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World is Not Fair Might is Right

NEW YORK, United States of America- I see kids throwing temper tantrums, I see parents disciplining their kids with the regularity of a corrections officer — always making their rounds of discipline on cue. I now watch parents  to see how they interact with their kids, I watch to get tips on the best ways [...]

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NEW YORK, United States of America- I see kids throwing temper tantrums, I see parents disciplining their kids with the regularity of a corrections officer — always making their rounds of discipline on cue. I now watch parents  to see how they interact with their kids, I watch to get tips on the best ways to interact with Petra.

I cannot help but to notice that an inherent sense of justice has been instilled in the children of the USA, a socialized construct of an ideal of fairness. To a kid in the USA, fairness seems akin to holiness, that unfairness is somehow an affront against the sanctity of the world.

“NOT FAIR!!!!!!” the little kid whines.

They are taught that the world is fair just to be told later on that “Life’s not fair.”

Little kids in the USA fight over possessions as though it were their occupation, they easily comprehend the concept of private property from the start — this is mine and that is yours. This is perhaps one of the most treasured beliefs in the USA. But what happens when someone tries to take you property?

I watch one child take a toy car from another. There are plenty of cars to play with, but the first child wanted that particular car back. “I had it first, I had it first!” She yelled. It seemed as if she wanted that car more on the principle that she had it first rather than really wanting it. There were tons of cars and toys in the room.

That’s not fair.

An adult soon walks over to mediate — “Who had the car first?” — and restores proper justice.

Ten minutes later the call of “no fair!” is risen again, and the adult again returns to establish a proper equilibrium. The afternoon goes on like this. I can only take solace in the fact that these kids will soon be told, “Life’s not fair.”

The socialization process of rearing children in America is to provide them with an iron clad sense of justice and fairness — that the world is neatly ordered, that you should follow the leader, sit on your hands, don’t touch your neighbor, walk in a straight line, single file, behind the person in front of you, don’t step on people’s feet, don’t pick your nose and wipe your boogers on the underside of the table. This process shows that rules are good and should be followed: that the world is a fair, sensical place.

And then a bigger kid comes and takes your toy car. You wail and plead for justice, you appeal to a higher authority — an adult, a parent, a teacher perhaps — and this authority comes and gets you your toy car back and sets every thing fair again.

But one of these days there will not be a parent around to appeal to, and when someone comes up and takes your toy there will be nobody to help. You will need to deal with the situation yourself, the idea of fairness is no longer a cloak for you to hide behind, you will need to break through the passive aggressiveness that was instilled in you from birth and either take your toy back yourself, or walk away with your head down.

Life’s not fair: you will be fired, laid off, cheated, robbed, and bullied throughout your life if you allow it to happen. This is a given. What do you do when the harbingers of fairness are now the ones who are taking your toys?

The trick, in my impression, is to learn how deal with your situation yourself. I have no idea why we prepare our children in the USA based on the false pretenses of a world that is fair, a world where people are equal. People are not equal and the world is not fair. I observe children being taught lessons that have absolutely no bearing on the world they will actually come to live in. In this world, it is the biggest kid who gets the toys, the strongest, most capable, intelligent, well connected, and privilledged takes all.

Fairness has nothing to do with anything, it is an irrelevent concept.

So when Petra comes running up to me some day crying that another kid took her toy, I will look at her blankly and tell her to deal with it herself. If she goes back and beats the other kid to a pulp, I will tell her, “good work, you are learning to live in the society you will come to inherit.” If Petra finds a way to get her toy back through wit or guile, then I will tell her that she is cultivating the tools needed to be successful in the world she is growing into.

A muscle is only strengthened through pushing it to its limits — strength is gained best through full muscular collapse. A person only learns how to navigate their world by being tried, pushed, and challenged. It is my impression that a person can only meet these challenges by knowing the true place that they stand in. Expecting fairness is to hide under a blanket of false security — it is to hide from the world.

