Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
|The author of the article I am reading relies heavily on the thinking of John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1971. In the development of his concept of justice, Rawls uses a thought experiment: suppose you are part of a committee that is setting up a society. You do not know where you will fit into the society or what resources, advantages or disadvantages you will have. You could be someone with the least, in the middle or at the top. First, you must decide what is needed by anyone who might appear in this society to live a reasonably satisfying life; not ideal, but basic needs. Are all needs tangible? What intangible needs might be included on the list?
Then you must decide how needs will be met; how will necessities be distributed; total equality? A range of inequality? By answering these questions, you would define distributive justice.
I hope you will take some time to think about this and discover your own current beliefs. It is important to remember a couple of things: 1. You could be at the bottom; 2. What happens to a minority impacts the entire society.
Perhaps this latter, the systems theory idea, is new to you, or something you have heard but never thought much about. How do you feel when around someone who clearly is from a different economic status than you? Do you get excited and want to meet them? Do you feel self-conscious and hope you won’t be noticed while you observe the other? Do you want to escape out of some sort of fear? Think about health issues. If a person with a communicable disease can be treated and the disease contained, do you want the person to have access to medical care to accomplish this or would you feel okay about encountering them untreated in a public place where everyone can be infected?
There was a movie made in the recent past titled The Giver. It is based on a novel of the same name written by Lois Lowry. The story takes place in an ideal society where no one experiences illness or unhappiness. The society is isolated and unaware of a larger community outside its boundaries. The Giver is central to the entire enterprise. The Giver keeps the memories that motivate key choices underlying the functioning of the society and enforces certain rules. A pubescent male is identified to live with the Giver and one day fill that role. There he learns things that make him question the basic goal of the society and the role of the Giver. These are the things that keep the people perfect. Lois Lowry has written this story in a way that could be an example of the thought experiment.
Initially, as I approach this experiment, I think I know the answers. As I think more about it, I realize the answers are not at all as obvious as I initially thought. I happen to also be reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson written by John Meacham. I just finished a biography of John Adams by David McCullough. It is clear to me these founders of the United States of America were trying very hard to answer the same questions. Their goal was to contribute to the development of a real society where people with different answers to these questions can live and work together peaceably and effectively for the benefit of all while thriving in their own lives. These two men are very, very different from each other, perhaps nearly as different as Barak Obama is from Donald Trump. Yet, they saw each other as profoundly important to the enterprise and its outcome.
Perhaps you and I are just as different from each other as they. Perhaps in dialogue with each other, we would try to convince the other of the rightness of our thinking. I am certain I would try to convince you. Yet, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton and Washington and so many others never did convince each other. Instead, they acted on their commonly held belief in the importance and positive value of their differences. Each leader’s sense of right and wrong, of honor vs. dishonor, was somewhat different from the others. I suspect the differences are as important to the success of their enterprise as the agreements. Them knowing and expressing their own thoughts and learning the thoughts of others made all the difference.