Est. May 2008

29 September, 2012

Fair And Equal

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. (Inigo Montoya)
We’re hearing an awful lot these days about ‘fairness’, aren’t we?  Or, actually, about ‘unfairness’: how certain racial groups are being ‘unfairly’ targeted by law enforcement, by schools, by lack of jobs, by poverty; how certain groups with particular sexual proclivities are being ‘unfairly’ treated in regard to marriage, financial benefits, and the like; how sick people are being treated ‘unfairly’ by insurance companies and health-care providers; and etcetera, etcetera, so on and so forth.

And yet when you actually boil down the grievances, what you discover is that folks who keep calling for ‘fairness’ aren’t calling for ‘fairness’ – they’re calling for ‘equality’; but even the equality they’re calling for isn’t ‘equality’: it’s ‘equal-ness’.

Let me explain.

I have to start with a couple of definitions (both taken from dictionary.reference.com).  The first is the definition of ‘fair’:
fair: 1. free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice.  2. legitimately sought, pursued, done, given, etc.; proper under the rules.
Now, let’s take a look at the definition of ‘equal’:
equal: 1. as great as; the same as (often followed by to  or with ).  2) like or alike in quantity, degree, value, etc.; of the same rank, ability, merit, etc.
Notice the difference?  ‘Fair’ or ‘fairness’ is subjective: it’s ‘in the eye of the beholder’, so to speak.  ‘Equal’ or ‘equality’ is objective in that it’s something actually intrinsic within the person or object, such as weight, volume, size, intelligence, and so on.

A quick example:

Two people, both working; one at a factory, the other in sales.  Both own homes, both own cars.  The factory worker lives in a two-bedroom, 1200-square-foot, twenty-nine-year-old house near the plant; the sales guy lives in a four bedroom, 2400-square-foot, two-year-old house in the suburbs.  The factory worker owns a seven-year-old Ford; the sales guy owns a 2012 Lexus.

Okay, equality: both are working, both own homes, both have reliable transportation.

Fairness: one guy has a huge home and a fancy car, the other doesn’t.

Here’s where the ‘fairness-folks’ would say that, to be ‘fair’, both should live in 1800-square-foot homes no more than 13-and-a-half years old and both should drive 2008 cars.  That would be ‘fair’, because they would be ‘equal’.

How do I know? 

Taxes and the complaints that the ‘rich’ don’t pay their ‘fair share’.

Take a look at this chart.  Note that the top ten-percent of earners in this country pay 70% of US taxes.  That’s the ‘rich’ not paying their ‘fair share’, according to the ‘fairness-folks’.  Of course they’re not paying their ‘fair share’ – they’re above and beyond that point.  But that’s why the ‘fairness-folks’ aren’t really talking about ‘fairness’: they want the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ to be equal financially. 

And you can carry this concept to schools, law-enforcement, prisons – pretty much everywhere.  When the ‘fairness-folks’ talk ‘fairness’, what they’re really talking about is ‘equal-ness’: everybody should be equal, no one is better than anyone else, no one should be any worse than anyone else.

Doubt me?  How many times have you read or heard about a high-school sports team penalized for winning a game lately?  How often have you heard or read about schools dispensing with red marking pens and even grades for their students?  How many times have you heard or read about schools simply advancing students to higher grades even though their schoolwork doesn’t qualify them for advancement?

How about the calls to release prisoners because, well, you know, some of those peoples’ crimes aren’t really all that bad, are they?  And how about the cries of racism regarding high arrest- and incarceration-percentages of specific racial groups?  I mean, that’s not fair, is it?  Everyone should be treated fairly (read ‘equally’) in the eyes of the law, right?  Ignore the fact that even with the occasional screw-up, our law enforcement and judicial systems don’t make a whole lot of mistakes when it comes to arresting and jailing offenders.

So from now on, whenever you hear somebody talk about ‘fairness’, try substituting the word ‘equal-ness’ for ‘fairness’ and see if that’s what they really mean.

Because I’ll bet that’s precisely what they’re driving at.

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