"Life's Not Fair" = a defense of the status quo?

Ever been told, “Life’s not fair,” when something hacked you off? Ever take it personally? Would you be surprised to be told you might not be totally off base to feel that way?

The following was written 10 years ago by some guy I know nothing about, except that he was a West Coast academic liberal with an interest in information technology.

It deeply resonated with me, and I wonder whether or not “Life’s not fair” might not in fact be a kind of shibboleth, a way to determine who’s “hard America” (all about authority, power, and the status quo) and who’s “soft America” (all about all that other stuff).

Anyway, read it and tell me what you think. Or don’t, and tell me why it would be a total waste of your time.

Complete article here
Author’s website here

I’ve not had it said to my, but I’ve said it to my 17 year old step-son when he gets all whiney about something he wants and expects us to get for him. But I also say that any injustice he perceives from not getting what he wants is easily solved by him getting a job and making the money himself. It usually shuts him up. I’m sure he feels quite ‘hacked’ about the whole thing.

Life is not fair or unfair. Life is random and arbitrary. People are unfair.

“Yeah, but why can’t it ever be unfair in my favor?” - Calvin

While perhaps true, even truth can be abused.

I haven’t read the full article, but I don’t need to to know that “life’s not fair” is a fucking dumb-ass argument. Sure, unfairness is part of life; in some neighborhoods, murder in the streets is part of life, but if I were a juror at a murder trial, and the defendant’s postition was, “That’s life,” I wouldn’t vote to acquit. (Uzi, you sound like you use it to encourage something fair but unpleasant, like your teenager working for what he gets, which is quite different.)

The equivalent here would be “sho ga nai” - it can’t be helped. While it certainly applies in some cases (earthquakes, storms, etc.), in the vast majority of cases it’s said by someone in a position of authority as an excuse for not fixing something that could very easily “be helped”. And like Calvin says, the unfairness always seems to fall, by pure coincidence I’m sure, in favor of the person claiming that there’s nothing that can be done about it.

Perhaps the educational system does kids a grave disservice when they teach kids about “fairness” in kindergarten. It sets up expectations that you’ll always get half of the cookie and that others will respect your place in line. We’re taught that if we let others play with the toy truck, when it comes to be our turn, we’ll be allowed to play with it for an equitable time. This ethical system is imposed on us when our minds are still soft an impressionable, and is enforced by the grown-ups long enough for us to get set in the notion.

Then, aroud fifth grade, the facade crumbles. The “strong” adapt quickly, learning how to adapt these new rules to their advantage, while the “weak” seem to spend the rest of their lives waiting for everyone to go back to adhering to the fairness rules.

I agree that the system kind of sucks, but what’s the alternative? Teach kindergartners to be selfish and ruthless?

I would say that the “Life’s not Fair” message is the exact opposite of what the author thinks it is. A personal favorite rearrangement of the statement is, “A kick in the ass is a step forward.”

Life isn’t fair. Grumbling, whining, or whatevering that isn’t getting out there and dealing with and fighting against those unfairnesses is just a path to leading a life of being someone’s personal lapdog. Get educated, get real, and get involved; otherwise whine to someone who cares.

Maybe it is different on the female side of the fence (or perhaps city schools?) but in my experience, the younger you are in school, the better it is instilled that life isn’t fair. True it’s taught in the playground rather than in the classroom–but so it goes. But indeed, if kids aren’t getting that somewhere, I would be worried about how realistically they are going to be able to approach the world to deal with issues.

There’s got to be a happy medium somewhere. Perhaps a clear defining line: “In my classroom, you will share the toys because that’s the rules here.” Instead, kids are often correted for selfish behavior by admonishing them that it’s not fair to hog the toys. It may give the “victim” the sense that a social code has been violated and that expecting fairness is the norm.

You may have a point with the female/male issue. I’d never considered that.

As for schools, I went to several different public schools in both rural and urban areas as a young child. nI spent from eigth grade onward in a Christian school. (And man, if you want to talk about setting up unrealistic expectations, a Christian school like mine is the champion. The kids who swallowed what they were taught in there hook-line-and-sinker and never had another school experience are going to get eaten alive in the real world.)

My experience was that play was monitored more closely in the younger grades, with the teachers stepping in if they saw Little Billy begin to cry because Sarah took a toy from him. Aound fifth grade or so, this monitorin abruptly ended, and the law of the jungle took its place. (And the kids who whined to the teachers that the others weren’t being fair were brutalized.)

I was always somewhat of a stand-offish but observant kid. I saw quite a few of my peers flounder in this time, confused by the sudden you’re-on-your-own approach. Some learned to adapt. Some didn’t, insisting impotently that the “old rules” should still apply. (These kids usually turned out to be the unpopular ones.)

That’s what I was saying about the Christian school. Honestly, for a person who’s interested in human behavior, like I am, it’s a fascinating environment to study. Kids are tacitly discouraged from playing with any children who aren’t Christian school kids, so the environment becomes very insular. I do nor fear exaggeration when I state that many of the kids in my school had no experience with children other than those who attended the school with them. They were not allowed to watch TV or movies, or listen to “secular” music, so they had little or no exposure to the real world culture.

