For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Matthew 25:29
Why are some rich and others poor? Why do some throw food away while others starve? Why cannot my friend, Henry, take at least a turn on the WhiteHouse in his lifetime while some others go for two? Why do most people prefer buying brands when there are other equally good products out there? Are these fair? What is? Fairness is definitely a popular ideology in our culture today. Everyone make reference to it as though the ultimate judge of good and bad. “We have to be fair,” said one professor, “…if we are going to give you a makeup, then the rest of the class must get one too.” We all have heard sentences like that before. The theme of fairness is often on the conjecture that each person matters in him or herself and is more than a number – that persons are separate bearers of dignity and rights (BBC). For some others, it is the golden rule: “do to others as you would have them do to you.” Both definitions, however, hardly suggest equality since our perceptions of dignity and rights are not necessarily the same, also considering that what is good for one may not be good for another. Instead, the definitions seem to touch more on some kind of mutual compromise – one that can take on a most asymmetric nature.
Jesus once told a story, in the bible, about a man whose master gave five talents. The same went on to make an extra five talents on what he received; thus, making a profit. Another made a profit of two talents on the two that his master had given him. Therefore, both servants made a hundred percent profit. The last one, who did not make any gain with his talent ended up losing it to the one that had five talents; not even to the one with two. Hence, giving much more to the one that had much already, and at the expense of the person that had only one. As strange as this resolution might seem, it parallels in the world and nature: those with affluence and wealth continue to grow and more like absorb even more affluence and wealth while those that struggle with the little they have end up losing it to those that already have much more. Good students get preferential treatment, and consequently, they get better. Poor students, on the other hand, get neglect and, in turn, get worse in a twisted story that somehow ends with them being at fault eventually.
It gets even more interesting. We all enjoy a good conversation with those we feel close to, but not after a misunderstanding – the time that one would think we ought to talk even more and enrich understanding. Sick people, that ought to want food that will nourish and heal, often do not like to eat, while the one that just had lunch goes scrabbling around the pantry for a snack. It is amazing! It seems the more one has, the more he or she can have. The road that is more travel upon is widened and gets a better budget, and the one that has little traffic, instead of being improved, is converted into a shopping mall. These situations all look a little tipsy as one considers them. They make almost no provision for the fairness wrapped in balance and knotted with the neat little bow of equality; as we often like to imagine is present in nature. It almost seems like a natural law of fairness to give more to those who already have and take from those that do not have enough. Explanations for this odd phenomenon abound: some say it is a result of the specialization or proficiency gathered over time or the availability of the necessary means to the particular situation. These explanations often do more to justify the peculiar trend of the ‘haves’ having more while ‘have-nots’ suffer, but leave no account for the rationale behind the imbalance in the first place. In addition, many exceptions to these popular justifications has us wondering whether proficiency and experience is really all it takes. For example, one may judge that the rich get richer because of increased equity and experience in their line of work, but as far as fairness by equality and balance goes, how does this explain someone else who has similar exposure and geography but winds up in a gutter of many losses. Some might bring up the luck factor, but then why should luck be uneven? Is that fair? More importantly, should an evaluator consider both individuals the same – even though one of them clearly lacks the extra ingredient: luck?
As abundant as fairness is in our ideology today, it is not hard to see that it is hardly as objective in service as acclaimed in theory. Fairness builds on many variables like morals, culture, and ethics – all these virtues vary vastly among people and ethnicity. Even within a commonplace, abortion for example, there are a variety of values and opinions that come up when the collective ideology, say pro-life, is streamlined to the individuals within the ideology: i.e. people that push against abortion do so for very different individual reasons even though unanimous on their cause, pro-life in this case. This is the reason for sects and factions within an ideology even when collectively shared. These subtle differences can often lead to controversies about how the ideology is expressed or epitomized.
For another instance on something more trivial, we may all like pepper, but only on certain foods for various and well diverse reasons – even though we may have all said at one time, "I like pepper." The food industry once carried a research for the perfect spaghetti sauce and discovered that it just didn't exist. They concluded that there is no perfect sauce for everyone. Instead, what they found was a rather diverse range of spaghetti sauce with varying levels of the sauce ingredients and texture that suit an equally diverse range of people – some people, for example, liked more ‘tomatoeness’ than others. Consequently, it was impossible to pinpoint a standard that matched the preference of all. In the same vein, can there really be a perfect standard of fairness, or is it, like the spaghetti sauce, a predisposition spun by our opinions, culture, ideologies, and environment?
There may not be any easy answer to the question on fairness, and the process of finding an absolute “Platonic” answer may require either an infinite amount of time or Utopia altogether – if there is such an answer. However, the definition of certain agreements within a closed context or niche is often used to develop a common ground of compromise for the members or participants of the group – whether or not the terms completely satisfies every member in the group individually. Enter Kant's revolutionary thought: that morality or fairness in this case, is obedience to a law we impose upon ourselves. Thus, Kant suggests that the position of fairness is more about the laws we agree to abide by, not by a universal compass. Thus, the 'stasis' questions within that group will be utterly based upon the rights and wrong around their own stipulations. Accordingly then, every position within the bylaw is weighed from the perspective of the collective regulation or agreement, and is only overridden by a super set of laws e.g. the federal law over a company policy. When in this context, an individual's beliefs or opinion are immaterial. In our world today, this kind of solution remains the most widely used in nations, organizations, and even families. However, for a spoiler, is this approach fair to new members and changing times? The model is, of course, not without its many flaws.
Universal laws are not any more conforming to the equality definition of fairness. Jupiter is big an uninhabitable, earth is small and habitable for life as we know - need I say more? Or how about some kid who lives an upright moral and healthy life, goes through school successfully, grows up, only to then drown in a nearby pool on his engagement night; which reminds me of Steven Crane's Open Boat story where another cries, “If I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned—if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?” Little wonder that many find the universe very random and the gods crazy. Whichever way though, we know that neither the universe or those gods prescribed or defined our social laws or standards of fairness. In fact, nature appears to keep a passive observation of human developments as though too busy with its own cares to concern herself with ours. Nevertheless, in a world where people have created the ideology of fairness by equality, it will be up to them to live - without the concern of the universe - their own standards.
Yen, Duen Hsi. "Fairness." Noogenesis.com. Http://www.noogenesis.com, 21 Apr. 1999. Web. 08 Nov. 2011. <http://www.noogenesis.com/malama/fairness.html>.
Gog, Jer H. "BBC News - Today - What Is Fairness?" BBC News - Home. BBC, 11 Oct. 2010. Web. 08 Nov. 2011. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9079000/9079254.stm>.
Mcmichael, George, and James S. Leonard, comps. "The Open Boat" Concise Anthology of American Literature. 6th ed. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2006. 641-652. Print.