Life is unfair

fairness

This scale is an attempt to diagram a framework I posted to Facebook.

Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more people declaring that “Life is unfair.” I actually grew up hearing that.

I’m starting to believe this statement is the essence of right-wing politics. Degree of renunciation of fairness is what defines the right-wing spectrum:

Centrism views fairness as one legitimate political goal, but acknowledges practical limits to the degree of achievable fairness. Centrism sees over-reaching attempts at fairness to be artifacts of naive partiality with distorted self-serving conceptions of fairness. To the degree a centrist leans right, he sees increasing levels of unfairness as inevitable and acceptable.

Middle right believes that fairness should not enter the discussion. Fairness is an inappropriate goal for politics, and an inadequate framework for thinking about it. Politics should be thought about in terms of other dynamics (such as economics). These dynamics naturally produce a healthy equilibrium which are in fact the best possible political outcomes. The distorting lens of “fairness” demands that we “fix” precisely that which is not broken (and conversely, that we preserve the hacks intended to produce fairness, but which destroy natural equilibrium).

Hard right believes that inequality is necessary — that establishing proper rank is required for the health of a society. The strongest, or wisest, or smartest or the most righteous should have more power than the weak, foolish, unintelligent, vicious masses.

I can see the self-consistent logic and validity of these positions. But as a left-leaning person, I believe the elimination of fairness from political discourse is a disaster. To say “life is unfair” is to misrepresent a moral intention as a natural fact. It pretends to say “perfect fairness is not an achievable goal” but really means: “I have no intention of treating you fairly.” I do not believe I can credibly ask a person to trust me if I do not intend to treat them fairly.

But, with all that being said, here is a troubling question: can right-wingers actually trust the left to treat them fairly? Because being fair means making the question “what is fair?” an open question for discussion, and I am not at all sure this is the case with many Clinton and Sanders supporters, who seem to have already decided unilaterally for themselves what is fair.

When asked for the left half of the scale, I added:

Hard left wants to maximize fairness by ensuring that everyone has exactly the same resources. Middle left believes politics is essentially about achieving maximum fairness. Centrism, as it leans leftward, sees fairness as one key condition of freedom for all. Fairness and freedom will never be perfect, but we are obligated to pursue it.

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