Posted on September 17, 2009
Posted by John Scalzi
As I get older, I worry less about “life being fair” and worry rather more about justice.
Tell me that makes sense to anyone else but me.
It does. It might be why people seem to get more conservative as they get older.
I very much doubt justice is either conservative or liberal, as we tally up such things in modern politics, Daniel.
are they that different? Can you think of an example where justice is served but fairness isn’t?
I agree, I worry less about “life being fair”. I just want to live life in peace. As for justice, I am more cynical. Never been much of a worrier, anyway.
It makes some sort of sense to me but it’s hard to define.
“Life isn’t fair” is usually used in context to something someone wants versus something that has a moral component. It more often about what we want instead of what is right.
‘It isn’t fair that hacks with story not as good as mine as selling and I am not.’
Justice is usually more about others and seeing a sense of proportion meted out to the deserving.
I don’t know anyone who looks at a criminal getting away with something says, ‘oh, life’s not fair.’
So I think that you are more worried about justice vs life being fair is just a symptom of looking outward more and less at yourself. Caring more for others because frankly isn’t life good right now for us.
(Mine’s doing well and yours sounds like from what I read here.)
It makes sense to me. “Life isn’t fair” is just a shorthand way to whine, “I didn’t get what I wanted.” Worrying about justice means you’ve noticed that lots of people aren’t getting what they need/deserve because other people are hogging resources, and that this is an imbalance that you ought to help right.
Or were you thinking more along the lines of everyone getting the same amount of ice cream in their bowls? Because that’s important too, and I think there ought to be a superhero monitoring the situation with an ice cream measuring scoop.
so, are you more commenting on a perception v/s a reality? most of the time, when i hear someone talk about ‘not fair’, what they really mean is, ‘someone is stopping me from getting what i think is mine or i have a right to, even if i don’t.’
when i hear people talk about justice, it is in one of two ways:
1) i see something i think is morally wrong and those who participate in such actions shall have justice done upon them. i’ll call this justice from above.
2) someone is truly suffering unjustly and one day, they will be raised up and no longer suffer. i’ll call this justice from below.
so, if you’re talking about ‘fairness’, its usually something relating to me. if you’re talking about ‘justice’, its usually in reference to someone else.
well, that’s my interpretation. did it mesh with yours, john?
Makes sense to me. “Fairness” as a concept seems to me to come before the action/event, usually; whereas “Justice” has more to do with redressing the inevitable unfairnesses of life. When I was younger, I believed (briefly) that life was fair. Then I was angry when it wasn’t fair. Now that I’m older, I accept that life often isn’t fair–but I can still work to correct and prevent wrongs and unfairnesses, i.e., for justice.
Or maybe I’m missing the point . . .
Life is life. Justice is something you can do.
One of the great moments in my life was when I read the passage in William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride” where Billy realizes that life isn’t fair. Life it so much easier once you stop expecting fairness!
Maybe the reason that your focus is shifting from fairness to justice is that we tend to think about life being fair or unfair largely in relationship to ourselves, while we tend think about justice largely in relationship to the broader community. Maybe as we grow older we become less self-centered and more community-focused. Wouldn’t that be great?
I wish I could say the same. I moved from worrying about equity to agonizing over justice and now… well now I find myself more concerned with basic human decency in general, and my ability to keep the injustices and insanities of the world from impinging on the happiness I have with my family.
I suspect that if there were more concern for basic decency and courtesy between people, there would be a great increase in justice in the world. And then, maybe life would be fair.
I rather think you’ve just described one of the central tenets of scriptural Judeo-Christianity. ;)
Makes perfect sense to me. Life isn’t fair; fine. But that doesn’t mean one should just sit back and endure the unfairness. Don’t like something? Fight (and fight and fight) to make it right. This is the definition of justice.
Hmm, well, I just wrote a blog post that illustrates injustice rather than unfairness. At least in my opinion. If people want a concrete example to discuss.
‘Justice’ is ‘spirit of the law’, rather than what happens now – ‘letter of the law’. Criminal gets off on a technicality, despite being provably guilty, or a D.A. makes a deal. 5 zillion dollars per mp3 shared via p2p is not justice.
Shite happens, it’s true; it’s what you do about it afterwards that shows justice or lack thereof.
