The Other I

November 6, 2009

Separation of powers

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:23 pm

Basic equality and principles of democracy ran deep in the family I grew up in.  There were a lot of us and since we varied in age, size, authority, and in the sheer amount of noise we could make, we developed a number of strategies for getting along.

One was the agreement that if we had to share something to be divided equally, the person who did the dividing was the last person to choose which one would be theirs.  If we were dividing a bottle of coke, for instance, the one who poured the coke into glasses got the last glass after everyone had chosen the glass they wanted.

This led to deadly accurate measuring.

I’ve often wondered which one of us thought up this clever rule.  I’m sure it was one of the children, not my parents, but who it was I don’t remember.

I do remember the time when Mary, about age 2,  chose her glass and then watched with horror as her older brother Tom poured his coke into a taller thinner glass.  “You just gave yourself more!” she shouted in aggrieved outrage.  Tom laughed and said “oh boy, you are going to be easy to fool.”

But Mary learned fast.  I don’t think it was a trick anyone ever pulled on her.



  1. Hi Terry,

    I’m intrigued by the parallels between this ‘clever rule’ and John Rawls’s idea of the ‘veil of ignorance’ in his A Theory of Justice

    thinking makes it so


    Comment by Chris Lawrence — November 6, 2009 @ 7:55 pm | Reply

  2. What an intriguing idea. My father was a lawyer, thought like a lawyer, and some of us, at least, learned by osmosis to think that way. I suspect, though, that he would have seen our rigid rules of equality as the thinking of children, and I can only guess that he would have rejected the veil of ignorance as his preferred road to justice. He regularly pointed out to us how different circumstances changed the way one might evaluate the actions of the people involved and often explained to us why he would give one of his children some privilege or opportunity the others did not have. Most often, of course, it was our ages, but sometimes it was more subtle.

    I’d be interested to know what you think of Rowls’ position. Now that I can afford an entire bottle of coke for anyone wishing it —


    Comment by theotheri — November 6, 2009 @ 8:22 pm | Reply

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