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The Injustice of “Fairness”

To describe “fairness” as anything other than an ideal for which to strive would seem to be an exercise in opposing goodness, Mom, and apple pie.  As is all too often the case, it all depends on your operational definition of “fairness.”  In a recent four part series, Thomas Sowell gives us an excellent overview of how the definition currently in use results in a woeful wrenching of reality that all to often yields consequences the exact opposite of those espoused by its proponents.

Calling the concept in its liberal definition a fallacy, Dr. Sowell gives the central reason for this identification in his Part I (emphasis added):

If by "fair" you mean everyone having the same odds for achieving success, then life has never been anywhere close to being fair, anywhere or at any time. If you stop and think about it (however old-fashioned that may seem), it is hard even to conceive of how life could possibly be fair in that sense.

Even within the same family, among children born to the same parents and raised under the same roof, the first-borns on average have higher IQs than their brothers and sisters, and usually achieve more in life.

Unfairness is often blamed on somebody, even if only on "society." But whose fault is it if you were not the first born? Since some groups have more children than others, a higher percentage of the next generation will be first-borns in groups that have smaller families, so such groups have an advantage over other groups.

When theory and reality do not coincide, the logical thing is to change the theory.  That is not the liberal strategy.  Pointing to what many on the left (and perhaps some on the right) refuse to acknowledge, Dr. Sowell continues (emphasis added):

Many people fail to see the fundamental difference between saying that a particular thing– whether a mental test or an institution– is conveying a difference that already exists or is creating a difference that would not exist otherwise.

Creating a difference that would not exist otherwise is discrimination, and something can be done about that. But, in recent times, virtually any disparity in outcomes is almost automatically blamed on discrimination, despite the incredible range of other reasons for disparities between individuals and groups.

Nature’s discrimination completely dwarfs man’s discrimination.

Differences exist and part of growing up involves learning to confront with courage, resolve, etc., the obstacles life throws at you.  Using a specific example in the field of education in Part II, Dr. Sowell reveals with clarity (i.e., in an unpolitically correct way, i.e., bluntly telling the truth) underlying root distortions lurking in the liberal methods employed to try to solve the problem but which, in reality, only make the problem worse (emphases added):

The point is to close educational gaps among groups, or at least go on record as trying. As with most equalization crusades, whether in education or in the economy, it is about equalizing downward, by lowering those at the top. "Fairness" strikes again!

In the language of the politically correct, achievement is equated with privilege. Such verbal sleight of hand evades the question whether individuals’ own priorities and efforts affect outcomes, whether in education or in other endeavors. No need to look at empirical evidence when a clever phrase can take that whole question off the table.

But, to some on the left, the very concept of achievement must be banished by all means necessary, regardless of the facts.

Achievement by overcoming obstacles is a special threat to the left’s vision of the world, and so must be magically transformed into privilege through rhetoric.

Those with that vision do not want to even discuss evidence that students from different groups spend different amounts of time on homework and different amounts of time on social activities. To admit that inputs affect outputs, whether in education, in the economy or in other areas, would be to undermine the vision and agenda of the left, and deprive those who believe in that vision of a moral melodrama, starring themselves as defenders of the oppressed and crusaders against the forces of evil.

And there we have part of the political reason for such methods, reasons having nothing to do with actually solving the problem.  Generally, when trying to solve a problem, one strives for methods that work and actually do solve the problem.  Useless methods are discarded quickly if they do not yield the desired results.

In Part III, he returns to the definition of “fairness” used by liberals and shows how the flaw that permeates their thinking is precisely their attempt to disconnect inputs and outputs.  Consequently, anything that provides criteria to distinguish amongst individuals becomes anathema to them.  The impact of this kind of thinking on various aspects of our culture and society is detrimental to the extreme (emphasis added):

Most of us want to be fair, in the sense of treating everyone equally. We want laws to be applied the same to everyone. We want educational, economic or other criteria for rewards to be the same as well. But this concept of fairness is not only different from prevailing ideas of fairness among many of the intelligentsia, it contradicts their idea of fairness.

Tests and other criteria which convey the realities of their existing capabilities, compared to that of others, can have what is called a "disparate impact," and are condemned not only in editorial offices but also in courts of law.

But criteria exist precisely to have a disparate impact on those who do not have what these criteria exist to measure. Track meets discriminate against those who are slow afoot. Tests in school discriminate against students who did not study.

Disregarding criteria in the interest of "fairness"– in the sense of outcomes independent of inputs– adds to the handicaps of those who already have other handicaps, by lying to them about the reasons for their situation and the things they need to do to make their situation better.

