This article was originally published at americanchronicle.com on Feb 10th, 2008
Has anyone ever told you that life´s not fair? I remember hearing that many times when I was a child. Life isn´t fair. We can see it all around. Nature provides many examples. Life certainly doesn´t seem fair to the poor little antelope when he´s caught by a vicious lion. Yet the lion has to eat. Besides, it probably doesn´t seem fair to the lion that the antelope can run so fast. So lions, being clever, will use their brethren and set up traps for their prey. Perhaps to our sensibilities it seems more fair for the lion to attack the water buffalo. They are bigger and can defend themselves better with their horns. Still, the lions have a distinct advantage over these creatures with their long sharp claws and teeth. It hardly seems fair. Yet I´ve seen footage where a herd of buffalo come together to fend off a pack of lions attacking a baby buffalo. This has to seem grossly unfair to the lions, they being so hungry and there being so many water buffalo. No sense in taking a chance at getting hurt. I´ve never seen footage of a lion attacking an elephant. This must seem very unfair to a lion, so much meat in such a package and yet it´s too dangerous for them to try to obtain. But these things are just the way nature is, and so we as humans observe it, shrug it off, and say "that´s life." There´s really not much we can do about it.
It´s quite different when it comes to human constructs. We have a tendency to believe in fairness when it comes to human activity. We try to make everything we do as fair as possible. Of course, that doesn´t always work. Let´s face it, life´s not fair. There are many tales of unfairness I could tell from my own life, more than I could fit in an online article, so many, in fact, that I can fill an entire book, and so I am. That´s life. Still, we humans seem to believe that we can somehow make things better, that we can somehow make life fair for all, or at least fair for the majority of mankind. Perhaps it´s possible, perhaps not, but it seems to me to be a worthwhile endeavor. So, if we are to try to make life fair, the question becomes "how do we do it?"
I remember as a boy in school there would be occasions where someone, usually another boy, in class would do something devious such as shooting a spitball or making some obnoxious noise. The teacher would not know who it was and would dutifully ask the question "who did it?" Inevitably she would not get a confession and would appeal to the class to snitch out the perpetrator. Of course in those days there was an unwritten law amongst us kids that one did not rat out one´s classmates. That was perhaps the cardinal sin back then, and doing so would quickly subject the tattletale to peer condemnation. Despite knowing this, the teacher would threaten collective punishment. I doubt she ever expected anyone to tell, and so we were inevitably all punished in some minor way, less recess time, more homework, sitting quietly doing nothing, or some such thing, perhaps with the hope that we children would end up taking matters into our own hands and chastising the little classroom lawbreaker. Sometimes we did and sometimes we didn´t, but that´s inconsequential. The point is that collective punishment hardly seemed fair to us. This was the first time in our young lives that we experienced the exercise of authoritarian power over the masses.
Collective punishment is always going to be unfair to someone. If some person or group of people commit a crime, only those directly involved in the crime, those who knew what was happening and/or intended harm, should be punished. If everyone associated with them, no matter how innocuously, is punished, then innocent people end up being punished. In the real world, the results of this punishment can be devastating and tragic. Bombs, even smart ones, have no conscience. The shrapnel they produce will strike and kill a nearby innocent child as easily as a nearby soldier. The indiscriminant nature and inherent unfairness of group punishment, a concept stemming from a collectivist mentality, is destined to cause resentment and unintended consequences.
There are many who will contend that collectivism is the fairest type of social system. These social engineers will argue that it is everyone´s duty to help out those in greatest need. While these arguments are well intentioned and have a tendency to make a sort of moral sense, fallacies abound within them. There are always lines drawn and individual situations that make socialism unfair, sometimes to a few and sometimes to many. Wealth redistribution has a history of failure, many times resulting in the fall of great civilizations. Freedom and individual responsibility, on the other hand, have historically brought prosperity to the general population. We would do well to remember that.
The big problem becomes how to go about cutting the economic pie so that everyone has their "fair" share. Unfortunately the way societies around the world have always chosen is to do it by force. They use the arms of government. Equally unfortunate is the corruption that comes with this. Those put in charge of redistributing seem to have a tendency of making sure they and their friends receive far more than their fair share. Perhaps they catch a bit of the "one for you, twenty for me" syndrome. Whatever the case, I´ve noticed at least that those making our laws seem to be incredibly rich while those in the middle are constantly asked to sacrifice. It sure seems to me that the current system we have is anything but fair. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class are becoming extinct.
It seems a fairer approach would be to let those earning money keep the money they earn and spend it in the manner they see fit. In this way, while it may be true that some will earn more than others for their efforts, it is also true that earners will not have their money stolen from them by bureaucrats and politicians that end up stuffing their own coffers and justifying their own existence before trickling down anything left over to those who really need it. Individuals are far more in tune with their own lives, far more able to handle their finances than government. While it may not seem fair that some in society end up unemployed, even those that want to work, and while charitable organizations and other forms of financial help for the destitute may not be perfect, certainly they are preferable to government agencies forcing everyone to "give" their "fair" share. While it is true that some people at times may need a hand up, it is also true that some take advantage of the system. If the state believes itself to be so great at determining who is truly in need, then let them become a voluntary organization competing with other private voluntary organizations claiming the same thing and we´ll see which organizations thrive and which fold.
Collectivism comes in many shapes and sizes. When it is practiced, the individual who is doing his best to get along in this world could very well find himself on the losing end of an injustice. Groups are afforded protections while individuals are left hanging. It hardly seems fair that someone who has harmed no one can end up jailed. It hardly seems fair that the individual should lose his freedom so that a group can be protected from perceived wrong, but no actual, physical harm. Collectivism allows for the injustice and unfairness of victimless crimes. Collectivism allows for the persecution of those who think differently or have different points of view. Collectivism allows for the state to become all powerful while the individual struggles to find justice against such persecution. Collectivism allows for the protection of one group at the expense of another. It makes for an "us versus them" mentality that does no one in society any good. Even those gaining the perceived benefits of this system lose at a fundamental moral level, and they may one day find the opposing group in power and therefore lose their benefits. One only has as much freedom as he is willing to grant another. It is time for the idea of freedom to come home to roost. We as a society can no longer afford to quietly allow our freedoms to fade into obscurity while the state turns us into a collection of groups. It is time we reclaim our individuality and independent spirit or this great experiment known as America may well fade into the annuls of history as just another failed attempt to free man from the scourge of collectivism.