It was an incredibly artificial environment, with notions of fairness and how others should be treated enforced even up to the 12th grade. Basically, the kids who accepted the teachings were made into “bully feed.” They simply would have no notion of how to cope with people who didn’t follow the rules of behavior because they had never seen anything like that. In brief encounters with folks out in the real world, I sometimes saw these innocent souls bewildered by people pushing them aside (both literally and figuratively) and ruthlessly taken advantage of because they had learned to be completely trusting of those around them.

As I said, they were eaten alive once they stepped out of the cocoon. I’ve kept casual tabs on those with whom I graduated. None of those who were “believers” are what you would call successful (though a big portion of that is due to the substandard education they recieved.)

Probably, the best idea is to simply teach both. Emphasize to the kids that people can be good, or they can be bad, and you should repay goodness with goodness but sometimes you need to repay badness with badness.

Needless to say, any educational policy that relies on individual judgment in specific situations won’t actually acheive popularity.

Thank you for exposing me to the stupidist article I have ever read in my life. The author isn’t just a simple idiot, I’d actively like to kick him in the balls for lowering the IQ of the entire planet. I think he must have been stoned to the max to write something this stupid, this ignorant, this vile. The simple truth is that life isn’tfair, and a big part of being human is learning how to deal with that. The author’s conclution that somehow more government intervention in our daily lives could somehow make life more “fair” is as laughable as it is ludicrous. What a fucking idiot. You CAN’T be taking him seriously, can you? Please tell me you’re not?

“Government intervention”?! All right, screw “government intervention.” Life is unfair in lots of ways that have to do with us as individuals and the culture we live in and basically diddly to do with dark righty fantasies of the Nanny State.

If you consider such matters best left unexamined lest questioning them weaken quote-unquote Moral Values, fess up. But don’t go hijacking the discussion around to “government intervention.”

Now to kindergarten, boot camp for humanity:

Where do you stand, Lissa? Is it best not to help them over the transition? What does it really mean to “adapt”? Do you endorse those unpopular kids’ unpopularity? Just where are you coming from, here?

Don’t we tacitly do that in that unmanaged 5th-grade transition?

Lissa, if I read you right, you think it better to teach obedience than fairness. How far into the culture would you take that principle? 5th grade? High school? Indefinitely?

Of course, recognizing that requires the ability (and the inclination) to tell a kick in the ass from a kick in the teeth, balls, or head.

I’m getting a mixed message here. “Dealing with” unfairness, at least as commonly understood, means not “fighting against” it. It means sucking it up whenever and wherever possible: manning up, cowboying up, reinforcing authority and the system just in case they take it upon themselves to break you one day.

The fear factor is in play, I’d say, Sage Rat. There’s cowardly fear, fear of anything that doesn’t impinge on your basic survival. And reverent fear, fear of anything that does. In that view, those who fight back are the real cowards. Is that how it’s got to be?

Here’s an idea I picked up somewhere that sounds good to me:

"Life’s not fair, but we can be fair."

Will this improve relations between people in school, the workplace, or the streets? Or is it just whistling past the graveyard that awaits us in the land of liberty if we don’t have inner reserves of selfishness and ruthlessness to draw on?

I too agree that the system kind of sucks. But wouldn’t it work a little better if it didn’t suck so much?

I think it’s best not to make it such a glaring contrast. Of course, sharing and polite play should be encouaged because these are Good Things, but we shouldn’t make kids believe that’s the way the world is.

Some kids learn to cooperate with others in a different fashion. I guess “negotiate” would be a better word. Other kids seem to want to stick with the sharing rules and they get upset with the others who want to change the rules. Instead of negotiating, they sometimes run to the adults for backup or refuse to play. Basically, the rules become self-sustaining, with the kids themselves enforcing and changing them to suit their environment. Some kids are okay with that, and some have a harder time. It’s that ability to adapt to changing systems which seems to start a kid down the “popular” path.

“Endorse” isn’t the right word. There will always be unpopular kids in any environment. Children will always single out a certain percentage of the group to be outcasts. They will search for a trait which allows for discrimination. That’s just the nature of children and their social sturcture.

I’m just fascinated by the structure of social groups. I make no judgement-calls.

In a sense, yes, but I don’t think that it’s a concious decision. Our educational system doesn’t seem to take into account the social-animal aspects of childhood when setting up how they’ll be educated.

This is one of those questions which really doesn’t have a concrete answer. It’s much like the way we teach young children about Columbus and the Pilgrims as heros and then in highschool (sometimes) reveal the harsh truths. Some people would reply to any objections to that with: “Well, do you want us teaching first-graders about rape and genocide?” No, of course not but surely there’s some sort of happy medium. We should at least acknowledge the contradiction and try to think of ways to blunt its impact.

Well, maybe. Obedience will certainly come in more handy as an adult.

