I’m traveling these next few days and unable to put up new material. This post, which is more relevant today and which I wish I could edit, originally appeared on 11 May 2011.
Mothers used to be terrific repositories of cultural wisdom. A good number of them were mean philosophers, too. But, with rare exceptions, this is no longer so. What this falling away spells for the future our civilization can only be guessed at.
Used to be when Junior ran into the house, his eyes full of tears because Johnny down the block had a new toy which he did not, or because Johnny could go somewhere he could not, Junior would stammer that this was a manifest injustice. To irrevocably close the subject, Mom would explain, “Life isn’t fair.” If Junior failed to accept this truth on the force of Mom’s authority, her argument might be accompanied by material or corporal proof.
If Mom would have had the patience and the time, she could have explained not only why life isn’t fair, but that it couldn’t possibly be fair no matter who would attempt to make it so, and regardless of their good intentions. Moms are now too busy to impart this most valuable lesson. Or perhaps they have forgotten it.
For example, I saw Mom the other day in the park reading The Drama of the Gifted Child, a book which I bet says not one word about the inherent unfairness of life.
Too, many moms are having one kid instead of many, so instead of being an advocate between the kidlings in her own brood, she has become one for her own among other moms’ kids, where instead of intoning her old wisdom, it is frequently her that says, “That’s not fair!”
I thus present this brief article as a service for today’s moms who may have forgotten what their mothers told them, and whose children are badly in need of learning that life isn’t fair.
Fair is one of those words of which everybody knows the definition, a definition everybody assumes is shared by everybody else. This is not so. Clearly Junior had a different idea of what fair meant than did his mother or Johnny. Disagreement about definitions is only one reason why life cannot be fair.
It is clear that the idea people have in mind is fairness with regard to circumstance and with regard to treatment. Circumstance are such things as birth location and place of residence, genetic sex, possessions and so forth. Treatment is conduct towards you or another from a person or persons.
Even if we perfected cloning such that we have discovered a way that exact genetic duplicates (without random mutations) of sexless humans can be produced, no two of these creatures can be “born” or whelped at the same place and time. This is unfair to many: to all those who have come before this Utopian technology was created, including those long dead, and to those who would have chosen a different production location if they could.
Note that while production place can be centralized, unfairness is forever un-fixable in time. For example, the clones produced at the Central Birthing Hub will still come one after the other, with those born this year suffering the lack of improvement realized by those born a century hence. Or if conditions are worse 100 years from now, those produced sooner will realize greater benefits than those who come after.
Since this genetic perfection is unlikely and probably impossible, there will always be fixed unfairness with birth location and time, genetic sex, and the myriad other genetic components which make people different. That is, no matter how strongly fairness is desired, some will be taller, more muscular, sexier, funnier, smarter, and so on. And there is nothing that can be done to alleviate this injustice.
At a start, fairness—or equality—in circumstance is an impossibility. Not just is it unlikely, but it is impossible: at least, if fairness is defined in this respect. It is also important not confuse fairness or unfairness with respect to circumstance with that of treatment. For example, of two people, one might be male the other female and that both are treated the same by all others their entire life. But because males and females suffer unequal burdens and have different abilities, the unfairness due to these differences cannot be eliminated.