Too much amnesia in the Original Position of John Rawls

John Rawls in his A Theory of Justice (1971) posits a group of rational people who are told to deliberate on rules of justice for a life they will have after being transported into some unpredictable human condition in some unpredictable institutional situations.

He concludes that the only rational choice is to agree on two principles. The following formulation here will suffice:

The two principles of justice are the liberty principle and the difference principle. The two principles are intended to apply to the basic structure of society–the fundamental political and economic arrangements–as opposed to particular actions by governmental officials or individual statutes. The liberty principle requires that the basic structure provide each citizen with a fully adequate scheme of basic liberties — such as freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, and due process of law. The difference principle requires that inequalities in wealth and social position be arranged so as to the benefit the worst off group in the world. Rawls states that the two principles are lexically ordered, with the liberty principle taking precedence over the difference principle in the case of conflict.

As it turns out, although the altered condition of the people in the Original Position is unpredictable, their transported institutional situation seems to be a liberal democratic society with a capitalist economy. So, in effect they are asked to write a meta-law for, let’s say, the Constitution of the United States. In effect, the second principle would require the introduction of either a right to a job for all or a basic income for all, and perhaps a free universal health care.

What these people in the Original Position seem to have forgotten is that they are animals on earth who need access to subsistence, and that they can get this subsistence if they have a free access to land. Before the contents of some agreed to rule is adopted, it is first necessary to make agreements in the first place. So, it seems that the first order of business is to come up with two meta-rules: Meta-Rule 1: Make Agreement (on Rules) rather than resort to coercion (War); Meta-Rule 2: Abide by the agreements (Rules).

Really, instead of the contrived Original Position, a more historically realistic situation is envisioned by John Stuart Mill. He imagines a group of colonists arriving at some uninhabited land.

Book II, Chapter 1. Principles of Political Economy:

In considering the institution of property as a question in social philosophy, we must leave out of consideration its actual origin in any of the existing nations of Europe. We may suppose a community unhampered by any previous possession; a body of colonists, occupying for the first time an uninhabited country; bringing nothing with them but what belonged to them in common, and having a clear field for the adoption of the institutions and polity which they judged most expedient; required, therefore, to choose whether they would conduct the work of production on the principle of individual property, or on some system of common ownership and collective agency.

If private property were adopted, we must presume that it would be accompanied by none of the initial inequalities and injustices which obstruct the beneficial operation of the principle in old societies. Every full grown man or woman, we must suppose, would be secured in the unfettered use and disposal of his or her bodily and mental faculties; and the instruments of production, the land and tools, would be divided fairly among them, so that all might start, in respect to outward appliances, on equal terms. It is possible also to conceive that in this original apportionment, compensation might be made for the injuries of nature, and the balance redressed by assigning to the less robust members of the community advantages in the distribution, sufficient to put them on a par with the rest. But the division, once made, would not again be interfered with; individuals would be left to their own exertions and to the ordinary chances, for making an advantageous use of what was assigned to them. If individual property, on the contrary, were excluded, the plan which must be adopted would be to hold the land and all instruments of production as the joint property of the community, and to carry on the operations of industry on the common account. The direction of the labour of the community would devolve upon a magistrate or magistrates, whom we may suppose elected by the suffrages of the community, and whom we must assume to be voluntarily obeyed by them. The division of the produce would in like manner be a public act. The principle might either be that of complete equality, or of apportionment to the necessities or deserts of individuals, in whatever manner might be conformable to the ideas of justice or policy prevailing in the community.

Examples of such associations, on a small scale, are the monastic orders, the Moravians, the followers of Rapp, and others: and from the hopes, which they hold out of relief from the miseries and iniquities of a state of much inequality of wealth, schemes for a larger application of the same idea have reappeared and become popular at all periods of active speculation on the first principles of society. In an age like the present [1848], when a general reconsideration of all first principles is felt to be inevitable, and when more than at any former period of history the suffering portions of the community have a voice in the discussion, it was impossible but that ideas of this nature should spread far and wide. The late revolutions in Europe have thrown up a great amount of speculation of this character, and an unusual share of attention has consequently been drawn to the various forms which these ideas have assumed: nor is this attention likely to diminish, but on the contrary, to increase more and more.

Rawls’ problem is caused by starting off with a bad idea of justice. Justice, in short, is simply the virtue of keeping to your agreements.


Anyway, here is Noam Chomsky’s view of Rawls:

Extinction Rebellion

Today is the second day of the demonstration of the Extinction Rebellion in London. I am fully in sympathy with this movement to force governments to stop carbon dioxide emissions. But I am skeptical that this movement will succeed. And, after all, they are not addressing the underlying cause of our situation — overpopulation.

See also the interview with the co-founder of the Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam.

What happens when people in slums revolt?

