Poetic justice, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is “an outcome in which vice is punished and virtue rewarded usually in a manner peculiarly or ironically appropriate” (Webster’s is using the situational definition of irony, not the Socratic or the dramatic meaning). In literature, it is an ideal form of justice. Poetic justice is used by authors to convey moral principles, and they reward or punish their characters in a spontaneous twist of fate, not courts of law. In summary, poetic justice is the consequence of reality. It rewards rational behavior and long-term thinking, ethics being a primary building block for civilization.
Social justice is the opposite. Virtue is sacrifice, reality is different for everyone, and none of it is spontaneous. As Hunter Hastings has written in his Mirage of Social Justice series, social justice is irrational, meaning it “is a dishonest insinuation that one ought to agree to a demand of some special interest which can give no real reason for it.” Instead of self-determination, “the governing elites believe it is in their power to design and determine future outcomes.” And central to social justice is equality – its sacred and surreal, yet it can’t be won. So short of that, the high time preference of immediate gratification must be turned into a right. Or else.
Social justice is top down, forced, and contrived for the benefit of identity groups. Poetic justice is bottom up, organic, and derived. Like English common law, poetic justice is an emergent phenomenon, and about the individual.
Equality and Inequality
Equal justice under the law is a hallmark of western civilization and enshrined in the US Constitution. But for the social justice crowd, this is obsolete, there must be equality of outcomes. As defined by Webster’s, social justice is “a state or doctrine of egalitarianism.” That is further defined as “a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs.” One example of social equality is the push for gender neutral pronouns on college campuses. Politically, Cuba is frequently endorsed as an ideal. And certain political elites maintain that “renewable energy” is a necessary solution for the economic well-being of the poor. To prove it, a new system of social economic benefits has been invented.
No conversation about equality would be complete without talking about inequality, a favorite theme of all social justice protest mobs. But the most destructive form of inequality has to do with risk. In his book Skin in the Game, Nassim Taleb refers to inequality as asymmetry, and he identifies several groups of people who either benefit from asymmetry, or suffer because of it. Those who benefit are the ones who assume little risk for their ideas or decisions. They transfer those risks to innocent people who bear the costs while the perps retain all benefits.
Examples of risk inequality (groups of people who don’t suffer the consequences of their bad ideas) include analysts in the media, Keynesian economists, diversity consultants, government funded scientists, politicians, teachers’ unions, and crony corporate executives. At the top of the list for lack of accountability are high level civil servants, tenured professors, and legacy media executives. It makes perfect sense that these last three groups of muckety-mucks are the most powerful thought leaders for the entire social justice franchise.
The Poetic Justice Warrior
The poetic justice warrior engages her capacity for reason, develops a purpose for her life, and is confident in her abilities. While the social justice warrior needs intimidation backed by force to satisfy their immediate demands, the poetic justice warrior is patient and peaceful. In both cases, reality will dispense rewards and punishments, and for the social justice warrior it could be quick. Politics provides a stark example. The most prolific social justice warrior of 21st century America is President Barack Obama; and in an extraordinary example of poetic justice, he handed the keys to the White House over to President Donald Trump.
But President Trump is not a poetic justice warrior, he’s a pragmatist. So who is? Or as Nassim Taleb might ask, who has skin in the game? In Trump’s case, it’s the average citizen who voted for him. People who were tired of being patsies for the political, media, banking, and education elites. People who take care of their families, their customers, and their communities. They think long-term and generally don’t get involved in the activism of politics unless reality beckons. For them, poetic justice is not immediate, only inevitable.
Besides the taxpayer-voter-citizen, those with skin in the game include local governments, field scientists, merchants, artisans, athletes, inventors, investors, and school teachers. While bureaucracies separate unaccountable decision makers from the consequences of their mediocrity and hubris, decentralization and networks keep risks and rewards where they belong. And the connectivity of technology has the capacity for producing ever more poetic justice warriors – people with a romantic sense of life. Perhaps the finest example of this is the entrepreneur. As Steve Jobs explained:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.