“Life isn’t fair.”

I don’t know the first time I ever heard that but I was young.

If I asked you, “is life fair?” you’d probably answer “Of course not.”

And yet, most of us believe in the fairness of life to some degree or other, even if we would never admit it.

We believe in Karma, or we believe in meritocracy, or we believe in justice or we believe in the Invisible Hand, or we believe in (insert your mystical force here). And then many of us may reject justice here and now but believe that some kind of cosmic force will pay us back once we are dead.

Maybe you’re saying to yourself that you don’t believe any of this stuff, that you know life is unfair.

Are you sure you don’t believe life is fair?

Life is Unfair

Of course life is unfair. We see examples of unfairness every day, multiple times a day. No matter what our conception of fairness.

But how do I actually know life is unfair?

Obviously your life experience shows you life isn’t fair. If you feel differently, please do comment because I have yet to meet a single person who actually feels that way.

But a deeper reason we know life is unfair is that fairness is an idea dreamed up by humans. Before human beings, there could be no fairness because there were no humans to invent it. (This isn’t true if an unknown alien species came up with a concept like fairness, of course. But that’s irrelevant to us because we have not met said alien species.)

We know fairness is a human construct because humans can’t even agree about what fairness means. We can’t agree what justice means. We can’t agree whether or not they’re synonymous. Different languages have different words that are roughly synonymous and some which are not. When I use the English word fairness, it may not convey the same meaning to a French-speaker as the French word justice, for example.

Multiple different definitions and connotations of words roughly equating to “fairness” indicates the evolution of the concept, along with all other human concepts. It did not come from the ether, we made it up.

And contrary to the beliefs of someone like CS Lewis, the fact that many or most cultures have a concept of fairness does not in fact mean they all got it from the ether. Quite the opposite: it suggests the concept of some kind of fairness evolves from human cooperation, just like all our other values.

The universe and our planet predate fairness by billions of years. They cannot be fair or unfair. They just are. And no mumbojumbo – spiritual, moral, or economic – will ever change that fact.

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