The straightforward answer is: South Africa, from July 9 to July 18, 2021. As a background to what occurred, see: 2021 South African unrest.

Here is a video of the recent events in South Africa:

where do such rebellious people come from? Slums. And it only takes some event such as the killing of George Floyd in the United States for the alienated poor to go on a rampage. Below are videos describing some slums around the world.

Here is a video of the Kibera Slums in Kenya:

Here is a video of a slum in Mumbai:

Here is a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:

Lunik 9, the biggest Roma slum in Kosice, Slovakia, Europe:

What is the same and what is different between the Republican and Democratic Parties in the United States?

Three things come to mind about their similarities:
1. Both support the Constitution of the United States.
2. Both support the Capitalist system.
3. Both are funded by large corporations.

Before I say anything about the differences, let me say something about these three similarities. 1. About the Constitution. Let me just say that the Swiss Constitution is better for the following reasons. First, I think it is a grave error to give such great powers to a single individual, as is given to a President or to a Prime Minister. Such persons almost invariable will work for their own benefit, their families, and their friends. As an example, just think of the activities of President Donald Trump. A single individual is also subject to bribes and threats.

A better Constitution — such as that of Switzerland — places the executive function in the hands of a council of seven individuals.

Second, the U.S. Constitution promotes Macro Democracy at all levels of government. Million vote for the President, millions vote for Senators and Representatives, millions vote for Governors, and thousands or millions vote for Mayors.

By contrast, I advocate Micro Democracy which is favored by anarchists.

2. About Capitalism. By Capitalism, I understand a political system which bars people from a free access to subsistence land. And by contrast, I view Socialism as a political system which grants people a free access to subsistence land. [I know that others view the matter differently. But when you think about it axiomatically (i.e., in terms of fundamental principles), this is the difference.]

3. As to funding. Macro Democracy requires a great amount of money for advertisement. And those with the greatest wealth (i.e., corporation) are able to contribute the most. And statistically, the candidates with the largest campaign funds tend to prevail. So both parties seek and accept corporate donations.

My stance here is to favor Micro Democracy in which funds would be useless.

Now to the differences. In reality, they are superficial and contrived. For example, there is a great fuss about voting rights. But what does it matter whether you elect a Republican Tweedle-Dee or a Democratic Tweedle-Dum.

“We have everything but we have no money.”

All over the world there are people who live in small villages, grow their own food and raise animals for food as well. I am especially interested in how this is possible in eastern Europe. It is possible, of course, if one has access to free subsistence land. And, without the infrastructure of water pipes, gas pipes, or an electric grid, or a sewer system, this is comparable to living on a homestead in the 19th century American frontier. Water is obtained from wells or a spring, heating is by burning wood, and a toilet is an out-house.

I have previously posted: “A documentary of how an American lived for 6 weeks in a Ukrainian village”. This gives you a good feel of how such a life is lived in a Ukrainian village.

But I keep looking for other videos. Recently I watched the following video:

Village Life in Romania

What struck me and stuck in my brain in this video was the comment of an old woman living in a remote village. She said, “”We have everything but we have no money.” She did not mean this literally because she was receiving a small pension from the government. The way I interpret what she said is this: We have all the necessities for life, but we have no money for luxuries. By “luxuries” I mean to include all those things which lessen the burdens of living.

What has puzzled me about village life in eastern Europe is: What about property taxes?

I found the following facts about property taxes in Ukraine. Unlike the property taxes in the United States, and most of Europe, which are based on an assessment of the worth of your property on the real estate market, in Ukraine property taxes are based on the square meter of your dwelling. An apartment dwelling of 60 square meters (645.8 square feet) and a house of 120 square meters (1291.6 square feet) are not taxed at all. And each additional square meter is taxed at the rate of 1.5% of the minimum national living wage. [This is about $216 dollars a month; so, each additional square meter of space would cost about $3.24.] My house in Chicago is 121 square meters and the assessed property value in 2017 was $303,220. My property tax in 2017 was $5,772.80 (this is with an exemption for our ages). In Ukraine, my property tax would have been $3.24

In addition, according to Article 121 of the Ukrainian Land Code each citizen has a right to get land for free. [See: “How to get land in Ukraine for free?”]

So, at least in Ukraine, it is still possible to live without money.


You may be wondering why this an issue?

I view city-life as being precarious. What happens when the infra-structure collapses as it did in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005:

In general, a city is a Technology Trap.

Why I have no strategy for bringing about significant changes

In my last blog I said that I have no strategy for realizing my ideals. Here I want to explain why I said this. A government can be changed either peacefully or violently. First to do either, there must exist some group of people who want a change. Next that group of people must get organized. Well, historically this happened in the United States in 1861 in the South which formed the Confederate States which seceded from the Union. The “decider” — President Abraham Lincoln — did not allow this to happen. And as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he decided to “quell this rebellion.” Formally, this was not a civil war, but a domestic insurrection. Perhaps some other person as President would have allowed the secession to take place. As example, the Soviet Union dissolved peacefully under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.

