The search for justice

While the recent actions of some politicians have caused us to question our premise, we hope all political groups are seeking justice since this might help make the political outcome “variable sum”, rather than “zero-sum”. Another neglected consideration would be the nature of the political institutions in this push for “justice”. When the political philosopher John Rawls declared: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions as truth is of easy systems of thought”, it was because justice goes to the content of political action and its outcome. Justice is the paramount value of political activity.
But what about the need for “truth” in the paradigms within which we struggle for justice in social institutions? Today, neoliberalism appears to have swept the field as our ideology of choice by “all the sides”. While some approaches have been highly criticised, we believe that liberalism’s stance on “truth and reason” in the variant dubbed “deliberative liberalism” offers us a practical approach towards a democratic process that can deliver “justice” in our social institutions.
As in science, deliberative liberalism holds that truth is to be found through reason, but the “truth” unearthed is never held as the “TRUTH”. It is always held provisionally, conceding that this “truth” may be overturned based on some new evidence. The outcomes of deliberative liberalism are indeterminate and are based on empirical practice. Truth claims must be fact-based. We commend this approach to those who are engaged in the ongoing attacks on the Government for “justice” in the distribution of the national patrimony.
Liberal democracy rests on deliberation utilising “reason” – not screaming – as the yardstick for evaluating differing perspectives. The institutions, however, would only be democratic to the extent that the citizens themselves determine their precise nature. Such a deliberation, therefore, would have to be made as open as possible to all citizens, who recognise each other as citizens – that is recognise their common political identity. We are all Guyanese citizens with equal rights and responsibilities, and the upcoming deliberations on constitutional change offer a forum for reaching consensus on essentials.
Only public reasons should be proffered in such deliberations. That is, assertions rising solely on faith or dogma would not be accepted as “public reasons”. This requirement would obviously place burdens on some groups, but such burdensomeness itself would be evaluated by reason for its “degree of burdensomeness” caused by arbitrariness, etc. We cannot escape the fact that there will be aspects of some identity that will have to be withheld from the public realm. In most cases, these are the ones that stem from beliefs that are in deep, fundamental conflict with similarly-held beliefs of others. We will have to agree to disagree on such nettlesome issues and not insist on placing them on the national agenda.
For instance, we will have to be committed to democratic practices as we have enshrined in our Constitution to achieve our ends. The constitutionally-guaranteed “equality of opportunity” should be coupled with “equity” as values that we can all agree on in light of our common history of slavery and indentureship. However, some groups may have differing views: we will have to deliberate with each other on whether such values would be prioritised. The bottom line is whether citizens would be committed to such a process of deliberation. We believe so. The problem lies in some political leaders who have evidently abandoned our democratic process and descended into political nihilism. They will have to be practical, and ensure that their proposals have incentives for the politicians sitting across from them.
We will have to be prepared to deliberate with each other in every available forum – and then some. Letters pages of the newspapers, community meetings, town-hall meetings, call-in talk shows, books, etc. But we have to respect each other as citizens with equal rights. We should avoid debate in vocabularies and ideologies that force us to consider issues only in black and white.