Finding that thin line of fairness
What’s fair is fair. Technically, this is a logical fallacy called circular reasoning — and an obvious one at that.
No argument can be proven with this statement because it gives no reasons why something is “fair.” Why is it fair? You can’t prove someone lied or committed a crime by saying they are a liar or a criminal; you have to give evidence. The argument of “fair is fair” has been used as justification over and over, with baseless reasoning.
What do we think of when we consider the term “fair?” Dictionaries define it as an adjective, describing impartiality and honesty, free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism. Also, imparting just, right, or reasonable treatment.
When we claim “fair’s fair” it’s because we want whatever the other guy got. But is what he got something that is “fair” in the definition of the word as just described? He cheated me out of money, so should I cheat him back?
He cheated on his taxes and committed tax fraud, so can I do it too? If he can do it and get away with it, why shouldn’t we all? When we use this idiom, it is important to consider the purpose for the equivalence. Everyone cheating would not lead to a desirable outcome. That is why we have laws and courts to determine what is fair. No two people or groups will have the same idea of fairness. Just watch The People’s Court or Judge Judy for proof of that.
The laws and consequences for breaking those laws should be applied to every citizen under them equally. Fairness implies just treatment. Our legal system is expected to be fair and just.
Justice is justice. Attorney General Merrick Garland repeatedly assures us that “no one is above the law,” a posture that can’t be ascribed to his predecessor as more and more evidence comes to light on Bill Barr’s interference in investigations in order to protect Donald Trump. Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen was punished for breaking campaign finance laws, but it was Trump that was the candidate. Cohen acted under his direction.
So, if you are going to argue that fair is fair, you need to include evidence. The evidence accepted for conviction of a crime in one case should be equitably applied in all cases. This is where the false equivalency fallacy or “apples to oranges” comes into play. The illegal hoarding of classified documents by Trump was different in intent, evasion, quantity, relevancy, and vulnerability to access from the documents found among President Joe Biden’s records, and also those in Vice President Mike Pence’s possession. Comparisons have been made, using this false logic.
Justice has never been fair for Black Americans. Laws that prevented their equal treatment began in the colonies with slavery, continued through the post-Civil War Jim Crow era, through the discriminatory redlining practices of the National Housing Act of 1934 which forced families into slums and inner-city poverty. They have never had fair treatment from law enforcement, where systemic bias with roots in southern militias established to control, apprehend, and punish runaway slaves continues today. With the aid of modern video technology, evidence of police brutality is finally visible to the public which is forcing it to be addressed. Families of those who suffered at the hands of law enforcement can get justice, but the victims never got fairness.
Certain mainstream media and social media platforms continue to spread incorrect, instigating information, backing it up with a variety of logical fallacies, leading susceptible individuals down rabbit holes of misconceptions. They may subscribe to “replacement theory” which convinces them that black and minority Americans are going to take over the country and since they think white Anglo European Christians were here first, ignoring the fact that native Americans were, they resort to violence, saying fair is fair, against those who they believe have done something to them. Much like Shakespeare’s witches in the opening scene of MacBeth, their “fair is foul and foul is fair”.
The concept of “fair is fair,” applied to a democracy made up of a two-party system only works well when both parties adhere to the same meaning of “fair.” Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution cover the principles of fairness that our country is founded on. But when one party chooses to abandon those principles and do whatever they can to gain power, democracy fails. The Republican party appears to be moving away from the doctrines of fairness that our founders believed in and the rule of law that developed from them. If the Democratic party should declare fair’s fair and follow the same path, it would end in anarchy. If the Republicans are allowed to continue their Jan. 6 type tactics unfettered, it will end in tyranny– right back where the founders started their fight.
The way our government is structured, it is important to have representation from both parties, not one controlling the other. Popular vote of all citizens should determine who wins elections. The electoral college, gerrymandering, and targeted voter suppression are not fair. Equality, not in a 50-50 sense, but in a true percentage of the will of the people, is necessary. Elections which run unopposed candidates are not fair.
The voters are not given a choice. This happens too frequently in local elections especially. It jeopardizes democracy and results in unbalanced representation. Democracy’s very foundation lies in our local communities.
Some might argue, so life is not fair. Life is a vast cosmic concept, too large for us to apply a purely human abstraction such as fairness. Humans came up with the idea of fairness, and it is up to us humans to see that it is carried out in the best definition of the word.
Finally, in all fairness, by publishing my comments, they become subject to a variation of the definition of “fair” that states “open to legitimate pursuit or attack.” They are “fair game,” as long as rebuffs and rebukes are kept fair and legitimate – and don’t use ad hominem to support them, it is an unfair logical fallacy.
Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org