I’m sure the space monkey near the end of Have Spacesuit, Will Travel knows what you mean by justice. :)
Life has never been fair. Only children think it should be. Life is neutral, or if you’ve a strong Darwinian streak, it favors the strong. Divine justice is a literary construct, used to explain when people we see as “bad” are hurt. But Divine Justice doesn’t exist either or how do explain the suffering of the innocent? Life is how you take it or make it. You want life to be fair? Get over it. The most you can do is be fair in your dealings with other people. You can’t control life. But then I had a bad day. Tomorrow I might think that life is a bowl of cherries. . . with pits.
I agree with #s 8 & 14:
Life isn’t fair, so we can at least try to redress the balance.
If life was fair, there wouldn’t be a scary big spider running around my house, possibly in my room. I can only hope for justice here: there should be another emergency service when I ring 999 Police; Ambulance Service; Fire Service; Spider Disposal Squad.
This made me think of one of my favorite quotes from Babylon 5: “I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them. So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”
It isn’t fair that someone was robbed, raped or murdered. But this has always happened and will always happen. This is life, thus life isn’t fair.
Justice is revenge that matches the wrong.
Makes sense to me.
This is where religion comes from. Bad things happen to good people but the bad people who do these things will get theirs in the end. That and trying to explain everything else that goes on around us.
I agree. I used to think karma would take care of the “life isn’t fair” bit, but I’m getting so tired of all the rampant hate, greed and ignorance in this world that I’m certainly thinking more in terms of doling out justice now. I think of the former as wistful discomfort and the latter as direct action.
From a purely intellectual standpoint, “fair” and “justice” are roughly the same.
From an emotional standpoint, “fair” means “getting my way,” which really isn’t fair, but it feels like it.
“Justice” tends to mean something other than yourself, although it can also mean “revenge.” Again, not the true meanings of the word, just the emotional connotations.
As you get older, you think less about getting your way than you do about things outside of yourself being right.
Good. Now repeat it back to me because I have no idea what I just typed.
I know exactly what you are talking about. With me, it is a combination of my age and my travels to other countries that I become less concerned with fairness and more with the concept of justice. Frankly, I think it really does come down to people should get what they deserve good or bad.
“Fair” seems like more of a blunt instrument, with “justice” being nuanced. (I had more there, but I didn’t like how it sounded. I will work on this.)
‘Justice’ is a lot heavier than the rather neighborly ‘Life’s not Fair.’
LnF could be discussed at the coffee urn. Justice doesn’t brook chit-chat. There is a finality to it that requires careful maturity in the folks who would observe it.
Yeah, I’ve also come to feel that way. I guess I’m interested in a longer-term balancing of the scales, and I’ve seen sometimes that temporary unfairness can be just.
In a just world, humanity would be gone.
Of course it makes sense. You start to see the world less on a personal level and you are able to extract yourself and your personal desire from the issue at hand and view it objectively.
It makes perfect sense to me. I’ve found the same thing happening.
I think it’s just the result of being more aware of what’s going on in the world, and the actions that result from people’s actions.
As I get older, I worry less about justice and more about the increasing amount of hair that is suddenly growing out of my ears.
Seriously, two decades of military service through two wars and dozens of strife torn lands leaves me faintly amused at the arbitrary concept of “fairness.”
Justice on the other hand, well, that’s what we swore to uphold when we gave our oath to the Constitution.
A sense of justice comes with age and wisdom and cognitive experience, the sense of fairness on the other hand is a primitive emotion that even animals feel.
This sounds so much more badass when I imagine Clint Eastwood saying it.
(Also, it totally makes sense. Justice is what you might hit when you reach for fairness, but only if you’ve got a long reach and a lot of patience.)
There’s a Pratchett novel where Death talks about this. Can’t remember which, though.
I agree completely. The change started for me when my children were born. Justice is more important, and again for me, is tied to right and wrong. Fairness is a slippery slope and justice is the foundation that I have put my family on.
“Justice” seems associated with “Revenge.”
Walt @ 35:
I think Revenge is more narrow in scope, though. Revenge has hatred in its marrow. Justice has broader implications for everyone within its radius of effect, the net result being that the social group will be better off in the future.
Revenge is a cyclic trap.
