Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘fairness

The feeling of being unfairly treated and its consequences

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In my previous post, I stated in a footnote:

I suspect that the extremely negative attitudes that e.g. the Swedish PC crowd displays towards everything non-PC actually serve to worsen problems with e.g. racism and xenophobia: Because even legitimate discussion of topics like immigration or immigration problems are so hard to do in public forums, many who try to start such discussions are driven out and end up in discussions with actual xenophobes instead, where they have every opportunity to be “radicalized” or whatnot. The same danger is present with e.g. the above renaming, being a signal (or, if not, very likely will come across as a signal) of “you are either with us or what you think and feel does not matter”.

Since then, I have pondered a related phenomenon: Feeling* unfairly treated.

*The most common reason for such feelings is actual mistreatment. However, it is important to understand that it is the subjective assessment of the violated or “violated” party that matter in this particular discussion. (See also several below disclaimers.) The assessment of a neutral third party (let alone the subjective assessment of the violators/”violators”) is not of interest—no matter how important it can be in many other discussions.

People who feel that they are unfairly treated often play by different rules. They are more prone to ignore or bend the rules—because they feel that the rules have already been ignored or bent by the other party. They are less likely to respect the wishes, interests, even rights of the other party—because they feel that their own wishes, interests, even rights have already been ignored. They are more likely to take action against the other party—because they feel that action has already been taken against them. Etc. That they will tend to see the other party as the “bad guys” hardly needs mentioning.

A very pertinent example is the rise of Hitler: He benefited very substantially from the sense of unfairness against the Treaty of Versailles and the post-WWI developments in Germany. A significant part of his official program, and a significant contributor to his popularity, was the restoration of what had been taken from Germany by the Treaty* and the removal of the ensuing** problems in the population.

*I have not put in the leg-work to judge the fairness or unfairness myself. However, I note that it is widely considered unusually harsh, making it an understandable target for unusually large feelings of unfairness—even were these feelings subjective. (Some feelings of unfairness are more-or-less unavoidable.) This included not only loss of significant portions of land and rights, but also enormous reparations that negatively affected the post-war economy.

**Note that it is enough for a connect to be perceived for this to happen. Even negative events not or only partially caused by the Treaty and the general treatment of Germany could very easily be blamed on the Treaty.

To take a more trivial example: Some of the readers might be inclined to unofficially take twice as long breaks from work as they do officially, even “without provocation”; some (I hope: most) will handle breaks in a fair manner, respecting the interests of the employer. Now image that there had been “provocation”, say, a promised raise that never materialized, a forced re-location, or just an accumulation of little things. In this situation, the likelihood of artificially prolonged breaks (and other actions to the disadvantage of the employer) increases radically—because many will now feel* that they are just retaliating an unfairness or that the employer no longer deserves their loyalty.

*Depending on the circumstance, they might or might not be correct. My personal advice, however, would be to stick to the rules and to find another employer, if the circumstances allow it—sticking around will quite likely be a source of more grievance than pleasure.

Similar examples, both large and small, are easily found.

To boot, it seems that feelings of unfairness are often stronger and more long lived than many others; especially when combined with frustration and lack of power. For instance, my own strongest memory from pre-school, at possibly six years of age, is an incident starting with one of the other children setting me up to take the fall for something he had done. This was bad enough, but would likely have been forgotten within a week and/or after a brief fight. What filled me with indignation even several years later was the behavior of the teacher*, who was supposed to be a wise adult, a helper, a righter of wrongs, …: Not only did she punish me and refuse to punish the other boy, but she also refused to even hear my side of the story and, here is the clincher, refused to even tell me what I allegedly had done. (To this day, I have absolutely no idea what was up.)

*For want of a better word: I am very uncertain, after so much time, what her exact role and the then terminology was, even barring the possibility that something would be lost in translation.

Of course, this is by no means restricted to children (or I would not be writing this post). I see examples among others again and again, especially (cf. above) in a work place setting, where an employer treats the employees badly and they start to bend the rules more and more, because the feel unfairly treated or that there is no loyalty from the employer (so why should the employees show loyalty back). In situations when people really go on the barricades (mostly on political or consumer issues), Kafkaesque refusals of remedies by incompetent bureaucrats or dishonest businesses are often strongly contributing. In my own case, the curious reader should be able to find plenty of examples in my writings, both with regard to myself (e.g. when a comment has been censored without a legitimate reason, allowing a factual error or outright lie to stand unopposed) and to unfair treatment of others (e.g. some discussions of the Swedish party SD or, partially, the previous post).

To come back full circle:

What happens when group A is e.g. physically attacked by group B, sees its agenda or methods equaled to that of a more extremist group in a blanket manner, or is not even allowed a fair say, not even to correct straw-man portrayals by group B? What if additionally the police, the press, the politicians, fail to act against these behaviors, even participates in them, and then adds insult to injury by blaming group A? (Who are “obviously” in the wrong, because group A is “evil”—according to the propaganda of group B…)

Naturally, its members will feel unfairly treated, will be less likely to try “democratic channels” (if in doubt because they are blocked), more likely to try violence, more prone to associate with more extremist elements, and so on. In a twist, the fifties/sixties “Black rights” movement in the U.S. saw similar (if likely not identical) problems, and it can be safely assumed that this contributed to the flowering of the extremist wing, with e.g. the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, compared to a more cooperative treatment by “the establishment”.

It should be clear that it is highly pragmatically* unwise for someone genuinely looking for a peaceful solution, greater understanding between people, whatnot, to use such tactics. These tactics will do less to destroy the enemy than it will in driving opponents into more and more hostile positions, quite possibly strengthening the enemy in the process.

*Which is not to say that pragmatic concerns should override all others—it is one of the aspects to consider. However, in the situations prompting my previous post, the non-pragmatically “right” thing to do has usually gone in the same direction. For instance, “freedom of speech” that only applies to those who agree with us is not freedom of speech at all—and selectively suppressing our opponents right to speak is truly deplorable and thoroughly anti-democratic.

Disclaimer: As stated in my last post, I have not investigated the Charlottesville situation in detail and do not necessarily say that the “Right” groups have been unfairly treated in this particular case. However, a) if they have not, there are countless of other cases to draw on, b) for the risks discussed here, it is enough that these groups feel unfairly treated.


Written by michaeleriksson

August 20, 2017 at 11:11 pm