Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Councilwoman Toffler Responds

Below is the exchange I had with Dr. Barbara Ley Toffler, who is running for re-election to the Teaneck town council.  See my letter to all the candidates that I posted yesterday.  I'm not commenting on the response - I think you can all make your own determination on where the Councilwoman stands on these issues.  

Please be respectful.  I'm turning on moderation for this post. 

COUNCILWOMAN TOFFLER:      Dear YD (wish I knew your name, Always more comfortable to write to real person!)

I think your questions fall under the broad category of distributive justice. How do we distribute limited resources among a wide range of stakeholders. For such questions I like to think about the philosopher John Rawls “Theory of Distributive Justice” which addresses many questions about the “fairest,” most just way of giving out limited supplies of what is needed.

For example, Rawls’ theory was used to develop the triage plan for rescuing  battlefield injured.  While for most of us the answer for who to rescue first would be: the most severely injured, the actual triage guideline is to rescue the most severely injured who are likely to survive if they receive early medical intervention. The most severely injured who will die no matter what, are to be left til later.

Another example is research funds. If any granting institution were to say that they will divide monies equally among all proposals, chances are no one would receive sufficient money to get the research done. Thus criteria are set, and distribution is done by those criteria, leaving some worthy recipients empty-handed.

And of course there are situations where equality is the just decision. As I used to talk about with my children: How should all the ice cream in the world be divided up. Answer (tho not usually from them) is: Equally!! (each of the kids would say “so I get the most!”)

Where am I going with this?  The key to effecting the Rawls’ theory is his concept of the “original veil.” As a decision-maker, one must put oneself behind an original veil, i.e. one must think of oneself as NOT YET BORN: not knowing what your race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, country of birth, etc. will be. Then – look at your distributive question, and decide what criteria for a just decision you would set NOT KNOWING who you would be.

Would be interesting for a group of us to sit together and tackle your questions behind the original veil.

Best regards,


YD:     Barbara,

Thank you for an interesting and thought provoking response.  I apologize for writing under a pseudonym.  Please understand that as a moderator of a blog where controversial and often emotionally charged issues are discussed I really need to keep my identity hidden.  

I understand making decisions under the principle of the "original veil", I just don't know if people should vote under that principle.  In other words should they vote having in mind the interests of all of humanity?  Or should they have in mind their own interests and allow democracy to select the candidate who represents the interests of the most individuals.  Regardless of how people "should" vote we all know that most people choose the latter.

All that aside, simply on the basis of fairness we need to ask whether or not the public subsidy of education should at least in part be available to those who choose to send their children to a religious school (though certainly we wouldn't expect the public to fund the religious studies).  So I'm asking you what your opinion is on that.  If you choose not to answer I understand.  But I think it's fair of voters to ask the question.

Finally I just want to confirm that you are ok with me making this conversation public on the web.

Thank you again for your time.


COUNCILWOMAN TOFFLER:   Certainly you may make our conversation public on the web. When I was young, I desperately wanted to attend a private school for children in the performing arts. My cousin was a successful child actress and attended one such school. My parents would have none of it. They believed in public education, period, I could take drama and dance lessons (or religious, art or swimming classes) after school. Doesn't exactly answer your question, I know.  Have a good Shabbos.