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Thursday, 8 October 2015

Fairness – Social Justice

Here are two terms which encapsulate political divisions. The left bangs on about fairness without defining it. Obama and Corbyn and the other intellectual pigmies have a manufactured conception of ‘fairness’. What it boils down to in political terms is that if John has more and Jim has less, that is unfair and the situation needs to be redressed. This does not arise from any underlying principle. It is simply conjured out of fresh air. It bears no relation to our intuitions about the real world.

The Real World
John and Jim play tennis. When they compete against each other, John always (or usually) prevails. There may be many reasons for this. We may note that John is taller (which augments his serve). We may note that John’s mother was a formidable player in her youth and introduced the boy to the game when he was very young and did her best to pass on skills. Perhaps his dad had some success in another field but passed on a singular, but general, determination to succeed. With these advantages John has a better than average chance of becoming a club, a county, a national or even an international champion. John happens to be a Czech or a Swede. What do our intuitions tell us about the morality of John’s acquisition of silverware? Not a lot.

There was a case a few years ago of a successful female skater being physically assaulted by a rival and prevented from competing. We were all outraged. It was a moral issue. Our intuition told us so. It is unfair to resort to violence, unless, of course, the arena of competition is violence (as in boxing). Even boxers, though, don’t get to sneak up upon their rivals with a cosh.

We are talking fairness. It’s unfair for Jim to cosh John or for Jill to break Jane’s leg in pursuit of sporting success.

If John has superior skills, a better coach or trains more energetically it is not unfair that he should beat Jim. I would rather be John.

Karl’s dad ran a successful small business. Karl grew up to believe that, with hard work and initiative, he could emulate or surpass his father. His Aunty Gladys died and left Karl a few quid. He used the funds and became a billionaire.

Kevin’s father was a drunk. Young Kevin had no useful role model. He lived in slum, went to a crappy school and failed his exams. Yes, I would rather be Karl. Indeed, I would wish there to more Karls than Kevins.

John had advantages and made the most of them; so did Karl. The essence of fairness is that it is OK to make the most of what you have, provided that you do not sabotage others in making the most of what they have.

This happens all the time. Suppose that Karl’s business was a taxi firm. Suppose that Karl’s uncle was the mayor and Karl persuaded him that anyone wanting to start a new taxi firm should be obliged to get a government license, costing £100,000. Kevin is stuffed. This would be the essence of unfairness, the equivalent of breaking Kevin’s legs.

Social Justice
I hate this phrase. Justice is justice. We have looked at various instances of it. The concept of a level playing field is a commonplace. And we understand it. It is part of our intuition. To qualify ‘justice’ is obscene.

A popular use of qualified justice is ‘climate justice’. To somewhat simplify the situation, there are those who maintain that developed countries use more than their share of the earth’s resources. If you could, indeed, show that this was so (a big ‘if’), you might have a case for saying that underdeveloped countries could use natural resources (as we have done) but that we should use correspondingly less. Have you ever heard this recommended?

Be magnanimous! Rejoice in success. If you are successful, share you good fortune.

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