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Sunday 17 October 2010

A free society is always going to be unfair, so stop whingeing

The obsession with rights and equality is just an excuse for selfishness, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

INJUSTICE makes me livid. Unfairness I can live with. I am my parents' daughter in believing that power should be exercised justly, but that life is intrinsically unfair and the best one can do is play well the cards one was dealt.

My mother taught the poor and the handicapped and lost no opportunity to point out that, compared to them, I had few grievances worth taking seriously. It was a source of great merriment that my aunt stopped providing her young boys with peas -- which they loved -- because they would count them to see if one portion was bigger than another. That, my mother pointed out, is where harping on about fairness gets you: everyone loses out.

Then I emigrated to a country obsessed with fairness. My first big laugh about it came with a well-meaning document from the Conservative Party, tackling discrimination against women. It was called Fair Share For The Fair Sex. It was no wonder that Margaret Thatcher was so riled about being patronised that she beat up her male colleagues.

In the last election, echoing Conservative promises, Labour promised "a future fair for all" and the Liberal Democrats committed themselves to giving electors a fair deal, a fair future, a fair chance and fair taxes.

David Cameron has been refining the message recently, as he responds to the rising shouts of "unfair" from those threatened with losing jobs, perks or money. The coalition government, he explains, wants a fair approach to cuts in the deficit, but with everyone doing their fair share.

Answering his own question -- "What does fairness really mean?" -- he says it means giving people what they deserve and that what people deserve can depend on how they behave.

Cue for screams about a return to wicked Victorian concepts about the deserving and undeserving poor, which are seen by many lobbyists as unfair because they are morally judgemental.

In San Francisco last Friday morning, I searched vainly for the word 'fair' anywhere in the Wall Street Journal. I then looked at the internet and found the lead story in the Daily Telegraph was about Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announcing the "fairness premium" for disadvantaged children. Truly, as the chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission remarked while introducing a report called 'How Fair is Britain?': "Fairness is as British as fish and chips."

Of course, one can find the word in Irish discourse, but it isn't ingrained in the national psyche quite to the extent that it is in Britain -- although these days we bang on just as much about rights, which are often synonymous with fairness and just as unattainable.

Both countries, for example, struggle to give rights/fair treatment to those charged with crimes, but victims are furious when the guilty get off because the taxpayer is paying a fortune in legal aid to clever lawyers.

And while encouraging equality of opportunity is obviously a feature of a decent society, it will never be achievable, because of undeserving parents. The British equality lobby -- which has traditionally complained about institutional racism -- is floundering to explain why children from Chinese families, rich or poor, are beating every other group in exams. The simple reason is that their parents stay together and have a work ethic.

Caribbean boys do worst, not just because few of them have good male role models, but because their teachers won't tell them off for bad behaviour because they're afraid of being called racist.

Well-meaning liberals brought Britain and Ireland multiculturalism, which moulds societies into competing groups, divided by class, gender, sexual proclivity, disability and the rest of it. The result has been to turn a vague concept of fairness into institutionalised selfishness.

'Unfair' is another way of saying: "If there have to be cuts, do it to someone else" --or you will be accused of favouring one interest group over another.

Absolute fairness/equality is theoretically achieved only when no one does better than anyone else. Certainly, all Jews were treated equally atrociously in concentration camps and all citizens, except for the ruling elite, were equally terrorised in the Soviet Union and China. A free society is inevitably an unfair society.

Times are hard and those who brought Western countries to their knees don't have the money to rescue them. It's definitely unfair that blameless people have to pay up for problems created by the irresponsible. But we're much richer than our forebears, we partied during the good times and it's time we accepted that the money has run out, so we should stop whining and gracefully make sacrifices in the common interest.

We are not children. We need to look at our plates, be glad there are still some peas on them and invite our neighbour to have a forkful.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


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