“To recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting.
It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.”
Well. I wrote Society of Fairness in February 2016. I revisited it due to 2 things:
- I just wrote “guilt free accumulation” which explored the shallowness of values versus the pleasures of capitalism
- just discovered Otto Sharmer and read his piece “Axial Shift: the New Coordinates of Societal Change.”
Both of these pieces explored some of the societal challenges we face but, at their core, both revolve around what we view as fair – for I and We and Us.
To be clear. Fair and fairness is a much more difficult topic to discuss than one would think. Maybe it is more difficult because I believe we are living through a period of simmering anger. People are angry with government, with capitalism, with media, with religion, with inequality, with immigrants, with Europe, with big business, with Russia, with how they get treated and with, well, everything seems to be changing.
In my eyes all of this is rooted in an overall question, and concern, at an individual level of “with all this change as the world transforms I am afraid change will not treat me fairly.” <this is a derivation of my post of “I get angry when people screw with my hope”>. Therefore we rage against anything we can attempting to insure the tentacles of fairness touch us at some point. In other words. When the world seems t be going to hell in a handbasket we grab on to our basket, fill it up with anything we can grab and protect it with clenched fists.
“The most dangerous moments are not when people are their poorest but rather when their expectations of significant improvement are raised … and end in frustration.”
Interestingly, the whole discussion of fairness ITSELF creates a sense of anger.
The reason for this is that fairness sounds simple, but is complex. The most basic logic of fairness suggests choosing between which poor people, or who is most in need, are more worthy of the help of the generous and “morally superior” wealthy. That is the mental logic we apply as we attempt to parse out fairness rather than have fair become mired in “equal for all.”
Yet, while even struggling working people will agree those in truest poverty, particularly children, are first in line for ‘fair’ their personal anger is not even partially quenched. They are not quenched because fairness is both an “I” thing AND a “we” thing which is not selfishness, but self preservationness.
A society of fairness is one in which we are fair with each other and the system, in turn, is fair to us.
It is, at it’s core, frankly, not glamorous.
It is the nitty gritty stuff and not the college education and wall street or even the government.
It is about marrying principle and pragmatism and gradual improvement.
It is infrastructure like streets, trains, highways and roads, public parks & community centers, easily accessible fountain water, lower level easy access good public education, stuff like that.
It is basically common sense bricks & mortar actions within a … well … the hard part … an equality based moral order frame.
Jobs is the tangible <which we need> and moral order is the intangible which creates the structure for behavior within the tangible. Jobs may be hierarchical <at the moment>, but morals should not be hierarchical.
These are not problems which can be fixed by simply suggesting rich white folk save the poor or “marginalized working people.” In addition it’s not just about people fighting back against injustice and working hard. It is about personal responsibility AND shared responsibility. It is about people being active positive participants in their own lives and society, itself, positively participating in individual lives.
A ‘society of fairness’ clearly reaches into the heart, and soul, of what most of us care about, it reaches into our attitudes (because it is hard work), but almost immediately runs into the economic obstacles of ‘what is fair’.
I tend to believe all of us know that it doesn’t mean everybody has the same income. It translates more into equality of opportunity. The difficulty resides in putting dollars & cents and tactics & objectives against ‘fair & opportunity.’ No one, and I mean no one, couldn’t simplistically point out the extreme unfairness in today’s society, but the true society of fairness is defined not by the extremes but rather what happens in the majority.
I share my thoughts today not to suggest we shouldn’t seek a society of fairness, but rather to point out that “fair”, in and of itself, is significantly more complex and complicated than when looking at it on a superficial level.
That said. We can do something to make the world the place we want it to be if we get our heads on straight.
What do I mean? I found a fabulous little article at a site called Common Cause Foundation on Values . But it was in the middle of the article where the author nailed the issue with regard to attaining a Society of Fairness.
We’re still analysing this, but here are two early results. Firstly, a large majority of people hold self-transcendence values (generally concerned with the wellbeing of others) to be more important than self-enhancement values (based on the pursuit of personal status and success). But this isn’t seen by most people, who believe that their compatriots hold self-transcendence values to be less important, and self-enhancement values to be more important.
Perhaps this is a key reason why many people don’t get engaged and active, although sharing values that would otherwise lead them to – because they believe that they are in a minority, and that society at large doesn’t share their values. We call this the ‘perception gap’. It’s a gap that many in our media, and many in government, seem to work hard to perpetuate.
In America we are certainly living out that ‘gap’ quite vocally, but as we wrestle with fairness and shared self-transcendence values I will note some reality — America has always been defined by a combination idealism and materialism. A balance of the two & it would be silly to suggest ditching one for the other. I would also note both are powerful sources of motivation.
The idealism expresses the best of human instincts in that it sanctifies the fixing America break someone else prioritizing of others over oneself and requires social and political respect. The materialism celebrates individualism.
“It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”
The combination has coexisted because one never sought to fix itself by breaking the other. The natural coexisting conflict sparks greatness, opportunity and progress.
The difficulty with the idealism side of the equation is that people’s idealism tends to translate into, well, it doesn’t necessarily live in the real world. In our idealism, our hope to be the best of the best, we seek some things that aren’t feasible in a practical sense <and, yeah, someone is gonna throw out that practicality is just another word for “too hard”>. My response? It’s not too hard, sometimes it just isn’t feasible. That is because unfortunately ideas are reliant on two things: the power of the idea and access to an infrastructure to embrace & implement the idea. If either side fails to meet the challenge it all fails.
It is irresponsible to offer up ideas for consumption without an infrastructure in place <or a foreseeable path to a rebuilt infrastructure> to, at minimum, accept the idea and, at maximum, implement the idea.
And that is where alignment on fairness tends to fall apart.
What is maybe worse is that not only is it extremely difficult to effectively communicate what I just said but also many people don’t care when they are dominated by anger. They just want solutions – they just want it done.
And if that anger is tied to a real & tangible & personal ‘unfairness’ … well … gradualism never sounds compelling and, frankly, isn’t compelling. Revolution appears much more attractive.
Here is a realistic truth. In 1990 Peter Drucker discussed Salvation by Society <his version of society of fairness> and how a transforming business world was killing it. We now see in the late 2010’s the full repercussions of that transformation. I say that because while ‘fairness’ may begin today its positive transformation will take decades to become re-embedded in our business, and societal, structure and institutions.
I love the idea of a society of fairness. Unfortunately, in today’s world, fair means different things to different people. And demonizing any group of people, even despite their inordinate wealth, doesn’t really seem fair. Good people reside at every wealth level. Good people reside in every skin color. Good people reside, well, let’s just say that 98.5% of the time 98.5% of the people are good <I made up the 98.5% and thought it looked smarter than simply putting 99%>. And the 1.5% bad are not solely in the purview of the mega wealthy.
And therein lies the hope for a Society of fairness. Good resides in the significant majority. It simply lies dormant and needs to be reawakened.
With that I return to Otto Sharmer. What I like about his thoughts aren’t all the specific thoughts (which I could haggle with aspects), but rather the holistic integrated view of creating a society of fairness. It is complex, & I am not sure we are aligned with what ‘fair’ really is, but if we can envision what the totality could look like, well, it can be built.
originally posted February 2016