I have written numerous times about the problems related to the unremitting efforts to insert fairness into public policy. You are probably wondering why I am taking that rotten old carcass of a horse and beating it one more time. And probably to no avail. Fairness is at the pinnacle of public policy formulation.
But this pursuit of fair public policy is actually tearing our country apart. I came upon this revelation recently. I have regularly castigated progressives for their penchant to cast all public policy decisions in terms of fairness. Every policy must be fair and every identity among their multitudes of identity has the right to fair treatment as they determine what is the fair treatment that they have a right to. Such as the right of transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender to which they identify. Or the right of same sex couples to demand that bakers bake their wedding cakes no matter what the baker’s religious beliefs say. These demands for fairness are absolute and brook no compromise because these are basic human rights in the minds the particular identity group.
President Trump also believes in fairness. He believes that the United States has been treated unfairly by its trading partners and offers the $566 billion dollar trade deficit as proof. He believes that China unfairly steals US technology and intellectual property. He believes that US manufacturing jobs have unfairly been shipped overseas by unscrupulous corporations. More importantly, he believes that he is being treated unfairly by the press and labels them the enemy of the people (seemingly conflating the people with himself).
But what one person deems fair may be deemed by another person as unfair. While transgender people believe that it is fair for them to use the bathroom they choose, a non-transgender person may believe that it is unfair to make them feel uncomfortable seeing a man dressed as a woman in the ladies’ bathroom. Black people may believe that affirmative action is eminently fair while Asians believe that acceptance at elite colleges based on the color of your skin instead of hard-earned academic achievement is unfair.
Fairness is not only personal and subjective is it often mutually exclusive. Any policy that is “fair” to one group is likely “unfair” to another group. The only way to deal with the mutual exclusivity of fairness is through compromise. Each side has to give up something. We use to say, “the essence of a good deal is when both sides are unhappy”. But in 21st century America no side is willing to give up whatever it is that they think is fair. The transgender person refuses to use a unisex bathroom because it would “stigmatize” him or her or it. Only racially proportional or gender proportional outcomes are acceptable because – insert name of appropriate institution – needs to “look like America” (even though what America looks like keeps changing).
But there is another aspect of fairness that I have mentioned before. Because fairness is personal and subjective it is not subject to reason but to passion. People that fight for fairness are passionate and that can be a good thing. But fairness is not inherently good. And passion about fairness may not seem so fair to other people. To paraphrase John Locke, reason is the “only star and compass” to steer by lest fancy and passion “carry him to a brutality below the level of beasts”.
You have to use your frontal lobes to reach a compromise. You have to weigh the pros and cons. You have to think about what you are willing to give up and what you must have. There is very little compromise within the halls of congress and perhaps even less outside.
This is the conundrum that we face today. The pursuit for fairness is the cause of increasing political violence in America. The opposing forces are fighting for fairness and passions are running high. When passion triumphs over reason violence is often the result. This is what we are seeing all over America. College students rioting and attacking Professor Charles Murray to prevent him from speaking on campus. White supremacists marching in Charlottesville with everything but the white robes. Sniper attacks on Dallas policemen. Sniper attacks on congressional baseball players.
The violent events of the last week – letter bombs to Democrats and a murderous anti-Semitic hate crime – are the result of deranged minds infected by the violent atmosphere of 21st century politics. But changing the violently provocative tone of political discourse will not resolve the underlying dilemma that we face. We need to accept that life is not fair because it is impossible to achieve a state or condition where everything is fair to everybody. We need to be able to accept problem resolutions that are less than fair – but not too unfair.
Things will only get worse unless we give up on fairness and learn to compromise.
We all want to be treated fairly. But it's not going to happen. At least not all the time. Sometimes things turn out all right – turn out fair. Sometimes not. But you cannot go through life expecting “fair” outcomes all the time. That’s not realistic.
Fairness is Darwinian – survival of the fittest. The member of the wolf pack that does not get its fair share – dies. But to a wolf a fair share is not an equal share. A fair share to a wolf is enough to survive and to continue to contribute to the well being of the pack.
This is why the pursuit of fairness can create such passion. It is literally life or death. At least to the instinctual part of our brain. And the instinctual part of our brain is not located in the frontal lobes.
Every political ad we see, every political campaign rally is aimed directly at the instinctual part of our brain. Because passion is what wins elections. But passion isn’t any good at running a country.
It takes acceptance and compromise to run a country. This is why politicians rarely follow through on their campaign promises. But President Trump is following through on his campaign promises and that is causing problems. Many of his campaign promises are unrealistic. But President Trump isn’t running a country. He’s running a campaign. And the Democrats are doing the same. All this passion for fairness is destroying our country.
We need to get back to our Founding American Principles. We need to fix the inequities in our society and level the playing field. And we need to heal our wounds so that we can be strong to face the international challenges that are growing stronger while we fight amongst ourselves.
Response to a comment: a progressive friend (and I do have many of them) pointed out that the bakers in my example are more akin to restaurants and hotels that wouldn’t serve black people (see the Negro Motorist Green-Book). But they still serve as a good example because they believe it unfair to be forced to serve same-sex couples (whatever their motives) while other people believe that, if they are open to the public, it is unfair to discriminate.