If life were really “fair” we would not be where we are today. I mean to say, the things in life we get are more than we actually deserve in the fairness sense. There maybe more deserving and talented people than us who don’t have all the things we do. This I think is similar to what you said about there are some really good writers out there who don’t have the same degree of success as some others even though they are talented and write well (paraphrased). The thing called “luck”. How can we ever quantify luck into the bucket of fairness. As we realize that in life we start believing in Justice. It is so much easier to quantify. So makes sense to me.
Yes, they are entirely two separate things. Life is unfair because so much is outside of human control.
However, Justice is an entirely human on human thing. It’s within our control.
So it indicates an acceptance of what we can’t change, and a desire to exert more control over what we can.
As I age and collect more an more experience this idea makes sense. The first realization, life is not fair, is accurate and the older I get the more data I collect to support this. The laws of the universe (and humanity) do not follow egalitarian rules.
The idea of justice is normative in the sense that it is the human attempt to make the world as it ought to be. It is a corrective measure when life isn’t fair or an attempt to help make life as fair as possible. Justice involves action on a societal and human level and is attainable through reason and action.
Justice is a realistic goal and injustice is failure at a human level.
No, it does make sense. Really it doesn’t.
Clowning aside, I’m the other way around. I won’t argue that life is fair (it ain’t), but fairness is something that humans and a bunch of other things like dogs, monkeys, and chimps understand, even if it’s hard to explain. I like the universals. Justice is contingent on having some human structure to enforce it.
Probably because you’re not a Rawlsian so you do not equate justice as fairness?
My mom always says that “what goes around, comes around”, That’s her definition of life self correcting. When she hears that an asshole got their’s then thats “justice”. Don’t know, must be a Texas thing.
Off topic I think its a myth people become more conservative as they become older.
Case in my point my late fifties parents. Who I always thought were kinda conservative, or at least prudish, have suddenly become a lot more open minded in their old age. My mother has become a hippy, studying tantra and rai khee healing, and my father has discovered that nobody can see him, and he is much happier, to wander round his farm naked. Aside from the obvious crime against nature that exposing is pale spongey body represents.
Personally, as I push 31 (I know! soooo old) I seem to care less about justice and the law. Accepting that justice is only a personal perspective.
John, I hope you won’t take this the wrong way when I actually mean it as a compliment … I find your statement/question to be typical among sci fi … oh, hell, ANY … writers I like.
Plus, I’ve noticed that question in your work … what’s fair, what’s justice … What Would Jane Sagan Do? … which might be why I love you so much when you’re lobbing sarcasm grenades all over that question. Because sometimes it deserves it.
To answer your actual question … yes, that absolutely makes sense to more than just you. ;)
The usual line is “I don’t want a just god, I want a merciful one.”
People who complain life isn’t fair usually tend to be naive or self-deluded narcissists who usually mean that they want life to be “fair” to them.
There ain’t no justice, neither.
And why do things in italics seem more sinister, or is it me?
Makes sense to me.
Life isn’t fair. Life doesn’t care one wit whether the participants in the game are treated fairly.
People care about fairness. They can make life fair…if they choose to.
If life were fair, we would all start out with the same social, physical, and economic circumstances. Justice is making sure that we all are given the same reasonable opportunity to improve upon those circumstances which we cannot control. So I’d say they are pretty different, and that it certainly makes more sense to prefer the latter more as you age…
Neither everyone I’ve encountered who complain that something isn’t fair would generally be far less happy if the world were such that it was fair.
I worry about justice in the sense that I’m terrified I’m going to get it someday.
I actually want justice a lot less than I used to. I want the world to have some minimum degree of kindness. That’s not the same thing as fairness or justice. Justice, to me, means going around worrying about what people deserve and trying to make sure they don’t get any more than that. I think a rich society that spends any effort trying to determine whether you deserve the basic means of survival is pretty warped.
On the other hand, in my experience, “life isn’t fair” is often what bigger kids tell littler kids to explain why they’re stealing their lunch money.
“Life isn’t fair get over it” is said by people who, when you get older, you learn need to be on the receiving end of justice a little more often.
Criminal gets off on a technicality, despite being provably guilty
A “technicality” is any rule that doesn’t let a lawyer get his or her way.
John, is your paradox related to the difference between Procedural Justice (Is the decision-making processes i.t.o disputes, rewards, etcetera fair?) and Distributive Justice (Is the distribution of reward, resources fair?)?
