I previously mentioned that a lot of what goes on in this blog from my side is tweaky complaints about arguments that I mostly agree with, and that the iconoclast spin on this is that it’s (however gingerly) defending the indefensible. To take that in a slightly more bold direction, I am now going to complain about the idea of fairness in politics.
Now, this isn’t to say that I will talk about problems with meritocracy, though they are well known. What I will complain about instead is the use of “fairness” as an organizing argument for liberal politics. A lot of liberals seem to be motivated by bringing some measure of fairness and equitability into this world. (Don’t believe me? Take the moral foundations test here, which is really interesting, but is somewhat spoiled by being told too precisely what it tests). My main problem with this view is that things are unfair in a lot of ways – “President Kennedy said life isn’t fair.” goes the saying – and ranking unfairnesses is tedious and silly and I don’t know which way the accounting will come out. Is it unfair that I obtain food and shelter and by doing work in exchange for money (funny story: not this summer!) whereas others do not do work and yet have shelter and food provided via the government? Yes, it is. The people spouting “makers vs. takers” ideological nonsense are concerned about this kind of unfairness the most. To me, that badly misses the mark of where unfairness is greatest. But, hey, it really isn’t fair. The obvious reason we don’t do away with this unfairness is because it would be really terrible for society if being out of a job meant you’d die of starvation. And, well, suppose it could be arranged fairly so that you’d never get fired for bogus purposes, and your job status was not depended on what class you were born into and so forth. It’d still be terrible! It’s only a short step from seeking more fairness to fiat iustitia et pereat mundus. Or, let’s put it in concrete terms, say in terms of the Euro-debacle’s early stages. You used to hear a lot of people say, well, shouldn’t Greece be punished for its profligacy? Wouldn’t that be “unfair” to let the country off the hook for the questionable dealings of its government. And “the argument from fairness” goes well, average Iannis* had nothing to do with this, why should he suffer, but then you get the counterargument of, well, why should average Hans have to give money to help out Iannis and also, well, he should have voted better, and also, well, he enjoyed the fruits of this governmental action so it would only be fair if he also bore the consequences and so on. A morass of argument. But if you didn’t look to structure your argument from fairness, it was suddenly simple: “who does Greek austerity help?”
*By the way, there is a player on the Greek soccer team whose name is Sokrates Papastathopoulos. That is all.