Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What is fairness?

This is going to be a very self-indulgent, pompous entry, because it's the first, so bear with me. For some reason I've been wanting to start a blog entitled "unfairness" for a while. Why? In our culture, we have an idea of fairness. The idea is difficult to explain; we all know what we think we mean by it, but I think different people frequently take widely divergent meanings for the word. And I think that our belief in the idea of fairness is frequently used against us. I also think we frequently use the notion of a "fair deal" as a way to justify undertaking an action we might otherwise find morally repugnant. You know the rationalization: "yeah, I really hate to do this to you, but fair's fair." "I'm just trying to come up with a fair compromise." It's a statement that's frustrating because it's hard to answer.

The fact is that the only real application for the word fairness that I know of is the happy situation where two or more people engage in some kind of exchange, and at the end of the exchange both parties to it are happy with the outcome. This does happen in real life, and it's nice. But it isn't a thing that can be constructed - it's a quality that a thing that has happened might have. When two people, of their own free will, try to construct a fair exchange out of a feeling of wanting to benefit the other party, it can go nicely. But the idea of creating a social construct called fairness seems doomed to me.

So the point of this blog is to talk about what to do instead.


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