Humans have a strong sense of fairness. To be fair is to be in balance with one’s fellow humans. Like any metric involving humans, however, fairness suffers from having too much just as much as having too little.
To little real fairness exists in the world at large. Protests, violence, injury and death mark the chasm between black and white, rich and poor, man and woman, privileged and common. It can accurately be said that life, taken in aggregate, is more unfair now than at any time in human history.
But this article aims to talk about the issue of too much fairness or being fair when it is uncalled-for. This is the point where people look at their fellow human and want to take an action to make things incrementally more fair between them. Said this way, it seems like meddling.
In defense of my thesis, I’m not writing about a protest to change a company’s policies towards groups of people. We must protest for fairness among large groups of people. It is fundamental to our health as a society that we continue to correct these issues. Rather I’m considering the urge, in humans, to change singular other humans’ behavior.
All Men are not Equal
Are all humans created equal? In response to that question, I’d say it’s too broad and in fairness, too vague. One could affirm that people are “equal” when one is talking about opportunity or franchise or basic rights; but “equally” one could reject “equal” on the grounds that people are not intrinsically the same. This is not the place to argue nurture versus nature, but regardless of the source I posit that people begin life equal in some basic and fundamental areas, different in others and are only likely to grow more different over time.
If the reader is still holding onto a misguided notion, consider how utterly mundane and boring a world composed of one person copy-pasted however many billion times across the globe; neither would they be happy nor would they be happy with each other. The joy in the world is the product of the optimistic sum of our differences.
Certain types of people can live with themselves as spouses and partners, but more often then not, the fabled “opposites attract.” While from outside, large groups organize on similar traits (skin colour, occupation, theory of life or happiness); from within, these groups tend to bond and people specialize with their differences. In terms of partners (life, business, or otherwise), the trope “opposites attract” exists because complementary pairings are stronger than similar pairing.
The truth of the matter is that people don’t wish to be equal. In so far as 50% of people live below the mean (for whatever mean you choose), 50% of them can espouse the idea that fairness would be better for them and the other 50% of them can agree that, while their privilege would be reduced, 50% would be better off. This is to misconstrue the goal of either group. Individually, people want to better themselves. As a group, they can borrow from many philosophies only some of which will better any of the group. By definition, then, some can achieve “better” by equality, but never all. By reduction, equality is a stasis where people are unhappy.
My Brush with Equality and Fairness
This post was spurred on by two things happening: one to me and one in the news. My own personal brush with equality serves to introduce the problem: Someone complaining about my roof.
Re-shingling your roof is expensive. Not buying a new car expensive, but considering what I drive, the roof is easily worth two cars that are “new to me.” I have known for some time that the roof is needing doing and the problem has become increasingly more dire. This is a problem I share with my wife and we worry about it.
However, some time early this spring, a neighbour choose to complain about my roof to the city. It turns out that, just like my lawn, the city has an interest in my roof — if only someone would complain. If nobody complains, as far as I can tell, things could go to heck in a hand basket and only I (and my wife) are potentially sad.
This, I believe, is the result of a misguided attempt at fairness. Ours is a new subdivision, so everyone’s roof has required new shingles at roughly the same time. I frankly assume that it is as onerous a proposition to most of my neighbours as it is to me. Just as frankly, and for reasons I won’t describe here, I haven’t yet been able to find the money to re-shingle my roof.
But since everyone has had this expense, one could construe it was unfair that I haven’t yet re-shingled my roof. One could; but unfair to whom? The city only seems to care that shingles are not loose (if houses were two or three times closer together, I could buy this argument, but with at least 10 yards between my house and the nearest anyone but the paperboy should come to my house, I reject it.
My own brush with fairness is somewhat weak and I would not have written this article on the basis of it alone. Indeed, that was over a month ago. However, an article popped up in the news this week regarding clothing worn by Sophie Trudeau to public functions.
Firstly, both women look gorgeous and both are wearing dresses that honour designers with links to Canada. I’m not “in” fashion, but my own reading of the press gives kudos for both choices.
The “complaint” from some quarters is that Sophie should have to pay for her haute couture. When counted with the fact that some dresses and gowns have only been worn once, have publicly shown the Canadian designer’s work, and have been returned, the complaint is then that she should have paid some rental fee.
I get that there are rules for this sort of thing and I get why there are rules, but in this case, all the rules are followed. I would say plainly that Sophie Trudeau is not equal to those who complain and, indeed, as the Prime Minister’s wife gets special treatment. Her actions also confer special treatment back to those Canadian designers. I could consider a complaint by which some designers feel neglected, but this has not been voiced.
It strikes me that it is hard enough finding people willing to be Prime Minister. Even if the rules we have for this sort of thing are imperfect, it is unreasonable to expect people in this position to not derive and pleasure or perk from it, when offered genuinely.
It is human nature to appreciate being fair. It is also human nature to appreciate being special. Note that the natural way to describe this situation is that fairness is something that applies to someone else while special applies to oneself. This is just one of the inherent stresses of being human. It is likely one of the reasons politics is so difficult.
The sincere truth of the matter is that everyone’s situation is different. The cost of wearing clothes representing Canada’s fashion industry is likely beyond a Prime Minister’s salary. Consider that a CEO of a corporation of this size would make many, many times what we pay our Prime Minister. Similarly, my own situation with regard to my roof is my own. If you stopped to talk with me, I might bend your ear about it, but I might just as well talk about something more interesting.
Being fair is not always (often?) right.