Procedural Justice (Fairness) is focused on the fairness of the PROCESS, while Distributive Justice (Fairness) is focused more on the OUTCOME after the process.
Both are subjective. Both can be impoved. For Example, to improve Procedural Justice (or perception or evaluations of it), you could give people a voice in the actaul decion-making process and it more transparent.
I’m probably way off.
Alternatively, the age thing can probably be explained by the older you simply accepting that:
YOU CANNOT CONTROL CONDITIONS THAT MAKE PEOPLE BEHAVE WITH INTEGRITY (AND THUS MORE FAIRLY) – THERE ARE TOO MANY VARIABLES, TRUST ME. THE BEST EACH OF US CAN DO IS CONTRIBUTE TO A WORLD WHERE THERE IS SOME RETRO-ACTIVE RESTORATIVE JUSTICE BY WRITING TO REPRESENTATIVES, LOBBYING, ETC.
That makes sense absolutely. “Life being fair” implies that somehow it’s “the world” or something “out there” that owes you a living/should treat you right. “Justice” implies it’s human responsibility to see you treated right.
Makes sense; one has to worry about justice precisely because life isn’t fair and there’s no intrinsic preference or force for niceness or fairness out there. Life becomes an approximation of fair only when people make it so.
Meaning, there’s no avoiding getting screwed over or blessed by random chance/divine intervention, but if the screwing over comes as the result of a human action there should be payback?
thera are a lot of interpretations thinkable.
My first association was that thinking “Life isn’t fair” shows your expectation on what the world will bring down on you now and in the future, whereas thinking of ‘justice’ is more the hope of revenge for all the unfairnes a man already was exposed to.
I think it’s a change from saying:
“Why isn’t this right?”
“Let’s make this right.”
Both of these seem to come down to a value judgment: what is fair? What is just? I’m not sure I see much of a difference between these questions.
At first I thought that the difference might be that the statement “life isn’t fair” means that there’s no natural order to the universe which demands that you get whatever outcome you think you deserve in any situation; whereas “justice” is a very specific thing meted out by our legal system. But, in reality, whether or not our legal system produces justice is a matter of opinion and is something examined on a case by case basis. People routinely say that legal decisions aren’t just. So clearly there is some standard of justice higher than the legal system itself. What is that standard? I’m not sure if there’s an objective answer to that but I think you’ll find that this standard is very similar to the standard you’d use to determine whether or not something is “fair”.
Also, I worry more about freedom than I do about justice.
I never thought life should be fair. I always figured it should be strongly slanted in my favor.
In the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, there are two “fair” outcomes.
(1) everyone agrees to act in their own self interest, everyone rats on the other prisoner, everyone gets a 5 year sentence.
(2) everyone agrees to cooperate, everyone maintains silence, everyone gets a 1 year sentence.
“fair” really comes down to everyone getting the same outcome. But there are usually more than one “fair” outcome for any given scenario.
“justice” tries to achieve what is the best fair outcome for everyone as a whole. So, in the prisoner’s dilemma, it would be having everyone cooperate.
Life is fair. Everyone gets 1 life with no promises.
Life doesn’t come with any justice but what we create.
What kind of science fiction blog commenting community is this that no-one has yet referenced Niven’s all-purpose imprecation “Tanj”, for “There Aint No Justice”? (In fairness, Noah, @ #46, may have been alluding to it; and, Noah, you don’t seem all that sinister, but it may just be that your malign intent doesn’t come through in your comment).
I guess too many people are mistakenly prioritizing the composing of thoughtful, serious comments instead.
And may I just say that Patrick, @ #61, is obviously, deeply wrong when he says:
I never thought life should be fair. I always figured it should be strongly slanted in my favor.
Because, after all, life should be strongly slanted in my favor, not his. If there’s any slanting left over, he can have some of that, maybe.
I see a pattern here. Fairness seems to be much smaller in scope (one person, one group, one instance) than justice (society as a whole, overall policy or practice, long term results). So maybe that’s the answer – scope. Fairness/unfairness is seen as rather individual, while justice seems to belong to humanity in general.
As we grow older and have more life experiences it becomes clear to most of us that life is not fair and has never been fair and that the best we came hope for is that we get justice in our dealings with people we encounter in our daily lives. There is not that much justice out there in the real world either as I can attest to from things that happen on the job, etc.
