> Is Fairness About Clear Fitness Signals?
> Ordinary intuitions about "fairness" may be less than commonly assumed about
> equal outcomes, and more about how well success correlates with genetic
> fitness. It can thus seem fair that the most attractive witty athletic
> folks to get more mates and money, but seem unfair that the rich can buy
> better education for their children. Makeup can seem fair, while breast
> implants seem unfair. This theory has implications for what kinds of
> redistribution and genetic policies will seem fair.
The interesting thing about Robin's ideas in this area is not only that
they are counter-intuitive, but that they challenge our ideas about how
our minds work and what our motivations are.
Robin suggests, if I understand him, that our actual motivations for
our beliefs are not really what we normally think. In the paper above,
he focuses on the idea of fairness, especially in terms of how fair it
is for people to have certain privileges such as fame and fortune. We
often tell ourselves that our opinions on these matters are based on
compassion, or a sense of justice, or perhaps based on logic.
But in fact Robin proposes that our values in this regard are in some
sense hard-wired into us by thousands of generations of evolution.
We are born with these feelings, because our ancestors who had these
kinds of feelings were more reproductively successful. Our various
justifications and explanations come after the fact. They are, in fact,
rationalizations which have no true explanatory power. You might even
say we are lying to ourselves.
This perspective is even more pointed with regard to the health care
issues that Robin discusses in http://hanson.gmu.edu/showcare.pdf.
Robin gives a technical account of why we feel so strongly that health
care ought to be provided in a nondiscriminatory fashion, and why it
strikes us as so much more unfair when poor people get bad health care,
than when they have inferior qualities of other goods and services.
To drastically oversimplify, Robin's model suggests that we want the
poor and disadvantaged to spend more on health care, because that will
increase the chance that they may be useful to us someday. What seems
to us to be purely an act of unselfish caring is transformed, in this
model, into cold calculation of personal advantage.
And again, the idea is that these calculations are built into us by
evolution, so that they happen on an unconscious level. We experience
feelings of concern when we see a disadvantaged person suffering poor
health. We don't realize that the reason is due to these evolutionary
factors. And so we rationalize, we say that the reason is because we
are kind and generous, and we are saddened by human suffering.
These explanations are misleading because they suggest that we first
have the reasoned feeling of kindness, and then we apply it to the
particular case of poor health care, when in fact Robin suggests that
things go the other way around. And he has a great many examples in
which the rationalized explanation doesn't work very well, while his
theory fits the facts.
This provides an additional burden in becoming convinced about these
theories. We don't like to think that we are lying to ourselves,
that our unselfish "good" feelings are actually derived from selfish
"evil" ones. (Ayn Rand fans don't count.) Of course we all understand
that in a trivial, tautological sense, we do what we do because that
is what gives us pleasure (by definition). But it is disconcerting to
learn that what we thought of as noble impulses actually derive from
the basest calculations of self-interest, built into us over the years.
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