearly this solution isn’t a great deterrent. Even so, Pain does understand and recognize the holes in his solution. This is evidenced in the fact that he is willing to listen to solutions others may have.

I’ve had some deep thoughts about justice, and have regularly put these thoughts into action via discussions and conversations surrounding the topic. The general conclusions I’ve come to have been that justice, when it can, must attempt to put all parties in as close to a position as possible that they were in before the conflict arose. Where this isn’t possible, it needs to be about making the perpetrator understand what was wrong with his/her behaviour and how to avoid repeating it. It should also serve as a warning so as to put people off repeating that same behaviour that caused conflict.

So Naruto made me think and learn more and find out what justice means to me. My own personal definition of justice is about restitution to the victim, retraining/educating the perpetrator in order to protect society from future perpetrators. Justice should also be preventative, in that it should also deter people from wanting to get on its wrong side.

Those are my thoughts on justice on a societal level, and what I believe our justice systems should be based on. On a personal level, my thoughts on justice are largely similar. However, I put more emphasis on certain aspects in my definition of justice than others. If a friend of mine wrongs me, as long as no tangible/physical/monetary damage has been done- restitution isn’t as big an issue. The retraining/educating part is the most important as that will lead to the final requirement for justice to be met- the preventative side. Once my friend knows and understands which actions of his/her causes conflict, if justice has prevailed, one can assume he’d do everything in his power to make sure it doesn’t take place again.

What is justice? What does justice mean to you?

Contributors / Craig Debrah

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