Justice as Fairness – John Rawls and The Veil Of Ignorance – A Genius Social Experiment
Justice as Fairness. We all know that the society we live in is totally unfair, but even so, it’s hard for us to explain why this is without sounding bitter and even unrealistic at times. We can see a huge discrepancy between countries and even between neighborhoods within the same city. Living conditions, the state of education and health care, racism and an unfair justice system, all differ widely from one place to another.
Based on the hierarchical system we devised for ourselves since the dawn of human civilization, income is nowhere near to being close to fair and just since just 20% of the population holds more than 3 quarters of the world’s wealth. And since being rich is relative to how poor others are, this is unlikely to change if things remain the way they are now.
This change will be fairly hard to come about since people (not only the rich, but even normal people) are mostly spared from thinking too much about those who are less fortunate than themselves. In today’s world we are constantly being told that if we work hard and have the will to do it, we will make it. While this is true to an extent, it will never cover or begin to cover the big gap between the super rich and the rest. And not to mention the many, many people all around the globe who don’t even have this chance.
We should also keep in mind that most of these people haven’t become this insanely wealthy all on their own and because of their strong will to succeed, most were born this way. And since wealth attracts even more wealth, the poor will become even poorer as a consequence.
Shocked and appalled about the injustices and poverty taking place all around him even from a young age,John Rawls, born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA in 1921, started a life in academia in order to figure out and hopefully change the unfairness happening all around him. He published a book in 1971 entitled “A Theory of Justice” which the former US President Bill Clinton read and discussed many times and who named Rawls as “The greatest political philosopher of the Twentieth Century”.
In this book he talks about the unfairness and huge differences in our society, how governments enforce the idea of self realization in people in order to avoid having to come up with a solution to these problems and how discussing these issues in a political setting, will be grinned to a halt by petty and arcane details and nothing will eventually get done.
This is why he came up with a simple, economical and polemical social experiment to help each and every one of us figure out what is fundamentally wrong with our society. The idea is simple. He asks us to imagine ourselves in a conscious, intelligent state before our birth, hovering above the planet and we have to chose where we will want to be born.
The catch is that we don’t know anything about that place; we don’t know who our parents will gonna be, how rich they are, where they live, how the neighborhood is, how good the schools are, how well equipped the local hospital is or how corrupt the judicial system is; anything. It would be like we were covered by a Veil of Ignorance.
Now what we need to contemplate is: “If we knew nothing about where we’d end up, what sort of society would it feel safe to enter?” This way we would not be thinking about the wealthiest in our society and instead we’d be focusing our attention on who is not doing so well. If things would start to look more like a lottery and we know that the odds of ending up at the top are very small, we would not be even inclined to play.
So the point of this exercise is to realize what we would want to have in our world so that it would be safe to play this game and not end up the son or daughter of a single mother in the rough parts of Detroit for example. We basically know the answers, we just need a right setting to ask and thing about them.
Depending on where each person playing comes from and what the problems in his or shes society are, this game will give out different results every time. It is a great experiment, worth playing at least a couple of times and try to see how us as individuals can help to make The Veil Of Ignorance a game “safe” to play every time, without the need to changing anything.
The School of Life have made a video about this issue, about John Rawls and The Veil of Ignorance. Hope you enjoy it, and we thank these guys for putting up this video on YouTube.