Justice, Kafka, Adorno, Identity

Steve Witham (sw@tiac.net)
Fri, 16 Jan 1998 20:02:58 -0400

This is from near the end of an essay, "Notes on Kafka," by Theodor Adorno:

"The heroes of the *Trial* and the *Castle* become guilty not through
their own guilt--they have none--but because they try to get justice on
their side. 'The original sin, the ancient injustice committed by man,
consists in his protest--one which he never ceases to make--that he has
suffered injustice, that the original sin was done against him.'"
[I assume the final quote is from Kafka himself.]

Later Adorno uses the term "the reification of the subject," and I think
he means that the idea of an atomic self, with RIGHTs, who just SHOULD be
treated JUSTLY, is a kind of sucker's game that gets us to buy into...
Rules that just MUST be obeyed;
Quibbling over what those rules should be;
Mutual suspicion, separation and alienation,
The whole enforcing, patrolling, bureaucratic apparatus;
A hierarchy of representatives, kings, God, who Stand For What's Right;
and a hierarchy of body, id, ego, superego, all restless and incomplete
without Justice (but also control) from outside and further up the

In other words, the sort of society we have plants a permanent
dissatisfaction in our makeup, and in order to scratch the itch, we
continuously act in ways that buttress this society. Justice is the
carrot we will grow in these pyramids we're building, the promised cure
for the unfairness of life.

None of which is to promote *in*justice, violation of personal boundaries,
passive giving up of what anyone holds dear; or to completely trash ideas
like dignity, property, protection, insurance or even What's Right; or to
deny the strategic benefits of treating bad guys like bad guys.

Instead the lesson is that if you take justice as an ideal that can
actually be achieved, or simply must be served, you're falling for a
bad misconception and pursuing an idol that someone sold you, rather
than your own interest.

Uncentered selfishness (of the everyday guess, grope and make-do kind) can
not be given up (or abdicated) in favor of a higher good like justice.
Both the higher (hint) good and the presumed more noble (hint) self who
sees it, are just self-perpetuating illusions that actually increase the
injustice and pettiness that scare people into buying.


<sw@tiac.net>Steve Witham
Don't dream it, su to it.