The Ideals Of Fairness, Justice, Equality, And Other Social And Political Constructions

The world is what it is.  As a rule, it is neutral to its inhabitants.  Humans are no more remarkable than aardvarks and zebras.  Long after we no longer populate the world this earth will still spin and orbit the sun.  Yet we love to insist that we are unique and required for the planet to run correctly.  For a species whose self importance is measured by a few thousand years of development removed from the primordial slime, we certainly have an ego problem.In the past hundred years we have only begun to understand our importance, or lack of it, in this world.  Our biology is such that we live in groups.  We are not the biggest nor the fastest nor the most deadly of species.  But we are capable of inventing speech that increases our ability to cooperate with other members of our group.  And we invented writing so that we might be able to account for our possessions, brand or scratch your name on it, transact business and build lots of stuff that says we are king of the hill.  Mutual dependency creates cooperation within the group.  So we invent a code of general conduct within the group to keep free riders at a minimum and prevent the strong from lording it over everyone.  And in any group, leaders occur, it is a natural progression in group dynamics.

As groups grow much larger and small groups touch other small groups, perhaps merge some of their functions together, creating economies of scale for defence of the groups and subsistence, these interactions add a level of complexity to life.  A frontier provides a safety valve for those whose values and goals do not completely mesh with the rest of the group.  This is to be expected for the very cogent reason of individual differences.  Not all men and women are created equal, regardless of all the brave and flowery sentiment.  Humanity is not an assembly line producing identical units by the thousands or millions or trillions.  Nature is never fair.  The old and the sick are not always the food of the prey.  Sometimes the good do die young as a result of chance and nothing more. But we humans, being the vain creatures we are, tend to seek causation in chance occurrence. Chalk it up to the work of the devil or god’s will or man’s inhumanity. We love to play the blame game. The world would be perfect only if…substitute your favorite cause. The world works on the principles of evolution and yet we have a very firm belief that such principles never apply to us. One of the people I read has posited an assertion that the reason why we see a rise in disabilities from early childhood on is that we have been able to short circuit natural selection. Think of that for a minute. Childhood diabetes use to mean death at an early age, often before puberty. The same is true of mental retardation. Why waste scarce resources on individual who will never be productive? We spend so much more of our resources on these mentally challenged children and adults to what affect? We greatly subsidize their lives. Many childhood diseases used to mean early deaths either in childhood or early adulthood. But with our medical prowess, we save these marginal lives, at a cost, of course. Every life has a cost. We have pulled a fast one on nature, we have changed the rules, but at what cost? I, myself, am a poster boy for that business. I should have died at age fifty three from a defective aortic heart valve. Some seventy five thousand dollars later and I have a nice shiney new metal one. I have cheated death, at least for awhile.

Now had I lived in some third world country I might have questioned the fairness of my early death. After all, what right do the more well to do with easy access to healthcare that can prolong life have over me? Ah, the question. Is it about a supposed right or about chance occurrence? If one sees chance occurrence are a deprivation of one’s rights, then surely it must be an issue of causation. But if one views chance occurrence as just that, a statistic, a probability of occurrence, then there is no causation. Does god play dice with the universe? Maybe he does, assuming there is a god. but we might as well ask why are some individuals born more beautiful than the rest? Oh, that’s right, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and our new value systems decree that everyone is beautiful. Yeah, sure, you sleep with the ugly one and wake up in the morning to that face. Studies have shown that infants, even newborns prefer the features, the faces of women over those of men. Women have softer features that provoke more smiles from infants. We men scare the living hell out of babies. These are not learned responses, they are not taught by a government that values women in the home more than men. It is a plain scientific fact. We have a built in bias for beauty and can rate it as such. Biologically and psychologically we place a premium on perceived beauty. Well, so much for feminist theories.

