Preemptive Offenses

Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Fair:" An Easter Sermonette

1. The Dark Side Of "Fair."

Statistician William M. Briggs has penned an excellent series of contemplations of "fair" and "fairness," of which this is the first. I exhort all readers to give his series due attention before continuing on here.

"Fair" is one of the principal bludgeon-words in the arsenal of the Left. They whip it out most often in discussions of taxation, as in: "Make the rich pay their fair share." They never define the word, of course, nor will they ever allow a definition posited by the Right to occupy the slenderest fraction of their attention. They don't use the word for its denotation, but for its power to energize the whiny and querulous.

This is one of the big reasons I despise the Left. A man who deliberately evokes emotion to trump reason, and who refuses to be specific about his demands, is a villain, whether he's openly stealing for himself or claims to be doing so for others' sakes. But grant the Left this: its strategists are no fools. They've fingered the most powerful of all the totalitarianizing emotions: envy.

Envy is not admiration. Neither is it jealousy; the jealous man is concerned with the retention and defense of that which is rightly his. The envious man is fixated on the gains of his neighbor -- and so resentful is he that he would rather that they were destroyed than that his neighbor should be permitted to retain them, even if the destruction were to damage him as well.

Hatred is like that -- and envy is a form of hatred, possibly the most corrosive form.

2. Three Keys.

Mankind's principal problem -- and yes, I really mean that -- is our tendency to conflate our desires for particular conditions with an abstraction such as "fairness" or "justice." The vipers of the world exploit that tendency relentlessly to whip up querulous mass movements: what Madison had in mind when he warned us against "factions." And of course we know how frustrated children deploy it. The two cases aren't that far apart.

The first key to the detoxification of "fair" is the realization that "fair" is always an evaluation.

One evaluates according to a set of values. Values are personal matters. (NB: Not "subjective," which would imply that they exist only in the holder's imagination. They can vary from individual to individual, but the consequences of having chosen to value them cannot.) They derive from the holder's desires, some of which might never rise to his conscious mind. Whether or not he's aware of them, they constitute the starting point from which he reaches all his decisions and enduring postures.

That which is not a value is an instrument: a means by which one acquires or defends a value. Instruments are "valued," specifically for their utility in the acquisition or defense of one's values, but they are not values themselves. The cleavage is not arbitrary; indeed, it's the most important division in the human psyche.

The second key to the detoxification of "fair" is a critical, seldom-asked question: Do the concepts of correct and incorrect apply to values?

In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis's famous essay on philosophical fundamentals, Lewis insisted, correctly in my view, that unless Reason is grounded in the Tao, the unalterable, metaphysical reality that incorporates all natural law, it is pointless or dangerous. You can reach any imaginable conclusion with logic if you choose the right (i.e., the wrong) postulates. As Bertrand Russell put it, "Logic is an organized way of going wrong with confidence."

At this point I must pause to allow that the Tao is itself a disputed assertion. Indeed, the project of much of modern "philosophy" -- yes, those are "sneer quotes" -- is the delegitimization of the notion that there is an absolute reality, forever beyond the possibility of alteration by human thought or effort. However, this project has made most of its gains in academia, where counterfactual notions can be entertained without adversely impacting one's chances of survival. Outside those ivy-covered walls, the great majority of us clings to the notion of a real (really!) world, lest we get hit by a truck.

Assertions about metaphysical reality are always postulates, for metaphysical reality is prior and superior to our notions about proof. It can be observed in particular places. We can use our observations as the foundation for a chain of reasoning, with chances both for and against a profitable outcome. But we cannot deduce our way to it. All we can do is to question our postulates when the inferences we ground in them run onto the rocks. That this happens at all is strong evidence in favor of an immutable (by human powers, at any rate) metaphysical reality.

The third key to the detoxification of "fair" has arrived: Does metaphysical reality allow the condition the wielder of "fair" means by it? If so, what measures would be required to bring it about?

This is where the philosophical rubber meets the praxeological road. For a suitably well defined condition deemed "fair" to have conceptual validity, it must be both achievable and sustainable by means deemed morally acceptable. For argument over "fair" to reach a conclusion, the participants must agree on the set of morally acceptable means, which implies a set of moral principles -- bright-line dicta about right and wrong -- from which such judgments can be made.

3. The Last Rites.

A deceased friend of mine dismissed "fair" ab initio: "It's just a sound humans make." He had his own postulates, of course: that everyone is in it for himself, and that a man will tell you whatever he thinks he can sell you, without regard for the truth, if he thinks it will get him what he wants.

That's not how the "fair"-wielders want us to view their claims, of course. They want us to accept that those claims are founded on moral bedrock -- that indisputable principles of justice lie beneath them. But in the usual case, the claim is unachievable by moral means; it requires that some person or group be manhandled to bring about the condition desired, and that still more persons receive equally rough treatment to perpetuate the condition.

The hidden postulate is that "my end justifies these means."

But for a means to be deemed morally acceptable for achieving a particular end strongly implies that it would be equally acceptable for achieving other ends deemed "fair" by other persons. Thus, all matters of right and wrong would devolve to bald assertions about what's "fair."

There is no possible refutation to this but one:

  • There exists a cadre of persons with innate, absolute moral authority;
  • Members of that cadre may proclaim a particular action or condition morally licit merely by decreeing it so;
  • Except for members of that cadre, no one is authorized to make moral assertions or judgments.

And that is a trio of assertions that cannot be teased apart, and that no one -- not even the wielders of "fair" -- will accept.

Today is Easter Sunday, the day on which Christians worldwide commemorate and celebrate the central mystery of our faith: the Resurrection of Christ. I wrote about the infinite importance of that event just a few days ago. It confirmed the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, erased all doubt from the minds of those who were permitted to encounter Him during the time after His Crucifixion and before His Ascension, and founds the Christian faith on the firmest imaginable rock.

Christ proclaimed a very simple New Covenant to displace the Levitical one pronounced by Moses:

Now a man came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?” He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he asked. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself.” [Matthew 19:16-19]
Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:34-40]

There you have the entire Christian ethos. And note this: Jesus was never asked if His New Covenant was "fair." Like the rights enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, it was all too plainly "self-evident."

Happy Easter to all.

1 comment:

KG said...

Are you sure this is a good idea, P.O.?
I don't know about America so much, but here in Australia we're being mommied to death already.
Perhaps a mandated fat lip for the whiners about "fairness" would be a more economical solution.