Fairness and Human Rights

Michael Brun brun at uiuc.edu
Fri Jul 31 12:39:26 PDT 1998

First time for me on this list. I'm an economist, currently working at the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. A few participants here I recognize, with pleasure, from some other lists in the past.

Now to Don Jordan's response to Carrol Cox's rejoinder to Michael O'Shaughnessy's campaign "platform":

>Any sucessfull world-wide organization dedicated to seeking a more pleasant
>world for the bulk of mankind, i.e., a world in which those at the top are
>controlled by those on the bottom, will have to be morally based. Social
>discrimination must be eradicated from mankind's mind before any idealistic
>world-wide movement to better the condition of the common man or woman will
>have a chance. We must leave idealogy behind us and strive to accomplish
>what's right. We must no longer be ashamed of being idealistic and of
>wanting to do the right thing.

1) Shame is a sudden recognition of powerlessness. If calls for fairness or for rights merely echo, shame is real and justified. I won't call for rights or fairness without a good chance at a respectful hearing. Not necessarily sympathetic: respectful! Otherwise not just I but also my cause will evoke cynicism and scorn.

2) There is no one fairness. Some may hold that people who can't pay their debts should be forced to work them off, through indentured servitude. "It's only fair." These same people scoff at "rights without responsibilities". Now I'm not suggesting catering to them to get them to join the left! But in a time of disorganization, all kinds of notions float around. Your notion of fairness and justice will stand out against others only if you have an "unfair" amount of power. Remember, power to get attention is already power. People sense this or know it. So, avoid giving rise to issues of hypocrisy and subsequent cynicism! Don't call for fairness, justice, rights!

Instead, call for specific things. Use the language of fairness and morality to justify demands, if you must, but never demand fairness and morality in themselves. A sense of humor is too important to expose it to such treatment. I act because I want things, not because some abstract principle "tells me" it's the right thing to do. Why shouldn't I own up to this?

.....Michael Brun

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