A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Somewhere between the point of impact and the bloody nose, some back-fence philosopher will invariably tell you life isn’t fair. Not very witty and not very original but true all the same. We all know life isn’t fair. For example, the San Diego Chargers have never won the Super Bowl and the Dallas Cowboys have won it like two hundred times. NFL parity be damned; that’s just not fair. Nor are the long lines at the DMV, the amount of sodium in a Big Mac™ or the odds of winning in Vegas. I have a friend who used to say, “Life is a series of long shots and then you die.” I never agreed with him, but he’s got a point. The fact is life isn’t fair. The problem is we all know that’s true, but nobody believes it – not really.
We believe life isn’t fair … to the other guy. We think the random bumps and bruises Mother Nature dishes out on a daily basis should be reserved for somebody else. We’re willing to take our lumps too but we want a reason for them. We also want our personal attributes recognized by the universe, and we want rewards and punishments meted out accordingly. When that doesn’t happen, we think we’re getting screwed.
This wasn’t always the case. In the late 19th century, novelist Thomas Hardy made a career out of ruining fictional lives with innocent acts of chance: an appointment missed or a letter misplaced meant his characters lost out on happily ever after and went straight to abject misery. These days, we pooh-pooh Hardy`s ùse of coincidence as a literary device, but the Victorians thought it quite acceptable. (They were more concerned about the sex.) Our recent ancestors realized that life was hazardous and you had to be very careful because happenstance did happen – with dire consequences. Our benevolent universe is a recent invention. It`s less than sixty years old.
For the last three generations, we`ve been working under the delusion that we can build a risk-free society. Actually, we`ve done a relatively good job. Life — as we know it — has come a long way from what 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Our institutions give us a level of protection against random acts of misfortune. They provide a certain amount of certainty to our lives, and offer slight guarantees against disaster. Unfortunately, because we’ve been living under these minimal safeguards for so long — and they have worked so well — we now not only believe in a benevolent universe; we demand it. In short, “life isn’t fair” might apply to the generic universe, but nobody takes it personally.
The real problem is, as our society’s cocoon wraps itself around us, we simply don’t take life seriously anymore. We don’t believe it can hurt us, and when it does, we’re shocked. I’m not talking about life-threatening diseases or major disasters like earthquakes; you’re not going to win those babies. I’m talking about everyday trouble that comes whipping out of nowhere and kicks us in the teeth — stuff that just happens. It’s nothing personal. There’s no giant ledger of debits and credits, and you didn’t get your share of credits. Nobody’s trying to thwart your attempts at a good life. There’s no need to rage against the machine, get angry or threaten to sue. And it’s not going to do you any good to cry or sulk or go back into therapy.
Here’s the deal. Sometimes, the owner doesn’t clean up after the dog. It’s that simple. There’s nothing you can do about it — except, maybe remember: despite our best intentions, life isn’t fair and you need to wear shoes.