America Needs to Focus More on Merit and Less on “Fairness”
“Fairness” is a rabbit hole.
Many of the worst people in our society pretend to be obsessed with “fairness.” Why? Because they realize how arbitrary "fairness" can be and they're looking to use that to get an advantage over other people. Life is intrinsically, inherently, unalterably “unfair” and it always will be. That’s because as much as we obsess over what’s “fair” and “unfair,” “fairness” can only be achieved in certain limited situations, with limited rulesets, and even then, it’s often not fully achievable.
For example, the closest thing to “fair” you can probably think of would be two people playing a video game. They start in the same place, with the same skill sets, and face the same challenges and opportunities. What could be more even than that, right? Except, is it really “even” if one player enjoys playing casually on weekends and the other plays 8 hours a day, every day because he has nothing better to do? Who’s going to win every time those two go head-to-head? Other games are “pay to win.” So, if you’re willing to spend money, you can get better gear, better skills, and more powers that allow you to beat other plays. Don’t even get me started on the in-game debates about which characters are “too strong” or “too weak,” because those NEVER END.
Well, what about sports? That’s a good example of fairness, right? You have preset rules, teams with equal numbers of players, set time limits – I mean, that has to be “fair,” right? Well, no. Is it fair that men who claim to be women now get to compete against real women in women’s sports? How is it fair that in the UFC, you’re allowed to kick someone as hard as you can in the face, but you can’t punch someone in the back of the head? What about illegal drugs? Lance Armstrong won 7 Tour-de-France titles, which would be enough to make him the greatest cyclist of all time if he hadn’t gotten caught cheating. Of course, you could just as easily say (and would probably be correct from what I’ve heard) that all the top-level cyclists in Armstrong’s era were using drugs, he just got caught. Besides, he had testicular cancer, so did the drugs really give him a big advantage compared to the other cheaters? How far down the rabbit hole do we want to go to figure out what’s fair?
Here's a complaint about fairness that Black Lives Matter posted on Twitter:
Are we really going to play this game? If so, what’s the “fair” point in history to stop and declare those people are the “rightful” owners of the land?
Oftentimes, complaints of unfairness rely upon only looking at one group’s claims, while completely ignoring similar complaints from the people supposedly behaving “unfairly.”
Is white privilege really better than black privilege, trans privilege, or gay privilege? Do we really live in a patriarchy, or could we make an even better case that we live in a matriarchy? We might say it’s “unfair” for our enemies to deliberately target civilians, but they might just as easily reply that we’re “cheating” by using planes and missiles instead of fighting up close and personal. The further you get away from the most basic questions of fairness, the more impossible it becomes to sort it all out.
Does that mean we should forget about fairness and live in a world without rules? No. Now here’s the “but” you knew was coming.
Because of the nature of fairness, in most situations, if you try to take things beyond some very basic rules, it’s going to quickly become unworkable. In a nation of 330 million people with many different backgrounds, ethnicities, economic statuses, mental abilities, physical abilities, desires, and goals, trying to cater to everyone’s version of fairness is a recipe for disaster.
You can make a law against shoplifting, but if you try to say, “Well, I’m not going to enforce it against people that are poor or homeless,” it’s not going to work. You can split off women’s and men’s sports, but if you then make the definition of being a woman largely arbitrary, it’s going to fail. If you want to say that legally and morally, every individual should be allowed to rise and fall on his merit, that may work imperfectly, but it’s possible. Demanding that every group have exactly the same amount of success percentage-wise in order for it to be “fair” is not.
So, how should we be dealing with fairness?
As individuals, it’s to acknowledge the world as it is and go from there.
The more time you spend listening to news sources that distort reality, choke on the fact that the world is “unfair,” and allow yourself to become emotionally overwrought because you think the world needs to be different, the worse off you will be. Accept the world as it is, take advantage of it when possible, and recognize what you’re up against when you try to change it.
I’m someone who believes in trying to change the world, but I also view people like me as ants and the world as an elephant. Is it possible that enough people like me might bite the elephant’s feet and make it move in one direction or another? Absolutely. But a lot of us will probably get stomped in the process and making the elephant take a step or two is a far cry from steering it. So, while I’m trying to change the world, I’m also looking for ways to succeed, prosper, and reach my full potential in the world as it is without abandoning the principles I believe in.
As to the country, we need to get back to first principles when it comes to fairness. We need to aim for equality under the law, try to maximize freedom, reward people based on merit, allow people to fail, and put the good of society ahead of catering to the whims of our weakest and most sensitive members. The further we get away from basic, simple rules of fairness, the more dysfunctional our government, morals, and culture become. In other words, if you have some weird, bank-shot theory about how everything is unfair for people like you because of something that happened 100 years before you were born or think that because you’re supposedly some gender that didn’t exist five years ago that societal fairness requires that everyone else adapt to you and your stupid pronouns, you’re part of the problem.
To function properly, a nation needs basic, clear-cut concepts of fairness that everyone can understand. If you need to read three articles, consult with Twitter, listen to a college lecture, and watch a TikTok to conclude whether something is “fair” or not, you’re doing it wrong. That’s not about “fairness,” it’s about one group of people trying to get ahead at the expense of everyone else. The more time we spend rewarding merit and the less time we spend trying to have debates about increasingly obscure standards of “fairness,” the better off the country will be.