So, one way to get out of a bad government is by secession. But it depends on who is the “decider” whether this will be allowed. Most countries (especially under monarchs or dictators) are imperialistic; trying to gain and to control more and more territory, as is documented by the endless wars in recorded history. And colonies are let go only after much fighting. We have the example of the British colonies in America rebelling and seceding from England; or India getting independence from England.

Any domestic rebellion in the United States would be immediately crushed by the overwhelming force of the police and the military. Good examples of this are the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Pullman Strike of 1894. In both cases federal troops were used to pacify the situation. The former by orders of President Hayes; the latter by orders of President Cleveland.

My point is that it is impossible to do anything in the United States against the will of the President. Why? Because he is in charge of soldiers who will carry out his orders. Remember, people will do almost anything for money, that is, do their “job.” And neither policemen nor soldiers are exceptions.

Ok, so what is the peaceful strategy for changing the government or its policies? All the “deciders” in government are elected officials. The rest of the civil servants do the will of these elected “deciders”, except for the Supreme Court whose members are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and who can be removed only by impeachment.

Changing the government under the US Constitution would require an Amendment to the Constitution, something which is extremely difficult to do. So, the only practical strategy is to elect trustworthy and benevolent politicians. Good luck!

Given that the United States has Mass or Macro Democracy, by which I mean that thousands or millions of people vote to elect a candidate. And in order to persuade the voters to vote for a candidate, it requires lots of advertisement. And advertisement costs lots of money. And the higher the office, the more money required. [e.g., in the 2020 presidential race, Donald Trump and Joe Biden together spent $1.3 billion.] So only either the wealthy, or the friends of the wealthy get elected. Therefore, the government of the United States is controlled by the wealthy. There are exceptions, but so what? It only gives the illusion of the possibility of change for the better.

I think it was the Presidency of Barack Obama which created the greatest disillusionment in American people for their government. Here was a black pied piper promising change, but who led us lemmings over the cliff.

Chris Hedges “The Legacy Of Barack Obama Has Been The Near Collapse Of The Left!”

Given the above considerations, leaves me with no acceptable strategies for any political changes.

Jimmy Dore criticizes Noam Chomsky over “voting for the lesser of two evils”

What does one do if both candidates for President are equally terribly evil, and voting is an exercise in futility?

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My reaction:

I have ideals, but no strategy for achieving them.

After listening to Jimmy Dore criticizing Noam Chomsky for urging people to vote for the lesser of two evils, showing a video of David Graeber pointing out that both liberals and conservatives are serving the same corporate interests (– a position I agree with), and listening to Jimmy Dore urging direct action and the need to establish a third political party, I reflected on “what is to be done?”

I have social and political ideals, but I have no strategy for realizing any of them. Why? Because even if I or anyone did have strategies, these would have to be communicated to others. And this is where I am at present — trying to communicate my ideals to others via the Internet.

The result? I presently have a large audience of subscribers. But I have no idea to what extent I am getting an agreement or even a hearing. My pessimism is reinforced by the fact that such outstanding figures and proliferate writers as Bertrand Russell or Noam Chomsky are barely known by the literate masses or even scholars. In other words, public intellectuals — just like mass protests — have little if any impact on the deeds of government.

Revolutions — when they occur — are the result of intolerable conditions. So, people like Karl Marx and presently Richard Wolff (a Marxist economist), see the misery caused by capitalism and predict mass protests. But what will be the results of such protests or insurrections nobody can predict.

Countries go to war because some individual decides to go to war

As I read political history, I am distracted from understanding what happened by such typical formulations as “Country X went to war with Country Y.” On some level of understanding this is true, but unenlightening. This is just as unenlightening as the recent report that Cornel West was denied tenure by Harvard. The more enlightening description of what happened is that Cornell West was denied the right to apply for tenure by the President of Harvard, Lawrence S. Bacow. And a still more enlightening account would probe into Bacow’s reasons. [ For an analogous case, see my analysis: Andrew Chrucky, “Norman Finkelstein, DePaul, and U.S. Academia: Reductio Ad Absurdum of Centralized Universities,” July 23, 2007]

My point is that when dealing with governed institutions — whatever their nature — it is a prevalent norm to describe these institution as if they were agents. But institutions are like tools or machines which require a particular human agent to use them. And what I am calling as “enlightened” description requires identifying the human agent who makes the machine operate, and it requires a further probing into that agent’s reasons for acting as he did.

Suppose you read in a newspaper that Jones was struck and killed by a car. OK, on one level this is a correct description. But if you want to get into a more enlightened description, you would want to know where and when this happened, what were the circumstances, and who was the driver. Was this an accident? What was the condition of the driver? Was this an intentional act? Deliberate?