On the topic of fairness: Sometimes life is unbelievably unfair in one’s own favor: the fact that I get to eat ice cream in the afternoon, or go on a vacation to sit on a beach and read a new Scalzi book… so many people don’t have that luxury. When my daughter was small, we went out of our way to talk about noticing GOOD unfairness when it happened, so that when things didn’t go her way (“No Fair!”) she might see that it didn’t pay to stand too close to Life when checking for Fairness.
It is possible to flip a coin ‘heads’ many, many times in a row– the laws of probability allow for things to go your way unfairly.
I’ve always thought of Justice as things that are done by someone’s choice, rather than by chance. (And if I am the one making the choice, then I can create a just outcome. maybe.)
While I’m not particularly interested in theology, I’ve been struck by the words of Leonardo Boff:
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth – it is justice,”
. The older I grow the more important social justice is to me, as a way to combat the unfairness of life.
You’re absolutely right. I’m somewhat older than you, so i crossed that logical bridge years ago.
Yup, I think there is a difference, even though I can’t always discriminate clearly between the two.
OTOH, when our chief Judicial System — the Supreme Court — rules that it’s okay to execute someone even though clear evidence has arisen to prove him innocent, because all the required Judicial Forms have been followed properly, I get into the territory of “Right” and “Wrong”, which might also be considered “Fairness”.
But then, I seem to be one of those people who freely admit that “the universe is not fair”, but hold that a major purpose of any society is to make it somewhat more fair.
Remember the classic Shirley Jackson story, “The Lottery”?
I taught this story back in the Dark Ages, but as I recall, the protagonist’s final words in the story are, “It isn’t fair! It isn’t right!”
It WAS fair. I used the story to teach the distinction.
Some comics fans have felt that Superman is Law, Batman is Justice. In other words, the Law has brute force on its side and Justice is a sneaky bastard that swoops down on you in the dark of night. Or, in a different view, Law is imposed from above (Supes came from another planet, remember) but Justice arises from within (Bats and his traumatic past).
Of course none of this explains their choice in clothing but that is a matter for their pshrinks.
I think fairness is inactive, whereas justice is something people actively participate in.
I can’t believe no one’s yet quoted the Goblin King: “You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”
Labyrinth came along for me at the perfect age. Add that to “Harrison Bergeron” and the whole notion that life is or should be “fair” disappears.
At a certain point, worrying about whether life is fair becomes a waste of time. Sometimes amusing, but still ultimately a waste of time.
That said, this idea of justice scares the crap out of me sometimes.
Have to mention this:
“The Lottery in Babylon,” a fantasy story by Borges, is the most beguiling takedown of the ideas of both fairness and justice I’ve ever come across.
It sort of makes you want to live in its world, and then you realize you already do.
If you are talking about social justice as a way of making an unfair world fairer, I’m with you all the way.
But I think when many people talk about “justice” what they are really asking for revenge against others. And often when they demand justice for themselves, they should be asking for mercy, because justice is a two-edged sword, with a blade like a razor, wielded by a blind swordsman.
Great idea. The only problem is that if justice really does come around, I’ll be too busy geting mine to enjoy watching everyone else get theirs!
Whenever I hear someone complain about life not being fair, I remember a quote from Babylon 5 which JMS gave to Marcus to speak:
“Wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair and all the terrible things that happen to us, come because actually deserve them? So now I take comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the Universe.”
No, Virginia, Life isn’t Fair. Sometimes we get Justice, sometimes we are the Instruments of Justice, but Life definately isn’t Fair.
“Fair” is what one says when one gets something; “just” is what one says when one takes something.
Totally makes sense. I’ve never thought life was fair, always cared a lot more about justice.
Oddly, I’ve found myself sliding in the other direction over the years. I used to be very concerned about justice. These days I lean more towards thinking that justice doesn’t arise from inherently unfair conditions.
Though of course, we would have to have a substantial definitional discussion before we could a discussion like this very far…
“Fair” is a homeless guy and Warren Buffett both winning the Lottery. It’s also someone falling down stairs and dying. It’s the idea that aspects of the Universe are distributed randomly; and sometimes the distribution favors one over others. “Unfair” is a word we use when things that are “Fair” favor someone else.
