Philosophical Morsels: Justice and Randomness

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One: Black Professors and Molecular Genetics

We do know for a fact that if you are born into a particular race today, at certain places in the world, or even certain places in an extremely tiny country, your chances of success can change dramatically.

Given that no one chooses where to be born, I believe, we have a moral imperative to design a more just, fairer society. As such, in such societies everyone should be given, to start with, a level playing ground.

And what does a level playing ground mean? you might ask.

I will illustrate:

In the United States, for example, there is a big economic inequality majorly mapped by race. [1] Apart from what I heard on the news that managed to find its way to me, I have witnessed this firsthand.

Throughout my 5-year stint, so far, in multiple schools (and states) in the United States, I have only been taught by a single black professor, an advanced molecular genetics class. Yet, virtually all the janitors I have come across in these schools were all blacks. I have come to understand that this is a national trend.

At first glance one is tempted to heap all the blames solely on the blacks, but when you take a second look, a deeper look, things turn out to be somewhat different. Even though there is an impression that the American economic system is a just and free system especially from a naive observer, this is far from the reality.

Let me ask, how will any (black) parent working 2 to 3 jobs – very, very odd jobs by the way – successfully raise a child where basic goods such as housing, education and healthcare are luxuries? While the rich (white) folks have access to such ‘luxuries’ relatively easier[4], largely by a socio-economic structure that had been founded from slavery. Notice the mismatch. The race is not a balanced one. Certain persons are lagging and it seems the system is designed to keep them there.

Friends, notice my ‘black’ and ‘white’ are in parentheses, you can delete those colors and put whatever you like in there (if it is true), my argument will still be intact. Needless to say, as you will see, my arguments are color blind.

(Another thing to point out: problems like this don’t lend themselves to ‘black and white’ analysis. There are so many variables, and one that cannot be ignored is the role of personal agency. As humans, we need to clean up our room first. However, that shouldn’t paralyze us from pointing out societal defects.)

Two: No one deserves to be rich

Of course, I don’t mean this, but again, I mean it. How does one become rich? Let’s attempt to answer this question, friends.

Here is what we know: 1) some folks who deserve to be rich get rich, fair enough; 2) some folks who deserve to be rich don’t get rich; 3) some folks who don’t deserve to be rich get rich; and finally, 4) folks who don’t deserve to be rich, don’t get rich.

You are free to synonymized the word ‘rich’. But, see, 1) and 4) is good, but 2) and 3) is not that great. And there are numerous examples of 2) and 3) in this world.

How do you make sense of that? And can you decide before hand what section you will find yourself?

Three: The greatest injustice in the world

If you are looking for the location of one of the greatest injustices in the world, go to Nigeria, my home country. Nigeria is presently the world poverty capital of the world, and expectedly so. [2]

The Nigeria economic system makes sure that if you are born poor you stay poor, and if you are born extremely rich, you stay extremely rich.

Four: The Wisdom of John Rawls

So, back to my initial question, how do one create a level-playing ground?

In this case it’s pretty straightforward make the basic goods i.e. housing, education, healthcare etc., available for everyone.

Let people compete for whatever they think will make them happy. But, please, please just don’t make people compete for basic goods like housing, education, and healthcare. Having to compete for those will be unfair to the ‘unlucky’.

To conclude, here is a thought experiment:

Imagine you have no knowledge of what gender you will be, what race you will belong to, whether you will be born disabled, how short you will be, how tall you will be, which family you will be born into, when you will be born, who your father is, who your mother is, how sexy you will look, whether you will be born to a farmer in Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan or to a charismatic CEO in Silicon Valley .

In short, how will you design a just society if you have no knowledge of who you will be, behind a veil of ignorance? [3]

I will argue that we will all opt for a more just society than we have now, just because you could end up to be anybody.

And the idea is simple, extremely simple – how we answer the question, how do we create a just society? says much about ourselves than anything else.


[1] Accessed 4:31AM Dec 11, 2018

[2] Accessed 4:35AM Dec 11, 2018; Nigeria Overtakes India in Extreme Poverty Ranking, CNN, June 26, 2018

[3] John Rawls invented this thought experiment in his 1971 book, The Theory of Justice.

[4] The percentage of poor black folks is twice that of the poor white folks in the United States;

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