Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fair v. Fair

There has been a lot of talk lately about fairness in society or social justice. Although the talk of income equality seems to speak to an inherent idea of fairness, I have never felt comfortable with the concept in general. Then I came to the conclusion that there are in actuality, two very different definitions of fairness that we experience as humans. I will call one idea “compassionate fairness” and the other “achievement-based fairness.”

Compassionate Fairness

I grew up in a family of six children where sibling rivalry was practically an institution. Whenever we had the opportunity to eat ice cream for dessert, my mother weighed each portion to insure that no child had more ice cream then the next. If there were even a possibility of unequal amounts, the screams of unfairness would be heard down the block. We believed that since we were all basically on the same level, children, we all deserved the same amount of ice cream. Since my parents tried not to favor any one child over another, they thought the same thing.

I call this concept of fairness compassionate because it does not hold any person higher than another. Compassionate fairness does not care if you are old, young, rich, or poor. Every individual is treated the same. This is the idea of fairness that seems to dominate the national discussion.

Achievement-Based Fairness

I was a terrible student. I would rarely study and most assignments were completed with little interest in going the extra mile. As expected, my grades were less than stellar. Naturally I did not like getting poor grades, but I also knew that I deserved them. It would have been unfair to the students that put forth an effort for me to receive similar marks.

Achievement-based fairness makes a distinction between people based on the effort and accomplishments of the individual. The rewards in life are completely distributed in direct proportion to the amount of effort devoted to achieving those rewards. It compensates the industrious and punishes the indolent. This concept of fairness is often overlooked during discussions of social justice.

The Better Idea

Does one concept of fairness trump the other? I do not think so. I believe that both ideas have their place. It is incorrect to rely solely on one idea and ignore the other. No two people are placed into same circumstances when they are born, a problem that achievement-based fairness cannot resolve. Some people are lazy while others are productive, an issue that compassionate fairness cannot reconcile.

If a teacher averages all the grades in a classroom and gives every student that average grade, it would only benefit half the class at the expense of the other. This practice would discourage study and learning since they would not improve one’s grades. Compassionate fairness fails to compensate for personal achievement.

On the other hand, if some students could not even show up to class because of the socio-economic conditions they were born in to, they would never be able achieve any grades. Achievement-based fairness does not provide a common starting point from which people can begin to achieve. The most productive person in the slums will never have more money than the lazy heir to a fortune.

There are many more complexities in the discussion on fairness than I have mentioned. One being the idea of innate talent. Some people, by no effort of their own, are gifted by enormous talent. Is it fair that they were born with it? How would compassionate fairness distribute that talent? Would success be an achievement if there was no effort to obtain it? Is it fair that people are different?

Final Thoughts

Both concepts of fairness are at complete odds with each other. The reliance on one creates unfairness in the other. Any appeal to fairness by either side of the debate is an appeal to unfairness on the other. In essence, life is not fair and never will be. Instead of wasting resources and time trying to make life fair, we should be devoting our time to making the best of the cards dealt to us. Fairness is a dream.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Logical Mind v. The Emotional Mind (Science and Reason v. Religion)

There is an inherent conflict between our logical perceptions and are emotional feelings. Emotions are often illogical while logic is devoid of all emotion. The reconciliation between the two is impossible. Our logical mind thrives on finding reason and understanding in our lives while our emotional mind attempts to find emotional fulfillment and meaning. There is the inherent conflict, emotional fulfillment is not logical and logical reasoning is emotionless. With this understanding, we can better understand the conflict between religion and science. Both appeal to different parts of the human experience but both often contradict each other.

To logically debate the existence of a God is futile. No amount of rational discourse can prove or disprove the existence of deity. All arguments along this strain must include illogical suppositions (e.g. Since there is suffering, there can be no God. This supposes that God cares about suffering). The only arguments that have been made have had emotional undercurrents and therefore breach the limits of logical discourse.

Religion is best defined as the desire for emotional fulfillment and meaning. People have said that primitive forms of religion sought to explain the mysteries of the world around them. Although that may be true is does not explain why we still worship. The mysteries of the universe are being discovered and explained at an exponential rate, yet religion still thrives. Ignorance of these discoveries may explain a portion of the religious world but definitely not the majority of it. It seems that human nature yearns for the emotional gratification that religion provides regardless of logical world around it.

Whether it is the understanding that God suffered for your personal mistakes or that there is a possibility to reach a state of mind free of suffering and pain, religion provides humans their emotional needs. Although science and reason provide the mind with nessesary truths, they cannot provide the needs of the emotional mind.

Both religion and science have things to offer the human mind and the mind can not be fully satisfied unless it has both.

