Why Fair is a Four Letter Word

Posted by on November 22, 2013
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“Well, life isn’t fair. Now shut up and eat your peas.” That’s what I feel like saying whenever I hear someone talk about how something isn’t fair, or how something should be more fair. I recently decided that fair isn’t a word that an adult should use. I’m not saying that people should be banned from using the word, only that an adult should have enough sense not to use the term, much like they should have enough sense not to wear skinny jeans… ever. Fair is an inherently subjective word that has as many meanings as there are situations to which people apply it. So when people use the word fair they are not saying that something isn’t equitable, right, or just, they are in fact saying that they don’t like it. It is the equivalent to stomping your foot and demanding the world conform to your whims. It is an inherently emotional word with no firm footing in fact or logic. A good way to show how this works is through taxes, which everyone says should be fair but can never agree on what that means.

A graduated tax system is founded on the concept of what is most simply described as Communist fairness- from each according to their abilities. So people with more money have the ability to pay more. This is, of course, not proper Communism, but what passes as such amongst the parlor pinks one usually encounters. The argument is that it is only fair that if you have more money that you should pay more into the system because you can afford to do so.

Those who champion a flat tax also claim that it is the most fair system of taxation. Everyone pays that exact same percentage of their income, no matter what they make. You eliminate loopholes and deductions and everyone pays the same percentage and are all equally invested in the government. Everyone paying the same rate sounds fair.

There are also those who are in favor of eliminating an income tax and just having a sales tax. Everyone pays the same rate and those who purchase more will contribute more to the system. People actually have more control over how much tax they pay because they have some control over their spending (beyond essentials.) Isn’t that fair?

The proponents of all three tax systems will staunchly defend how fair their scheme is. So who is right? They all are! At least as far as they are concerned, just as are they all wrong according to their detractors. Fair has no real meaning beyond what the person using it believes is right or wrong and so is useless and generally annoying to anyone who disagrees with them. Mind you, they’re probably already a bit irritated, but saying that they are not fair minded because they disagree with you isn’t going to help matters.

Even in the realm of law, where fair use and fair dealings are defined through judicial decisions, there is still a certain flexibility with the interpretation of fairness. Yet I don’t believe that our legislators are using fair in a legal way when they talk about how wonderful their new law is going to be. They use it in the most emotional sense possible. Everyone wants to be fair, it’s the right thing to be. We all want to be fair and just and kind, we’re the heroes in our own adventure after all and heroes are fair. So a politician telling us that a law is fair is saying that if we don’t support it then we’re not good people and we should be ashamed and are probably part of the Evil League of Evil.

So fair is an emotional word that has no real meaning beyond what a person gives it and yet is able to make people squirm because they want to be good and righteous and fair. I’m not big on emotional blackmail or those who use it. Please, tell me something is right, equitable, or just, but do not try to manipulate me using the word fair. Better yet, let me decide on my own what is right, wrong, and fair.


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Lloyd Dodd was a PhD student in International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, from which he also received his Master’s in Strategic Study. He’s currently trying to finish his dissertation from his home in Texas where the weather is better. His area of research is Military Keynesianism in Europe but currently hates it, academics, furry animals and probably you.