“Justice” seems to require wrong-doing. Punishing someone for pushing another down the stairs to their death, is “Justice.” Redressing the injury that resulted in a person’s homelessness is “Justice.” Confusingly, the mechanism of “Justice,” in this case, is also “Fair.”
“Justice” also seems to be imposed, and to lie with the actor, not the recipient. If Buffett were to donate his winnings, that would be neither just, nor unjust. If the State of Nebraska were to take his winnings, that would be argued as one or the other. Which is where it gets interesting — because that decision hinges on whether Buffett’s unfair acquisition of wealth (pre-Lottery) is also wrong.
Weather life is fair or rainy, just ice goes well with your coke zero.
Mark@72: Superman is Law, Batman is Justice.
I’ve never heard that one before…
The thing with Batman, though, is that it takes place in a world where the Law is incapable of dealing with the villian and ultra-legal measures (vigilantism) must be taken to deal with it. The cops can never stop Joker, only Batman can stop Joker.
Superman seems to take place in a world where the Law actually works just fine and Superman generally works within the law, rather than above it. Superman kind of operates like a SWAT team that’s part of the legal system.
It seems to come down to the real world dilemma of how best to deal with something like Al Queda: legal FBI counterterrorism operations or illegal black ops.
If you think the Law is capable, then Batman is vengeance. If you think the Law is incapable, then Batman is justice.
In one of the recent Batman movies, Batman tortured a man for information. I cannot imagine Superman ever doing such a thing.
Its only after a guy robs a bank that you want him to get the justice he deserves.
Its the unfair occurrence (the robber unfairly taking what isn’t his) that causes one to want Justice to be delivered.
So it makes perfect sense that one would first hope that life is fair. Its only after you see something unfair that you then become concerned about getting Justice to redress that unfairness.
Warren Terra – I am far too shallow to be deeply wrong. As long as your favor slants in the same direction as mine, we’re all good.
Huh, I guess I think the other way round. If I tell my kids to play fair, I mean that they should consider each other’s feelings, not engage in tit-for-tat, etc. I’m not sure what playing justly would be, but I suspect it would be following the rules of the game to the letter.
IOW, fairness incorporates mercy and the spirit of the law. Justice is cold and majestic, dedicated to the letter of the law and beyond considerations of mercy. Me, I want mercy, not justice. Life isn’t fair, but we can work to make it more so.
OTOH, Webster’s seems to treat just and fair as virtual synonyms
Superman and Batman exist in the same world.
meh. “Batman Begins” was in a different world than “Superman Returns”. They operated with different laws of physics and, more importantly, different kinds of humans.
#33 # Diatrymaon 17 Sep 2009 at 11:28 pm
There’s a Pratchett novel where Death talks about this. Can’t remember which, though.
Hogfather. This comes up during the annual Wikipedia Santa Claus debate, and I typed up the page and put it on my userpage.
“If you want a decision, go to court; if you want justice, go to church.” old saying.
Fairness is a property of fictional coins and beautiful boat hulls.
I think as we age, we come to realize that fairness in our relationships can’t be achieved, and so we try to achieve “at least” justice, thinking maybe it’s easier. I’ve begun thinking about mercy, myself.
htom, it sounds like Death resorts to reification, grinding atoms and looking for justice or fairness. Both are human inventions. That doesn’t make them any less real. The lightbulb is a human invention, and they’re real.
My take on “life being fair” comes from an experience I had when in eighth grade that has stuck with me ever since. Here’s how it went.
On the first day of history class my teacher gave us all a little quiz, which wasn’t particularly hard, so most of us had no problem with it. When all of us were done, the teacher stood in the middle of the class and proclaimed that those to his right all got As, and those to his left got Fs, all without looking at anyone’s quiz. Talk about a riot situation.
Most of us were appalled by the idea. Of course, most of us fighting it were on the F side, but some came from the A side, too. “It isn’t fair,” we said.
He just smiled and said we’d learned our first lesson from him in history. “History, like life,” he said, “isn’t always fair, it just is. What you make of either is up to you.”
So to me, worrying about “life being fair” is something a person just has to learn to get over, because it just plain isn’t always going to happen, no matter how much it should. Doing so is only playing the victim and ignoring the fact that we make our own lives what they are by the things we do, and how we deal when things aren’t fair, or go horribly wrong on us.
