Monday, January 25, 2010

"Life isn't fair." But it can be.

Possibly the most infuriating phrase I've ever heard—the most ridiculously stupid, dismissive argument in the world—is "life isn't fair." I've heard it all my life, from when I was a four-year-old wanting a Barbie doll, to now, when I suggest a fairer socioeconomic system. No, life is not fair; but there is absolutely no point whatsoever in saying that phrase. In fact, I don't believe I've ever said it seriously to another person since I was a child, reiterating my parents' poor excuse for wisdom.*

Of course I'm not suggesting that wanting a Barbie is in any way similar to wanting a fairer socioeconomic system. My point is simply that the phrase gets nowhere. You see, I think life should be fair, and can be much fairer than it is today.

If I wanted a Barbie, and my parents said no, I would say "that's not fair." The question in their minds, at that point, should not have been "does it matter if it's fair?" because it does matter if it's fair; but rather, "is she it really not fair to deprive her of a Barbie?" Given the situation—the fact that my parents couldn't afford to keep buying me Barbies, and the fact that they didn't want me to be influenced by such a disgustingly misogynistic toy in the first place—I would say that it was entirely fair to deprive me of a Barbie. In suggesting that they were being unfair, I was posing an ethical question about what fairness was. By saying that life was not fair (instead of saying that my request wasn't fair), they were suggesting that my need for a Barbie was legitimate, and that in a perfectly fair world I would receive such a toy.

Now, to be serious. Regardless of whether wanting a Barbie is fair, being deprived of a Barbie is not something that could have a severe negative impact on my life. But because we grow up hearing, "life isn't fair" from our parents, and we legitimise the phrase by repeating it over and over again until we feel we own it, we start to apply the philosophy to some very serious situations. For example, people who work three full-time jobs and barely have enough money for food. Apparently, some time in our lives, we decided that starvation is the equivalent to being deprived of a toy. Or at least, it is the equivalent as far as we care. Nowhere did we question the evolution of this phrase from simple childhood banter to politics; from plastic merchandise to food and shelter.

I remember arguing (online, of course) with a conservative person about welfare and socialism. He whined about people taking away (and I quote): "...MY hard-earned money, that I deserve every penny of..." (emphasis his). When I suggested that there may be people who need some of his money more than he, he said, "life isn't fair." Ignoring (hard though it may be) his insane hypocrisy, and simply focusing on his last statement, we see that he was entirely okay with allowing things to continue the way they were, where people starved. Yes, he thought that somehow, the people who were starving weren't working as hard as he was, or didn't deserve every penny that he did. But in addition, he thought that it was okay for people to starve. Regardless. And this is the problem we have to deal with to create a fair society.

We must get rid of the idea that some people aren't deserving of life and the basic things that would sustain their life, regardless of whether they're working or not. By simply being a living, breathing human being, they deserve to live and to survive.

I have written other times, and will write again, about how actually when a human is faced with starvation, they are incapable of being lazy. But that is not my point at this time. My point is that even if people can be lazy, we cannot be psychopaths and let them die. If it is within our power to keep them alive, then we cannot claim that it's all up to them, it's their "choice."

Yes, life can be much fairer. But we must be willing to make it fairer, instead of leaving it the way it is now, with a dismissive shrug and a stupid cliché. Because that is true, dangerous laziness.
*I love my parents dearly, and I think they'll agree nowadays that the "life's not fair" cliché is really unhelpful.

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