Four Questions for a Sustainable Society: Is it Fair?

| 2/26/2010 4:00:36 PM

Tags: four questions, sustainable future, sustainable society,

Chatham SoundBecause fairness is a subjective judgment, it cannot be finally determined. Take any human activity or condition and ask the question, “Is this fair?” and there will be disagreement. Inevitably. Fairness can be decided, but not determined.

Fairness is a measurement of consensus, judged by participants. When a group of people comes together in a voluntary activity — a company, a game or a social group — the participants are consenting to the fairness of that activity and its rules. Fairness is determined in real time as the participants interact with each other and the institution. If we consider the rules of a game unfair, we don’t play. That’s why fairness is so important, even if it can’t be pinned down.

We often have a hard time visualizing justice. If your people have been enslaved for generations, how do we determine a just compensation? If your culture lost its homeland in a war, where can justice be found? It can’t.

When we can’t determine justice, we can look for fairness. Fairness can often be applied when justice is out of reach. Fairness is a goal we can, at least, visualize. In the pursuit of fairness, then, we can begin to approach justice.

Fairness can be visualized when justice cannot.

Fairness is not cited as a prominent factor in the big events in our past. Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolph Hitler do not appear, through the lens of history, to have been particularly concerned with fairness. Certainly their enemies didn’t perceive them as “fair.” But to influence the world in which they lived, each of the great game-changers had to negotiate a sense of fairness within their communities. The Romans could not raise their armies without a code for the fair treatment of soldiers. Then as now, the army provided opportunities for boys from modest backgrounds to gain some education, to travel and to achieve success. In some sense military service, past and present, offers opportunities more based on merit than background and provides for some people, therefore, a fairer alternative than a career in business or government. Caesar and Hitler also found it necessary to levy taxes to establish and maintain empires, and a tax system is more effective if it is considered, if not fair, at least fair enough by the popular opinion. The Romans invented the census, which allowed them to tax their far-flung empire, and they established a system fair enough to keep their diverse subjects pliable. It may not have been fair, but it was fair enough.

3/10/2010 1:37:02 PM

Charles - I'm surprised you missed my first, and central point. Fairness is negotiated by the people involved. It's NOT my idea of fairness, or the American idea of fairness. Fairness is, and always has been, negotiated by the participants in an enterprise. - Bryan

3/10/2010 12:32:08 PM

@CJ Is it fair? Fairness I guess is in the eye of the beholder. If my people are working 12 hours a day for a dollar a month, yet NIKE wants to come in and build a factory that pays 1000 people $3 a day for 10 hours of work, do you not think its in my peoples best interest to jump on that deal? Why do you think India, China Korea, Taiwan, Japan before that, all have blossomed? And your "point" about the developers bringing wars, disease and guns... I guess all peoples lived in peace and never fought over territory except when the evil White Europeans came? Are you kidding me? Do you actually believe that? As far as depending on "privileged others", one cannot raise the bar of their society without the help of others. Especially moral and more wealthy others. If you are using "Sustainability" to refer to "regression and stagnation" of human DEVELOPMENT (which is 180 degrees opposite of your term) then you go right ahead and sign off and be the first to show that you demonstrate your "sustainability" by limiting your "footprint" on the plastic, electronic, and man-made gluttony of our internet computers.... Otherwise, your point and your argument is for naught. If WE...YOU.. others do not demonstrate for the green lifestyle, why impose it on others?????????????

Charles J_3
3/6/2010 11:30:11 AM

@ TA is it fair that societies are being forced to "bloom" or "develop" using practices that will unfairly prevent them from being able look after themselves sustainably ever again just so a privileged few can gain wealth and power because another privleged few (us) regards them as "third world" or "undeveloped"? What is this unfair arrogance that we in the west have to assume that other nations are "undeveloped"? Was the Earth not developed perfectly to begin with where our food literally grew on trees and could be caught in the water? (In Peru at least one society near Nazca throw their nets into the water for 4 hours and live off of it for a week.) Along came the "developers" who unfairly wrecked our environment, brought war, invasions, disease, and guns that all unfairly took our right to live sustainably away from us. For the loons who think scientists (Who are trained, educated and study this) are saying the sky is falling, Bangledesh is a perfect example of this unfairness with our destroying the environment. The country that originally lived sustainably is becoming swamped with seawater. Before all that unfairness we all lived sustainably. It is becoming increasingly less likely that we can ever live sustainably (aka without dependence on privileged others) because those privileged others are unfairly taking away our means to do so.

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