What is the difference between justice and vengeance? Society goes round in circles trying to distinguish the two because both justice and vengeance presume a human — and therefore artificial or contrived — solution to an offense. And to be “offended” is very human.
Justice is defined as conformity to the good in light of an offense to the good. But vengeance is punishment in retaliation for an offense. So if justice is not to become the same as vengeance, it cannot punish. This has enormous impact on the way society has structured itself for law, crime, punishment, rehabilitation, and, of course, war and ethics.
How often do we hear the weather spoken of not merely anthropomorphically but even in moral terms! There is “good” and “bad” weather, of course. But “bad” weather, such as storms, are even nasty, wicked, punishing, and they strike with a vengeance. Fewer sunny or balmy days are given such moral characterizations, however. No gentle, kind, or humble days. The psalm says, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.” It doesn’t matter what the weather is today. We are alive, we breathe. The stars and trees and birds are yet with us. Let us rejoice and be glad!
Attempts at simplicity are rejections of culture. They are more subversive than words. To the ancient hermits, voluntary simplicity could not be pursued in the emperor’s palace or in the decadent streets and suburbs of Alexandria, Rome, Chang-an, or Kyoto. The hermits’ radical pursuit of simplicity embarrasses our cautious, even timid, attempts to consume less, waste less, and live less expensively. Not even our half-hearted imitations of simplicity would impress them. But they were not concerned about impressions. They would not judge us. They would only counsel us to keep on practicing.
Voluntary simplicity implies that we choose to give up consuming so much and possessing so much. Of course we never really possess or consume anything: we occupy, extort, steal, and destroy things, but don’t technically possess them. We assume this must be done in order to pursue our modern lives. So voluntary simplicity must begin with the overwhelming fact that we are products of modern culture. Voluntary simplicity cannot mean merely to shop less at the mall, or eat less meat. It means don’t shop at the mall at all (or don’t “shop”). It means don’t eat meat at all. Or use any animal products.
As urban and suburban boundaries expand and destroy habitat, more and more animals are killed by motorists. There is a special anguish to this form of death because it is not a traditional predator that kills the animal. In my part of the world the chief victims are slow-moving animals like opossums and armadillos, occasionally birds, but of course butterflies and dragonflies don’t stand a chance either. Most people grimace at the thought of their dog, cat, or horse struck by a vehicle, lying alone, paralyzed by pain and fear, in a strange and helpless situation. But we must think of all animals in the same way.
I once read a piece wherein the writer, who had struck a deer on a country roadside while driving at night, tried to reassure himself that it was a quick blow, but wondered guiltily if he should have stopped, turned back, and, well, killed the animal, so far beyond recovery and wracked by pain and anguish. The writer was a Buddhist and wondered what the compassionate thing to do should have been. Or will be. Ah, if we had no cars, no fast-moving vehicles …