Fairness and Equality

Many people won’t make a tangible distinction between equality and fairness. I think this is because of a flawed idea of what fairness entails. For instance, I don’t think fairness is the same as being treated equally.

Equality ensures everyone has the same opportunities. Fairness entails getting what you believe to be a reasonably desirable result. Equality can be tangibly measured while fairness is in the eye of the beholder.

This, I think is why those who would be liberally inclined politically and socially focus so fervently on fairness. They can always claim some group of people — the Political Left always deals with groups, not individuals — is not getting a fair shake. If equality were the target they would be forced to admit some people — individuals — will not succeed and only their lack of motivation can be blamed…and that’s not fair.

Comments

  1. Too many people define “equality” as “equal in outcome” rather than “equal value/equal opportunity.” It isn’t that everyone should be *treated* the same, which would be fair, but that everyone should be granted the same results (such as everyone being paid the same for the same job, even if one person has 10 yrs experience while another has 5, or one person is actually good at the job, while the other isn’t), which is wildly unfair.

  2. paynehollow says:

    John…

    They can always claim some group of people — the Political Left always deals with groups, not individuals — is not getting a fair shake.

    We deal with fairness because we’re concerned about justice.

    It’s EQUAL to give a test printed on paper to a sighted kid and a blind kid.

    It’s FAIR to give the test printed on paper to a sighted kid and in braille to a blind kid.

    It would be a miscarriage of justice to give them the same printed test and claim it was GOOD and RIGHT because it was equal. Equal is not always (maybe even, “often”) a moral good.

    At least in this example (and, by extension, allowing that there are other examples), I’m hoping and relatively sure we could agree that the Just, Good and Moral thing would be to NOT treat the test-takers equally, right?

    ~Dan

    • well Dan, we’re not talking test takers. Funny how you choose the most irrelevant-to-the-discussion analogy you can instead of dealing with what you know I’m talking about.

      Typical.

  3. paynehollow says:

    Offering an example by way of analogy is not allowed? I’m sorry, I didn’t know that rule, nor did I mean to upset you so.

    Does that mean, though, that you agree with my point? That at least in SOME circumstances, Equal does not always equal Good or Moral? And that in some cases, to be Just, we need to strive for a Fair solution, not an Equal one?

    My analogy aside (what is wrong with that analogy, by the way? How is it irrelevant to the point of justice, fairness and equality?), my point that I was making stands: We stand for Fairness rather than Equality (at least sometimes) because we are concerned about Justice. I’d hope that, even if you might disagree with our interpretation, you could honor our intent as a noble one.

    By the way, what criteria exists for providing an acceptably relevant analogy?

    Thanks,

    ~Dan Trabue

  4. Dan,

    I think the definitive point is that your analogies are so routinely poor representatives of the topic, and an unrealistic comparison to provoke an emotional response favorable to your position. In other words, deceitful even if not purposely so.

    However, ironically in this case (and I know how much you enjoy irony), your analogy does not help your “equity” cause whatsoever. What your analogy does is illustrate treating to different things as identical. The sighted kid and the blind kid cannot be treated as if they are identical. That it is not just at all. Treating homosexual unions as if they are identical to normal heterosexual marriages is also not just, and certainly not smart, because of all the harmful effects you’ve chosen to ignore or dismiss. The consequences of treating them as if they are identical promotes unfair treatment of those who recognize the differences, and most unjustly, children, all to placate a tiny minority who selfishly insist their demands are identical to those of heterosexuals.

  5. paynehollow says:

    Marshall, the purpose of examples, analogies and illustrations is to make a point on a greater principle.

    My example I offered made this point:

    Sometimes, in order to act most justly, you have to treat people NOT equally, but fairly.

    Does the example fail to make that case?

    Is the principle incorrect?

    I think a reasonable answer to both questions is No. That is, the example works perfectly to illustrate the principle and it is one we all should be able to agree upon.

    Where specifically is the problem in that?

    Further, the topic here was the difference between fairness and equality. John made the concluding point…

    If equality were the target they would be forced to admit some people — individuals — will not succeed and only their lack of motivation can be blamed…and that’s not fair.

    I responded with an illustration that we ALL should be able to agree with pointing out that equality should not always be the goal, but justice, which is best served by acting with fair actions, rather than equal actions.

    What specifically is the problem with that?

    Looking at John’s claim, I think one could conclude that he’s probably speaking of “success” as it relates to jobs/living life as an adult. Is your problem that I offered an example saying “kids” taking tests? It could just as easily have been this, then:

    It is EQUAL to give a blind man and a sighted man an application form on paper for them to fill out with a pen.

    It is FAIR to give the sighted man the form and the blind man an opportunity to fill it out on computer or with some other way that accommodates his disabling condition.

    Is THAT a better analogy/example? In either case, I think the point stands and I suspect you all would have to agree with it, at least as far as it goes.

