The philosopher John Rawls has a very interesting theory of justice. The basic concept is that when deciding to what extent a society is just, we should imagine ourselves to be what he calls POP – “people in the original position”. Which means that we would be hypothetical persons in a hypothetical society. We do not know who we will be. We do not know whether our parents will be rich or poor, or whether they’ll be caring or abusive towards us. We do not know to what extent we’ll have good or bad genes and traits. How intelligent we’ll become, how easily we’ll have to learn. How healthy or unhealthy we will be. And so on.
Rawls argue that these POP would want a welfare state where everyone has a decent life. They would accept inequality only when it is on the whole beneficial, or at least harmless, to those who are least fortunate.
Try it yourself… Imagine that you will be reincarnated into a future civilization… and that you have no idea whether you’ll be rich or poor, strong or weak, healthy or disabled, and so on. Would you want a social security system that helps you if you need it, but costs you some tax money if you don’t need it? Or would you prefer to suffer horribly if you happen to be born into an unfortunate situation, just so you can be even richer in case you happen to get born as a healthy kid in a rich family?
Today, I heard someone trying to refute Rawls philosophy by applying it to sexuality. But before I get into his argument, lets have a look at the idea itself.
Would it be a good idea to apply the idea of POP to sexuality?
Oh, it definitely would!
Lets say that you are honestly trying to use Rawls’ idea of POP (“People in the Original Position”) to figure out how sexual morality should be organized. What should be accepted and what should be taboo? What should be legal and what should be illegal?
As a POP, you don’t know any relevant facts about yourself as a person. You don’t know how what body type you’ll have, you don’t now how much stamina and libido and so on you’ll have. Also, you don’t know whether you’ll be male or female… or intersexual/nonbinary/genderqueer/whatever. You don’t now whether you’ll be gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, kinky, vanilla, asexual, and/or something else.
Any rational POP would favor acceptance for sexuality, including sexual minority practices that can be indulged in a consensual way. They don’t know what sexuality they will have, so of course they will want acceptance for everyone. They wouldn’t want any minority stigmatized, just in case they’d turn out to belong to that minority. At the same time, they would want strict laws and social norms against rape and other sexual abuse, as they would not want to risk becoming the victims.
Thus, they would accept heterosexuality, homosexuality, sadomasochism, fetishism, or any other sexuality that can be expressed alone or in mutual consensual relationships. They would not want society to accept pedophilia, as they would not want to risk becoming the victims of pedophiles during their vulnerable childhood years. At the same time, they would want to make a clear distinction between pedophilia and pedophiles: They would want society to be compassionate to any pedophile who abstains from having contact with children, just in case any of them happens to grow up to have such an unfortunate sense of sexual attraction towards people who don’t have an adult sexuality and are too vulnerable to give valid consent. As a POP, the risk of becoming lonely and sexually frustrated will most likely seem insignificant compared to the risk of becoming sexually abused.
Of course, most people who are lonely and sexually frustrated are simply unattractive in one way or another. After all, a lot of people have times in their lives when they are lonely and this becomes a bad spiral. How would the POP feel about the risk of simply being unwanted?
Surely, the POP who would think “if I turn out poor or sick, I want a government to provide healthcare” may also think “if I turn out unattractive, I want a system where I could get laid anyway”. The difference is that while they would think “if I’d turn out rich, I wouldn’t mind paying taxes”, they WOULDN’T think “if I’d turn out pretty, I wouldn’t mind getting raped”.
So, what WOULD they do to safeguard themselves just in case they turn out to be unattractive? Well, I think there are two things they would do.
First of all, they would want to establish norms where sex is not seen as a competition or issue of status. It should never be considered shameful or whatever for someone who’s considered attractive to have sex with someone considered less attractive.
Second, they would want to establish norms where its okay to have sex for many different reasons. Including the reason of getting paid. While they would be against all kinds of trafficking and sexual exploitation (as they would not want to risk becoming the victims), they would also be in favor of sex workers being accepted and protected in society. After all, some of them may end up in a situation where becoming a sex worker or a client seems like a good option.
All in all, Rawls theory of justice isn’t hard to apply to issues of sexuality. So, what about that guy who tried to use that as a method of refuting the theory of justice?
Well, he correctly made the assumption that the POP shouldn’t know how attractive or unattractive they will be. At the same time, however, he made the HUGE error of assuming that they ought to know that they will all be male and heterosexual. That’s where the example turns into utter garbage. Instead, the POP ought to know that they’ll have an even chance to be male or female. As well as a fair chance to be bisexual, gay, sadomasochist or whatever.
Such POP would NOT want a “redistribution of women to fuck”, as this would put them at risk of becoming the women to be “redistributed” for men to rape. Of course they would prefer the risk of having to limit themselves to masturbation if they turn out to be unattractive, over the risk of being forced to have sex with men they wouldn’t be attracted to.
When someone makes an argument based on the implicit assumption that “money is people” or that “women are not people”, then any logic built on that assumption becomes nothing more than GIGO: “Garbage In = Garbage Out”.