Life is soo many things which are of an ineffable character that I am hard-pressed to provide, clearly, yet alone concisely, an even remote or sensible inkling of what life precisely is. How can one derive from the sheer multitude that essential quality which evokes the sentiment of existence in us all? It can be sorrow, it can be joy; it can be conquered at times, yet it can also bring heartfelt defeat another; it can be infinite in its possibilities, but likewise finite in its opportunities. Life can be a field of battle deprived of hope and covered in death, or life can be a meadow of peace nourished with happiness and covered in puppies. Life is many things.
But is life fair? When I ponder life’s conditions, reliably so, fairness presents herself as perhaps the most desirable yet least recognizable therein. We ignore our successes, of which could have been the result of the utmost fair conditions, and we seldom attribute to our failures conditions which were fair; instead, we suppose of our failures that if only the conditions were otherwise, we would have never failed. We quickly recognize unfairness, especially if burdened by none other than ourselves, though, even when readily visible, fairness is always unrecognizable. So, if fairness, dressed in her floral white dress, sits in plain sight, then let us throw from our eyes this Rawlsian veil of ignorance and free the mighty racehorses of the visual cortex to spot her; let us all, by means of the spotlight of writing, rejoice in the elegance of her presentation dancing upon our sense of vision.
Fairness and the Lack Thereof as Creation
Our body politic has become doused in well-being economics and policy-making; a substantial amount of us, being averse to the harshness of life, argue for an equality of outcome or an equality of start. We propose to make of this harsh world, by means of our political and economic whim, a fair and just world. But our yearning for fairness is of such a considerable threshold that we seldom realize the back-bending burden of unfairness we streamline onto the shoulders of others in our pursuit of it; a supreme moral self-righteousness, like a blindfold over our eyes and a sharpened sword in our hands, makes possible for us to cut down those who are better off than ourselves, for all gaps of disparity become gaps of inequality when one is in the drunken stupor of moral outrage. We seek fairness via means of the governing sword.
We can see, fairness is a quality which presents herself in the utmost desirable fashion, as though she had hand-picked from our fantasies the qualities which we slavishly fixate upon; but her temptings lead us down a dark, poorly lit path, a path which demands of us acts of great cruelty and chaos. We cannot see through the thick fog of moral outrage lingering over the route, and so we commit the greatest acts of cruelty and brutality in her name; like a blind man driving an ambulance.
Thus, in some sense, life is seldom fair. When the human spirit, being morally invigorated, sets out on the path of fairness, it, unfortunately, produces unfairness by ruthlessly usurping anyone or thing that dare interrupt the journey; to step foot on the path of fairness while it is being traveled by a morally enraged human spirit is to step but once and only once more. Crashing blindly, mob-rule ruthlessly piles outrage onto an ever so unlucky individual, another innocent bystander cut down by the blinded mob wielding the governing sword. So, yes, life is unfair because humans can create inequality through political force.
But, should we acquiesce to the position that humans cannot produce any forms of fairness? That in the whole of our constitution resides not a spec of fairness? I think not.
We can create fairness, so long as we contain our self-righteousness, by applying equally to all a set of rules in a judicial manner. In the rule of law, we only have fairness insofar as lady justice has no sight of whom she judges; we have a fair legal system when we discriminate by means of fact rather than fiction or capricious prejudice. And so, in most instances where the law has ruled by means of fact, the determinations have been fair. Not perfect, but mostly fair.
