Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Borges's Lottery in Babylon vs Rawls's Veil of ignorance

"Imagine that you have set for yourself the task of developing a totally new social contract for today's society. How could you do so fairly? Although you could never actually eliminate all of your personal biases and prejudices, you would need to take steps at least to minimize them. Rawls suggests that you imagine yourself in an original position behind a veil of ignorance . Behind this veil, you know nothing of yourself and your natural abilities, or your position in society. You know nothing of your sex, race, nationality, or individual tastes. Behind such a veil of ignorance all individuals are simply specified as rational, free, and morally equal beings. You do know that in the "real world", however, there will be a wide variety in the natural distribution of natural assets and abilities, and that there will be differences of sex, race, and culture that will distinguish groups of people from each other."[6]

Since we  only prefer clear cut Contracts to 'fuzzy' Relationships or opportunistic Transactions where there is a need to hedge against some specific type of Uncertainty- the 'Social Contract' has to be about the specific sorts of Uncertainty arising out of strategic behavior in the Socio-Political realm.
A quite separate issue has to do with the provision of Public Goods, policing of Repugnancy markets, enforcing of Contracts and so on.
These clearly don't require a Social Contract because Absolute Monarchies, Dictatorships and so on can provide them just as well. Indeed, iff the folk theorem of repeated games is Muth Rational and Evolution has provided our Species with a mimetics that is thus epigenetically canalised, then we can show that a unilateral & universal Social Contract isn't in the Core assuming non-zero information and/ or compliance costs.
Nevertheless, just as Monarchies and Dictatorships still have a 'Niti' type Ethical Discourse such that subject-hood exceeds compliance, so too do Liberal Democracies acknowledge that free-riders remain part of the Social Contract. More generally, it isn't the case that acceptance of a given Nation's Social Contract means you agree to every specific article regarding who or what is protected, or how that protection is provided, by National Defence or Health or Economic Policy.

Indeed, a Social Contract is only needed because every type of Public Justification or Substantive Due Process or Just Entitlement thesis can and will be gamed with the result that we all have an incentive to hedge against the uncertainties arising out of the manner of that gaming. Thus, the Social Contract- unless itself the constitution of a Regime specifically stated to have unlimited powers- to count as falling within Liberal discourse, must conform to a limiting ejusdem generis type canon of construction & therefore have no specific & indefeasible Economic or even Legal content, but concern itself wholly with hedging against Mechanism Design or  Race Hazard or Concurrency deadlock or Moral or Agent Principal type hazards.

By contrast, Rawls believed, epigenetically canalised risk aversion would militate for everybody agreeing that the minimum provision of 'basic goods'- which includes Aristotelian 'Goods' like Self-Esteem and Liberty- be maximised subject to Natural as well as Economic/ Social Science type constraints. Rawls, believed that the Social and Biological Sciences were univocal, so to speak- i.e. no 'reswitching' or multiple equilibria obtain- and thus there would always be an 'overlapping consensus' re. the Social Choice Menu and this by itself would militate for metaphysical differences having nil impact on the 'reflective equilibrium' because the latter only concerned itself with unambiguous, unanimously received, 'material' outcomes.

Borges, however, writing a few years earlier than Harsanyi (whose work Rawls drew on) had looked at the opposite situation- viz. what happens in an established, indeed ancient, Society- the paradigmatic Babylon- when a Lottery (i.e. a new source of Social mobility) is introduced. He shows that, under psychologically plausible assumptions re. 'Preference Profiles' in the General Population- people would wish for more and more random, more and more bizarre outcomes (e.g. Gender reassignment and Social invisibility) to occur with dizzying frequency.
Indeed, if your metaphysics commits you to metempsychosis- then the 'tuirgen' knights-tour of all possible lives is by itself soteriologically liberative and so everybody should choose Borges's nightmare Lottery in Babylon over Rawls's Bleeding Heart Nanny State. This does not mean there can't be an 'overlapping consensus' to stick with widespread compulsory Social Insurance- it's just that some sensible people vote for it because they believe the Bureaucratic nightmare that results will simulate Borges's Babylon, not Rawls's Brahminical Boston.

Meredith Townsend, whose spank mag (the Spectator) permanently perverted the young Jawaharlal, argued that Orientals aint motivated by rational self-interest but Arabian Nights 'interestingness'- like the increasingly bizarre outcomes of Borges's lottery- but, of course, it is only Rawlsian rubbish and Sen-tentious shite which can construct the Kafkaesque Bureaucratic Punishment Machine which instantly breaks down to but butcher its one fervent proponent whose crime is to 'Be Just'!

Abu Nawas, I think it was, who first remarked that, at our Symposium, the Saqi's muslin veil protects her from the wine fumes & Plato from mirth.
Alas! Modi's culling of the Planning Commission is to all us old L.S.E-wallahs, Folly's famine & dearth.
For which I personally blame David Cameron.
That boy aint right.
Mind it kindly

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