Why Being Fair is Essential to a Happy, Peaceful, and Prosperous Society.
Be fair to others...
Life isn’t fair is a phrase that we all learn when we are young. It’s generally a response to a situation that is unjust. It’s also a thoughtless justification by those who have just done something unfair and don’t want to be called out on it. It’s time to reconsider that we, as human beings, have the ability to make fair decisions, and when we don’t, it’s not because we don’t have the power to change it. In addition, while Abrahamic religions might say that doing unto others as one would do unto oneself is the foundation of ethics, in my opinion, that is not so. In my opinion, the foundation for all ethics lies in four short words. “Be fair to others.”
Dwight Eisenhoser Quote
What it means to be fair
Being fair means to be equally balanced on all sides. Sure if one person gives leadership that enables ten people to feed and clothe their families, that will need to be balanced against what they contribute, but when the scales show that the ‘leader’ is living at the expense of the labour, that is no longer an equitable or working balance. In other words, it’s not fair.
Another example might be two small children squabbling and the parent punishes one but not the other based on prior information that one is the ‘trouble maker.’ In this particular situation, however, the child who supposedly doesn’t cause trouble, is the instigator. The punishment isn’t fair. This happens to all of us at some point in our lives – where a person in a position of authority makes an unfair decision.
That unfair decision may be the result of not wishing to get all the details as it involves time and energy and both may be in short supply. It may be the result of bias or favouritism, or it may be because the cultural system gives privilege to the perpetrator as a result of gender, first born, or some other factor. The bottom line, however, is that it is unfair in that justice wasn’t weighted with an equal hand.
In the recent trial of Bladerunner, Oscar Pistorius, although most people thought that he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in a fit of anger, he was found guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder. However there is now a move afoot to set him free due ‘due to his health and psychological difficulties.’ There is rising anger that this even be considered because hundreds of thousands of people with the same issues remain in prison. They don’t, however, have the money, influence, and status that Pistorius have. People do not like unfair decisions or actions.
Abraham Lincoln on fairness
Studies on fairness
Several studies have been conducted with regard to fairness. Dr. Sarah Brosnan (Georgia State University) said, “This sense of fairness is the basis of lots of things in human society, from wage discrimination to international politics.” The study also indicated that the emotional and intellectual response against unfairness evolved in order to support long-term cooperation. Cooperation, rather than competition between humans, was central to progress, peace, and civilization.
In yet another study, this time involving capuchin monkeys, results pointed to a sense of fairness being the result of evolution rather than culture.
Nobel prize winning economist, Ernst Fehr, been studying fairness, reciprocity, and unbounded rationality for a life time. He believes that economics should be called the dismal science as it always assumes the worst about human motivation. He also draws on the extensive evidence that human beings are not motivated by self-interest (selfishness) and in his dissertation entitled A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation he shows that it is the economic environment (e.g. capitalism) that determines whether selfish or fair people dominate.
In yet another study, Jessica Somerville, an associate professor at the University of Washington noted that babies noticed which actions were fair and which were not. They responded positively to fair actions and negatively to unfair actions. The interesting thing, though, was that if an unfair action benefited them personally, then they were willing to accept it. The study also revealed that most babies preferred to be friends with those who were fair as opposed to those who weren’t.
Cooperation and fairness. Moral behaviour in Monkeys
Unfair decisions and actions result in anger, resentment, and enmity.
From the growth terrorism to the increased activism with regard to the class war currently waging internationally, at its root lies the injustice with regard to the sharing of resources. Vigilantism is another result of perceived injustice.
The epidemic of cheating, lying, stealing that is now so common to our culture is the outcome of achievement not being possible for most as a result of fair action. For instance, if 95% of high achievers at university cheat, then what is the point of being the only who doesn’t? The bottom line is that people who cheated to get their results simply aren’t as good as their results indicate they are. This means that the people who didn’t cheat are at a disadvantage because their results may well mean that they are actually better than the people who cheated, but they don’t get a just reward for their effort. Ironically, very few approve of cheating, and if it were discovered, punishment is harsh.
According to a paper written by Golnaz Tabibnia and Matthew D Liberman (UCLA), they state “…human behaviour is not solely driven by material outcome; fairness and equity matter as well.”
TED talk: Justice, Fairness, What's Right, What's Wrong
Do you know someone who is unfair?
The degree to which a society has lost its fairness is the degree to which it will eventually sink into barbarism.
Treating others fairly is vital to the human species. It is not a matter of life being unfair. Sure none of us has power to halt an earthquake in which friends and family pass on, but we do have power over a great many things in our own societies. It is vital we begin to understand that fairness is based in being even-handed to all, regardless of whether we like them or not. When we aren’t fair, we lay the foundation for increasing anger which eventually results in violence.
© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger