As the poet remarked, where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise. Perhaps John Rawls, the American jurist and sociologist, had this tag in mind when he formulated his theory of what he called THE VEIL OF IGNORANCE.
Rawls devised his theory as a response to the question that has challenged political scientists and philosophers from the dawn of civilisation : How do we create a perfect and a perfectly just society, in which the needs and interests of all are looked after and protected ?
Rawls’ proposition was that the Constitution of a perfectly just society should be drawn up by a ‘panel of legislators’ who would be obliged to don a VEIL OF IGNORANCE as to who they might be in the future society they were planning, and what their status would be in it.
All the panellists would be ‘ignorant’ as to their identities in the social order as they had been asked to envisage. For example, someone who was male, white, well-educated and wealthy might be RE-BORN in the society being planned as a black woman, with little or no formal education and who was on the lowermost rung of the economic ladder.
The VEIL OF IGNORANCE the legislators were made to adopt as to who and what they might end up in the hypothetical society would ensure that each of them would try and frame laws that would guarantee them social and economic justice, no matter in what AVATAR they were born, rich or poor, male or female, ethnically privileged or ethnically oppressed.
Rawls’ VEIL OF IGNORANCE could prove of use not just to a student of political science but to all those seeking new means and methods to enlarge the meditative discipline in search of the expansion of consciousness.
Hasidic philosopher Martin Buber raised the question : How can I transcend into Thou ? How do I shed the strait-jacket of my individual ego and discover the infinity of mirrors which reflect the inter-penetrative consciousness of all Being ?
In the guise of an exercise in political game theory, Rawls’ VEIL OF IGNORANCE is a form of ———— do-it-yourself experiment of your DHARMA and REINCARNATION. If I am ignorant of what I shall be in my next life, what sort of world would I wish to be born into, and what can I do, here and now, to try and give shape to that world of the future ?
Seen in this light, the VEIL OF IGNORANCE becomes a practical and practicable aid in creating and buttressing empathy, the ability to step out of your own ego-bound identity into that of someone totally, perhaps even different from you.
Today, in the shrill clamour of the ‘tolerance/intolerance’ furore, Rawls’ VEIL OF IGNORANCE might be a useful device in transforming the prevailing climate of ‘enmity’ to that of ’empathy’. If it could do that, SUCH IGNORANCE WOULD INDEED PROVE TO BE BLISS.
————– Jug Suraiya.