Friends, Huns, Countrymen – I bring you bad news. (Are you sitting down? Do you have a glass of water handy? You might need it for the shock.)
The world isn’t fair, life isn’t fair, you aren’t fair, and I’m not fair either. Any attempt by governments, authorities, teachers or any other position mostly devoted to exerting power and force to bring about fairness will massively and painfully backfire and increase unfairness, usually in both reactions.
No? Look, every kid knows this instinctively. This is why tale-bearers are despised. Adults, too, now I think about it, when you’re very young. They blunder onto the scene, where you’ve just taken your cookie away from little Joe who took it from you earlier (and who has already eaten his) hear Joey say “He took my cookie, it’s mine” and take it away from you and give it Joey again. Governments do the same, but with police forces and nuclear arsenals.
And yet, those same kids, at the back of their minds, in their hearts of hearts, want life to be “fair.” The cry of the nursery is “it’s not fair” – but if it only stopped there, we’d all be fine, right? Only it never stops there. Most adults these days, in our massively pampered and wealthy society seem to go through life engaged in a blue snit screaming fit of “It’s not faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaair” and usually appealing to the government to make it so, as if the government would do any more than take your rightful cookie and give it to someone else… and as if that made it fair.
Look, even in the best of societies, where everyone is absolutely equal before the law (can we try for that again? Pretty please?) you’re not going to have a fair society. It’s impossible.
Let’s start with time (why not. I need more of it, and that too isn’t fair.) We each get an allotment of years on this planet. And that too isn’t fair. I had friends who died in their teen years; I had a cousin who died at three; my parents in their eighties have survived more than half their friends; and all of those are better off than a baby who dies hours after birth. But leaving that aside, let’s consider the slice of time we get…
Sometimes I indulge in a fantasy of sending my current mind back in time to fix something I muffed. Not to my childhood, though. My childhood was uncomfortable.
The bathroom (it was a bathroom, not an outhouse) was outside the kitchen door. Outside. Think how wonderful that was when it was cold in winter. And we had no heating. The water on our glass often formed a crust of ice over night. And the only clothes I seemed to have as a kid were wool. I’m massively allergic to wool. I didn’t know that. No one else seemed to, either. I itched ALL the time.
But wait, there’s more. What about going back 30 years? Remember metallic tooth paste tubes, that flaked paint on your fingers? Remember, pre-Amazon, having to drive to the next city to find an article that was more out of ordinary? (Even ten years ago, my son’s shoes, because he wore size 15. His feet have only grown.) Remember having to go out to buy a book? Running out of reading material/stuff to watch during a blizzard? Remember having to consult five books to find the answer to a simple, factual question?
And as is, I grew up in massively privileged times. How would any of you like to spend your (likely smaller) assortment of time in oh, Elizabethan England? Even as a nobleman? Black death, executions, no freedom of religion, oh, my.
Further back? You don’t want to go further back. Not all the treasures of Pharaoh could buy the comfort and joy to be obtained by someone in a mobile home park, living off social security, in the 21st century. Is that fair?
What about geography? I was born in Portugal, often called the second or the slippery-slope world in the sixties. Would I have preferred to be born in the US? Eh. In most areas, sure. How about the USSR? No. Nyett, nein, comrade. As PJ O’Rourke put it quoting a Russian Joke, “Moscow state apartment. Will trade for sleeping bag on the streets of NYC.”
Fair? What’s fair got to do with it.
What is fair about someone being born with, oh, money, and someone else with mathematical ability? What is fair when someone is so sickly that all they can do in life is be taken care of?
Who promised you fair, friend? They lied.
So – is everything bad?
Oh, hell no. Some ways things will be unfair will necessarily be for you. I live in a very comfortable time, for instance, even when we were dead broke. I’m better off than 90% of humanity. Go me! I’m published and make money from my writing. I’m better than a lot of writers. Go me!
I’m sure if you look around you’ll find things you are better off than other people about too. Remember, even if it were possible to make everything fair, it would probably mean you giving up stuff/comfort/happiness.
“Fair” is an illusion of your back brain, because in hominid tribes, “fair distribution” was better for group cohesion. But even there, the chief got more mammoth than the rest.
It’s also usually a cover for envy. “Hey, it’s not fair. He’s got more mammoth cookies than I have.”
In the name of fairness, entire empires have been built, multitudes exploited, the world despoiled and mass graves filled.
Life isn’t fair.
And it’s a good thing.