Now evolution has a significant body of proof behind it. The proof is not perfect by any means but the theories are substantially correct. We may find a special case here and there but the general theory hols well enough. Sorry to those christians, islamists, and other religious believers who may say otherwise. One of the lessons we can draw from the theory of evolution is that there is no standard unique or identical model of life at any level of species. Back to statistics and the individual differences model of life. The problem of ideals is that they tend to rely on the identical units of production, something humans will never become, despite all the engineering at the disposal of biology and the other sciences. That means there are imperfections in humans, and by extension, their behaviors, that must be regarded as imperfect. Imperfection is the face of nature. Just try to predict the weather. Then ideals are not the best measurements for life. That means that any system of justice, of fairness, or equity, is dooms to be less than optimal. It was Blackstone who recognized this problem in the legal area we call justice. “Better that ten guilt men go free than one innocent man die on the gallows.” Most of our legal systems recognize that injustice may be done all too frequently and thus we adjust the balance scale of justice to favor the defendant. Yet we too often make mistakes due to the over zealousness of our officers of the court. Yes, one can find that one percent wrongly convicted and sentenced to serve time, but we forget that ten or twenty percent that are never brought to the bar, or if they are, escape conviction due to our reticence to convict an innocent man. How, then does this stack up against John Rawls theory of Justice? He proceeds on the assumption that we are all identical units of human beings. Upon failing that test he then decides that there should be exceptions that are based upon his emotions. Is this the way to administer justice and fairness?

Fairness, it’s the “right thing to do”. Okay, and what is this right thing and how do we decide what is the right thing? Oh, bothersome questions. The individual is always caught between his needs, wants, and desires, and those of the groups of which he identifies as a member. Even a troop of chimpanzees is composed of many sub groups and family groups. The upper limit on group size for this species is about one hundred individuals, the instability become intense and the group will break apart. The optimum number for social harmony is about sixty individuals. Social harmony is really a function of the ability of the groups members to communicate with each other. For humans, the basic number of group members has a limit of one hundred and sixty individuals. Group size is important. This is why a military company of infantry usually tops out around one hundred and twenty individuals. For the military, effective communications within the ranks is extremely important, a matter or life and death under the conditions these individuals are trained to perform. Now it must be said that within these groups there are hierarchies. This is a natural order. In the family unit, mom is number one (well, for humans, maybe not) and then one’s ranking depends on birth order. Within the tribe, family units have a ranking and this can complicate matters. There is some fluidity to the ranking. This leads us to modern societies.

Modern societies are sedentary. If you live in a nomadic group you travel at least twice a year. This limits the amount of physical stuff you can carry around. But for those with a sedentary society, physical stuff can accumulate quickly. The worst that can happen is that you might need to more your stuff locally. In agrarian societies, villages grew to a maximum point that would support the number of individuals who farmed. You see this in Europe, a lot of small villages where the farmer were within walking distance of their land. One doesn’t travel half a day to do a few hours work and then return, it isn’t efficient. In the village others do work that tends to support the farm community. Small retail operations are important since if one needs to travel half a day to go shop, one loses a full day of work. Convenience is the order of the day. But in modern societies, individual and families congregate in larger numbers. Our modern conveyances make it possible to live fifty or sixty miles from the place where we work and still have time for shopping and recreation. In the small communities, cohesiveness is among a larger group of individuals and family members. In cities, our basic groups are much smaller. on average we may only know a few family members, friends, and neighbors which total to thirty or forty individuals at most. For many of us that number might only be a dozen individuals. For all of our modern communications devices and technologies, the cell phones, the internet with its social media, we communicate very little.

What does this have to do with the issue of fairness? For one, Fairness is an ideal that we try to fit on every member of society, a one size fits all approach. We do this because of another ideal, all men are created equal. Except they aren’t, but it looks good on paper and sounds great to the ear. But we come up with these ideals because our societies need them to exist. Imagine a city where a million people live and groups of five or ten or twenty are having to fight other groups to survive. Groups need rules and rules come in two flavors, spoken and unspoken. An unspoken rule is that one does not go around hitting people for no reason. A spoken rule says thou shall not hit other people for no reason. Then we discover or invent, about the same, really, written language. Now we can issue rules by the hundreds, even thousands. Before, if we had to rely on memory, the rules were simple. The problem with rules is that there are always exceptions. Thou shall not kill. Wonderful, but what if I am protecting myself or family from the attack of others. Well, then you are justified in using deadly force but the more we think upon it, we have some exceptions to that exception. Well, what if I kill someone but it was an accident? Ok, that is acceptable but the more we think upon the more we will subdivide this question into many more questions and exceptions. You see what happens, we tend to create a house of cards with more and more rules and exceptions. It is the nature that comes from concentrating people in small areas. If one is a Kurd living in Eastern Turkey, Western Iran, or northwest Iraq, the family clan may be called in to decide the guilt of innocence of an individual and the suitable punishment. Here, the formal rules of written codes don’t really apply. Harmony is the question, not guilt or punishment. If guilty, then what punishment will satisfy the family clan members? We like a uniform application of justice at the bar of impartial judges. The question arises, whose justice is more just? In a modern society, “Blind” justice is the more efficient for we have very little that keeps our community of individuals and small groups cohesive.