The Hypocrisy of Hope: How Obama’s vision of hope will destroy the American Dream

Note: I posted this back in April 2009 but had to remove it. Although the President has not been able to see his vision realized, this post addresses what that vision is.

The American dream has inspired hope in the hearts of hundreds of millions since the United States was formed. Scores of immigrants have swarmed its shores hoping for a better life. Even today many people risk their lives just for the chance that they can improve their circumstances. President Obama has even written a book about how to bring the American dream back to its glory; however, his socialist vision for America will not bring back the American dream but destroy it.

The American dream is the epitome of hope. It is the hope that one can improve his or her station in life. It is the hope that one can make the lives of his or her children better than one’s own. It is the hope that hard work will bring rewards. The American dream inspires, motivates, and drives us. It is not the guarantee of prosperity but the undeniable hope for it.

My father grew up on a small chicken farm in the country and my mother grew up in a low income, single parent household. Both of them struggled to get an education and raise a family. My parents were not content with their situation in life and worked hard to improve their circumstances. Through their hard work, I was able to live a comfortable and safe life. I am a product of the American dream. This year I will graduate with a Masters in Accounting from one of the best accounting schools in the nation. This is all because my parents and their parents believed in the American dream. I also believe in the American dream but I have lived in Germany, which is a country void of all such hopes.

I lived in the eastern part of Germany or the part that was controlled by the Soviets until 1990. The people who live in this part of Germany have experienced both communism and socialism. During my time in Germany I talked to and interacted with the people from all walks of life. I talked to them about their lives, families, goals, and dreams. Each person I met was in a different situation, but all were similar in their want of hope.

One man I knew had been unemployed for ten years and was living comfortably on welfare. The welfare even provided him with funds to vacation in Tunisia. Another man I met had been unemployed for two years and would not accept employment because he made more money on welfare. I also knew an illegal immigrant from Cameroon who came to Germany to make enough money to bring his family out of Africa. The German Government gives him an apartment, TV, food, and clothing. It however does not allow him to work nor does it send him back to Africa.

All three of these people are unemployed and being completely supported by the government and none of them have any hope that their situation can be better. These stories are very typical of the people I met in Germany. Of course I did not only meet unemployed people but people who are employed have little hope of improving their situation because they are paying taxes for all of these government programs. They are stuck in mindless jobs and have lost all hope for improving their condition.

This kind of hopelessness is seen in the productivity of the work force. While I was volunteering at the German Red Cross, one of the employees suggested that we worked “as if we were dead.” She saw no advantages to working harder. I had grown up with the idea that the harder I worked the more rewards I would receive but these people only knew how to do the bare minimum. Since there is no hope for a better job there is no reason to work hard. The worst part is that this hopelessness is ingrained into them at an early age.

When young people in Germany turn twelve, they are tested and someone decides if the children are smart enough to go to college. If the kids make the cut, they will continue in school until grade 13 and then proceed to a University. If the children are not chosen for higher education, they will be separated into a different kind of high school that only goes until the 10thgrade. From there these kids will join a job training program for one year where they learn skills for one particular job that they will be doing for the rest of their lives. These children will never be offered a college education presumably because the government cannot afford to offer everyone a free ride. These students learn at age twelve that hope dies young.

But everyone is healthy and few are extremely poor. The merits of socialism should not be minimized. People who need the most help are given it. What is important is that socialism is not the same as the American dream. The American dream has been about the hope for upward mobility with the risk of downfall. Socialism brings the exact opposite, no hope for a better life and no risk of a worse one.

Recently there were protests in France because young people did not want to be fired for being poor employees. Basically employers in France cannot fire someone unless they have done something extremely bad. Ineffectiveness, laziness, and ineptitude are never grounds for termination in France or in many unions in the States. This combination of ultimate job security and promotion based on seniority leads to mediocre performance and absolutely no hope that one can improve his or her situation through determination alone.

The government funds most of its programs through high progressive taxes. This means that the more money one makes the higher ones tax rate will be. This simply causes one to stay in his or her current economic situation even though he or she is making more money. This of course does not take into account inflation in which case you might even be making less. What kind of hope does a tax system like this instill in the hearts of the people? What is the motivation to make more money if it cannot improve one’s quality of life? Why work hard if the government is going to support you no matter what you do?

But everyone is still healthy and some are well educated. The merits are undeniable and beneficial but the costs are more than just high taxes and mediocre standards of living, it also costs people the hope that inspires them to overcome. So what would America be like under a socialistic system? Just like every other country. There will be nothing special about America, nothing inspirational, and nothing hopeful. We will all be just mediocre people working mediocre jobs living in mediocre apartments with mediocre ambitions. But we will all have health-care, few will be poor, and those smart enough to qualify will be well educated. The American dream will struggle to survive but will ultimately die in the myopic compassion of socialism.