Rawls Hates Jerks…Me Too

December 3, 2011

Political Theory


Who saw that game last weekend?! Wait, no.  Let me say it this way.  Who didn’t see that game last weekend?!  I rushed that field, you are darn right I rushed that field!  After seven long years, the Michigan Wolverines defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in The Game!  Now let me ask you this.  How were your seats?  Could you see?  Did you see every play?  Or were you forced to stare up at those beautiful brand spankin’ new screens?  I actually had pretty good seats, Sec. 29 Row 33 Seat 51.  But, the problem was, I think about five other people had that same seat, Sec. 29 Row 33 Seat 51.  At least it felt that way.  The Michigan vs. Ohio State rivalry is arguably the biggest rivalry in college sports and it was safe to assume that even a stadium as big as the Big House was going to be packed.

I think watching a highly anticipated football game on crowded stadium bleachers is one of the few times in life a guy can have his junk shoved up against another dude without his sexual orientation being brought into question.  I would postulate that this is due to the social understanding that there is a severe lack of autonomy when sitting in the student section.  If given the choice of watching a football game crammed like a sardine between two larger, much sweatier men, or watching the game a comfortable distance from those seated around you, a large majority of the student population would choose the latter.  But nonetheless, Michigan is a community and together we support our team, braving whatever conditions we must to arrive and cheer on our team, even if our seats are less than desirable.

So when I arrived at the stadium, pushed and shoved my way down to row 33, shimmied my way into seat 51, bamboozled between my peers, and clambered up onto the bleachers, I couldn’t help but notice when I saw a girl standing wide stance across two seats (easily space enough for three or four people!).  My friends and I kindly asked this girl to “scooch” down a little and make room so we could all sit together, but found her unwilling.  This girl was attempting to “save seats” for her friends who had yet to arrive at the stadium.  Im not sure what baffled me more, her arrogance in presuming she could pull such shenanigans, or her obvious success!  As much as I and everyone else around me wished she would stand like a normal person and share the space with those around her, she did not budge, and she was successfully holding her ground.

Non-Rawlsian distribution of space. That girl on top has waaaay more space than everyone else.

If the amount of space each spectator occupied is seen as resources or wealth, this girl was considered very wealthy.  I now justify my strong dislike for this girl’s actions by adopting the perspective of Rawls.  Based off the interpretation of Rawlsian theory through Thomas Nagel’s, Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue, it can be concluded that Rawls would frown upon this girl’s actions as well.  Rawls believed not in equality, but rather in an effort to assist the less fortunate.  In other words, Rawls was happy if the least fortunate were at least doing the best they could, even if this wasn’t equal to the status of the more fortunate.  Rawls then believed that it was partially the responsibility of the fortunate, and the wealthy, to do what they could to assist the least fortunate.  The Bleacher Girl, illustrated above, was perceived as very wealthy but refused to assist the least fortunate.  Everyone around her was suffering from lack of space and was forced to cram into none existent spaces in order to get a seat to watch the game, while she monopolized an area of space in high demand.  Rawls would argue that it was this girl’s responsibility, as well as the responsibility of other spectators with extra space, to make an effort to accommodate their crowded classmates.  In fact, Rawls would argue that Bleacher Girl was responsible up until the point where the spectator with the least amount of room (the least fortunate) could not gain more space without causing another spectator to be worse off than he or she.

So next time we all march down to the Big House for a big game and find the stadium absolutely packed, take a moment, and adopt the Rawlsian perspective and try to help out your fellow least fortunate classmates.  Who knows, it could be you one day…

Below is a Rawlsian distribution.  Everyone has equal room to jump.

P.S. I don’t know about you, but I was really pulling of “M” to win that race.  Stupid “K”.

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Below is a non-Rawlsian distribution. Some spectators wallow in their losing misery with much more space around them than others.

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3 Comments on “Rawls Hates Jerks…Me Too”

  1. goldman13 Says:

    You make a very interesting connection between Rawls’ argument and the natural environment of the Big House. However, i think you are overlooking a rather crucial detail. You describe a situation in which a girl in the bleachers is taking up an absurd amount of room, forcing the other onlookers to squeeze into tight spaces. Since this girl has the most property – a commodity that is in high desire during football games — she would be regarded by Rawls as the most wealthy. You state that the Bleacher Girl “was attempting to “save seats” for her friends who had yet to arrive at the stadium.” You then go on to say that Rawls would have wanted her to help the least fortunate by relinquishing some of the space that she was inhabiting.

    The problem that i see with your argument is that the girl was, in fact, helping out the least fortunate. The least fortunate in this case are her friends who have yet to make it to the stadium, not the people with little room. While the surrounding members of the audience are forced to squeeze into tight spaces – making them less fortunate than bleacher girl — Rawls would argue that, at this moment, her friends physically occupy zero room, and are therefore more less fortunate than the others.

  2. parijog Says:

    This post pretty much sums up my experience at the OSPoo game as well. While this gril proves that she is most fit for survival with her prodigious amounts of space, she is making the playing field completely uneven by saving a prime seat for an individual who is so unfit to survive in this world that she couldn’t even get to a Michigan OSU game in time. This missing ‘friend’ is a despicable and pathetic human (probably an OSU fan I’m guessing??), and as such should be forced to sit up in the corner under the pressbox as all other latecomers and transfer students have to.

    Based on all the profanity and screaming and pushing that went on during that game, I would like to analyze this situation using Hobbes state of nature theory. That student section is in state of nature, and we must rely on out wit and musculature to get the best seats. For example, after lifting up the girl next to me after a TD, i could simply toss her up a few rows and take her space (I’m sort of joking). But really, if a girl is taking up more than her share, it is only a matter of time before a swift sequence of well placed elbows brings my 200lb frame into that coveted real estate.

  3. luniho Says:

    I thought this was an interesting application of Rawls’ principles. I think that his desire to assure the best possible outcome for the least fortunate in society is a little weighty to apply to something like seats for a sports outing, but no one enjoys being sandwiched between a fan of the rival and a sweaty, drunken freshman. A complexity of Rawls’ theories, clearly shown in this application, is the difficulty of enforcing this type of concept.
    In the context of the United States, our government seeks to enforce this concept using welfare, bridge cards and other services for low-income individuals. Sometimes those who take an unfair amount of resources abuse this system; in many other instances, individuals have difficulty attaining assistance despite eligibility, due to problems of transportation and translation. In the Big House, ensuring that seat space was maintained would require massive amounts of enforcement; many more officials would be needed between sections and ticket locations would have to stringently checked.

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