Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fairness Or Simplicity?

An unavoidable and unfortunate side-effect of drawing lines is that fairness and simplicity seem to be inversely proportional. As such, they work against each other. “But I want all of both,” it will be exclaimed like an obnoxious, spoiled child. But seldom if ever can something be simple without it being unfair. Conversely, seldom if ever can something be fair without it being complicated.

Of course many unfair issues in life are easily overlooked because they are relatively superficial not worth obsessing over. To digress slightly, it is important to note that what is superficial or not is ultimately opinion anyway. But bear with my terms for the sake of the argument. For instance, getting stuck in a “slow” line at the supermarket. It is unfair but simple: you just wait longer than somebody else should. Supermarkets could implement what would be relatively complicated protocols for fairness' sake, though who really cares about such trivial issues? But what about other issues which are not so superficial? Take the inherent problem with our tax code, most notably its complexity. It is overly complicated because, it is thought, its progressive nature makes it more fair (assume once again this is true for the symmetry of this argument, for I know many will disagree with this because of valid disagreements as to what fairness can entail).

Let's introduce the idea of the Fair-Tax. For it to work in its purportedly simple manner, it must brook few if any exceptions, otherwise it will swell into another bloated gazillion page encyclopedia of exceptions rather than a few simple rules. But without myriad exceptions, people will instinctively bitch and complain that they should not be subject to the same tax or burden as somebody else.

For instance, if the tax is fixed, whether I buy a bag of raw broccoli or somebody else buys a pack of cigarettes, this does not seem fair to me (and perhaps even the smoker) as it is likely he will pose a far greater burden on society than I myself will eating broccoli. Of course most will justifiably claim that we must implement exceptions that are “obviously” reasonable. But which exceptions are “obviously” reasonable?

If you have a difficult time responding to this with anything but a smug, know-it-all grim, does it occur to you that there exist so many special interest groups only because each believes wholeheartedly that its cause is sacred and hence “obviously” reasonable? Where must we draw the line on what is to be considered a "reasonable" exception?

For the fair-tax to truly be what is claimed of it, it must be both fair and simple. But this seems problematic because of the inverse proportionality of these two variables. Must not fairness yield to simplicity or simplicity to fairness? Resolving society's most pressing issues with both fairness and simplicity is wishful thinking!

Alas, we as a society are faced with the confounding issue of whether to aim for more fairness or more simplicity in our affairs . The consequences of disagreement over this manifest themselves in ugly ways. Of course this very dilemma crops up with reckless abandon on many other issues.

For instance, if many believe God will eventually send each of us to either heaven or hell, will He handle this task with simplicity or fairness? Simplicity would dictate He draw 1 simple line. If one is lucky, he will make it. If not, he will inherit hell as his eternal rest stop. What if you or somebody you really cared about just missed this cutoff into paradise? How might you feel? “Don't have a COW God, I mean none of us is perfect!”

Conversely, what if somebody you really did not care for just made this cutoff into paradise? Certainly neither of these scenarios would seem fair, to you at least. Of course presumably it will seem fair to others, especially those which just made this cutoff into paradise but whose purported “enemies” did not!

Now on the other hand, we might suggest God will lean more towards fairness, in which case He can grade each of us on a “continuous” spectrum or what many might relate to far better, a “curve”. But this would be beyond complicated so much so that it would make any conclusion as to how He would do so pure speculation. And it is all but certain ego would corrupt the “worthiness” of any conclusion anyway, for the express intent of “covering its ass” so to speak. By this, I mean individuals "reasoning" how they and their “select” loved ones will inherit paradise whereas others seen as enemies or wretches will not.

Another valid consideration, what is fairness? Many believe fairness should be predicated on judging wrongs. This would then necessitate we all be judged. But this once again would be incredibly complicated. How might God do this? Any answer to this just begs another question. How could anybody possibly know? Presumably believers of “perfect judgment” see themselves worthy of being overlooked, but how do they discern this? Is this necessarily right or fair? To them it is.

On the other hand, what if God judged nobody? What if His love and grace and mercy were infinitely sufficient such that He had neither the desire nor obligation to judge anybody? Believing an all powerful God will step in as a proxy for all the wrongs done against us and our select loved ones seems to be our way of assuaging the anger and despair which naturally arises from being wronged.

What if those who believe God will settle wrongs done against them and their select loved ones reconsidered? Would they feel compelled or even obligated to personally avenge these wrongs if they ceased to believe God would?

But getting back to the idea that God might judge nobody, this seems fair to me and perhaps others but I know it will not seem so to many others. Once again, herein lies the most fundamental problem we face in existence: the most difficult issues in life are trade-offs! There is no absolutely perfect answer as to how we should balance fairness and simplicity!

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