Fairness is BUNK!

There are long periods in the history of any society during which certain basic questions lead to deep and sharp conflict and it seems difficult if not impossible to find any reasoned common ground for political agreement. (John Rawls, taken from Justice as Fairness) Rawls could be talking about almost any community big or small. Communities have conflict and often there is seemingly no resolution to them. The Deaf sector is no exception, conflicts abound. There is conflict about captioned cinema where opinion is divided between financial gain, self preservation,  liking, loathing and acceptance of CaptiView.  Recently Deaf Football Australia and Deaf Sport Australia had a very public stoush on Facebook that is ongoing. The recent article from The Rebuttal highlighted differing views on effectiveness of the Kangan Auslan courses. Disputes are seemingly everywhere. We all seek ‘fair’ resolutions. But I wonder sometimes if I, or any of us, really understand what ‘fair’ is.

My parents are of good British stock. One of their core values is fairness. They ingrained into me that fairness was paramount. To them everyone is an equal and everyone should get a fair go. Sadly, I don’t always meet these lofty standards and neither did they. Largely in my work I am motivated by fairness. Whether it’s helping the intelligent young deaf woman in South Australia take on the Teachers Registration Board because they are placing unfair restrictions on her or whether it’s ensuring the young kid with mild cerebral palsy gets a fair run out in the Futsal team I coach … Fairness is at the core of what I do.

But fairness is relative. One person’s fairness is another’s unfair. It is very hard to find the balance. Often to find the balance of fairness two people have to come to the table. Imagine two kids. They have a piece of cake. They have to divide it fairly so each gets an equal piece. Anyone who is a parent will tell you that asking kids to decide what is equal is fraught with danger. You can bet if the parent cuts the cake one of the kids will moan, “but his bit is bigger”  

But there is a simple solution. If you are a parent and are confronted with this dilemma what you need to do is divide responsibility. First you get one kid to cut the cake and second you get the other to choose the piece he wants. I can almost guarantee that the kid that cuts the cake will cut it as equally as he possibly can so as to not be cheated. The kid that chooses the piece can’t complain either. It’s a win, win. The outcome is ‘just’ for everyone.

This win, win situation is so hard to achieve. As a writer I write about things that I perceive as unfair. I have a view that the captioning system, CaptiView, is unfair. It spoils the viewing pleasure, the font is small and yucky green, your eyes get strained, you miss bits of the movie when trying to read the captions, kids lack the coordination to use it and so on.

Now certain people think it is not fair that because many people don’t like the system, that because of this that they should miss out on captioning and access to movies. It gives them access and they don’t care how, just as long as they get access. The cinemas don’t think this view is fair either; after all they are spending the money on the system and doing all the work to introduce the system. How dare we be ungrateful? To each their argument is valid and the contrary argument is unfair. The result of these differing opinions of fairness is heated arguments and an ongoing dispute.

In most cases the people involved in the disagreements are, by and large, decent people. BUT they are being torn apart because they cannot find a FAIR solution that’s suitable to all of them. In the case of the CaptiView issue everyone that I have met in the campaign is a decent person. We all agree access needs to be better, the only thing that we cannot agree on is an acceptable solution. Because we can not agree we, particularly me, have been tearing strips off each other. Hell, I have encouraged haters of CaptiView to give our Peaks the middle finger. My wife, for daring to suggest something contrary, got told to “shut up” on the Action On Cinema Access Facebook page. Everyone is at loggerheads. There has to be a way forward.

Philosopher Angie Hobbs, writing in the BBC Today website, states that decisions aimed at fairness that cut into “dignity and rights of the individual will, therefore, not be fair.” She further highlights that there is often tension when decisions are based on, “the greatest good of the greatest number.” An example of this is where deaf people have become very angry In the CaptiView debate where it has been suggested that open captions will upset the majority of viewing patrons and therefore cannot be considered. The logic and method of this argument causes friction because the dignity and the needs of the deaf have been trampled upon. Without evidence I may add. ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9079000/9079254.stm )

I have been researching fairness and have come to the conclusion that fairness is bunk. Mainly because, as Rawls states in his theory of Justice as Fairness, we are naturally more concerned with our own aims and interests—which include our interests in the interests of those nearer and dearer to us—than we are with the interests of strangers with whom we have few if any interactions.” It is this self interest that often prevents resolution to conflict and has never been more evident than in the CaptiView saga. ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/original-position/#CirJus )

What we need to do is to somehow overcome this self interest and come up with a solution that is ‘just’ and incorporates the rights and liberties of all. We can’t get hung up in arguing what is fair. It’s fair that I work hard and earn good money but it is certainly unfair that billions of people the world over are starving to death simply because they were born into severe poverty. How is it fair that 81 % of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 54% of its population while the remaining 44% have just 19% of the wealth? There are 2.735 billion people who are surviving on less than $2 a day and they could be alleviated from poverty, according to American humanitarian Thomas Pogge, if just 1 percent of that 81% of wealth were directed towards them.  This is a ‘just’ outcome, not necessarily a fair one. One percent of 81% of the wealth is not going to make the rich poor but it will feed and provide a better quality of life for billions of people. Sadly self interest is preventing this from happening.  (http://www.law.georgetown.edu/faculty/events/userfiles/file/LawPhilosophy/Fall%202008/Pogge%20World%20Poverty%20and%20Human%20Rights.pdf )

Clearly focusing on what’s fair is getting us nowhere because one persons unfair is another’s fair and visa versa – we need to find another way forward. We need to find a solution like the kids cutting the cake that will satisfy us all. Rawls in Justice as Fairness suggests resolution can be achieved if, “some underlying basis of philosophical and moral agreement can be uncovered” If this is not possible Rawls believes that political differences can, “at least be narrowed so that social cooperation on a footing of mutual respect among citizens can still be maintained.”

The problem with the CaptiView dispute, (and probably every other dispute in the Deaf sector.), is that all the parties involved are only thinking of their own need. Each will dispute this but this may be the actual reality. The cinemas want as little outlay financially on the solution as possible with minimum disruption to the general viewing patron. Our peaks perhaps are basing their strategy on currying favour among Government representatives. The Government wants to ensure that the dispute does not backfire and make it look silly in public so is trying to pacify everyone. The Action On Cinema Access group want choices of access without seriously taking onboard any of the views of others because they want quality viewing pleasure. Supporters of CaptiView just want access and don’t really care that many cannot tolerate CaptiView because it offers them access to the cinema. As far as I can see, and all will dispute this, none are really working to establish common ground. They are all just frantically pushing their own agenda.

What is lacking, to steal Rawls words once again is, “social cooperation on a footing of mutual respect.” Self interest reigns and no one is really making an attempt to come to understanding of the viewpoints of others. I accept that some of the articles I have written in The Rebuttal have contributed to this divisiveness but the fact remains that until the parties involved come to the table and, as much as they possibly can, put their self interest aside to develop mutually beneficial and ‘just’ solutions everything will remain at an impasse.

Whether this is The CaptiView saga or the Deaf Football Australia and Deaf Sport Australia dispute the way forward is to look for ‘JUST’ solutions based on mutual respect and cooperation. Let’s start again using these principles and see if we can all find a way forward for a ‘just’ solution, not necessarily a fair one.