I always remember reading about John Rawl’s thought experiment around the ‘Veil of Ignorance’ where a group of people have to create a society without knowing where or what they will be in that society. If people act on self-interest they would be likely to create liberal laws or a social contract that would protect them no matter where they ended up. But this always leads to a further consideration as to what happens when someone in such a society breaches that social contract. How are laws enforced? If the perception pervades that societal privilege guarantees a light touch or disproportionately easy to manage penalty by the very state that sets the laws then something is clearly unfair. If a society is considered as a club would you become a member? There are many who wouldn’t join over concerns that the terms of the membership aren’t clear and rules are applied inconsistently. Would you only participate if you had a stake in the governance of the society, or could participate if you wished, as an autonomous agent? Justice is often symbolised by the scales or balance. Would we accept failure and punishment alongside success and reward in a fair society? Is it fair to confuse state and society? There are online societies whose members are governed by laws of different states. You can be a member of a fair society but live in an unfair state. Underpinning these is an assumption that fairness is most likely between responsible autonomous agents, however that leads me to think about those who are irresponsible autonomous, responsible dependent, or irresponsible dependent agents. How does a state or society manage those who are irresponsible and/or dependent if they are the ones doing the managing as well?
Stephen Thompson, Councillor, Dumfries and Galloway Council