One of my favorite musicians, the brilliant British songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, recently tweeted something I found very thought-provoking: “Without the concept of fairness, life makes a lot more sense.”
I’ve been contemplating this tweet daily ever since I read it. What does it mean? What is fairness? For starters, I believe that it can’t exist without expectations. My copy of the Oxford English dictionary defines “fair” as – “in accordance with standards; legitimate.” Fairness is tied to preconceived notions and cultural values.
From my vantage point, there are a few kinds of fairness: personal, cultural and legal. Oftentimes these overlap yet they also exist distinctly on their own.
Personal fairness – I didn’t feel it was fair when the startup company that employed me sacked me along with many others but what they did was perfectly legit and allowable for a business.
Cultural fairness – Some Native Americans don’t think it’s fair that they should have to live on reservations but it was the deal that the U.S. government made with their nations, therefore, legit.
Legal fairness – Many people believe it was unfair that an unarmed man, Michael Brown, was killed in Ferguson, MO by armed police officers. Whether or not it was “in accordance with standards and legitimate” will be decided in a court of law.
An example of these three coming together at once could probably found in the family of Michael Brown, who believe that his death was racially motivated (cultural/personal fairness) and expecting this to be resolved in court (legal fairness).
As a thought experiment, let’s remove the concept of fairness from the above examples and see what we’re left with;
Personal fairness – My company sacked me-what if I did not have an opinion on the matter either way on that day? What if I skipped the part about feeling it was fair or unfair? I’d have shrugged and gotten on with life.
Cultural Fairness – What if all Native Americans didn’t think twice about being installed on reservations? Would the U.S. government had taken advantage of that? Almost certainly, yes, as many tribes only wound up with any land at all because they demanded reparations (Note: I majored in anthropology in college with a focus on N.A. culture, before you go asking who the hell am I to comment on such matters).
Legal fairness – What if the people of Ferguson did not have an opinion either way as to the death of Michael Brown? What if they had only noted it and gone about their business? Most likely the incident would have been swept under the rug by the police department and quietly forgotten.
From these examples, we can conclude that fairness acts as a kind of justice barometer. It is our conscience and intuition in action, ever alerting us and measuring the right from the wrong.
Every day, we spend many moments weighing what is fair and what isn’t: Is $12 too much to pay for this pound bag of coffee? (you’re hollering at the monitor, YES!). Was it fair to me that my dad lead a double-life with a 2nd family on the side? (No!) Is it fair that I or anyone else should have to put up with the pain of disease or addiction or the threat of war? (Of course not! But that’s out of our control).
Back to Robyn’s tweet: “Without the concept of fairness, life makes a lot more sense.”
Yes, life would make more sense but we’d be a lot less human without it.
Gaze on this sunset shot taken in Big Bear Lake, CA as you mull the concept of fairness. Photo by A. LaCanfora.
All of the above is strictly the opinion/musings of Angel LaCanfora and, unless where otherwise noted, not those of Robyn Hitchcock, WordPress, President Obama, Bob Dylan, the good townsfolk of Ferguson, the Native American nations or anyone else residing on Planet Earth.