“Veil of Ignorance” by David Barr Kirtley
Card picked: 6♦
From: Lightspeed, Issue 57, Feb. 2015
“Veil of Ignorance” is a science fiction short story based on John Rawls’ philosophical concept of the same name. Rawls’ theory is that (and forgive me, I know very little philosophy) we could live within a system of moral laws that an entire society could agree to if we could, in the process of creating such laws, divorce ourselves from who we are in that society and place ourselves in the shoes of any other member of that society. The example that is usually given: If half of the population is slave owners and half the population is slaves, and, if you personally are now randomly assigned a statues in this society (i.e. 50% chance of being a slave), wouldn’t you out-law slavery?
In this story, Kirtley plays out Rawls’ veil of ignorance concept among a group of friends using an alien drug. Brad, a member of the group, feels like his friends could treat each other better and gives them the drug without telling them what the effect will be. Soon, the group—Conrad (the playboy), Alyssa (his ditsy girlfriend), Dillon (the hanger-on), Kat (the weirdo), and Brad (the complainer)—are all sharing their thoughts and feelings. And it doesn’t go as well Brad hopes. Especially considering that Brad has forced them into the situation. Crime ensues. Maybe that’s what happens when thought experiments become real…
In addition to writing, David Barr Kirtley is the host of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.