Three kids and a flute

In exploring and demonstrating the idea that it is possible to have different reasons for justice, each of which would survive “critical scrutiny” but “yields divergent conclusions”, Amartya Sen in his “The Idea of Justice” brought us a delightful tale of three kids with a flute.


As the tale goes, there are three children, Anne, Bob and Carla. And there is one flute. All three kids make claim for the flute on different reasons and with distinct justification.

Anne makes claim to the flute based on the fact that she is the only one who could play the flute. This fact is admitted by the other two kids, who know next to bleeding nut on how to even make a sound from the flute.

Bob on the other hand lays claim to the flute by being the most underprivileged of the three. Coming from a poor family he has no toys. Having the flute would very much make him happy and elevate his unhappy life. The other two children admit it as much that they are more privileged than Bob and that they have more toys then they need.

Carla on the other hand claims the flute due to the fact that the flute is the product of her hard labour. Yes. Carla actually is the one who makes the flute. This fact is also admitted by the other two children.

Who should get the flute?

The socialist-economic egalitarian among us will make a plausible – and probably incontrovertible – argument that Bob-the-poor (as opposed to Bob the builder, I suppose) should get the flute. After all, Bob represents the sad face of the oppressed masses, the proletariat, so to speak. In the face of the bourgeoisie Anne and Carla, Bob should get the flute, argues the Marxist.

If the other facts are not available to us, we would even agree with the socialist-economic egalitarian.

The capitalist and probably the utilitarian among us would surely argue that Anne should get the flute. After all, only she alone can put the flute to really good use, namely, to make money out of it. She could perform in multiple concerts (full house of course) and makes money.

With that money, she could pay taxes. With that taxes, the State can help out Bob. Probably, the State can lend some money to Carla to build a flute making enterprise and employ Bob. Bob’s financial position could then be elevated. The State could be richer and everyone could reap the benefit.

The capitalist would never ever waste this opportunity. That flute should never be wasted in the hands of Carla or Bob. Of course, if we do not know the other two arguments, we would agree with the capitalist.

The moralist-naturalist and probably also the libertarian among us would make a firm argument for the flute to be retained by Carla. A direct reference will of course be made to the fact that a person should be allowed to keep whatever he or she produces.

Without knowing the other two arguments, we would surely agree that Carla should keep the flute.

In Justice Is An Illusion, I have posited that all that we have is a notion of justice and not justice as a conceptual reality. Justice is presumed done when the law is applied to a set of facts and a determination of right or wrong is made together with an order by the adjudicator on how to redress the “injustice” or dispute.

That article brought a remark by a famous lawyer for me to re-read my Dias. For the uninitiated, Dias is an author of one of the most basic – and easily understandable – book on jurisprudence. Well, I do not know where I went wrong in that article and still, after re-reading Dias since then, I am none the wiser.

Allow me to explain my stand. A woman is raped and killed. And a man is found guilty of raping and killing her. He is sentenced to death by hanging. Justice is done?

The injustice here is the rape and murder. The application of the law makes the man guilty for rape and murder. And the order granting “redress” is that the man should be hanged to death. Following that, the resulting notion is that justice is done. But is it?

Let’s say the woman has 2 children. She is also survived by a husband who loves her. Her parents are also still alive. The woman lost her life. Her children lose the opportunity of enjoying her company, affection, love and guidance forever. Her parents and husband lose her company, affection and love forever. So do her friends. And her relatives. Her boss lose her as an employee. And so on and so forth.

Now, does the hanging to death of the man who rapes and murders her bring justice? Justice to who?

Okay, let’s look at another case. A man loses a hand in a car accident. The other man at fault is found liable and is ordered to pay the first man RM100000.00 as compensation. The law is applied. Is justice done?

You tell me.

Back to the three kids and the flute. I don’t have an answer to the question on who should have the flute. And all of us could argue till all the cows are slaughtered and their head severed. No correct answer will ever come.

Yes. There would be arguments stronger than the others. And probably more acceptable than the others. But I doubt that there will be an answer acceptable to all and everyone of us.

Having said so, I can’t help but run wild with imagination on how corporate Malaysia would deal with this nice problem.

