How We Know the World is Unfair

“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?

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Black Parents Deserve to Be Shot, Armed White Teens Deserve Due Process

It’s a story out of a bad Hollywood message movie:

A black man is shot in the back seven times by police, in front of his kids.

In the ensuing protests, an armed white teenager is allowed by police to freely patrol the streets until he kills people and then is allowed to get away.

If this was a movie, I’d write a scathing review of how contrived the plot is.

It’s Crash-level bad writing.

And yet, it happened.

And events like it will continue to happen.

And what’s worse, a large portion of the population of the United States seems to believe that the police were justified in shooting a man in the back…

And the police were justified in allowing an armed teenager to patrol the streets after a government curfew others were being arrested for breaking…

And a teenager was justified in killing two people.

Why is that?

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No, COVID-19 Will Not Restore Justice to the Universe

The COVID-19 pandemic is a shocking, confusing and life-altering occurrence. For hundreds of thousands of people, it has already proved fatal. Many of us have never experienced anything like this in our lives. And for in the West who were alive during previous pandemics, the reaction to this one feels different, due to the internet and 24 hour news coverage.

So the current pandemic forces us to face all sorts of challenges that most of us are not equipped to deal with. It’s an uncertain situation and this kind of uncertainty brings out our deepest hopes and fears.

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How the Hero Narrative and the Just World Fallacy Interact to Create Evil

Everyone is the hero of their own story. Whether or not your own story is successful in your own mind, you’re still at the centre of it. There is no way to avoid this; there is no way to be objective or to be a different subject than the person you are – you are necessarily at the centre of your experience due to the nature of human consciousness and of human existence. Now, whether you’re a real hero or a villain in the minds of others is something that is very hard for you to judge; others are much better at judging your actions.

Viewing myself as the hero of my own story is a fact I have to live with but it obviously distorts reality in many ways; being biased towards myself is a problem when it comes to making moral/ethical decisions involving of affecting other people. Other people’s and society’s judgment and feedback help with my ability to make these decisions but sometimes they hinder me too. I can get good advice and bad advice and I can get social cues that help me figure out the right thing and social cues that encourage me to do the wrong thing. But even with good guidance from outside, we are still prone to many cognitive biases that come from our radical subjectivity, where we’re at the centre of the universe and nobody else is. And these biases of our own radical subjectivity interact with another bias, the Just World Fallacy.

The Just World Fallacy is the belief that the world is actually, fundamentally fair – or should be fundamentally fair. It might seem weird to argue that a subjective view of the world and a view of the world as objectively fair could coexist in the mind but it’s actually typical of the human experience. Human beings can and do carry irreconcilable beliefs in their mind as a fact of experience. Moreover, these two beliefs actually support and reinforce each other, allowing us to have terrible beliefs about other people who are not at the centre of the universe as we are.

The belief that the world is fair makes us believe that everyone gets what they deserve. This allows us to blame anyone who is less better off for their problems. There are many, many ways that this affects our lives. I have written about this extensively.

A further problem, that is not part of the original investigation of the Just World Fallacy, is that our radical subjectivity distorts the Just World Fallacy further, subjectivity warps perceived fairness around us. So we view the world as fair for everyone else – so the successful are successful because they are talented and the unsuccessful are so because they are lazy, etc. – but it is either extra fair or extra unfair for us: we deserve the things we get more than anyone else does or, for people who suffer from depression, we deserve the bad things we get because we are so awful, whereas everyone else is treated the right way.

So we have a warped Just World where the universe is fair but it is centered around us. And this causes us to apply our view of the Just World Fallacy selectively. To wit: a woman is shot and killed during hunting season in the woods, technically within the city limits of Hamilton, Ontario. She was not wearing the colour orange which is what all hunters are supposed to when hunting deer in these woods during hunting season. The belief in the Just World tells us she should have known better, she should have worn orange and, because she didn’t, she deserved to die. (If that sounds harsh to you please know that this is a real incident and real people told me that this woman deserved to be shot as their first reaction to the news. You cannot make this stuff up.) But our radical subjectivity skews the Just World so that if I was shot for not wearing orange in Hamilton, ON during hunting season, I cannot have deserved it. If anything, the hunter should have known that I couldn’t have known that I needed to wear orange. Other people are victims because they deserve to be, but I am an undeserving victim because I am the centre of the universe – I matter more than the woman in question because I am the hero of my own story.

The belief in a just or fair universe is bad enough, it allows victim blaming and the lionization of people who lucked into success. The belief that I am more important than anyone, including you, is bad enough, as it allows me to believe that I am special or The worst. But the two of them combined allow us to take victim-blaming and personal exceptionalism to new heights. One of the reasons social psychology exists as a discipline is to explain how human beings could participate in genocide (specifically, the Holocaust). One reason human beings could participate in the Holocaust is that the belief in a just world allows us to believe the people in concentration camps did things to be there. And being the hero of our own story allows us to believe that, whatever those people did, we would never do those things (nor would anyone we would choose to know). Our radical subjectivity plus the belief that the world is fair allows us to spend our lives victim-blaming and believing that, whatever we do, we are not deserving of the same treatment. In essence, the combination of these two biases allows us to tolerate the suffering of others. Maybe that’s why we don’t live in a just world.

Men’s Rights

We men are under threat. White men make up only 30% of the US population. There was a time when it was over 40%, only about 100 years ago. In the interim, we have been under attack by feminism and homosexuals, losing our traditional roles as providers and even our manliness.

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Cultural Genocide

I admin the YouTube channel of a Canadian immigration company. Every few weeks, we get a comment or two about how the immigration company (or immigration in general) is destroying Canada’s economy or society or both, and the term “cultural genocide” is often thrown in there.

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The Problem with Millennials

There is a war raging on the internet. That war centres around a rather stupid question: are millennials to blame for everything or are boomers? Typical of every internet debate, it is a debate which often lacks nuance; while there are informed pieces on both sides, most of the content amounts to blaming millennials for all the problems in the economy or blaming boomers for the problematic economy as a whole. Generation gaps are a natural part of human life, but why does this one seem so large?

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Why do we like complicated theories?

Why does everything have to be so complicated?

Danielle: I heard they found evidence on Vic.
Dutch: Yeah. Maybe a little too much.
Danielle: What do you mean?
Dutch: You ever hear of Occam’s razor? The simplest answer is usually the right one? Good. Now apply that to the Lemansky case. Now all this evidence is pointing to Vic. Occam’s razor would suggest he’s guilty. Walter Chatton a contemporary of Occam’s. Disputed the razor. Coined his own anti-razor.
Danielle: What’s that?
Dutch: Chatton believed that the world was too complex. Too many variables to assume that the simplest answer was always the correct one.

From “Baptism by Fire,” the second episode of season 6 of The Shield.

I haven’t watched The Shield in years, but this exchange has haunted my dreams ever since. The world is indeed a complicated place, and most complex phenomena have complicated explanations, but, more often than not, the simplest hypothesis is the best. Why are so many of us tempted to believe otherwise, like Dutch here?

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