Juris pracepta sunt haec: honeste vivere, alterum no laedeare, suum cuique tribuere.
(These are the precepts of the Law: live honorably, do no harm, and give each one his or her due.)
– Justinian I, The Institutes
“Justice is the constant and perpetual desire to give each one that to which he or she is entitled,” writes Justinian. I’m not a lawyer or a legal historian, but I think I understand the wisdom in why Justinian wrote the precepts of Byzantine law in that manner. Justinian’s code was so influential and so relevant that for the next 1,500 years, societies adopted the wisdom of Byzantine law. Or the precepts of it, for that matter.
I think the reason why Justinian’s code was so relevant – and is still relevant – is that because it sets the stage for every right and responsibility we have in society. Every right and responsibility provided for by law and common sense exists in and as one or more of those precepts. Our rights and responsibilities are framed by those precepts: live honorably, do no harm, and give each one his or her due. To keep things simple: without lines drawn, we’ll be biting each other’s heads off.
I’m not an expert on blogging: rather, I’d consider myself a stakeholder in the blogosphere. There will always be issues, there will always be controversies, and there will always be those things that tick us off. Within our rights to free speech, we can always speak out. In fact, we should speak out. Free speech is as much a responsibility as it is a right, and that is always framed by the very same precepts that Justinian had the wisdom to understand and to articulate some 1,500 years ago.
It’s a damn shame we have to go through this every now and then.
For all this talk of blogtroversy, let me make two things clear. First, I’m not a blogging expert, so at the very least, this entry is a mindfuck of sorts. Second, this entry is written with the understanding that I do not believe that cyberspace is separate from real space, or that online societies are disjoint from real society.
The precepts of the law are not mutually-exclusive; rather, they’re interdependent. To make things easy, lemme kick off from my favorite precept, alterum no laedare. The wisdom of alterum no laedare is not that we should not harm. Lots of things we do inadvertently harm other people, and there are some situations and conditions where we do end up harming other people. Yet when it comes to blogging, or writing or journalism for that matter, the precept of “do no harm” should hold such that:
- You have your facts straight: to live honorably.
- Your opinions do not seek to harm: to harm no other.
- Your opinions are based on facts: to give others their due.
Simple, right? But why the emphasis on facts? Can’t we simply make our opinions known without the benefit of factual rigor? After all, they’re just opinions.
No, not really; facts are what make up opinions, and we make up opinions based on facts. The veracity of our opinions and the strength of our convictions are completely reliant on factual bases. Without a fact of oppression, you cannot cry out “oppression.” And if you do, people will question your sincerity. Hell, they can’t be blamed if they insult your intelligence and your motives along the way.
It does not take a journalist to take the effort to see another side of the story, to conduct the research necessary to formulate an intelligent opinion especially if these opinions will influence a good number of people. The facts should be there, not because “readers are idiots,” but because your opinions – and theirs too – will have to come from somewhere. This is why accuracy is held in such high regard: the moment you write something down and commit it to the relative permanence of the written word, you can’t take it back. As such, it behooves you and me and everyone else in this planet to act with justice.
What makes justice very different from vengeance is that while the latter is a consequence of an injustice, justice is an expectation demanded of every human being in society, most especially for those who have opinions and make them known. Which applies for just about every person in the planet; that the basic precepts of the law are not ideals, but are expectations and demands we have of being somewhere and living somewhere.
Nobody, most especially myself, will deny anyone to an opinion. Everyone is entitled to one, and everyone should make one. However, the line is drawn when that opinion seeks to dishonor, to harm, and to screw. The precepts of just and fair conduct in a harmonious society are more than just impositions of a smartass named Justinian; for all intents and purposes, it is self-preservation in written form. When you dishonor someone, you will be dishonored. When you harm someone, you will be harmed back. When you screw somebody over, you will be screwed. If you won’t or can’t understand that in terms of the noble, you have to understand that in terms of the profane. If you don’t understand that in terms of justice, you can understand that in terms of self-preservation.
The damn shame of writing this entry is the knowledge that I would probably eat – or I probably already have eaten – every word I ever wrote. Yet let this be a curt and fair warning that justice – like honor, peace, and fairness – is more than just a word: it is a perspective. The everyday challenge, whether you blog or write or simply live, is to turn that precept into a perspective: one that will shape your understanding of the world not just in relative gray areas, but with a clear understanding of where’s black and where’s white.