Legal Fictions: Equal Opportunity

legal padI’d like to see more imagination in the development of legal and government systems in science fiction. The use of monarchies or feudal societies in far future stories particularly annoys me, because it assumes that human beings won’t ever change in a positive way.

Dictatorships make a good backdrop for a dystopia, but few stories about oppressive rulers show a great deal of imagination.

Another common system is one based to a greater or lesser degree on the current United States. This is most annoying when it assumes that U.S. democracy is the best of all possible systems. There are some valuable things about the U.S. system, but it could certainly be improved.

Over the past 50 years or so there has been a real push for more egalitarian societies. But all too often in both fiction and real life there has been an assumption that just saying a society is equal is enough.

Our experience in the U.S. shows that societies that have denied rights to some people – either legally or culturally – must do more than say “everybody’s equal now” to correct the problems of the past.

My feelings about this issue were formed during the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s and strengthened by feminism, the gay rights movement, and the disability movement. Having grown up in Texas, I knew the kind of discrimination African Americans faced on a regular basis. And as a woman, I bristled every time someone told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. (If anyone dares say something like that to me these days, I laugh in their face.)

That personal experience and knowledge helped me understand other civil rights movements and made me aware of where the law and the system fell short.

Now if you’re working on a future society in which discrimination based on race, sex, sexual Bottlenecksorientation and the like are no longer at issue, you certainly don’t need to address those things directly. But it would be good if the egalitarian society you envision is something more than a world in which everyone who acts like a U.S. guy from the 1950s gets treated the same way.

And if you’re writing about transitional times – like the present – you should think about how we’re going to get to that kind of society.

Joey Fishkin, a law professor at the University of Texas (my alma mater), has written what looks to be a fascinating book on the subject of true equal opportunity. It’s called Bottlenecks.

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’ve requested a review copy and will write about it here if they send me one.  Fishkin is blogging about the book and that provides some idea of what it’s about. Here is his first post  and his second one.

Fishkin describes his book as follows:

I open the book with a litany of major social changes that have advanced the project of equal opportunity: “the elimination of privileges of hereditary aristocracy; the destruction of state systems of racial apartheid; the gradual widening of access to primary, secondary, and higher education; and the entry of women into jobs, public offices, and educational settings formerly reserved for men.”   These changes can be framed in terms of equality, but they can also be framed in terms of freedom: equal opportunity gives people more freedom to do or become what they want in life, to form ambitions and pursue them, rather than having their life path dictated by limited opportunities.

The purpose of the book is to discuss more than just ways to help a more diverse group of people get past the “bottlenecks” that stand between them and the lives they want to lead. It’s also intended to discuss why we’ve put those bottlenecks in effect in the first place.

Ways of removing those bottlenecks would be a great thing to explore in fiction.

I’m really looking forward to reading Bottlenecks. Perhaps it will help me envision new ways to construct a legal system and society so that it can be truly fair.

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Legal Fictions: Equal Opportunity — 2 Comments

  1. I hope you do get to review it; that sounds like a very interesting book, with lots of ideas for the writer. 🙂