The Fairness Doctrine has crept back into the news. At issue is the domination of talk radio by conservatives. Fairness dictates that opportunity be given to other points of view. It seems that liberals want to have their own Rush Limbaugh and to prove that they can be just as obnoxious as anyone else.
The father of the fairness philosophy, by the way, was John Rawls. His answer to the Wall Street mantra, “Greed is good,” was that envy is also good and could be harnessed to promote parity between those who have too much and those who don’t have enough.
The moment I begin thinking about fairness, I’m smitten by the impression that unfairness rules this world. For instance, most of us don’t get to experience even our promised 15 minutes of fame. And you know what? It isn’t fair. Why should a few so-called celebrities hog the limelight while the rest of us cower in obscurity, written off as “nobodies?”
Perhaps you say: “Life isn’t fair.” But human beings must hold themselves to a higher standard than the law of the jungle. Our remotest ancestor may have been a blob of blue-green algae or an ape, but that doesn’t mean we must behave like animals, clawing at one another over table scraps. Besides, what’s so “natural” about Natural Selection? “Selection” smacks of discrimination, exclusivity, snobbism, privilege. “Survival of the Fittest” — does that sound fair?
Secular liberals who deplore the Religious Right’s campaign against evolution ought to recognize that Darwin was a cheerleader for an aristocracy, a scourge of the unfortunate and weak, the enemy of what’s fair. No law says we’re obliged to accept the division of our species into winners and losers. Doesn’t everyone have a right to survive and to enjoy a little fame? After all, the main difference between celebrities and nonentities that they have publicity agents and we don’t.
While we’re on the subject, isn’t there something odious about “Halls of Fame?” Why glorify institutions that only admit superstars? Most of us can’t dunk the ball or hit the big home run. Most of us can’t even make the team. But does that mean we’re vermin? Let the members of Halls of Fame spend a day in our shoes, shagging balls, mopping the locker room floor, picking up sweaty socks. Let them warm the bench while they wait in vain for a call from the coach.
Another crime against fairness is the lottery. Only one among millions ever wins. Talk about unfair! Whenever someone else hits the jackpot I feel personally cheated. I feel as if I’ve had my pocket picked. I experience what John Rawls called, “excusable envy.” The government talks about taxing the rich and spreading the wealth, and here it is creating another multimillionaire. How is the lottery winner different from robber barons who award themselves giant bonuses with federal bailout money? They’re all hogs at the trough. Tax the lottery winners at 100 percent, I say, and distribute the proceeds to those of us who never manage to win a game of pinochle.
A voice cries out in the wilderness: Why should humanity be divided between young and old? For the sake of fairness, shouldn’t everyone be middle aged? Why should a few overachievers be designated “geniuses” when most of us labor under the stigma of mediocrity? Let’s have some NEA grants for sign painters, for those who decorate black velvet with tigers and matadors and cover hand saws with bucolic scenes. A few Nobel Prizes for dog catchers and pencil pushers. A little recognition for bunglers and bores.
Put a happy face and an A-plus on everybody’s work. Excellence is overrated. Don’t sell incompetence short. What matters is that we did our best. The problem lies with those who aren’t content with their fair share, who want to “get ahead.” It’s good to be average. It’s all right to be OK.
Now, the great question is: Who gets to decide what’s “fair?” The Fairness Committee, of course. It will be composed of wiser and more powerful people who know what’s best for you and me.
— George Gurley, who lives in rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.