The dueling myth postulate »« A primer on fairness

The audience for this argument

A final note to sum up the preamble to this discussion. This whole idea is predicated on an assumption for which there is abundant counter-factual evidence. The central dogma of the discussion is that people in disputes both agree that ‘fairness’ is a good and desirable thing. Yes, I can hear you snickering, because there are no shortage of folks who are of the “I got mine, so fuck you” persuasion, and this argument will have very little to offer them. I am intentionally delimiting this discussion to people who can at least agree that fairness, in principle, is a mutual goal.

It may also serve me well to note here (I plan to re-assert this in various places later on in the discussion) that this is an extremely speculative exercise, as far as I am concerned. I will not attempt to make truth claims, because there is very little by way of empirical evidence that I can marshall in defence of this idea. It is rather an attempt to make explicit an argument that I have made many times in the past, but in varying and often oblique ways.

Finally, what I am proposing is more of a rhetorical device than it is a psychological or cognitive framework. I may appear to have to twist the facts to fit the framework, but I hope it will not be too egregious.

Tomorrow I will begin to sketch the outline of my thesis.

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Comments

  1. grim says

    I’m having some difficulties imagining what would constitute fair or unfair conduct in a dispute. How distant from “moral axioms” does one have to tread before one is out of “harmony” with them? Would getting arrested in civil disobedience be unfair? would harassment in pursuit of ones agenda (quasi-legal pro-life tactics) be more unfair than destruction of property (mostly illegal environmental tactics)? Am I fundamentally misunderstanding the kind of disputes you’re talking about?

    I imagine we’ll get to examples once were out of the preamble section of this argument, and I should just be more patient.

  2. luka says

    I don’t think fairness is by definition a good goal. It can be, but it’s not always.

    Optimizing for fairness can create bad outcomes. For example, “fairness” is often used as an argument in favor of a strict patent system; such a system also prevents progress, because it prevents people from building on inventions made by other people – this would be unfair, after all.

    Instead, we should optimize for something like well-being. Fairness is often a part of this (for example, affirmative action is a kind of fairness, but it’s a useful kind of fairness), but it shouldn’t be the main goal.

  3. Dunc says

    The central dogma of the discussion is that people in disputes both agree that ‘fairness’ is a good and desirable thing. Yes, I can hear you snickering, because there are no shortage of folks who are of the “I got mine, so fuck you” persuasion …

    Yes, but they think that’s fair. When pushed, they will usually resort to an argument for the fairness of that position, rather than arguing that fairness either doesn’t exist or is not desirable.

  4. flex says

    Dunc @2 wrote,

    When pushed, they will usually resort to an argument for the fairness of that position, rather than arguing that fairness either doesn’t exist or is not desirable.

    That has been my experience as well.

    One’s individual capacity for self-rationalization greatly outweighs the ability of self-reflection.

    When a person is challenged with an assertion that their action/opinion/belief is unfair, the typical response is one of anger and defensiveness. Often resulting in rationalization and self-justification, but no change in their actions/beliefs/opinions. I believe this facet of human nature is likely the greatest barrier to arriving at an agreed upon definition of fairness.

    I guess I’ll have to concede that the concept of fairness is likely shared by most people, even if there is a wide variation in individual interpretations of the idea.

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