Thursday, December 27, 2012

Taking on the f-word

I frustrate many students when I warn them about using the four letter f-word.  "Fair" inspires much serious work (and fun) by philosphers, but its free and easy use in daily discourse (don't even mention politicians) causes confusions and many problems. At best, recognize "fair" as a rhetorical device.

I am impressed with Stephen Asma's Against Fairness.  The author takes the strongest position on problems of the promiscuous use of the word.  Asma argues that "You can't love humanity.  You can only love people."  We are disposed to play favorites toward kith and kin -- and this is to the good.

He has some fun with the hypocrisy of those who favor a "color-blind" society and in the next breath lobby for affirmative action programs.  A blanket "fairness" towards all is an impossible goal.  Ghandi was a nut.

Asma takes up the dangers of "metaphysical tribalism" (Hitler's Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia), but is much too brief on the boundaries between "good" and "bad" tribalism.  He praises Sonia Sotomayor for her honesty (if not naivete) in admitting during her confirmation hearings that her background disposes her to a particular view of the law.  Much better than dishonest sanctimony.


Review by Meghan Clyne.