Log in

No account? Create an account
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2012-12-17 08:33
Subject: [cancer] A potentially significant epiphanette concerning fairness
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, culture, health, personal, radiantlisa, work
Yesterday, Lisa Costello and I were discussing the emotional infrastructure of cancer, as we are sometimes wont to do. I was on my oft-told riff about allowing myself to experience the emotions of this process as honestly as possible. Grief, rage, loss, and so forth. (The emotion of the day happened to be peevishness, which is one of my least favorite for its sheer pettiness.) I repeated my comment that the only emotion I don't permit myself is a sense of unfairness. The universe just is, fairness doesn't enter in to this.

Except then I realized that the whole question of fairness is a more sophisticated concept than that. It falls within the realm of those human elements without correspondent empirical manifestation — justice, mercy, honor, and love, for example. My whole life is unfair in some significant ways that happen to benefit me at the expense of others. I am tall(ish) white man of WASP extraction born in mid-twentieth century America. The degree of privilege and ease that has cloaked me all my life is a form of unfairness to others so pervasive that most people in our society never recognize it all. I was in my twenties before I first began to glimpse my own good fortunes as a social justice issue.

So is cancer fair? No. Neither is my nice, well-paid, white collar job that permits me to work sitting down at home, preserving both paycheck and health insurance benefits in the face of cancer's unfairness. Instead of taking a leave of absence or becoming permanently unemployed because I don't have the capability to do my job.

This seems important to me. I don't know what it means yet, I need to think more, but my denial of unfairness is beginning to feel simplistic and unsophisticated to me.

Your thoughts?

Post A Comment | 11 Comments | | Link

User: autopope
Date: 2012-12-17 16:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The "being able to pay for your healthcare" angle is only unfair in a US context; everywhere I'd deem civlized, that's an unremarkable universal right, like the right not to be randomly assaulted and murdered.

Hopefully post-2014 it'll slowly become universal in the USA as well.

(I think that what's bad about privilege is not the personal advantage it confers on the recipient, but the relative disadvantage its lack imposes on the deprived -- one is a personal benefit, the other is a systemic, social ill. In other words: don't feel guilty about your medical care, feel guilty about others' lack of it.)

Edited at 2012-12-17 04:41 pm (UTC)
Reply | Thread | Link

Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2012-12-17 17:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This, pretty much. ^^^^ Except the right to not be randomly assaulted and murdered is not universal, sadly. Ask women/children in many countries.

All elements of fair/unfair or just/unjust are relative to the culture, both the one the act takes place within, and the one we bring to the setting (someone from an external POV will judge things differently than someone from within, even both are equally aware and decent individuals - one is nor 'better't han the other, or more true, they're perspectives.)
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link

User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-12-17 18:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Interesting. I think this is one of those cases where it's helpful to believe two things. 1) as adults, we reject the childish protest, "But it's unfair!" because on a practical level it is not helpful to our lives and relations with others. We can not achieve perfect fairness, and never will. Moreover, our judgments of what's fair and what's not tend to be biased, ignoring advantages in our favor and emphasizing things that go against us. 2) at the same time, it is uniquely human for us to be concerned about fairness, and to try to make those things fair that are in our control. Dogs don't worry about fairness. Snakes and cockroaches don't either. Only humans look at others, empathize, and try to make things fair when they can. It's a beautiful thing.

I don't know what it all means. Life is unfair, but it's a great thing to BE fair.
Reply | Thread | Link

User: polydad
Date: 2012-12-17 18:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>Your thoughts?

Dangerous question, Jay. I'll try to give you just my thoughts on the immediate current subject, as I have too much work to do to try to organize *all* of 'em for download.

To start with, you're not denying unfairness, just bitching about it. I see bitching as being actually useful, just not as useful as *complaining*, which is more likely to lead to action. A complaint can be resolved; a vent isn't looking for solution of the underlying problem, just a solution to the emotional discomfort that it's causing. All too often, the solution to the vent is "learn how to be more insensitive so this doesn't bother me any more."