Ah, now we start to see something of the problems about ideals. In small communities, we do not tolerate for very long the non group centric ideas of one or two individuals, we push them out of the community. In modern societies with large concentrations of individuals we may tolerate these very strange ideas of some group of individuals or we may send them to Siberia to cool their ardor for such thinking. And sometimes those groups of individuals convince enough people that their ideals are great and we who do not think much of such ideals are sent to Siberia to rethink our position. Yes, yes, but what about “Fairness”. You weren’t following the logic. So we have arrived in the big city of the modern society and we observe a great disparity between the rich and the poor and we claim life is unfair for the poor. We cite statistics, the theory of which we don’t bother to understand, and want new rules put in place. We don’t talk about the old rules that led to this disparity because we don’t understand those rules very well either. In fact, we tend to be ignorant about most of these thing but we have a belief in the ideal of fairness. Yeah, yeah, I know, there are a lot of people with Phds in Political Science (which is not a science) and social sciences (which are not sciences), and they are suppose to know stuff. Let me digress for a moment or two.

I’ve worked various jobs in my life. I once worked on an assembly line in a factory and everyone’s speed was the same. In an auto factory, each vehicle comes by your station and you have X number of seconds to add your part. You work at the same rate everyone else does and god help you if you need to shut down the line for any reason. Time is money and don’t you for get that. But I also worked outside construction in my early years. It was more like being an independent contractor. the type of work to be done could often be done by one individual and sometimes depended on others to do their work, sometimes not. the work units were figured out by the engineers and applied to everything. so many work units for this operation, so many for that, and so forth. My supervisor had a daily quota of work units his crew had to accomplish. But there was some fluidity since the units were totaled by the week, so some give and take on a daily basis was possible. I was good at taking these job operations apart and figuring how I could improve on time and even quality. I was damn good at it. In fact, I was so good that I could do most of the operations in half the time allotted. Did that mean I did twice the work for the same pay? No, not in any businessman’s wet dreams. You see, I was going to university at night and I needed the time for reading and studying. I could expect to spend two or three hours a day on school work. I though it is a fair bargain. I did ten or twenty percent pore production in exchange for the tacit approval, if the boss knew, and if he didn’t, ignorance would hurt him. Now back to the rules.

In my case, cited above, I found a way to beat the system. the rules were that X amount of work was required from each individual and I supplied X + Y amount. I even offered to teach a few of my coworkers how to beat the system. You know what? Most of them were very happy to keep themselves busy at that slower pace. Was it fair of me to beat the system when the others didn’t care about beating it? Was it morally wrong for me to beat the system for my own gain? Even when the company benefited from the extra production? These are real questions. The union would have had a fit about my extra work for “my time” on the job. Why, it would have been a blow against the ideal the union held. When the work was a lock step march, I could never beat that system, no amount of rule bending was possible. The union was committed to providing the minimum amount of work for the maximum amount of wage. Is that fair? If a man becomes a millionaire through his own hard work and his ability to bend the rules of the system, is that fair? If not, then how do we resolve this unfairness? Wealth redistribution is the wrong solution because it does not deal with the “problem”, the accumulation of too much “unfairness”. You change the rules of the game if you want to promote more fairness. If corporations make it possible to concentrate production to the point that more individuals are excluded from the workforce and fewer executives can enrich themselves, then the answer lies in limiting the size corporations may become. Or even eliminating the idea of the corporation altogether. But wealth distribution will never solve the problem. It only means adding more rules for which exceptions can be found and vulnerabilities to the system can be exploited. This is why all those PhDs mentioned above are dummies. If you want to promote fairness and justice then work on the rules of the system so that it promotes more fairness and justice. But just be sure that people will want what you want, sometimes they just don’t care.

For my part, I think the corporation and in particular the international corporation should be eliminated. Concentrations of production and financial wealth through massive credit creation should be greatly scaled back. Yes, average consumer prices will rise, but there will be more employment and less need for wealth redistribution. We don’t need billionaires in the economy for they do only one thing and that concentration of the means of production and concentration of financial wealth that so often is directed to chasing high yield-high risk speculation. The other is limiting the amount of money that may be spent on political causes. And it’s time to do away with all these charities that aren’t really charities but tax evasion schemes, like the Clinton Foundation.

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