Lately, it seems, American culture and politics are increasingly focused on fairness and equality. We have attempted during the last decade to create several new individual “rights.” The right to healthcare, the right to faster internet speeds, income equality and a whole bunch of other rights that are intended to level the playing field.
I call these “feel good” rights because too often we ignore the fundamental fact that most of these “feel good rights” require the transfer of goods or services from one party to another, but they do make us feel better: more noble, generous and kind.
By contrast, an actual right, such as the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are universal in nature. They are endowed by our creator (whatever form that takes for you) and they are enforced by law. Real rights are not created by government, rather merely recognized as an inherent obligation of government.
Life is not fair
In 1978, Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, M.D. published a groundbreaking book that set the bar for so-called self-help books that would follow. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth became a bestseller published all over the globe.
I found the opening line of that book jarring in its brutal honesty. Peck’s book begins with the statement “Life is difficult.” From there, he goes into great detail talking about the four major disciplines he saw as a path from mental and spiritual illness toward mental and spiritual health.
No matter what we wish, no matter what we desire, we cannot escape the fact that Peck’s assertion is succinctly and brilliantly accurate: Life is difficult. But I would add to that.
Life is not fair.
In fact, life is only fair in fairy tales. But in reality, life is a crap shoot. There are winners and losers. Is it fair that one person is diagnosed with cancer and another is not? Is it fair that one person loses a limb and another does not? Is it fair that one person is born into royalty and another was born into poverty with alcoholic and abusive parents? Of course not.
While we all certainly make our fair share of stupid decisions that carry with them consequences, there are many other things life throws at us that are not only difficult but patently unfair. These things are most often unavoidable and beyond our control.
It is not the appropriate role of government to make life fair. That is an impossible task that would bankrupt any nation.
But what about equality?
All things being equal
By definition, equality is another fruitless task because true equality is impossible. Unlike the concept of fairness, however, government does have an appropriate role to play in the sphere of equality.
Our Constitution declares that all men (people) are created equal under the law. Think about this for a moment. Our founding fathers knew that life was not fair and that is impossible for all men to be born equally, but under the law, every citizen is the same, regardless of their differences.
As I pointed out above, the reality of true equality is a stretch. According to my dictionary, equal (as an adjective) is defined as “being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value.”
If I weigh more than you, we are not equal. If I am taller than you, we are not equal. If you have hair, and I do not, we are not equal. You get the point.
However, when we look at equal as a noun, it is described as follows: “a person or thing considered to be the same as another in status or quality.”
Our system of laws is not perfect. OJ Simpson could still afford a better defense attorney than me. While we are both equal under the law in that we are entitled to a defense, we are certainly not equal.
By the order of natural law, true equality is virtually non-existent.
Remember the words of George Orwell in the book Animal Farm? Some animals are more equal than other animals. I know it may seem unfair, but it is true.
Tom Brady and I are never going to be true “equals.”
If we are going to have a rational discussion about fairness or equality, we must recognize that government simply cannot make something fair or equal.
What we can do, however, is treat each other as equals, despite our inherent inequality.
But no matter how many laws we create; no matter how many taxes we raise, life will always be unfair. And it will always be difficult.