I know that it’s sort of un-PC to say that teaching obedience and conformity are good, but if you take a good hard look at it, maybe those are good things to teach kids.

A few years ago, I remember reading about the ACLU taking on a school in court to protect a girl’s right to wear green hair. Constitutional considerations aside, is this really something we should encourage? After all, once that young lady gets out in the “real world” she’s going to find herself extremely limited by her insistance on expressing herself through her green hair. No one will hire her, except maybe a tattoo shop. She may have the right to wear green hair, but the fact that it’s Constitutionally-approved won’t help her find a job.

Teaching kids to express themselves is all well and good, but it should come with the cautionary note that there is a time and place for it. Like it or not, the adult world is about conformity. A person who dresses bizarrely because they feel like it isn’t going to be respected.

The same applies to obedience. We Americans are a defiant lot, fiercely anti-class and antiauthoritarian. In some ways, this can be a good thing, but sometimes you just have to obey the boss because he’s the boss, no matter how stupid you think the order was. You have to listen to police officers even if you disagree with them.

When my boss comes in and says something needs done, I jump up to go do it. One of my co-workers bitches about the tone of voice the boss used, or that it should be Cheryl’s turn to do that since she did it last week, or why she shouldn’t have to do it because she has a bigger workload. My boss hates her, and has told me that the next time a promotion comes available, I’m moving up. No doubt, my co-worker will bitch about how it’s unfair because she’s been here longer, and might alledge agism or racism.

The anti-class thing can be troublesome in the “real world”, too. I remember a couple of years ago, a woman posted a Pit thread because she was angry that her city pool was closed. It had been rented out for a party. She insisted that this was a bad lesson for the kids, because they were learning that money could buy them special circumstances and exclusivity.

Well, yeah, it can. Equality under the law is what our Constitution guarantees. It does not guarantee social equality, which flat-out does not exist in any place in the world. However, people get up-in-arms about it, probably because they were taught from babyhood that nobody’s better than anyone else. It’s true when it comes to human worth, but in the real world, the guy who got a diploma from a better univeristy will get the job over a guy who went to Local Branch Campus, and yeah, you might lose a promotion to a person whose dad plays golf with the boss.

My point is that it does kids a disservice to pretend that these things don’t exist. Instead, we should prepare them to combat their effects. For example, encourage kids to build their own skills so that they will be a viable opponent for a job rather than just muttering about how unfair it is.

Another destructive notion that we acquire in kindergarten is that we’re “special.” I have a pet theory that this leads to a good deal of our social friction. Everyone thinks that they’re different, that the rules don’t apply to them because they have special circumstances. But we’re not special. There are 200 million Americans just like you, who have the same wants, goals and passions. Yes, your genetic code may be unique, but you’re really just part of society like everyone else. Instead of focusing on encouraging kids to think of themselves as unique individuals, I think we should focus on how each of us is part of a society, a network which requires all of us to work together.

I guess I appreciate your pragmatism, but only on a very basic level. You seem to be convinced that changing the world one person at a time isn’t either a. possible or b. a good idea.

Doug, I didn’t bring it up. It’s in the linked article:

See also the paragraphs disparaging libertarianism, which by definition means less government interference in our lives, and it’s pretty clear that to this idiot the “values and skills of a democratic society” means having someone in a position of authority mediate every aspect of our lives to keep things “fair”.

This just backs up Beware of Doug’s OP. Things remain unfair because we refuse to treat each other fairly. “That’s just the way it is” may be accurate regarding how our society operates, but it doesn’t change the fact that we need to work towards equity and justice.

As for your example, yes, that is exactly the sort of thing we should encourage. Rules like that, at least from my experiences in high school, serve no purpose other than to exercise power. What it teaches is that there is no right or wrong, there is only obedience.

A person with green hair (or a woman, or a gay person, or any outsider) may not be able to easily find a job, but that’s because we as a culture decide that it’s easier to perpetuate bias and discrimination than do something about it.

“Life’s not fair” is descriptive; it shouldn’t be proscriptive.

Not buying it, dave. Are you saying “the responsibility (the personalresponsibility…not even governmental) to learn, practice, and teach the values and skills of a democratic society” just means indoctrinating the dogma of the Nanny State into every person?

Even so, I’d be happier with most of us inculcated in values and skills where fairness was the ultimate good than where obedience was. The point stands on its own.

Now to Lissa again, and the idea of “specialness.”

You’re using (maybe unintentionally) facile language. “Special” can mean superior to others, more deserving, feeling super-extra entitled. That’s destructive. It can also mean individual, autonomous, deserving of dignity and worth. I hope you don’t mean to suggest that’s destructive.

Either/or, I note…Are the two PsOV pretty much incompatible?

I’m all for encouraging values of community and commonweal in young people. People of all political stripes agree we need them. But just calling it “a society, a network which requires all of us to work together” is, I think, liable to instill complacency. What are we working together for? What kind of society is it to be? We need to ask these questions, even if we can’t answer them neatly and tidily.