Pizza and Human Values

Imagine the entire world represented by ten people standing in line in the Leverett dining hall, and that there is just one slice of pizza left. Now picture the person who is at the front of the line—purely by historical accident, as opposed to merit or justice. We’ll call this person … say, “Brian Palmer”.  Now suppose that, with no regard to the nine hungry people waiting in line behind him, “Brian Palmer” decides to take that last slice of pizza—all of it—to consume all by himself. But who, you are undoubtedly wondering, does “Brian Palmer” represent? America? The top 1% of… something or other? In fact, “Brian Palmer” represents none other than Professor Brian Palmer.

That’s right. This “analogy” is no analogy at all. It is a real, shocking and bitterly ironic incident that took place in Leverett Dining Hall the other day. Dartboard himself took his place in line that fateful evening alongside that hungry crowd, his tummy rumbling, his eyes entranced by the site of that lone slice of pizza, as golden and greasy as a Tuscan afternoon. How fortunate I am, Dartboard thought to himself, to be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a hot slice of pizza. But just then Dartboard watched in horror as Professor Brian Palmer, head of such courses as “Globalization and Human Values” and “Personal Choice and Global Transformation” greedily usurped that last slice of pizza.

Dartboard was not asking for much. How grateful Dartboard would have been if Palmer had deigned to share with Dartboard even the crust of the pizza, or a single pepperoni. But apparently Palmer did not realize that the slice of pizza he would soon be wantonly devouring was completely nonrenewable. Nor, it seems, was he aware that his daily choices affect others all over the planet, and most importantly, Dartboard.

Professor Palmer’s myopic focus on satiating his own greed is shocking, especially while tens of students—or at least five of us, counting Dartboard—were deprived of pizza. What, Dartboard asks, of distributive justice? What of equality? What of the intersection of justice and equality, namely equity, in which the concept of justice is embedded in the ideal of equality? (Or perhaps it is the other way around?) Palmer may indeed have been “first” in line, but that does not justify his personal choice to preempt Dartboard from getting the last slice of pizza, and consume it unilaterally.

In an age of ever-greater global interconnectedness, it is shameful for elites such as Palmer to ignore the plight of the tired masses who are already forced to take on a fifth class or a third extracurricular in order to make ends meet, who toil long past daylight to produce the response papers demanded by people like Palmer, who live on as little as four hours of sleep a day. Dartboard is not asking for peace and justice, Professor Palmer. Just pizza justice.