Monday, September 29, 2014

FAVORTISM, NEPOTISM is GOOD? "Against Fairness", Book musings

“The Utilitarian approach—the greatest good for the greatest number—can be pushed to its logical conclusion. The hardcore version asserts that it is more ethical to deny your elderly father expensive healthcare if that same money could be used to save ten starving African strangers.”
Stephen T. Asma "Against Fairness" 2013

“For Confucian thinkers, integrity is not synonymous with fairness or equality. Rather familial love and devotion trump all other duties and obligations. There is a natural hierarchy of values with one’s kin on top and Confucian culture enshrines, rather than denies, that hierarchy.”
Stephen T. Asma, "Against Fairness" 2013

"When a patient's vmpc (ventralmedial prefrontal cortex) is normal (healthy) they almost always answer the ethical dilemmas in favor of their favorites, not in favor of the majority. But if the emotional vmpc is damaged, the subject becomes extremely utilitarian (hyper-rational) in their responses."
Stephen T. Asma, "Against Fairness" 2013

When someone has the ability to change my mind about an idea that I have maintained a fairly rigid acceptance of, I get very excited! I am enthralled, even provoked with mental stimulation and the endorphin rush that comes with a challenging, thought-provoking argument. I love to read books by current authors who happen to be leading thinkers in the modern world. These are individuals who propose ideas that often counter the generally agreed upon systems of thought or “boxes of thought” as I like to call them

I am currently reading the 2013 book “Against Fairness” written by Stephen T. Asma. Asma is a truly brilliant thinker who challenges the reader to reconsider the idea of fairness. He suggests that we often like to pride ourselves as fair beings—individuals who not only espouse the doctrine of fairness but also like to think that we comport our lives in a manner of consistent fairness. In this book he attacks the idea that fairness is the most moral strategy for human beings and he seems to think that there are good things—virtues—that come from partiality and nepotism.

While we often attack government policies that do not execute themselves fairly, we rarely do this with the nepotism and partiality that is woven throughout Hollywood. Many famous people are only famous (and have high-paying jobs in the entertainment industry) simply due to the favoritism and nepotism that is major theme in this industry.  Many people have acting or modeling jobs simply because they know the right people—they have family in the industry. By its very nature, this automatically disadvantages those actors/actresses seeking employment who do not possess ties to this industry. Despite these facts, very few people protest and refuse to watch these movies when we know that partiality, nepotism and unfairness were part of the strategy that brought certain actors and actresses to the top. For this industry (hollywood) we are willing to throw out our devotion to egalitarianism—even when lots of money is involved (and many others are being disadvantaged).

We endorse systems of government and policy that attempt to work towards fairness—but in our day to day lives—we do no such thing. We definitely have our favorites!

Asma takes the side of favoritism over egalitarianism and offers cogent, extensively thought-out arguments in its favor. He also delves into neurobiology.  From the moment we (and other mammals) are born we have a disposition to favoritism. This starts with the very important human activities like bonding and imprinting. We are humans that bond with our mothers.  The bonding hormone “oxytocin” is released during lactation and plays a role in the infant bonding to the mother and vice versa. Bonding is the first element of attachment to a certain person (rather than another). This bonding tendency which is a major part of our early development is then extended out to our larger family (father, siblings) and then further out to our relatives etc. It is from this early nucleus of attachment where we get nuclear families, clans, tribes etc. In other words, favoritism and tribal tendencies tend to be a part of a healthy neurobiology.

Studies show that bonding with our mothers after birth is very important to being able to form bonded, attached relationships later in life.

Asma suggests that some of the good things that come with favoritism include: allegiance, devotion, attachment and loyalty.

While I am just midway through the book, I highly, highly recommend it! If you want a thought gripping read, choose “Against Fairness” by Stephen T. Asma. This is a short book but time consuming to read as it is dense with difficult ideas and pithy sentences.

Other quotes from the book:

“Unfortunately, children who are neglected in orphanages for more than this time frame (birth and 18 months) seem to arrive in their new families with the chemical bonding windows closed. It appears that these children will always have more difficulty forming strong attachments. Children’s brains are changed by the early presence of their parents.” and vice versa. Families literally prepare the pumps of emotional chemistry and smooth the pathway to later social connection.”

“Many kids suffer from attachment disorder, failing to seek comfort in others, even their own families.”