Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Me and John Rawls Down By the Schoolyard

Titles aren't always great. Sorry.

Much of what I read was preface. Someone said it takes a philosopher a couple paragraphs to clear their throat and there's at least 10 pages of throat clearing before the main feature starts. Admittedly, it's an explanation of the changes made for the 1999 revision of the book published in 1971.

And, honestly, it's kind of impenetrable to me. I don't think I got as far as the parts that were revised, so I can't tell where a difference was made. The preface also sees Rawls talking about the changes he would have made to the book had he written it now, which include Chapters II and III. As an editor, it almost makes me want to scream. If a book is going to be reissued, especially in the case of a book that has a shadow like a crater in Hiroshima, then give the author the opportunity to revise it completely.

Then I look again at the reissue date: 1999. Printers and word processing programs were not as ubiquitous as they are now. And even if they were, maybe it was too much work for the aging Rawls. There might not be enough hours in the day for him to devote to a revision that sizable. It might not even be the same book.

In the words of my spiritual adviser, X-Man Bobby Drake, that's probably a thing, right?

(Then again, when the first edition of the book has a printing for the sole and express purpose of students seeing what mistakes were made in it, there's a precedent set.)

On a third hand, just doing a book with a word processor is hard enough, let alone a 500+ page tome where you need to connect every goddamn dot, leave no link in the chain unattached and do so when word processing programs and computers are only really coming into not exclusively techy use. Shit, this book that has not just defined its field, but made an entire other one in critical commentary, was written on a fucking typewriter, if not by hand.

Think about that. Now think harder. I can't even write 50 pages on Word without changing topics, so writing 500+ on a typewriter or by hand is as foreign to me as our favorite extra-terrestrial, Galactus, Devourer of Worlds. And, it's not like their jobs or responsibilities go away when they're writing, unless they've got grants. Sorry, this idea is mindblowing. I'm writing this on a word processor, with like 4 printers within a 45 second walk. How do you even review a chapter, just to cast another eye on it?

Anyway, the book get to the thesis pretty quickly: Justice as a social scheme, is to be understood as how rights and privileges are distributed. This would be arrived at from the original position, a position that sees people, without knowing how they would fare in the lotteries of birth, ordering a society. Rawls believes it is reasonable for human beings to protect the downside, to use a colloquialism, if they don't know how life is going to turn out.

It's called the veil of ignorance. From behind that veil, Rawls believes that human beings would freely and rationally choose to order a society where the minimum standard is as high as possible, because he believes they'll believe the odds are they're gonna be near it. I'm only four chapters into it, but the idea that jumps out to me is that this presupposes a level of education between all parties that may not be equal.

Aside from that, I don't have much else to say about the first four chapters. I'm a B.A., and this all makes sense to me, with enough re-readings. I'm capable of synthesizing and analyzing information, but...damnit. I don't want to sell myself short here, but this is a stone cold classic that makes a bit of sense at least in the first four chapters. I mean, sure, one could choose to gamble and argue that the baseline should be set lower, with more opportunity to accumulate wealth and advantages. But that's a point other people made that I read about.

That is the point of this feature, to go and see what, if anything I find, synthesizing regularly. 2666 next week! Somehow, that's the easier book to read. Who knew?

I've been listening to Katy Perry's song Teenage Dream non-stop. Here it is, to stand, happily in defiance of the super-abstract and unfun Rawls. Love the dissonance, folks.

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