Finding Fairness

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Throughout history there have been people who have felt that the powerful have held unfair sway over them. In virtually every corner of the world there are stories of anger, revolt, change. As humans we want justice and equality but don’t always feel that we have it. We often forget that our own country was founded by lawbreakers, traitors, men who had grown weary of what they saw as tyranny from the British government. Had they eventually lost the Revolutionary War they might have gone down in history merely as trouble makers, rabble. Even with their win, most of the world was not quite yet ready for them. Oddsmakers gave them little chance of ultimate success. Their laws were radical for the times but they also made the mistake of being too exclusive in their delineation of rights. By leaving women and slaves out of their equation for democracy they had already laid the foundation for eventual problems. It is always among those who feel left out that the push for change begins and with enough effort and belief their anger topples those who would hold them down. 

History seems to repeat patterns. There have been times when the whole world was on fire with war and other eras when the environment was more peaceful. I suspect that humankind cyclically reaches points of grave dissatisfaction with the status quo. Everyone chooses sides. Rhetoric flies. Tempers flare and boil over. Violence erupts. There are battles. People die. One side wins. The other loses. Everyone eventually becomes weary of the violence and so they set aside their differences, as least for a time. Unfortunately the bitterness is rarely completely resolved. Instead it is merely hidden until the next opportunity to make a difference seems to arise. The little guy is always seeking a way to eliminate the yoke that is placed on him by the ruling class. We seek fairness and when we don’t believe that we have it, we seethe inside, sometimes quietly and at other times in the streets.

The resources on this planet are are not limitless, a fact that we instinctively understand to be true but won’t always admit. Each of us hopes to get his or her share of the economic pie but we humans have always seemed to have different ideas as to how to achieve such equality. Sadly we have yet to find a way that works for everyone. We only seem capable of achieving approximations of universal fairness. No matter how carefully we try not to rank people, it seems to happen nonetheless. Socialism and its ugly brother Communism have thus far failed abysmally because there always has to be someone in charge. Power appears to corrupt even when the intentions are pure. 

Capitalism works from the premise that everyone has a shot at success as long as he/she is willing to work hard but we also know that this theory doesn’t always operate as smoothly as it purports to do. There have always been people caught in circumstances beyond their control who never quite make it despite Herculean efforts. We all know of individuals who seem to be snake bit. They are held back by poverty, poor health, lack of knowledge. Some of us came up through the ranks without anyone to give us a leg up. Others had influence that gave them head starts over everyone else. 

It seems that we humans have yet to find the perfect way to insure that everyone has a sense that the world is operating from a heart of justice, thus we have turmoil around the world. We argue over how best to do things and each side is suspicious of the other. There is so much frustration because there are still people who feel that they will never achieve the level of comfort and safety that they desire. They are angry just as our Founding Fathers were. All that they really want is assurance that they and their children will have equal opportunities. They come in many varieties. They may be women, immigrants, the poor, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asians, white males whose jobs and roles are evaporating, students, religious who worry that they will be persecuted for their beliefs. The one thing that they all have in common is a hope that someone will hear their cries, listen to their complaints, and finally do something about their needs. 

Last evening I watched a program on The American Experience that told of a time when coal miners in West Virginia were being treated like indentured servants. They worked in mines owned by wealthy men in New York City or Pennsylvania. They were paid in script rather than dollars, thus forcing them to purchase their food and other needs from a company store that greatly inflated prices. Their homes were not their own and their landlords had the freedom to inspect and ransack their living spaces at any time that they wished. They were evicted when they showed signs of rebelling against their terrible working conditions. Some of them lived in canvas tents even during the cold of winter. They worked twelve hour days in horrific conditions for as little as two dollars per shift. They were trapped in a situation that most of us would find untenable. Ultimately they resorted to violence against the people who perpetrated their misery. The rest of the country saw them as thugs and murderers but they were merely attempting to bring attention to their plight. After decades they were finally allowed to unionize and gain rights that should have been theirs long before.

The plight of coal miners has changed little over time. Even today they rank among some of the most beset upon workers in the world. Their jobs are still dangerous and they live in very uncertain times. Many who know of no other means of living are out of work and adrift in a world that seems to have forgotten them. I suspect that they are feeling an anger that their ancestors would have recognized. They are much like the women who are frustrated in their work, Blacks who sense that they are constantly in danger of being accused of crimes they did not commit, immigrants who are as misunderstood as my grandparents once were, gays and lesbians who want to be able to openly celebrate their love, workers of other occupations who have watched their earning power and rights errode.

This is not an unusual time in history. In fact it is the way things tend to work. We slowly but surely strive to find the best way of living together on a planet that is becoming overwhelmed by our very presence. Great minds and vast compromises will ultimately bring about changes. We will evolve in order to care for as many people as possible. The process may be chaotic but the movement forward is almost certain. It is the way of the world. As we witness stirrings from the many different ideas we should feel optimistic. Mankind has a way of finding answers just when we need them. If you don’t believe me, study a bit of history. Ours is a slow but steady tale of progress. We will figure this out. We always do.

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