That’s Not Fair!

“But that’s not fair!” screamed my preschooler when his brother was offered a bowl of fruit. Since he hadn’t napped he got his fruit bowl an hour earlier, but the usual short-term memory problem ruled that he should get it again. Lesson learned – serve fruit at the same time! Kids take to extremes what is essentially inherent in all of us – the need for fairness. I wrote about a FOMO attack that my kids suffered from a couple of weeks ago, the basis of it was this similar expectation of absolute fairness.

The old dictum ‘life isn’t fair’ is casually thrown around more often than circumstances demand it. Fairness and equality are subjective fluid terms, very difficult to define even with a context. A glittering generality as its referred to in polijargon.

This video of an experiment on Capuchin monkeys brightens up my dullest day! It documents a sense of fairness in monkeys, supporting an early evolutionary origin of an aversion for inequality. I can see why this primate would so dramatically protest against ‘lower pay’ for performing the same job. Our own behaviour would not be too dissimilar when faced with such a situation, albeit marginally civilised.

Apparently, there is also a fairness gene. I’m sure the location of this gene is precisely halfway from the two ends of the chromosome (because it’s the fairness gene, see what I did there?). Genetic jokes apart, this is a very interesting concept. I think I may have got recessive fairness genes from both my parents, as I clearly remember being the but-thats-not-fair child!

Co-operation, fairness and altruism is studied with much intensity by scientists. In the economic game theory, the ultimatum game has received widespread attention. The results of this game, in which two players are given a sum of money to divide, fly in the face of economic utility maximisation logic. Homo economicus may well be turning in his graving seeing these outcomes.

Lately, this photo has been cropping up a lot on my Facebook feed, can’t credit it as I’m not sure of the origins of this.

Quality VS Justice

Although this picture is loaded with ethical and political connotations, it is easily applied in a micro context to a house with multiple critters. Children are at the nucleus of this fair/unfair debate. It may seem innocuous at first, but this innate sense is the basis of our adult views and actions relating to morality and empathy and a variety of other economic and social issues1. I showed this illustration to my 5 year-old and asked which picture was fair according to him. His answer was unequivocal and without hesitation – “the one on the left”. When I pointed to the little boy who couldn’t see while standing on just one box, the discussion took a turn, which in 20/20 hindsight I should have expected. A barrage of suggestions poured from my little man ranging from ‘they should break the fence’ to ‘they should all get two boxes!’ We are talking about owners of undeveloped prefrontal cortex here and explaining justice to them is not an easy task!

I am certain of having inadvertently passed on this fairness gene to my children (fairly evenly at that!). This only means most of my primary parenting role will involve maintaining an inordinate level of fairness just to create some semblance of peace in the house!

1. “The Fairness Instinct” L. Sun