I am proposing a similar sort of description for the actions of governments and countries. There is always some “decider” in the government (as President W. George Bush, Jr. described himself — accurately).

Let’s consider the infamous case of the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Such an act requires the decision of the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces: the President of the United States. The responsible agent in this case was Harry S. Truman. And to get some enlightenment, we would need to understand his reasons.

Let’s consider another example. The fall of Constantinople in 1453. On one level, we can describe this event as a successful siege of Constantinople by the Turks. But on a more enlightening level, the siege was the decision of Sultan Mohammed II for whatever reasons.

What am I driving at? It is clear to me that great battles and wars are the decisions of powerful individuals. By “powerful,” I simply mean that they can get others to do what they want. They can use others as chess pawns for their ambitions. Who are these “pawns”? Soldiers and civilians!

Take any battle or war. On both sides, after the battle or war there are countless dead, disabled, sick and suffering. Consider the so-called American Civil War (1861-65). Wikipedia lists 616,222-1,000,000+ dead. Who was the decider who wanted to “preserve the union”? Abraham Lincoln!

Political history with its battles and wars, including the maintenance of internal “order,” is the history of megalomaniacs and other ambitious individuals who sacrifice the lives of countless others for their own profits and glory.

The lesson I draw from this reflection is that the principle of the separation of powers in government should include the separation of powers in the executive branch, as is done, for example, in Switzerland. Switzerland has a seven-member Federal Council; whereas everywhere else there is either a sole President, a Prime-Minister, or sometimes both.

Social Diseases and their Symptoms: Reform and/or Revolution

I watch and read what are called “progressive” items. And I tend to cheer for so-called “progressive” politicians. But on reflection they all are — what Eduard Bernstein called — Reformists rather than Revolutionists, as were, for example, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

What is the difference? To use the analogy with diseases, there are causes of a disease and there are symptoms. A reformist is, in my view, someone who treats the symptoms; a revolutionist is someone who treats the causes.

As concerns addressing the public, let’s face it, for such people to live fairly well in the modern world requires an income. This includes teachers, writers, journalists, media hosts and internet personalities, and politicians. One way of doing this is to have some kind of public forum, and attract donations, subscriptions, and advertisers. A book, a piece of writing, a performance, or a movie is — more or less — a one time attraction which will generate an immediate income. But a steadier source of income comes from a newspaper, a journal, a “show” — or movie-wise, a “serial.” [I myself after hoping for donations to this site, have turned to monetizing through advertising.]

To make my point about Reformists as contrasted with Revolutionists, let me concentrate on my favorite news hour: “Democracy Now,” which the host, Amy Goodman, calls a “show.” It starts off with a news summary concerned with war and peace, and then proceeds to concentrate on some specific topic or to conduct an interview. It intersperses a piece of music during transitions.

I have no quarrel with the topics covered. They are all concerned with the major symptoms of the social diseases — so many deaths here and there because of a war, a revolution, a disease; so much poverty, unemployment, homelessness here and there; bad leaders elected and corruption here and there; protests and brutal repressions here and there. The litany of evils continues show after show.

The show proposes anodynes: change this politician and change this law. What is missing from consideration are the causes of these social symptoms. And to deal with the causes there is need to transition to a Revolutionary stance. But dwelling on a revolutionary stance is counter-productive to a political “show” — which aims to entertain while delivering some remedial message. Actually the best form of this approach was practiced by George Carlin, the comedian, who couched his social and political commentary in the guise of comedy.

In my view — as was the view of many revolutionaries — the disease is Capitalism, and its sustainer, the State.

Although I think that Noam Chomsky has the best insights into the Social Problems — it takes will power to listen to his monotone voice. I find Chris Hedges’ preacher-like delivery more focused and succinct.

The main immediate global problem, as Chomsky keeps repeating, is that humans are destroying the ecosystem, and thus themselves. And, in my view, the direct cause of this is human overpopulation.

And the power of doing anything about this and other social problems such as capitalism is the central (federal) government — the State. The clearest understanding of how the State arises and its nature is to be found in the small book by Franz Oppenheimer, The State, 1914.
And there are two revolutionary attitudes toward the State: one is to take control of the State (this was done by Napoleon, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, among others). This is also the Macro-Democratic parliamentary method of electing a President, Prime-Minister, or other single “deciders.” The other method is to dispense with the State in favor of bottom-up micro-democratic communities (anarchism).

But where in a progressive news show like “Democracy Now,” is there a suggestion that the Swiss government is better than that of the United States? Where is the criticism of the U.S. Constitution as was undertaken by Lysander Spooner? And where among the pundits is there an understanding of Capitalism as a denying people free access to subsistence land?