The biggest kid gets the most toys, this is the world we live in — it has always been this way, this is normal. Fairy tale constructs of fairness perhaps just raises a society of passive aggressive weakerthans who feel perpetually victimized, downtrodden, screwed — a country of whiners screaming, “NOT FAIR!” Might is right, fairness is irrelevant, in terms of global justice, there are perhaps no other lesson beyond this:

Land, power, countries, wealth, resources, control goes to the person strong enough to take it. Something does not need to be right to be normal.

I am not arrogant enough to believe that I live in the wisest generation of humans who has ever existed on the planet, I cannot say that we have it right and 1.5 million years of human cultural evolution had it all wrong. I am just not that arrogant.

Precedent has determined that right is the reservation of those strong enough to take it.

In my experience, I have found it less arduous to devise strategies to adapt myself to the world rather than trying to force the world to adapt to me.

I do not cry “no fair.”

No fair is the rule of the world we live in, perhaps it is better to learn it sooner rather than later.


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Filed under: Culture and Society, Family, New York, North America, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

11 comments… add one

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  • g May 1, 2010, 2:13 am

    Sorry, but I believe right makes might not the other way around. Why else would anglo societies with their inherent sense of right and wrong and fair play enjoy dominion above all other countries on earth? It might be because we as english speakers place so much emphasis on right that we enjoy so much more power than the disorganized thuggish cultures that waste so much time on petty power plays that they can never get their collective acts together. At least that’s my impression.

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  • Bob L May 1, 2010, 8:13 am

    Well, as a non-parent, I was going keep my opinions out of this one, but I gotta say I agree with you Wade. I also agree with G. And I have never been good at keeping my opinions to myself……

    Might does NOT make right, life is NOT fair, authority figures are NOT always there when you need them, and they are often NOT fair. Etcccccccc….

    I think a child learns more from watching their parents deal with the real world and those around them than they really learn in the day to day actions in the playground, or at least it is 50-50.

    Although I think consistency in parenting is important, so is a little bit of inconsistency. Same thing with fairness.

    I will use my parents as an example. They were, I think, raising their kids as they were brought up, more or less. When we kids fought, sometimes they would stay out of it. Sometimes they would step in with the “Who had it first” decision. Sometimes they would explain to us that we should share. Sometimes they would tell us we were on our own, basically fight it out. Sometimes if we asked them for something they would say *go ask your mother* who would then say *what did your father say*. Other times it would be *don’t tell your mother/father*. Sometimes when we were fighting, we would all get the strap. Not a beating, just a quick smack, more of an embarrassment than anything. My sister would get the strap too, although it was barely a kiss. Even the kid that was sitting there reading quietly would get the strap sometimes. If you got at trouble at school, you would get in trouble at home. Even if they believed you that you did not do *it*, they would punish you anyway for the fact that the teacher would think you capable of *it*.

    What this teaches, I suppose, is that life is NOT fair. That there are inherent rights and wrongs, but just because something is right does not mean it will be the way things go. That authority figures can sometimes solve your problem, but you are better off fixing it on your own as sometimes they make things worse. That there are consequences to your actions, and sometimes inaction, and sometimes there are consequences just for being in the wrong place at the right time. That reputation is important. That total fairness is something to strive for, even when it is impossible to attain.

    I suppose that is a large part of right and wrong, good and bad, etc. You want to strive for complete perfection, and good, and right. You will never obtain it, but by striving for it, you will hopefully make the world a little better. One of the good things I see in the Christian religions is falls along these lines in that we should always try to be *good* but we will often fail. That what is in our hearts and intentions can be more important than our actions. That even when you really screw up, if you are *truly* repentant, you will be forgiven and you can try to make amends for your bad choices. That an unattainable *Ideal* is very important. That the bad man, even if he seemingly wins, is still the loser.

    It reminds me just a little bit of this quote from *Second Hand Lions*, I really don’t know why:

    Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
    –Hub, Second Hand Lions

    Bob L

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com May 2, 2010, 12:18 pm

      Hello Bob and G,

      I suppose might makes might. It is my impression that right and wrong may actually be a little irrelevant.


      “I think a child learns more from watching their parents deal with the real world and those around them than they really learn in the day to day actions in the playground, or at least it is 50-50.”