    Perhaps your problem is just that you really don’t want to agree in any way with something someone you perceive to be “liberal” says, even if it is a rationally sound statement?

    ~Dan Trabue

  6. Dan, the problem with your analogy is that the sighted kid is *not* equal to the blind kid to begin with, therefore giving them the test in the same format would not be equal, either.

    To extend the analogy to the classroom, in the name of equality, there are schools and disctricts that have different standards for schools that have a high number of ESL students, minority groups, is in a “bad” neighbourhood, etc. True equality would be to help the students improve themselves so that they can pass the same tests. However, in the name of equality and “fairness”, too often children are given a pass because of the colour of their skin, or because they don’t have a grasp of the language, or because they are of a lower socio-economic class… Quotas must be met, after all.

  7. paynehollow says:

    Kunoichi…

    the problem with your analogy is that the sighted kid is *not* equal to the blind kid to begin with, therefore giving them the test in the same format would not be equal, either.

    Well, that would be the question being raised, wouldn’t it? The blind kid is a human being and a student, just like any other. In his case, he happens to be blind though, so to treat them equally would be unjust, is that not a valid point?

    And who all is John speaking of in his post? Maybe that would be the question to be answered, since it seems you all are not speaking of general principles (else, my example would stand just fine), but some specific group or groups you have in mind…

    You offer this example…

    However, in the name of equality and “fairness”, too often children are given a pass because of the colour of their skin, or because they don’t have a grasp of the language, or because they are of a lower socio-economic class

    Who is advocating giving a pass to anyone because of these traits? Who is speaking of giving a pass to the blind student?

    No one.

    Rather, we’re speaking of NOT treating them equally (because what would be the point? And that would be unjust), but rather, treating them fairly. Giving them NOT the same (equal) acommodations, but APPROPRIATE (fair) accomodations. The point being NOT to give them a pass, but to give everyone a fair (not equal) chance.

    Does that make sense?

    If not, where specifically am I mistaken?

    ~Dan Trabue

    • “Well, that would be the question being raised, wouldn’t it? The blind kid is a human being and a student, just like any other.”

      That is the problem I think John is trying to illustrate. Of course the children are equal in value by virue of being human, but they are *not* equal in ability. Your analogy suggests that treating them equal means treating them as if they had equal abilities, which obviously they don’t. Because they are equal in value, but not in ability, equality would be to give them the same test in a format each can read (or do an oral test, or… etc.).

      “Who is advocating giving a pass to anyone because of these traits? Who is speaking of giving a pass to the blind student?

      No one.”

      Sadly, this is increasingly happening within the public school system and in public sector jobs. It may not be specifically about blind students (it’s a lot more complex for people with various disabilities), but it definitely is done based on things like race, religion (specifically, Islam) and gender. The Toronto Disctric School Board is one very blatant example (blacks-only schools, “mosqueterias”, allowing kids to use opposite gender bathrooms and showers, based on their word that they “feel like” the opposite gender, etc.), but they are not the only one. In the job front, many government departments must employ X% of women and visible minorities. If there are not enough qualified applicants, they still won’t hire white men; the positions usually remain unfilled. In some cases, they lower the standards. If there is a position where two people apply, preference is given to the female or the visible minority, even if they are not the most qualified. All in the name of “equality.”

  8. “Perhaps your problem is just that you really don’t want to agree in any way with something someone you perceive to be “liberal” says, even if it is a rationally sound statement?”

    Not at all. My problem is you express a principle you don’t apply consistently. What you stated was, as I said, a problem with treating different as identical. Obviously they aren’t, so giving the blind kid a test in the same medium as the sighted kid presents a problem for the blind kid. Obviously homosexual unions are not identical to heterosexual unions, so licensing by the state doesn’t make sense given the reasons the state licenses in the first place. The couples are NOT identical in kind and do not present the same reasons for interest of the state.

  9. paynehollow says:

    Here’s the thing, fellas, NO ONE is exactly “equal.” We’re all starting off with different abilities, different deficits, with different levels of support. My point is, that trying to treat everyone equal (when we’re not all equal) can be (not always, but can be) unjust and THAT is why, for Justice sake, at least some times we need to strive for fairness, not equality. The blind person is an example that helps illustrate the point.

    You all can see the differences inherent in the blind person’s case, and that’s good. Now can you extend that out to the whole world and range of differences in other people?

    Kunoichi…

    Sadly, this is increasingly happening within the public school system and in public sector jobs.

    As a former public school teacher, and as a parent of kids in public schools, I can say that I have not seen this at all to be a problem in at least our public schools (oh, I’m sure there are exceptions and examples could be found, but in general, this seems to be more of a conservative talking point than anything fact-based and widespread.)

    I think my point stands, clearly. Feel free to disagree.

