I usually tend to be quite exhausted following my work at night, and to compound my fatigue, I usually put myself to work finishing some remodeling or cleaning; once I am done with that, I usually start an hour or so of study. I often end with a light news reading at the end of the night. While finishing my studying, I turned to an article on my Ipad and found something interesting. The article was on Autism, and a link can be found here.
In sum, the article discusses some trivial data regarding economic potential and Autism. The main point of the article was to show how being rich and educated, or having more resources, lead to better performance for children with Autism. The article makes no effort to gloss over the contrapositive: that the poor tend to do far worse than the rich. In fact, one specific statement made in the article hit me as particularly moving, “…being poor is bad for you. It’s that simple. And it’s not fair. Especially when you are a kid.”
Why do we think this? Why do certain writers, researchers, and political leaders think that this is not fair? When discussing fairness, we usually are dealing with conditions that can be controlled. For example, children know when something is unfair merely by verifying a bias -intentional or unintentional- committed by someone else that is acting with respect to them or others. The quintessential example involves a parent breaking a cookie in half. The children may know that one half is not equal to the other and, often, become resentful that the parts were not equal. Later in life, we learn that conditions in the world do not favor equality. Sadly, however, we are also often indoctrinated to believe that certain adverse conditions or the suffering that people experience because of these conditions, are the result of some god, or some force that is outside us. This, then, transfers our resentment to a mystical conception of reality -be it god or whatever is said to be responsible for the inherent wrongs that take place in the world around us. The transferal of our resentment on the holder of these conditions also, I believe, maps our ideals of fairness as well. This is truly unfortunate, for it is not a correct description because the mapping of one’s own resentment and ideas of fairness and equality to the actions of some possible agent is foolish. We cannot hold possible things morally responsible.
The previous conception describing how some people may unknowingly and ignorantly ridicule the natural conditions of the world as unfair given that some being has done so, is only a problem for those who tend to hold some religious belief. Even then, however, it is not a fair description in the slightest, but that does not rule out the point under consideration. Since we cannot hold possible beings morally responsible for conditions, we cannot hold conditions themselves morally responsible. This is trivial, for moral responsibility only applies to things that can be moral, and the natural functioning of the world is not, by definition, a moral agent. So, when we see children dying, people in pain, and all types of unfortunate occurrences happening around us, we cannot say that it is not fair. We cannot even qualify it as good or bad. I, personally, feel that those who are not religious or were raised in secular households tend to map their resentment on society for not preventing the bad conditions from taking hold.
The problem of fairness is greatly exacerbated when dealing with moral action, or conditions that are controllable by human action. Nonetheless, human action is not above the system; it is by-no-means external to the dictates of nature. There are basic economic laws that determine how conditions will play out, and those conditions determine how people will live their lives. Among these basic laws is human behavior. We cannot change, regardless of our hopes, how people will act. We cannot, regardless of our wished, create a system in which perfect cooperations obtained –indeed, it is not even rational to have such a system (I am referring the the Nash Equilibrium here). Betrayal and moral havoc are facts of life. They are essential characteristics to free (or seemingly free) agents that are merely attempting, in the own right, to procure time and space for themselves. The characteristics are the reason why no political system, no religion, no morality, and no ideal has been able to purge the world of suffering, crime, injustice, and poverty. Thus, inequality is a fact of life. It is byproduct of interaction and the thinking of finite agents with limited empirical and rational faculties. It cannot be repaired, amended, or cured by way of policy or controls -for all you are doing is limiting someone’s action and thus making them less equal to he who sets the prohibition, or you are creating conditions which incentivize black market creations and/or proliferation.
Basically, life is a game of Russian Roulette in the physical world, and a game of strategy in the moral world. The strategy is always being played with the intent to betray or to -at least- ensure that one’s own values are actualized by one’s self this leads to cases of unfairness, but like blaming nature, we cannot blame the conglomerate outcome of non-coercive human action as responsible for economic inequality. If we do attempt to blame society or some system of society for being morally wrong, we are merely blaming some set of conditions are, thus, we run afoul of the same type of foolishness discussed prior.
I feel this is where liberals have made a mistake. They tend to case moral stones toward objects that are either not acting morally suspect, or toward things that cannot be morally accountable. In the case of fairness and equality, liberals tend to point out that some small group of rich men are playing cards with the poor people’s lives, but they tend to ignore the simpler answer: that is the product of exchange and modern economic action.
We should, then, remove moral terms that attempt to paint an economic or natural condition as bad or good; fair or unfair; equal or unequal. It would do us well to merely step over some of the envy and reactionism by looking at the incentives and conditions formally with firm footing in logic.