Essay / Culture

Fairness, Chocolate Cake and Neurosurgery

That’s not fair! When you live in a house with children you come to realize that the concept of fair/unfair is the lens through which they view most of the world. For example, when there is only one piece of chocolate cake in the house and two children you have a problem. Some parents have one child cut the cake into two pieces, and have the other child pick the slice they want. When a child is dividing a slice of cake into two pieces they work with the precision of neurosurgeon cutting a tumor from the brain. They realize that one slip of the knife could doom any chance of getting an equal share of cake.

Of course, if one slice is bigger by a mere gram in weight the child who is the “selector” will point out the disparity to the “slicer” while selecting the larger slice (please insert whining and complaining here). Often, this is also followed by the pronouncement that “This is the worst day ever.”

As children mature we expect that they will outgrow this incorrect view of the world. We anticipate that they will rise above the pettiness that is part of adolescence. What we discover is that adults still have a view of the world that is largely driven an incorrect view of fairness.

Today, fairness is not thought of in terms of an overarching concept of justice, but in terms of equality. Mostly, fairness turns out to be understood in light of quantifiable methods—that is to say something is “fair” is to say that both parties have received equal amounts of a physical good. Fairness is no longer seen as a conceptual thing that falls under the purview of a transcendent ethic. Fairness is more often understood as an economic concept that has to do with the equal (measurable) distribution of property (wealth).

What is most insidious about this modern demand for fairness is that often it is just a front for our own envy and jealousy. Envy happens when we are unable to celebrate the successes of others, and often wish they were not successful at all. Jealousy wants what others have.

Both of these states are prevalent in our society because we lack contentment. We live in a country were consumerism is gluttonous. We have come to believe we must have our own house, two cars, a boat, two computers, etc if we are going to have any chance at happiness.

What society has tacitly adopted is a view of the world that is fundamentally empiricist—that is we have come to believe that evidence of the good life (happiness) is found in physical things. If happiness is truly found through our possessions it is only follows that when we lack the proper amount and types of possessions we will become discontented.

What is needed is careful reflection on what truly makes us happy. Is it the new car or when our children jump on our lap and say that they love us?

It is hard to measure a “lap of love” empirically, and, yet, it is worth far more than any new car on the market. We have to learn to invest ourselves, not in the acquisition of new things, but in things that endure long after our goods have experience entropy.

In Matthew 6 Jesus says this about physical possessions:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

It is our duty as adults to model contentment and happiness to the next generation. We need to be aware of the insidious nature of our consumer culture that attempts to create a false desire for goods we don’t need. It is the pursuit of this false form of happiness that creates a life that is empty and seemingly unfair. For humanity to be truly happy God must be the object of our pursuit and service. To pursue anything else is to enslave ourselves to a system that only leads to envy, jealousy and discontentment.

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