Firstly, there will be a declaration. 1 Flute. All three kids will be implored to live happily with each other and share the benefit of the 1 Flute. After all, there is only 1 Flute.

Then there will be a huge protest somewhere because the flute, apparently, is a western influence and owning it, let alone playing it, will be as bad as women not wearing their panties on Valentines Day. Some Minister will then issue a statement that the 1 Flute is eroding our culture.

The Minister for Tourism will of course disagree. He or she will apply to the United Nation to declare that the 1 Flute is a world heritage coming from Malaysia. Indonesia will protest. They will assemble in front of a Balinese pub and start burning Malaysian flag. Then someone will accidentally step on someone else’s feet. That will of course end in a bloodbath worthy of the next Braveheart’s movie.

Brunei quietly obtain the heritage status.

Back in Malaysia Darul Boleh, suddenly there will be a huge outcry. Demonstrations are threatened. Cows are killed and their head, severed. A massive demonstration takes place in front of the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas where Anne was suppose to give a soulful rendition of M Nasir’s first ever concerto, “Con – OPus 1” (in short) backed by Pancaragam Polis Di Raja Malaysia, flute section.

Banners, reading “Martabatkan Islam – lu sial pu%$mak” could be seen. Pictures of the 1 Flute are burnt and stomped on.

872 Malay NGOs will meet at Bukit Jalil stadium, after the final Akademi Fantasia concert led by Mawi and some dolled up Malay chix to declare their intent on protecting the Malay music. Another 456 NGOs meet at at a Jom Heboh fun fare to declare their support for the first 872 NGOs.

Meanwhile, the Company Commission freezes new application for the registration of NGOs. “There are too many NGOs and we are short of staff. All applicants are advised to form a sendirian berhad instead,”, says a spoke person who wishes to remain anonymous.

Opposition politicians call for a Malay counter-movement to fight for the right of all Malaysians to enjoy the 1 Flute.

On Facebook, a group entitled “Kami Golongan Benci Flute Dan Serunai” is started gaining 155.,000 members in 3 hours. Apparently, 149999 of them are new Facebook members since the morning before the group was started.

Meanwhile, the group “All Malays and Malaysians Clueless Apathetic Liberals Who Don’t Mind The Flute As Long As We Are Not Killed Or Maimed” gain 4 members in the last 7 days. A Malay left-right winged UMNO member starts another group, “Kumpulan Melayu Yang Mahu DiMertabatkan Sebagai Melayu Yang DiMertabatkan.” It quickly gain 3469 members in 2 days. By the way, do you call a right winger with leftist inclination a left-right, a leftist-right or just plain “gay”? LOL!!!

As a result of the planned concert at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, the chief of Petronas loses his job. A guy managing a shipping company replaces him.

Five people holding a candle light vigil to mark the “death of music, flute or otherwise” are arrested and charged for sedition. On the way to Court to meet their clients, 34 lawyers are also arrested, handcuffed and detained for a night.

The 30 people demonstrating in front of the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas who are arrested and interrogated for 2 minutes at nearby Nasi Kandar Pelita, KLCC outlet, are released. Latest. The AG’s Chambers say they are not going to be charged due to “massive public pleasure” [sic].

Tengku Razaleigh meanwhile calls for the 1 Flute to be shared equally among Malaysia’s 13 states. The Federal government disagrees, saying the Tengku is being disloyal to UMNO for suggesting as such.

Karpal Singh files a suit in Court. Uproar in the Parliament.

Anne manages to get a contract to play the 1 Flute in the United States. Much hoo haa was made of it in the media. A Datukship was offered to Anne. Three officials are sent to the US to do the promo. But only 1 manages to appear at a press conference there. Unfortunately, the press conference quickly becomes an off-the-record event.

The concert never happen. The 1 Flute was stolen.

Bob goes back to his rubber estate in Bukit Selambau. He still does not have any toy.

Carla leaves for Singapore. There she starts a small industry manufacturing flutes from recycled material. She has won a Nobel price.

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Posted on 2 March 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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2 Responses to Three kids and a flute

  1. nt

    this really is quite good… :)

  2. Bob can learn tapping rubber and eventually buy a flute!!