Justice, on the other hand, is something we feel we can control because it occurs after something in life happens that isn’t right. As we get older I think most of us realize that life being inherently unfair is an absolute, while justice is something we can strive for to make wrong things right again with us.
I always thought of fairness as passive and justice as active. Meaning, as we get older, we get more concerned about leaving a better legacy so we try more strenuously for justice.
Heinlein used to say (I’m paraphrasing) that the only capital offense was Rudeness. As a teenager, I found that a bit harsh. Now in my 40s, I begin to see his point — all crimes have at their root a basic discourtesy towards others.
Much love for Pratchett’s Hogfather – there’s a lot of very deep thought in that one.
If by this you mean:
Man vs. nature is never a fair fight, but we expect more from man vs. man
then I agree.
This isn’t about getting older, more conservative with age, or any of that; it anything, it is about the years piling up examples of how not expecting and demanding justice leads to even more bad behavior (and outcomes) in the man vs. man world.
Note: The phrase “life isn’t fair” both has a standard denotation when considered as a summation of parts AND an associated meaning as a whole. The phrase, considered as a single unit, is assigned a different meaning than the sum of the words’ meanings; it’s an example of generally-recognized idiomatic speech.
And that meaning is indeed indifferent to, and even incompatible with, ‘justice’.
One meaning of ‘fairness’ is necessary for justice, and another incompatible. This is just part of the ludicrous dance that is the English language.
Lightbulbs are physical objects. But if you reduce them to their component parts, you won’t find ‘lightbulb’ – because you’ve destroyed the lightbulb in the process. Lightbulbs are also human-generated concepts. The category exists only in human minds (at least at present).
Justice and fairness are never objects, although their representations in minds always are. They are relationships.
(Technically all objects are relationships, but not the other way around.)
In a strange way (possibly because I’ve studied him in context and in depth) I’m reminded of Nietzsche’s concept of “The Overman”
“I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”
If we love justice, we have to become part of it.
There’s no Justice, John.
There’s Just Us.
“Life isn’t fair” is what people say when they wish to hide or obscure the fact that it’s THEY, the people saying it, who aren’t being fair, not some abstract “life” force.
That’s what justice is for, to hold people accountable who would otherwise weasel out of it.
I’ve got to disagree, DB; I say that “life isn’t fair” when it’s being unfair to me.
When I was a child and my parents would divvy up treats between my brother and me, one of us might whine about how the split wasn’t “fair”. My parents were quick to point out that “fair” did not mean “the same” or “even”. From an early age then, I think I had a different sense of fair than my mates.
As long as I can remember, there was a tiger who rose up inside me when I witnessed people/animals being treated unfairly. I think I was actually responding to injustice.
Do we have a more emotional response to the perceived absence of justice than its simple presence?
Just a guess.
When you’re young “fair” is what tips the scales in your favor and allows you to get away with more. When you’re old, “justice” is more about level playing field, something you can’t see as a two-sided issue as well when you’re young.
Is justice, like peace, a value that can only be defined in its absence?
Try to define peace without using a negative. We know peace by the absence of war. We don’t define war as the absence of peace. Justice may be the same way: can we know justice without perceiving injustice first?
Cassie, who spent hours at high school debate team practice today discussing this very topic.
We can’t do as much about life being unfair as we can about providing human justice.
But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about the “fairness” thing and being troubled by it: good people who inherit life-threatening (or fatal) diseases, victims of natural disasters, people struggling in impoverished regions of the planet, etc.
Sometimes the “human justice” thing and the “life being fair” thing interact in ethically difficult ways. Reading descriptions of medical care available in impoverished regions of the world makes me care a lot less about the “rights” of pharmaceutical companies to make large profits (and forbid shipment of generic drugs) — even if the employees of those companies work hard for their money.
Try to define peace without using a negative.
Peace is a state of grace.
Peace is the presence of inner calm, of satori, of enlightenment, of love, of truth.
Peace is the natural outcome of a combination of courage, love, integrity, and grace, inhabiting the souls of the people on earth.
You’re not the only one, John. Sometimes I think that Fairness is the old Solomon judgement of cutting the baby in half. And when the mother quickly gave up her side to let the baby live, Justice got her her baby back.
Taunting the tauntable since 1998
John Scalzi, proprietor – JS
Athena Scalzi, editor/writer -AMS
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