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viewpoint

America the play: a thought experiment

| Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Let’s do a little thought experiment. The following ideas have no basis in reality, they are merely players in a play I have made up.

This play takes place on a planet in an alternate universe populated by intelligent humanoid creatures. The founding principle of their society is justice, and they believe they have achieved it. To their eyes, their world is an idyllic place of perfect justice: The slackers get paid their worth and the industrious get paid their worth. Furthermore, because of this absolute faith in justice, this place also believes in equality, for how can there be justice without equality? Let’s call this hypothetical place America.
In America, their centennial census just came out with some shocking new revelations (Why do they only have a census every 100 years? I don’t know). The census revealed an individual’s wealth in America is directly correlated with the wealth of his or her parents. This revelation put them at an impasse: Which of their principles were true, that of justice, or that of equality? If their world was equal, then this new data revealed their world wasn’t just; if their world was just, then this new data revealed their world wasn’t equal. After much public debate, America concluded it was more apparent its world was just rather than equal. This meant there were some portions of the population that were simply better and more industrious than other parts. The rich celebrated their natural superiority, while the poor didn’t care much about their inherent inferiority, because, well, they were too lazy to care much about anything.
In this same alternate universe however, this quaint America is completely ignorant of another planet directly opposite of them, orbiting the same sun. This other planet follows an orbit exactly opposed to the orbit of America, which forever obscures this planet from the view of America and vice-versa. Let’s call this mysterious planet Anti-America.
Anti-America is eerily similar to America. Through some astounding chance of mathematical probability, Anti-America is actually filled with carbon copies of the same people and places; same names, same looks, same personalities, same everything. Anti-America does differ from America in one crucial aspect, however, their founding principle is equality. Based on this principle of equality, they also believe their society is perfectly just, for how can injustice exist amongst equals? All differences in individual wealth are therefore directly attributable to choices made by individuals. All of these things are accepted as Gospel truth.

In Anti-America, their centennial census just came out with some shocking new revelations (Why do they only have a census every 100 years? I still don’t know). The census revealed an individual’s wealth in Anti-America is directly correlated with the wealth of his or her parents. This revelation puts them at an impasse: which of their principles were true, that of equality, or that of justice? If their world was just, then this new data revealed their world wasn’t equal; if their world was equal, then this new data revealed their world wasn’t just. After much public debate, Anti-America concluded it was more apparent their world was equal rather than just. They realized people weren’t raised in equal opportunity in Anti-America and the justice was something achieved, not inherent to society. The government of Anti-America therefore decided to institute reforms to combat the ill effects of poverty and create a more just Anti-America.

There is one other principle that has hitherto gone unmentioned in this exploration of America and Anti-America. This is the principle of freedom. Which one of these two societies believes in freedom? It should be apparent Anti-America believes in freedom, not America. America believes people are inherently bound by their natures to specific circumstances; Anti-America recognizes people are bound by specific circumstances, but these circumstances are changeable rather than inherent. It is the classic nature vs. nurture debate: America believes in nature, Anti-America believes in nurture.

I hope you enjoyed this little thought experiment! Rest assured America is nothing like America, nor Anti-America. In fact, one could say we have the best of both worlds. Despite the fact research has shown a clear correlation between parent’s wealth and a child’s future wealth, in America we believe in the perfect justice of America while simultaneously claiming belief in the perfect equality and freedom of Anti-America. By doing this, we get to live in the happy freedom-filled world of Anti-America without any of the social responsibility. This freedom, of course, is not valid for certain segments of the population, but our society and economic system is perfectly fair and just, so they are irrelevant. Isn’t that grand?

Robert Alvarez is a senior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies. He is
living in Zahm House. He welcomes all dialogue on the viewpoints he expresses. He can be reached at  ralvare4@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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