Anybody our age has been steeped in creationist culture no matter how long ago they rejected it. It's still eyebrow-deep in our language and default culture. I've tried and failed to substitute a "zero-based" approach (my first career was cost accounting); my emotions (I'm not sure yet if this generalizes to "human emotions") are just more comfortable with the assumption that life *is*, and this thing that will eventually kill me (coronary artery disease rather than cancer, in my case) is a horrible anomaly that should never have existed.

Life is actually an amazing *exception*; most of the matter of the planet is inanimate rather than animate. Both you and I have outlived our supposed "evolutionary purpose": our kids will survive just fine if we croak before lunchtime. I like to think I have more to contribute, and I feel I can assure you that *you* do, but the universe doesn't *require* us to contribute it. *We* put that there.

Evolution brought us about, but if we desire to continue we have to create reasons why that's to the advantage of everybody who could otherwise use the resources we've accumulated if we should happen to *stop* continuing. We have to build ways to last longer, and we have to build the reasons beyond simplistic ego-gratification to make all the work of doing so worthwhile.

I can't answer your question the way you phrase it; "fair" has never been a concept I've used, much. I have the same problem with it I have with "safe": "What's that?" They're both things I want to *have* in the world I want to live in, but observing their absence, if I want 'em there I need to get busy and start making 'em happen. (The impossibility of doing this alone is subject for a whole string of other posts.)

You've railed at a number of problems that seem bigger than the combined Liberal Activist Front we wish existed could handle; as another poster said the proper solution to problems of privilege is to *extend* that privelege until it becomes an unremarkable human right. (And my own take on that, that further we desire to extend the definition of "human" as far as we can stretch it; see early Doc Smith for examples of quasi-humans and an inclusivist take on the "problem" of "aliens".)

And now I feel I'm wandering around in the dark also, but hey, it's Oregon and it's winter and that's dark enough. Also soggy enough, but we can deal with that by staying indoors and turning on a lot of lights.

I'm working on a project-management-tool approach for dealing with the issues; I'll send you the link to the GitHub project as soon as it's live.


Reply | Thread | Link

houseboatonstyx: smaller-healing-buddha
User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2012-12-18 05:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes.... It makes sense to complain about other humans behaving unfairly, or allowing unfair laws to stand. But cancer (or earthquake etc ) isn't inflicted by any intelligent being, it's an accident happening in a non-living universe. How does fairness apply to that?

Wouldn't fairness only apply to some intelligent, living Creator or at least a powerful superhuman person with power to stop the cancer?

Just who -- or Who -- exists, whom we could charge with acting unfairly?

Reply | Parent | Thread | Link

User: polydad
Date: 2012-12-18 14:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I disagree with your premise; you got it from Jay, and I was attempting to convey to Jay that I disagreed with *his* premise.

The pre-existence of fairness in the universe is accidental; if we desire fairness, we have to *create* it. If I complain about an unfairness, I am communicating about it to others of my people so that they have the option of assisting me in taking aciton to create more fairness. Whether the source of the unjustice is animate or not isn't a relevant value.

Regretfully, I am not an oncologcial researcher, and becoming one is a good use of neither my resources nor those of people who teach the subject. So I'm not likely to be of any direct help to Jay in this regard. But in the event I happen to meet some, I *can* both pass the word along and see of what help I can be to *them*.

Reply | Parent | Thread | Link

User: chris_gerrib
Date: 2012-12-17 18:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Or as somebody said, "life is unfair."
Reply | Thread | Link

User: torreybird
Date: 2012-12-17 21:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've read about your denial of unfairness with much interest. It feels familiar, like the same way I say "At least I won't sink *that* low" into gluttony, laziness, or any other morally objectionable behavior.

