Unfortunately, There’s Really No Such Thing As “Fair”

“Fair” is kind of like the Buddhist notion of “Bodhisattva”. A Bodhisattva is someone on the road to enlightenment. But they’re not there yet. If they think they’re there? They’re definitely not “there”. Enlightenment is as hard a goal to achieve as “fair” is. It’s more surreal than real, more abstract than plastic.

And it’s so personal. What’s fair to me might not be fair to you. Even when we compromise (the goal, really), if the compromise is “fair”? Neither of us will like it much; it’s not “fair”.

“Fair” gets harder when there are multiple competing interests whose concept of “fair” contradicts one another. Maybe the problem is we value “fair” to the individual over “fair” to the group. Assuming everyone’s rights are being respected (a big assumption), it’s hard to justify being fair to one person at the expense of a large chunk of everyone else.

When we say “All men are created equal”, we better mean “everyone” is created equal — before the law (which is what it means). If the Law treats everyone fairly — that is, “equally”, there’s a better chance we’ll feel that we’ve been treated fairly. That’s all we can ask. It’s the consistency that creates a basis for “fairness” in our minds. That’s why the Rule Of Law — as a concept — gives us the best possible chance to experience the most “fairness” for the most people.

Racism is inherently unfair. Ditto bigotry, misogyny and every other form of irrational, ignorant hatred.

But, just like “fair” is a human construct, so’s the Rule Of Law. We invented it. And though we want to think it’s “automatic” or autonomous, it isn’t. It does not self-perpetuate. It’s not some perpetual motion machine. We have to care for these ideas and nurture them. We have to renew both the ideas and our passion for them.

As the Trump years have taught us, if you start taking “fairness” for granted, you’re doomed to a life of perpetual unfairness. Minority rule — as an example? Not fair. Mitch McConnell hijacking the judiciary — to give hard core conservative judges power over an increasingly progressive majority? Not even remotely fair. Committing treason to win the presidency in 2016? Don’t get me started…

“Fair” is a muscle we have to exercise every single day. We have make sure we’re being fair — despite the unfairness around us. If we don’t exercise our own sense of fair — that is, fair for the group — our “fairness” muscle will atrophy, wither and die. Before long, we’ll become like every Trump supporter. Their idea of “fair” begins and ends with them.

You want fair? Be fair. Have receipts ready to demonstrate what real fairness looks like. Be prepared to persist. “Unfair” is the bully’s preference and there are plenty of bullies around.