On Fairness

We see it and think it in our every day lives. Someone who appears to be good gets killed, or has something bad happen to them. Or, someone who appears bad makes a lot of money and seems to get away with every bad thing they do. When we see this, we think, “That’s not fair.” We say this, because we think of fairness in a karmic way. We think that “fair” means that doing good means good things happen to you, and doing bad means bad things happen to you.

A few weeks ago, my friend and I discussed this topic as he was working on a project the delves into this idea of fairness. Does fairness mean karmic justice? Or does fairness mean equal opportunity? Should we lump the idea of karmic justice into the idea of fairness? Throw into this idea that people are born with genetic diseases that make life difficult for them, to say the least. Throw in the idea of some kid getting killed by a stray bullet when gang members have a shootout in the streets. Throw in so many other instances where randomness seems to be at play.

When we examine those things from a karmic justice viewpoint, of course it seems unfair. We like the idea of karmic justice, partly because it’s what we’ve been taught growing up. If we do good, good things will happen for us. It also gives us a sense of moral grounds that too often we take. “I’m better than that person because I do good things and they do bad things.” I discussed the idea of good and bad earlier this year with the point of social constructs being responsible for our sense of good and bad.

This is also where we stand with “fairness”. We have this viewpoint because it helps us cope. However, that doesn’t seem to be how the world works. As stated earlier, bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. It also seems, though, that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. This implies that fairness isn’t in terms of karmic justice, but in equal possibility.

I think of equal possibility as a sort of randomness. In scientific study, random assignment of people must occur to rule out any potential for something other than what you are trying to study to show up in results. In the lottery, the numbers that are picked are random so that the winner doesn’t seem to be “picked” from a list of candidates. We already have this other idea of fairness tied to equal possibility in so many other things, particularly in competition. People always look for the ‘leg up’ in competition, but all things considered, either opponent could win in a ‘fair’ fight.

So, what is fairness? To me, fairness is equal possibility. However, that doesn’t mean, I don’t think, that equal possibility is without a sense of trying to stack things in your favor. If I work hard to put myself in position for a raise at work, others are doing the same, and that hard work will pay off for somebody. If I didn’t do that hard work, I will never get the raise because I did nothing to match what others did. If I did get the raise without doing the work, that just wouldn’t be fair.

Until next time,

JB

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