[Viewpoint] Dictating fairness isn’t fairThe concept of a “fair society” has emerged as a political topic. But if you ask what makes a society fair, the answer is not simple in the least because we all come from different backgrounds, have different thoughts and are in different situations.
A fair society is another way of describing a righteous society. Then what makes a society just? Some might say equality makes a just society, while others will argue that people should be judged according to their abilities.
Some will say a fair society offers equal opportunities. Amartya Sen’s “The Idea of Justice” illustrates how fairness can be perceived differently. A group of children are given a flute, and they begin fighting over it. One says, “I know how to play the flute, so I should have it.” Another says, “I am poor and have no toys, so I deserve to have it.” Another kid argues, “I made the flute, so it’s mine.”
Who should have the flute in a fair society? Professor Sen of Harvard University said that a fair society cannot be defined in one word because the standards of justice are multidimensional and relative.
A fair society is a society where every member gets to have what he deserves. When you are deprived of the share you think you deserve, you feel upset. But a problem arises when everyone thinks he deserves to have something, as the flute example illustrated.
But what if the children changed their views? The one who can play the flute says, “I’d like to play beautiful music for you, so let me have the flute for a moment.” His purpose is to use his talent to entertain his friends, not to own the instrument. Instead of believing he deserves greater compensation for his talent, he wants to use his ability to make a better society.
The poor kid could say, “I would like to play with any toy, and it doesn’t have to be a flute.” There are countless kinds of toys, and getting obsessed over a flute does not guarantee happiness as there are various values in a society.
The kid who made the flute could also say, “I know how to make a flute, so I can make two more so we can all have one.” In a zero-sum society, people fight over one flute, but we can create a society that isn’t zero-sum by creating more wealth and helping everyone enjoy themselves.
In this scenario, no one would feel frustrated and unfair. Such sanguinity cannot be created by politics or laws. If you get obsessed over fairness, your mind gets narrower and more sensitive.
In that sense, what the Blue House calls a “fair society” is very simple. As the government describes it, a fair society is one in which “dragons can be born from the stream.” It is also “a society that gives a second chance.”
However, does a stream have to raise dragons? Does every loach deserve to become a dragon? Why does everyone have to be socially successful? Money and success-driven materialism cannot make a society fair and just. A fair society is where everyone can feel happy while doing his job no matter what his position.
Korean society has become so dry and brutal because everyone wants to become a dragon. If everyone’s dream is to get into a prestigious university, pass the national exam for civil service, become a CEO and make loads of money, our society is eternally doomed.
Just as there is no one standard of justice, a fair and just society will be spontaneously created when we embrace various values other than money and success as a measure of happiness.
In order to reach a consensus on what justice means, a mature society is required. If not, we can fall into dogma. It is especially dangerous if “justice” becomes a political slogan. What is fair and what is not will be determined by those in power.
The same goes for the relationship between corporate giants and smaller businesses. The law, not the Blue House, should determine what is unfair. If a “fair society” becomes a political movement, it will be swept along by uncontrollable storms. Who can deny justice and reject fairness?
The government repealed its plan to expand the number of people hired for the civil service through “special recruitment” instead of the civil service exam. The decision was a response to a gale of social outrage after the recent nepotism scandal. But no one knows where or when such winds will blow.
Personal liberty and happiness, the core values of justice, can be damaged in the name of justice. If politicians want to speak of a fair society, they need to look at themselves.
Did they make fair appointment decisions? Are they fair when raising their voices during National Assembly hearings? Maybe, they are looking for faults in others while missing the bigger flaws in themselves. When those advocating justice are not so just, they end up making fun of a fair society.
I hope the country becomes more fair and just. I want fewer people to feel unrewarded. John Rawls, author of “A Theory of Justice,” linked justice with society. Don’t put a shackle on the fastest runner, he argued. A victory is not just his but is shared by those who are not as talented. I expect a mature society of noblesse oblige.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
By Moon Chang-keuk