A place to rant about politics, the media, and especially the electorate. Much like alcohol, the electorate is both the cause of, and the solution to, all of America's problems.

Location: Seattle, Washington

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

John Rawls Goes To Afghanistan

On the NBC evening news, they ran a segment on the Afghan elections, which focussed a fair bit on the first woman to run for president in Afghan history. She noted to NBC that her schtick wasn't so much women's issues, but rather the fact that "her hands were empty". That is to say that she had no financial interests, no military interests, and was beholden neither to the warlords nor to the United States. Her description of her location with in Afghan "political space" reminded me of John Rawls.

Rawls was (I'm pretty sure he's dead) a bigwig political philosopher/ethicist during the middle 2/3 or so of the 20th century; his magnum opus was "A Theory of Justice". In that work (and probably earlier, in essays), his most popularly known idea was described: the veil of ignorance.

The problem Rawls sets for himself is to describe how we are going to determine a fair/just political/economic system. Rawls puts forth the veil of ignorance as a constraint on how that determination takes place. Ignoring the jillion-and-a-half details, the basic idea is that we all go into a room to hash out amongst ourselves how "the system" should be. But there are two wrinkles: (1) we have to ourselves live under the system that gets designed, and (2) we have no idea who we will be or what role we will play within that system. Presumably the point of the veil of ignorance is clear: it's not helpful, for serious dicussion, to get suggestions of the form "Let's have a monarchy, where I'm the king!".

The veil of ignorance is a powerful idea, and many trees have lost their lives in the course of attempts to explain, defend, criticize, and elaborate it. There are many fascinating interconnections between the veil of ignorance and Kantian ideas, cake-cutting problems, and a variety of other topics.

At the moment though, my only concern is to note the applicability of the concept to the first female Afghan candidate. She is operating very much behind a veil of ignorance in the sense that her society is, like most websites, currently under construction. She doesn't know where she'll end up in the new order (although it probably couldn't be much worse than under the old/current order). Lacking essentially all the biases that color the other candidates, she goes into the race with empty hands.

That's too good to be schtick - that's just fucking awesome.

Rock on lady. I only wish that more of our military were around to help ensure your safety.


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