See, this can be fair not by setting us all on equal ground, but instead placing before us a threshold to which we may decide to exceed or not. None are born thieves nor hardened killers; thus, such a threshold as, “thou shall not kill,” is indeed something to which one can so can steer their biological vessel towards or away. No biological determinism can provide evidence enough to suppose people are born killers; even furthermore, there seems to be no such phenotype for murder, as phenotypes tend to come in functional forms rather than content-specific purposes; that is, we are born with the neural networks for sociability, a functional form, but we are not born with some phenotype to use Facebook, a content-specific purpose. And murder is a content-specific act; meaning, in the same way that socializing on Facebook or in real life are each specific instances of the functional form of sociability, so too are military careers and criminal careers each specific instances of the functional form which corresponds to aggressive tendencies. Thus, biological determinism can only go so far as to suppose that some are born with a greater probability, let us say, as a result of lacking some mechanisms for empathy, to commit a crime. And yet furthermore, we must make note of an important fact: that of the probability to commit a crime, it is likewise combatted by setting those very thresholds found in the law. We indeed do have mechanisms which evoke fear upon harm or punishment; thus, by virtue of the same biological determinist position, we need laws. And in producing said laws, we have set a threshold for which all fall far below; therefore, giving us all a fair chance.
Thus, after much thought, we have reached the decisive conclusion that, when aided by human endeavor, life can be either fair or unfair. Whenever the opportunity arises to commit ourselves to a set of standards, equally, we shall be dancing with the lovely lady in the floral white dress: fairness. Comparatively, when we commit ourselves to action, of which is fueled by moral outrage, and aided by governing powers, we will indeed be wielding a sword which drips with inequality. Life is whatever we so choose in this regard.
The Unpopular View: The Fairness of Unfavorable Dispositions
A child is born with a deathly illness, of which drags the soul of the said child back into the ether, leaving the family bereaved. Teardrops run slowly from the eyes of those gathered around for the burial. Is this fair?
Although most have the emotional reaction that leads them to suppose of such dreadful circumstances as being utterly unfair, I argue that such circumstances are indeed fair. What we believe, however, is that, of all the good behavior we have done, we should have had never been bestowed with such a grim burden. For us to have lived in accordance with the rules of society and morality to then only experience a so woeful tragedy seems entirely unfair. But when one indeed supposes so, one confuses the issue.
Fairness is inherent to the universe, but unfairness, on the other hand, can be introduced through socially constructed rules. If I were the gold standard for moral personhood, helping thousands in my lifetime, and I then became greatly impacted by a disease, it would be fair; only because the rules of nature were not violated. However, if the sickness was given to me by a fellow citizen, in a deliberate and ill-intentioned manner, then it would indeed be quite unfair; only because such an action indicates a violation of the social rules. And therein lies the secret to fairness: namely, that unfairness can be applied only to a violation of rules. Thus, since not a single thing or person can shatter or circumnavigate the laws of physics, it follows that all natural incidences are nothing more than the harshness of life.
In other words, life outside of society is inherently fair. We cannot go beyond the rules with the means we are alotted, the rules of physics enforce upon us without favoritism or mercy. But when we return to society, life can indeed become unfair, as there are rules inside society which can be unjustly broken.
Life is many things. Life is both fair and unfair; it is both “A” and not “A”. We can see the violation of society’s rules amongst humans in their daily activities, though we cannot see the violation of physics, ever. We see social inequality, but we will never see inequality as a result of the laws of nature. And so we can conclude, life is many things, both fair and unfair.
Of course, one could also reach a different conclusion here; that is, one could suppose that humans are natural and so their violation of the societal rules is entirely aligned with the laws of physics, and thus fair. However, this would ignore that there are positions which do not subscribe to objectivist metaphysics and would then argue that fairness is an Idealized Cognitive Model which can only be applied to circumstances wherein which a rule can be broken (See Lakoff, 1981/7; 1999).
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4 thoughts on “Is Life Fair?”
I like your note. I was thinking if hard determinism applies then everything is “fair” no?
“Fairness is inherent to the universe, but unfairness, on the other hand, can be introduced through socially constructed rules” is logically inconstant as socially constructed rules exist within the universe and thus must also inherently possess fairness.
Something can itself be fair while bringing about unfairness. I think you are playing around with the scope of words here to produce a contradiction. When I say fairness is inherent, I mean if we “zoom out” and look at “reality itself,” then things are fair. But when we “zoom in” to the “rules of soccer,” then people can opt to break those rules. If we ignore the scope of the terms here, then we miss the point in this essay.