When I was about six years old, I was visiting with my grandmother. She was driving one of her out of proportionally large Cadillacs. Miles away, in the front passenger seat, sinking in the overly plush leather upholstery, I gazed out the window. I don't recall whether a conversation or something I saw outside prompted me, but I was protesting, saying to her, "That's not fair!"
My grandmother in a most un-candy coated pragmatic manner stated, "Life's not fair."
"What?," I thought, "How can that be?" And why oh why would my grandmother tell me that? At six?
I was not happy to hear this, but I had no reason to doubt her. It certainly is not right that life is not fair. Reality brings hard truths. Better to know what you have to work with than to live under false illusions. If more grandmothers spoke truth, snowflakes might be known for their unique characteristics rather than their melty frailty.
Life might not be fair, but that doesn't mean one can't do something to make it less unfair, or position themself to shield against unfairness. The social safety net is not simply an implementation of modern public policy, it manifests biblically, in the animal kingdom, and throughout most Disney storytelling that seems to require a parent killed off before the warm fuzziness ensues. Animal prides, colonies, packs, herds, and other groupings frequently care for orphaned young, thereby continuing their species if not their specific family line. Perhaps this is nature's way of hedging against life's unfairness. Yet, as, The Lion King, demonstrates and as naturalists document, political dynamics of Big Cat alpha male leadership change can result in the culling of the previous pride leader's offspring. And you thought killing off political rivals only happened with corrupt despot dictators. Talk about not being fair!
The bible contains numerous references about caring for orphans, widows, and the poor. It also describes a scorched earth approach to those who have been conquered along the way, including smashing idols, least their ways infect the teachings of the triumphant tribe. In a kill or be killed world, is there time to ask, "Is that fair?" You can think about that when you have the luxury to do so, whenever that is.
It is all about survival and it always has been. People as a species must be very comfortable nowadays, or at least as depicted by the mainstream media, because the notion of fairness seems more present currently than that of survival. Forget where on the fairness spectrum this falls, that's suicidal for any society, modern or otherwise. Don't mistake the same media's catastrophe doomsday we-might-as-well-throw-in-the-towel obsession with survival focus -- they are nearly opposite things. Apparently, they think, "The sky is falling," sells papers.
Rules, laws, or commandments add structure to communities beyond the boundaries of safety netting. Rules help establish societal norms. Rules codify consequences for violating them. Punishments for breaking rules helps restore some fairness to victims of the unruly. Of course, legal does not always equal fair, and that's not fair.
Current events are a mosh pit of the fair/unfair dichotomy.
- It is not fair that underlings, employees, actors, women, men, and, children have be subject to unchecked deplorable harassment, sexual and otherwise for decades.
- It is not fair that victim shaming, fear and embarrassment stifle prompt reporting of abuse in far too many cases.
- It is not fair that false or exaggerated allegations of sexual assault are made and reputations of innocent people may be irreparable harmed by irresponsible fabricated claims.
- It is not fair that millions wait to LEGALLY immigrate to the United States and while they wait and maneuver the legal process, small family fortunes are spent and future legal immigrant family members are separated and divided from one another other.
- It is not fair that millions 'jump the turnstile' entering the country illegally, and, while flagrantly disregarding the borders of the country we're told they only want to improve, resources are drained from lawful residents and communities are overburdened.
- It is not fair that the rule of law is not observed universally.
I could go all day: voter id/voter fraud, adoption/abortion abortion/adoption counseling, etc., etc. but I have other things that need attention. I've got to work on my widget pile, which brings me to taxes.
Fairness is almost immediately bandied about when tax policy is the topic. What really is fair about involuntarily sharing your earnings with a monolithic, bloated, over reaching government? And if that's fair, because there are important community things like national defense and borders to fund, what's a fair tax rate or percentage? Are taxes supposed to make things fair? Is it fair for taxes to push an agenda? Suppose you work very hard and as result, you are a highly productive widget producer. Is it fair to raid your widget pile to give, or redistribute, some of your widgets to someone who slacked off and didn't make any widgets? Considering that taxation, in part, funds the safety net, is it fair that taxes paid by one person should be considered a winning lottery ticket for someone else?
A safety net does erase unfairness. It is not a Marxist magic wand equalizing everyone's bank balances, and even if it was, equal does not equal fair. It is okay; it is indeed normal, for some to have less than others and some to have more than others.
Neither conservative nor liberal philosophies have an exclusive claim to fairness. Policies to deal with fairness or unfairness and even whether or not fairness or unfairness is something to be addressed by government at all, is where debate pick-a-side and take-no-prisoners hunkers down.
Next time you think something is unfair or fair, understand that someone else thinks you are wrong.
That's just not fair.
Contributing Editor: Amy Zidell
Amy is a free-lance writer, Internet consultant, and entrepreneur. She used to enjoy sushi and dark chocolate but not so much anymore. She’s patiently waiting for that new perfect pair of sunglasses so she can update her picture; this one is from the 90s.
Amy tweets social and political commentary at @almostcoherent.