Fairness is what everyone wants, like liberty, freedom and love. Fairness feels right. Unfairness sticks in the old craw. We live in the midst of vast, rising, institutionalized unfairness, a small group of extremely powerful people making unappealable decisions the rest of us suffer from. Even here in our great democracy, small groups of special interests (e.g., those who insist that the estates of billionaires should not be taxed a penny when they die) get an unfair amount of say in the policies we all must live by.
In the personal sphere, the only place where we can exercise true autonomy (to the extent any of us do), unfairness can sometimes be avoided. You can simply subtract toxic people from your life, it’s done all the time. Addition by subtraction. Of course, personal things are not always so simple. Take the example of a friend who insists on his love, who insists on the right to be your friend, no matter what, and seeks to bind you to an agreement to this effect.
A friend who consistently treats you unfairly, in the manner of my beleaguered brother-in-law telling me to keep secret that he was taking advantage of me, may sometimes make a rule for you, draw a line in the sand. For example: you may not discuss how I treat you with other people. There is nothing to say that we must abide by unfair, one-sided obligations imposed by others.
In the case of my brother-in-law, he told me to keep our “confidence” about his inability to keep his promise to quickly repay the loan I’d made to him, in the context of him revealing how much money he owed several other people, including my father. He owed me my entire life savings, which I’d offered him in a loan when he was in a tight spot. Then he couldn’t pay me back as we’d agreed, since paying my father’s loan (which I knew nothing about) had priority over mine. I’d had no idea he’d taken money from my father and many other people, no idea he’d been untruthful when he convinced me to loan him the money. Now I found myself in a bind and he was insisting I needed to suck it up, dummy up, shut the fuck up. I told him I’d talk to my father, arrange to get paid back first. This upset my brother-in-law, and he threatened me, and called me a pussy who had to run to his father. He tried to make me promise to keep this between us. This was unfair. Fuck him, I was under no obligation to participate in my own fucking for somebody else’s sake.
I spoke to my father who told me, with characteristic directness, that it was my problem, that he insisted on continuing to get paid back first and that I shouldn’t have been so generous with my life savings. Also unfair, sure, but no more unfair than my brother-in-law trying to force me to keep a secret for the sake of helping him to conceal his shameful practices.
Now, decades later, I find myself up against another game with evolving rules that are not fair. “I know you are an open kind of person, not given to arguable untruth or subterfuge, and that you seek advice from people close to you, that you tend to write about your vexations, so it may be very hard for you, but I need you to shut up about how difficult I am making your life. I would never betray you this way, so I’m asking you never to reveal anything personal that happens between us.”
I think of Zora Neale Hurston in this context. She was up against the rules of a rigged game she had no hand in designing. She was not consulted about the virulent, often violent racism of her home country, our country, an America where death by lynching was still imposed on Negroes who forgot their place. Someone wrote of Zora that she refused to play by the rules of a game she’d never agreed to play. Respectable position to take, I’d say, even heroic. She got some fame, deservedly so, and fell hard, because, in the end, the game is designed that way. Agree to play or not, there it is.
I have my faults, but lying is not one of them. To say to me “you’re lying” when you feel I’m in error about some small, easily verifiable fact, is not the same as saying “you’re wrong.” But I’m not here to quibble, so don’t bother arguing that you never said it. You said it, take that to the bank.
I’m here simply to state that as I’m being smothered by a toxic blanket, wielded by a drowning man, I’m not going to agree to sit quietly and keep trying to work things out nicely with the fucker who’s wrapping the stinking blanket around my face. Fuck that. If you are offended, here is some consolation: you know now, full-stink, how it feels to have your feelings and wishes ignored. Feels unfair, I know.
For someone who owes an apology he is incapable of giving to go on the offensive to try to save an old friendship… well, it’s nuts, fucked up, crazy, mad, foolish, doomed, counter-productive but also: unfair. The big betrayal you apologized for, after we came as close as two people can to punching each other’s faces without actually exchanging blows, you still defend as right, in some twisted way. “I saw you getting furious, OK, but I also seriously thought if I told you those two little things it would make a difference. So, sorry you got so mad, but I was actually only trying to do the right thing.” Insisting even now, that the thing you were forced to apologize for really was hardly blameworthy at all, oh my. I guess winning really is the only thing, if your personality is hardwired that way.
I’m trying my best to get this whole unfair set-up out of my head. I have other things I have to focus on, things that will take massive concentration to do properly. That rule “no reference to how consistently antagonistic and morally tone deaf I am or how my slightly insane passive aggressive behavior toward you might irk you, I’d certainly never make such a reference to you, I’d never publicly betray you…”— nah, bunk dat, homey. Fuck that. Learn to do better or move the fuck on.