Goal for 2100: Distributed Justice


The Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries introduced the idea that people do not need an intermediary between themselves and God — that they have, and are responsible for, their own relationship with the divine.  Similarly, democratic principles give people the responsibility for their own form of government, just as people are responsible for running their own lives, keeping themselves in good health, and so forth.  There are exceptional situations (e.g., sometimes a person needs a doctor); but on a day-to-day basis it seems to be recognized that people are motivated to do it better, for themselves, than someone else can do it for them.

Justice, however, remains mired in the Dark Ages.  There is this persistent belief that people need a specially trained black-robed figure, standing or sitting in an elevated place, to help them achieve justice.  The result is a court system that is extremely expensive (when you include the cost of lawyers and the processes of pursuing justice in this format), very slow, unavailable for practical purposes in most situations when justice is needed, and inferior in terms of the quality of its results in many cases, when decisions are essentially ignorant, too late, or otherwise unresponsive to reality.

No doubt there will always be a place for judges and lawyers, in large-scale and extremely complex matters of dispute.  But for practical purposes, justice needs to join religion, government, and other areas of life:  the power for justice needs to devolve from these judicial power centers back to the people.

This devolution — this redistribution of justice — will require ordinary people to learn new skills.  Just as the idea of praying directly to God may have seemed strange to some at first, so also the idea that you bear some responsibility for justice in your home and your neighborhood (and that you have some authority for that purpose) may feel odd.  But it will also begin to feel better.

The specific manifestations of this redistribution will vary at first.  In some places, people may be authorized to fight it out on their own.  In other places, as people adjust to this newfound responsibility and power, the seemingly wiser approach will be to form neighborhood courts or councils to respond to complaints.  The persons seated on those councils may be fellow residents of the neighborhood, on an elected, appointed, or rotating basis; they may be people who are hired for the purpose, who got college degrees or certificates in dispute resolution; or they may come from some other source.  In any case, people will have greater freedom to experiment and work out a solution that fits their needs, on the most localized basis possible, instead of having it imposed on them by the frequently abusive managers of an unresponsive, out-of-touch legal system.

Likewise, to the extent that physical force is required (e.g., to enforce decisions), neighborhoods may find that something resembling a traditional police or sherriff’s office is needed, or they may instead sign contracts for enforcement services provided by some outside company on a competitive bid.  They may use posses; they may introduce other innovations.  Instances of misbehavior or abuse (when e.g., one powerful person takes control of the justice-oriented machinery in a neighborhood) may be challenged in a formal court or elsewhere; but to the greatest extent possible, people should be allowed and encouraged to find solutions that fit their own needs, in this area as in others.


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