This week’s curiosity box moved away from general science and maths to explore philosophy and history. In this week, I explore

1 – How can you create a fair social system?
2 – Why did the British straighten the cucumber?

1 – How can you create a fair social system?

The news headlines are varied: large religious gatherings in India, the UK leaving Europe, more shootings in the US, suspicion on vaccines’ efficacy, and civil unrest in a handful of countries in Africa. Each situation is varied but at the heart of it lies perceived unfairness between different groups in society. 

 Our thought process on fairness can be subjective and biased. People are generally focused on their particular interests. We, however, do accommodate for others’ interests by setting ourselves some morals. Irrespective of how strong one’s morals can be, the question of how judgements made can be fair continue to haunt many social scientists

A veil of ignorance

Rawl, in 1971, came up with a thought experiment to show that although humans can create a fair social system, even if they are driven to drive their self-interests. 

In its simplest form, you can conduct this experiment at home. Get hold of two kids who love eating chocolate. Give them one chocolate bar and set the condition that one can split the bar while the other can choose which part s/he wants to eat. Not knowing which part the other kid would prefer, the first one will be forced to split the bar precisely in half, i.e. creating a fair system. 

The same concept is further expanded in the thought experiment. Behind the veil of ignorance, you can create any kind of social system. The social system can have all the intricacies our societies have today: Different races, social status, elitism, earning potentials, public health benefits. You can even design different levels of luxury for each sub-group within this society you create.

However, the catch is that you do not know which part of the society you will end up being in once the veil is lifted. Because of this condition, people tend to create a fair system. So, a veil of ignorance seems to help develop a fair system. But how can we apply this in today’s reality for the future paradise to come?

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2 – What did the British do with the cucumber?

Back home in India, cucumbers were an absolute delight. A much-welcomed veggie to fend off the hot tropical days and, of course, not to forget – the never-ending hunger pangs I keep getting. Curved and at the size of my hand, there was a perfect snack.

Walk into a store in the UK, and you will not find these small curved cucumbers. Instead, you will discover foot-long straight ones.

Only in the 1300s, the Brits had their first taste of the cucumber, and they hated it. They nicknamed the vegetable cowcombur because they found it so vile and deemed worthy only for the cattle’s lips.

Fast forward to the 21st century, you will find a cucumber in so many things the Brits love. You can find cucumbers in sandwiches, a snack during the afternoon tea or drinks, salads, soups, and not to forget Gin and Tonic.

What happened, and what had to be done?

The Royals had their role to play in getting the country to love their cucumbers. Queen Victoria’s family began having cucumber sandwich as a delicacy. The populace soon caught this as a trend and started finding ways to use it with their meals. 

This surge in demand came with a desire to have straight cucumbers as it made each slice and batonette uniform. By nature, cucumbers are curved. The position of the plant, the direction in which the vegetable grows, temperature, soil conditions, and humidity affect how curved the cucumber will be. Straightening the cucumber was a challenge Stevenson welcomed. Stevenson moved his attention after inventing Rocket, an early steam locomotive, to straightening the cucumber. 

He tried pretty hard in maintaining the perfect environmental conditions but kept failing to do so. In the end, he went for a simple elongated glass tube. Within this, the cucumber was forced to grow. Nothing proved to be more effective at that time. Soon new methods such as vertical farming for cucumber took over allowing farmers to grow straight cucumbers with ease.

What will you do for a cucumber?


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1 Comment

  1. A fair atmosphere in the society we live….a real luxury it will be. I think the middle generation can achieve the task of slowly changing peoples thoughts.with good morals as the base…both with the elders who have rigid beliefs and with the youngsters who can be moulded effectively.

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