Root Causes of Unitive and Punitive Justice: Oneness and Duality

Root Causes of Unitive and Punitive Justice: Oneness and Duality

Most of us respond in remarkably consistent ways to our environment, which is inevitably built upon one of two distinct thought systems. One supports happiness, and the other promotes misery.

Why do we continue in our ineffective, often destructive, patterns? It is as though we have learned the code of misery and routinely apply it without thinking, always hoping it will lead to happiness. It never does. Why haven’t we found the code to happiness? A lot of background noise keeps us from imagining it is within reach.

We are so accustomed to the status quo that we think this is how it has to be. Old institutions are tenacious, and they have long tentacles rooted in history and in a multitude of choices made by our ancestors. Law, history, religion, science, and culture all play a role in keeping us entrenched in dysfunctional structures. In ways we often fail to recognize, our parents, teachers, and public officials persuade us to accept the status quo, even when it is damaging.

Simply put, there are two distinct thought systems that underpin unitive justice and punitive justice, and they apply far beyond the question of how to respond to a breach in relationships or what happens in a courtroom. These two approaches to how we see the world guide how we, as a nation, distribute our resources and view health care, national defense, education, and the environment. They shape the philosophies by which we, as individuals, run our businesses and raise our children.

The Larger Context: Oneness and Duality

Every human activity is founded either on the organizing principle of Oneness or the disorganizing process of duality. There are marked differences between them. The organizing principle of Oneness encompasses the whole, while the disorganizing process of duality is enmeshed in separation and fragmentation. One leads us to harmony and healing, the other to discord and disease.

Oneness and duality each have their own set of rules and underlying assumptions about human nature, and even about the nature of God. Pro-social norms reflect the principle of Oneness; anti-social norms reflect the process of duality.

The Golden Rule, when it means more than merely doing good to others to deter them from doing bad to you, is a moral standard that is consistent with Oneness. In this context, others are seen as being of inherently equal value, and therefore deserving of equal treatment. An eye for an eye and its sanction of proportional revenge, on the other hand, comports with duality. Those at the top must control those at the bottom.

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The Organizing Principle of Oneness

When we activate the organizing principle of Oneness, we are expressing our cocreative function as both spiritual and physical beings, conferred upon us by our all-encompassing, benevolent Source—what many people call God. When acting in accordance with the disorganizing process of duality, we have lost touch with our God-given nature, what some call the fall from grace. The underlying disorder is obscured from view by the morass of entangled beliefs and doctrines, perceptions, and emotions that preoccupies us.

Oneness can go unrecognized, but it cannot be destroyed. It is what is. Oneness applies to everything and everyone. Only Oneness is real. We have no need to learn Oneness, because internally we already know—it is who and what we are. We need only wake up to our truth and leave our dualistic misperceptions behind.

Duality Manifests as Vengeance, Hatred, Fear, Judgment...

Root Causes of Unitive and Punitive Justice: Oneness and DualityWe experience the vibrational pattern of duality in the body as the well-known sensation of fear. It manifests as vengeance, hate, greed, jealousy, anger, arrogance, judgment, guilt, shame, and the like—feelings that denote separation. When we feel fear, we shut down in survival mode and build institutions to protect us against our enemies.

We experience the vibrational pattern of Oneness as sensations in the body that we recognize as love, which can be expressed as gratitude, generosity, compassion, hope, trust, inspiration, harmony, joy, forgiveness—feelings that reflect our connectedness. When we feel love, we feel nurtured and we heal and grow; we build institutions that support healing and growth.

I digress a moment to address the hot button that the word love may set off in some readers. Love is a word that has been so often misused that its meaning has become distorted.

The concept of unconditional, pure love is not one we can afford to forego, and there is no satisfactory term to use in its place. As the concept of love is critical to a discussion about Oneness, I will use the word love, but ask the reader to set aside past prejudices, understanding that I mean love in its purest form— lovingkindness and the true connectedness from which harmony and peace naturally flow.

Duality Is Not Real: It is Blindness to the Unity of Oneness

Oneness and duality are like two separate containers. The container of Oneness can hold certain human experiences, such as trust, transparency, generosity, reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, restoration, faith, hope, compassion, security, and peace. The container of duality holds different experiences—suspicion, secrecy, divisiveness, judgment, attack, revenge, retribution, greed, jealousy, insecurity, and war. Any aspect of life can be constrained within the small container of duality, or it can be transformed to reflect the all-inclusive container of Oneness.

It is important that Oneness and duality not be mistaken for paired opposites, one good and one bad. Duality is not even real. It is a projection by minds blind to their Source in Oneness.

Our blinded minds accept institutionalized duality, like a system of laws that imprisons one out of every one hundred adults, or military drones that permit killing without having to experience the humanity of the lives extinguished by the touch of a button, or usurious interest rates that concentrate wealth in the hands of a shrinking minority, while thinking it’s generous to use our empty churches on off days to provide just enough services to the homeless to make homelessness doable. We were not given the gift of life to live so callously.

©2010 by Sylvia Clute. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hampton Roads Publishing Co. Inc.

Dist. by Red Wheel/Weiser, Inc.

This article was adapted with permission from:

Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call for a Compassionate Revolution by Sylvia Clute.Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call for a Compassionate Revolution
by Sylvia Clute.

Part social policy, part metaphysics, this is a book for all who are looking for a new model for individual and societal relationships. Sylvia Clute explores the roots of dualist thinking in the religious traditions of the world and offers the hope that if individuals--and societies--can move beyond dualistic thinking, we will create a society that is truly just and authentically caring. She unfolds her argument for applying the philosophy of non-duality to not only our criminal justice system, but to all social relationships.

Click here for more info or to order this book on Amazon.

About the Author

Sylvia CluteSylvia Clute is an attorney lecturer. She has graduate degrees from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Boston University of Law, and the University of California at Berkeley. After several years as a trial attorney, she became disillusioned with the legal system and began her search for a better way. She founded, led and served as an advisor to numerous community and statewide initiatives. A pioneer in legal reform, she spearheaded changes in Virginia's laws relating to women and children. Visit her website at


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