This series concludes in Part IV with a discussion of racial differences (note I did not say racial genetic differences) and how common they actually are despite what liberals, and even some conservatives, want to believe.

It is also a hard fact of history that some races had far more advanced technological, economic and other achievements than others at particular times and places. But those who were ahead in some centuries were often behind in other centuries–the Chinese and the Europeans having changed positions dramatically after Europe eventually caught up with China and then surpassed it within recent centuries. But there was no evidence of any dramatic changes in genetics among either the Chinese or the Europeans.

The conclusion of the matter for Dr. Sowell’s current treatise (emphasis added):

Fairness as equal treatment does not produce fairness as equal outcomes. The confusion between the two meanings of the same word has created enormous mischief, much of it at the expense of lagging groups, who have been distracted from the things that would enable them to catch up. And whole societies have been kept in a turmoil pursing a will o’ the wisp in the name of "fairness."

To expand upon Dr. Sowell’s analysis, because the current definition of “fairness” is a fallacy, it actually leads to injustice in theory and practice when trying to solve alleged problems of unfairness (thus the title of this post).  “Fairness” has its foundation on the subjective judgment and relativistic thinking of those seeking to implement it, not on an objective set of principles.  The laws of this country, and of our mother country, England, were grounded in the jurisprudence of the Christian Bible (despite what your liberal teacher may have told you).  Thus justice establishes guilt when God’s standards are violated.  “Fairness” tries to remove guilt by lowering the standards rather than establishing true guilt by comparison with an objective standard.  If we are truly guilty, we should confess our failures and plead for mercy, but this assumes personal responsibility to a “higher power,” another anathema to the liberal mind which acknowledges nothing greater than itself.  Thus, personal rights and justification of failure rule the day for those seeking “fairness.”

True justice is impartial, objective, and unemotional.  This is why the famous statue of Justice wears a blindfold.  Favoritism is not to be shown to the rich, but also not to the poor (see e.g., Exodus 23:2-3).  “Fairness” is subjective and based on arbitrary emotional considerations with appeals to those emotions leading to decisions that swing wildly away from justice.  As one example, justice allows an employer to be generous by giving extra to employees who might be in extra need.  “Fairness” says “not so!”  “Fairness” laws require employers to give each person in a given job classification the same pay, regardless of individual need (and all too often regardless of individual ability; see Matthew 20:1-15).

In the long run, justice provides an objective and unchanging yardstick by which to measure character and behavior flowing from that character, thus holding the individual responsible.  In sharp contrast, “fairness” generates humanistic laws that hold society guilty for an individual’s offense and helps to create the attitude of entitlement that ultimately will crush the spirit of a nation.

Let’s put some flesh to this discussion with a more concrete example:

  • A certain country has an economic system which allows some of its people to become and remain rich, while others in that country lived in poverty.  The leaders defended the system as being just.  Were they right?

If you answered “no,” you are thinking like a liberal.  Justice correctly answers “yes.”

Why is this system just?  Note that it is not said that the poor cannot achieve riches, nor does it limit the means of doing so.  Poverty is not a cause; it is an effect.  The right behaviors in a just system will lead to success whereas wrong behaviors will lead to failure.

To place this discussion into the context of the Christian worldview, poverty is an essential function in God’s larger purposes of training, chastening, directing, and rewarding.  Jesus said, “For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always” (Matthew 26:11).  God does not look upon the poor as being a permanent class of people but rather as being in transition.  This is important, because God ties poverty and riches without sorrow to obedience of His laws.  “…Observe to do all these commandments which I command thee this day…and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow…”  (Deuteronomy 15:5-6).

God clearly states that He made the poor (cf. Proverbs 17:5), and that He gives power to get wealth (cf. Deuteronomy 8:18).  Thus an economic system is not a primary cause but only a resulting factor.  Those who condemn an economic system as being the primary cause of poverty both deny God His sovereignty and fail to grasp that the success or failure of any economic system is heavily dependent on the character of the individuals in that system and on the underlying assumptions made by those who craft the system.  Some of the causes of poverty include:

  • disobeying God’s laws (Deuteronomy 28:1-68)
  • get-rich-quick schemes (Proverbs 28:22)
  • gluttony and drunkenness (Proverbs 23:21)
  • stinginess (Proverbs 11:24)
  • immorality (Proverbs 5:10)
  • laziness (Proverbs 24:33-34)

Note that all these are based on personal character.  If you construct a system that has an incorrect view of human nature (cf., e.g., socialism and its humanistic assumptions), it will be a house built upon sand that will collapse when stress and trials come upon it (Matthew 7:24-27).

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