Sunday, June 15, 2008

I changed the name of my blog because I am concerned that the message has been lost. When I started this blog, it was with the intention to rant about the notion of fairness, and how badly it fails at the task of getting us to do what is right (a rather chancy concept in itself, I admit).

Here's an illustration of what's wrong with fairness. What does "getting even" mean to you? Generally speaking, it means revenge, right? Evening the balance. Returning harm with harm. Putting a transgressor in his or her place.

Revenge is fair. Returning harm with harm is fair. An eye for an eye is fair. Is it right?

I don't want you to read this as reductio ad absurdum. This is the very heart of the nature of fairness, not an edge case. Fairness is about making sure that everyone gets the outcome they deserve. And frankly, there are plenty of people in the world who deserve a bad outcome. But when we give them one, we in turn come to deserve a bad outcome. And when they deliver it to us, we get a bad outcome again. And so the cycle perpetuates.

Fairness perpetuates the cycle of suffering. The idea of fairness is wrong. Peace cannot descend upon a world whose inhabitants think of fairness as the highest moral code, or indeed as any moral code at all. A world where fairness is the controlling paradigm is by definition a world filled with suffering.

The point of this blog is threefold: one, to dispel in the reader's mind the idea that fairness is a valid or functional system of ethics. Two: to promote ideas that might contribute to a system of ethics that does promote happiness. And three, to actually follow that system of ethics by doing things, like sharing my homebuilding experiences, which are not required of me, and not fair, yet might be of benefit to others.


Blogger Will Shetterly said...

Everyone deserves good things, and no one deserves punishment. What good does punishment do? I guess I'm a universalist at heart.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 6:31:00 AM  
Blogger Perry E. Metzger said...

I think I agree that vengeance is not a good value to hold. However, one should understand where, in evolutionary biology, the impulse came from.

No one wants something bad to happen to them. If your neighbor breaks your leg because he thinks that's fun, it will not make your life go as well as if he had not done that. It is in your interest that others not do bad things to you. The impulse to vengeance is a way of "teaching" others that they will also suffer if they make you suffer. The ultimate reason for the impulse to have evolved is not to enforce "fairness" but to make people worry that doing bad things to others will have consequences.

In a society where there are ways to convince people not to do bad things to others without inflicting retribution upon them, the original purpose of the impulse to vengeance disappears and one can achieve the more peaceful society you seek.

The key, though, is to find ways to achieve order without the threat of vengeance.

Some people I know who live in India note to me that because the law enforcement community there is widely perceived as corrupt, street thieves, drunk drivers and the like often are beaten up by mobs instead of being turned over to the police. (This is, by the way, justified on the basis of "karma", irony of ironies.)

By contrast, here in the US, people rarely consider such behavior to be reasonable. I think this is almost certainly because, for the most part, the legal system is perceived as being at least modestly effective in preventing people from doing bad things to each other.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 7:32:00 PM  
Blogger Ted Lemon said...

Perry, your friend's observation about mobs in India is a helpful one - thanks for sharing that. It puts a lot of strange news stories that come out of India into perspective.

I don't disagree with you about the source of the human tendency to believe in fairness. The question is, is there a better ethic that could actually work? Because clearly vengeance, while it serves a purpose, is not optimal.

Monday, June 16, 2008 2:13:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home