    ~Dan Trabue

    • So Dan, do you think minorities are not as equal in capability as non minorities to the point where they need more lax standards? Or do you think there is still so much discrimination that they’ll never get a fair shot? How will you know when discrimination is not a hindrance?

    • “As a former public school teacher, and as a parent of kids in public schools, I can say that I have not seen this at all to be a problem in at least our public schools…”

      I hope you realize how fortunate you are.

      “That we are not entirely equal to one another in terms of life experiences, skills, background, learning styles, management styles or knowledge.”

      You really seem to be missing the point that I was trying to make, and I don’t know how much more clearly I can make it. We are all “equal” in value, but not equal in ability.

      I’ll try this to illustrate. We *should* all be equal under the eyes of the law and the government, yet here in Canada, we have different laws and rulings based on race. Status Indians living on reserves fall under the Department of Indian Affairs. They cannot own property or start their own businesses. They also don’t pay taxes and get free housing and education – but it is up to the band councils to distribute such things. The usual result is that powerful council members and their families live in luxury, while those who oppose them can have their homes taken from them without recourse. Many reserves have appalling conditions. These laws came about precisely because the Canadian government at the time decided to treat First Nations people as children; they were not considered as capable as white people, therefore standards needed to be relaxed, and Daddy Government was needed to take care of them.

      At the same time, if a First Nations person has committed a crime, the courts are expected to take their race and cultural background into account. This has resulted in people who have committed violent crime being “sentenced” to healing circles or some such, rather than being treated the same as anyone else who committed the same crime.

      If people were truly equal under the law, the laws would apply to them regardless of age, race, gender, etc., yet we have seperate laws for First Nations people. Likewise, to use another example from above, Canada used to have equal marriage laws that applied the same to everyone. Now our laws have redefined marriage, thereby rendering it unequal and arbitrary, but supposedly “fair.”

      None of this has anything to do with equality of ability, which is what you seem to be stuck on. We all know people aren’t equal in ability, skills, talent, etc. But they should still be considered equal in value as human beings.

  10. paynehollow says:

    Did I say that, John? Don’t be an ass. I did not bring up race.

    What I meant is what I said. That none of us are entirely equal. The wealthy black dyslexic woman is not equal to the middle class white Jewish elderly man is not equal to the poor white orphan child is not equal to the homeless hispanic teenager living in a shelter with his family who is left handed.

    None of us are entirely equal,

    THAT is what I said and that is what I meant. Race has nothing to do with what I said.

    IS there still racial discrimination? Sure, I know of racists personally. And the middle aged rural racist white guy is not equal to the young black man who is a former convict.

    But that has nothing to do with my point, which is just the obvious one: That we are not entirely equal to one another in terms of life experiences, skills, background, learning styles, management styles or knowledge.

    And that at least in some cases, in order to best work for Justice, we need to acknowledge these differences and not strive for treating everyone equally, but treating everyone fairly (hence my example, which perfectly illustrates the point in a way that I can’t imagine anyone would disagree with).

    Are you opposed to this idea? I don’t think I’m saying anything weird or crazy or anything but common sense and rational, do you?

  11. paynehollow says:

    Kunoichi…

    We are all “equal” in value, but not equal in ability.

    And this has been my exact point as well (well, except I’ve been saying we’re not equal – not THE SAME – as far as ability, background, strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, etc…). And since we are not all equal in ability (etc), there are at least times/situations where the goal ought not to strive to treat each other “equally” as much as we ought to treat each other FAIRLY. As a matter of justice.

    Are we agreeing, then? Because, I think we really have to be. I’m not saying anything unusual or odd, just stating a rather simple overt moral truth.

    • ” this has been my exact point as well ”
      I think we are more in agreement than not, except your analogy seems to be stating something different. You said,

      “It’s EQUAL to give a test printed on paper to a sighted kid and a blind kid.”

      Perhaps it’s a matter of phrasing, but this analogy actually portrays the opposite of equality. It’s not the paper that matters, it’s giving them the information.

      I’m reminded of this graphic. http://tomazlasic.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/climb-the-tree.jpg This is more like what your analogy for equality is describing. My point is that treating everyone the same way as you described above is forcing “equality” on everyone that is artificial. It, in reality, devalues the individual.

  12. Kunoichi,
    Your native (Canadian), point is interesting. I was listening to MPR a while back and they did a story about a native American tribe who was trying to redefine tribal membership eligibility. As a consequence of this lifelong tribe members were getting the boot from the tribe. But even more significant was the split of money/jobs from the casino (smaller tribe=bigger casino profit share). What I thought was the most significant was that when these folks were fired from their casino jobs they were out of luck. Since the tribes are not under US law, the elders were free to discriminate, and the folks who got fired didn’t have access to the means of redress given under US law.
    I know it’s kind of off topic, but your comment jogged me memory.

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