Sunday 17 October 2010

Fairness vs Justice

Everybody knows: Life is unfair. Some were born rich, some poor; some intelligent, some not; some beautiful, some plain; some healthy and strong, some weak and sickly. It’s the luck of the draw. What can we do about it? If everybody was born equal, then the world would lack any diversity or variety as we know it. Life is unpredictable. You win some and you lose some. We need to be philosophical. That’s the raison d’être for our café-philo.

Nevertheless, inequality has always been the main culprit of turmoil and conflicts. Gross social injustice causes havoc in the world, uprisings, riots, revolutions, wars… No earth-shattering revelations here.

In an attempt to prevent social upheavals, governments adopted a series of measures to deliver “fairness” and minimise “inequality” among different classes so as to alleviate these growing social tensions between the very rich and the very poor. We are impressed by these slogans or promises: “democracy”, “meritocracy”, “equal opportunity”, “political correctness”, “multiculturalism”, “racial and gender equality”, “gay lesbian rights”.

Result: the tip of the balance has tilted towards the other end. Democracy has not given any real power to people but only make the power more concentrated on the top. Jurisprudence has been all but lost as lawyers act in favour of special interest groups. Social welfare systems created opportunities for fraudsters to rob society. Employment policy over-corrected itself by turning the formerly advantageous into disadvantageous. Tax system is controlled by accountants who favour the rich and rip off the salary-earning class.

During the recent two years, we have witnessed the decline and fall of many investment banks and high-street banks found lacking in any self-restraint by speculating in high-risk “investment” futures options. Massive funds have been usurped by hedge fund managers who design new vehicles for their instant gratification. Their bonuses redirected to offshore accounts in Cayman Island and the British Virgin Islands. Government has to rely on the taxpayers’ contribution to rescue banks to maintain their profligacy.

We ask is it “unfair” to pay illegal immigrants social welfare on arrival? Or is it “fairer” to pay bankers unrestricted bonuses by using the tax-payer?

1 comment:

  1. To be unfairly treated is very hurtful. Why is it so?
    When do I feel that I have been unfairly treated, how one defines fairness?
    Is more fairness in a society always a gain?
    I would feel it unfair if I judge that I have been singled out for poor treatment or I have not received my entitlement; We make a judgement that triggers an emotion: that in itself is interesting.
    It may be that because we are essentially social animals, the fact that we equate discrimination with rejection, raises very strong emotions.
    From birth we are hardwired to entitlement, the baby cry for milk is part of its survival kit.
    As social beings, divided into family cells, neighbourhood clans, nations…we have devised and re-devised rules and customs distributing entitlements and duties. History shows that these distributions invariably advantage the powerful people: that is the strong and cunning and disadvantaged the meek. Throughout history rules and laws have been established that perpetuate our hierarchical society.
    That is where Justice lies today: the rule of law.
    When the rule of law is ignored and we are denied our entitlement, we may have recourse to the court to redress some unfairness.
    When the law tolerates or reinforces some discrimination; remedy may come in two ways: change the law democratically or if not possible, direct action which may lead to deadly conflict.
    A civilised society is defined by its statute and by the way the law is adhered to and administered.
    For every entitlement gained there has always been a struggle by a group or an other, against, often, a minority, who would fight to maintain their privileges. Fairness has never come as a gift to progress.

    Does that mean that a society which treats all its citizen equally is a civilised society? A society that privileges a minority or even a majority, we would find abhorrent, unless it was deemed positive discrimination to redress unfairness.
    There is some good news: A recent publication The Sprit Level (Why Equality is better for Everyone), shows that more equal society improve the life of all citizens, including the more affluent.