      I agree with this statement 100%. It is my impression that people are programmed to learn more from observation and emulation that through spoken lessons or direction. People watch and learn all the time, I am unsure how much we listen and learn — especially in regards to lessons of character. The way we often end up acting, in my impression, is often an emulation of how our parents act, and not what they teach.

      Then again, people are the biological reproductions of their parents, and it is my opinion that culture and learned action is only one side of the coin of behavior.

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  • clint September 16, 2010, 6:14 am

    can i skin you and rape your wife? might is indeed right.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 16, 2010, 4:23 pm

      If you were mightier than me, perhaps.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 16, 2010, 8:49 pm

      In this article I did not mean “right” as in the antonym of wrong, but “right” as in, “the right to something.”

      In my opinion, the constructs of right and wrong are often irrelevant, what matters is what is.

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  • Megan March 2, 2011, 4:05 pm

    I jokingly typed in “why is the world not fair to me” to Google while talking to a friend about how karma is bullshit and came upon this. I absolutely loved it and your attitude. I don’t necessarily think it’s good to make yourself the kid who takes all the cars, so to speak, but I definitely think everyone should learn to stand up for their rights and make things fair and right for themselves, rather than some authority figure stepping in and dealing with it. Adults should be there to teach children how to determine when things are fair and not, and how to fix it, but not do it for them. Even better, help them reach those conclusions on their own with logic. I think it’s good for kids to be able to identify the assholes of the world too, and not let themselves be taken advantage of.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 3, 2011, 5:10 pm

      This is really funny. Glad to have contributed this piece for you to find at the end of your search haha. True, people need to take responsibility for what they receive for themselves or don’t receive. Good call for identifying pernicious people and for coming up with strategies for getting around them.

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  • Felix December 13, 2012, 1:51 am

    Not sure if you are here to read this but I guess you are right that the way the World plays out is that might makes “right” (however you define it).

    But if we return to the roots of how any sense of morality came about, the reason rape, murder and stealing are wrong is because the group that chose this sense of morality outperformed the group that failed to develop this sense of morality.

    That said, overpowering one person to “skin you and rape your wife” (as quoted by clint) would not be too difficult. Wade, you can overpower one other person quite easily but if 100 people that have an unsigned uncontract to live by some rules with each other overpower you, even if you were a UFC champ armed with an assault rifle, would you be overwhelmed. Of course, you would then go and be a part of another group to confront the 100 of us. In the end, which of the two groups wins, is determined solely by the ability for it to function, best guided by moral rules in between the groups. That is what sets humanity apart from the animal kingdom, the “you scratch my back, I scratch your back principle” ~ so to just leave unfairness as is, sorry, I am not evolutionarily programmed to do so.

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    • Wade Shepard December 13, 2012, 7:37 pm

      Hello Felix,

      Can’t say that I’ve ever been in a culture that all out lacked a sense of morality, but all participate in murder, rape, and stealing to various extents. The two phenomenon are in no way mutually exclusive, and from what I can tell, history has always been turned in favor of the more aggressive cultures/ groups.

      It is my impression that humans really want to believe that we are guided by our sense of morality, but, in practice, adherence to power structures and tiers of dominance wins the day. When you break a law you’re not met by a friendly police officer who’s going to explain to you the rounds of morality, no, you’re going to get pounded by some former jock and thrown in jail to be punished. Though we have the ability to try to convince ourselves otherwise, we’re really not that much different than the pack of monkeys fighting, screwing, and flinging poo at each other in the zoo. Put two people in a room together and one will take on a dominant roll and the other a passive one. The you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours ethic is either just a way for strong people to get more for themselves or weak ones to justify being weak. It’s just the way we’re wired.

      Thanks for this discussion 🙂

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  • zyzzer March 28, 2013, 12:58 am

    Hi Wade, I came across your article searching for some answers and I found it to be pretty helpful. However, I still have some fundamental questions that I was hoping you could help me answer. In your opinion, if the world is unfair and is a fact, should human beings play by the rules and be unreasonable and unfair because we live in such a world, or should we still seek justice through the courts. Even when one acknowledges that the world is not fair, how does one cope with the anger of people cutting in lines or feel bad about people who get cancer or die in car accidents? It would seem that human beings are have justice hardwired, and yet we are unable to escape a world of injustice.

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