But emotion isn't the same as behavior. Why should any emotion be judged on some axis of moral rectitude?

We may have the choice of fair actions, fair behavior, fair responses. But the more I'm honest with myself, the more I'm learning I don't have any choice with how I feel.
Reply | Thread | Link

User: alumiere
Date: 2012-12-17 21:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I allow myseIlf to think what is happening is unfair, because it is. I didn't expect to live to 40, but once I got past that and had shit together after so much hard work I didn't expect to have all this crap go wrong either.

Some of it is just luck of the draw, and that's not what is unfair... but the parts that are because I was misdiagnosed and given the wrong treatment for roughly a decade? Unfair. The fact that my reaction to Lyrica was so fubar, and that other patients had similar problems but not often enough that it was posted? Unfair. That the damage is permanent is inexplicable to my doctors (when I can afford them) and totally bullshit.

But unfair or not, this is where I am. A lot of the time it sucks, but I do my best everyday to be happy that I am still here and to be thankful for the good stuff. I keep my anger and frustration online as much as possible and when I can't I vent to people rather than taking it out on them or myself. I struggle with keeping the anger in check sometimes, but I try to use it as a motivater rather than stewing.

I know I fail at getting it right, but at least I know who I am and I am handling life in the best way for me. That doesn't mean this is the right way for anyone else. And there is constant fear that the memory loss will take who I am away - so I fight to keep going without overwriting my underlying personality in an attempt to handle it more gracefully.

Thank science and geeks for the internet - it lets me say what I want without being a constant pain in the ass to those around me. I don't seem to have the energy or brainpower to write as much as I'd like, but it's good to have the option.
Reply | Thread | Link

LiveJournal: pingback_bot
User: livejournal
Date: 2012-12-17 22:40 (UTC)
Subject: On fairness and lack thereof...
User alumiere referenced to your post from On fairness and lack thereof... saying: [...] posted "A[n]... epiphanette concerning fairness" - http://jaylake.livejournal.com/3033163.html [...]
Reply | Thread | Link

That Which Fights Entropy: nowhere
User: amberite
Date: 2012-12-18 07:56 (UTC)
Subject: *peers in on LJ, yours first*
Fairness is strange.

I'm keenly aware that one of the things I resent most right now is one of the greatest privileges I have - the fact that I'm dependent on my moneyed family at the moment.

I resent it because I worry that I am harming people I love, psychologically at least, and because I've internalized some of the stupid American bootstrap fnords.

But having that family and their support is a huge advantage; best case scenario, without it, I'd be on SSI and have far less eduation. Worst case is homeless or dead.

So right now, in order to not beat up on myself, have to regularly remind myself that it's OK to ask my parents for money, even though I'm pushing thirty, not least because my accepting their help means that overtaxed social services can go to someone who needs them more. And yet, reminding myself of that makes me feel selfish and privileged in a way that's distinctly problematic.

There are so many people better off than me, and so many people worse off. Saturday I siphoned a fiver off my borrowed money to give it to someone who just got out of prison. It made me feel like I was stealing - but also seemed the best ethical decision under the circumstances.

Which is what it keeps coming back around to, I guess.

Ethical egoism, but with the stunning plot twist of looking a few steps ahead. That fiver was given with a selfish heart; I wanted to feel better about myself. I don't like living in a world where seeing that there are people doing worse than me, whom I can help is what makes me feel better. I like even less the thing it's making me feel better from (the certainty that we are completely and permanently screwed because the 1% jacked our economy, and that I'm a mine canary in this mess.) But so long as I'm in this pageant, I might as well commit to my lines.

And my health problems stand little to no chance of killing me anytime soon.

Fairness and unfairness are both endless...I don't think anyone knows what it means except in wordless enlightenment and you get what you get, do with it what you can.

That is Purpose - creating something worthwhile from our will and our circumstances, whatever those are.
Reply | Thread | Link

my journal
January 2014
2012 appearances