That sounds fair and just, doesn’t it? “It’s the same for everyone”? No special privilege? Everyone treated the same way?
“Equality Before the Law.” We like that. When it works. (Don’t get me started on O.J.) Rich and poor. Equal justice for all. A wonderful system. In theory.
(“Theory’s” not the worst. At least you have something to shoot for.)
Still, there are times when “The same” is not fair. I have mentioned the situation with bathrooms in theaters. As a practical matter, women ought to have more bathrooms than men. But they don’t. Generally, theaters provide the same number of “facilities” for both genders.
As a result of equating “fair” with “the same”, considerably more women have missed the beginnings of Second Acts waiting to “go” than men. Or, even more uncomfortably, they are forced to return to their seats “un-gone.”
You gotta treat everybody the same way, don’t you? I say, not always.
“With this terrible economy, it is not a good time for raising taxes.”
“What about just for the top two percent, the richest people in the country, some of whom might even have benefitted from the terrible economy?”
“Do you really want to single out one group? Is that the kind of country we want to live in?”
I think so, yes.
A similar example, but sillier.
Your house is on fire. You call the Fire Department. They say,
“Sorry. If we pour water on your house, we’re going to have to pour it on everybody’s house.”
“But my house is on fire!”
“There’s always a reason to think you deserve preferential treatment. But we gotta stick to what’s fair.”
(The same logic applies here as for taxes. The only reason it doesn’t happen is that, unlike taxes, there are no lobbyists, monkeying with the “Fire Code.”)
The precedential Granddaddy of this thinking pattern emanates from France. I do not know exactly which era this occurred in. But apparently they were having a problem with the mounting number of homeless French people seeking shelter sleeping under bridges.
A law is duly passed banning such a practice. And when complaints arise that this ordinance reflects a prejudice against poor people, the response, which has risen to proverbial status, came back, asserting that
“Rich people are equally prohibited from sleeping under bridges as poor people.”
This is the mirror opposite of “We’ll have to pour water on everybody’s house.” It’s “We are in no way targeting poor people. Nobody’s allowed to sleep under a bridge.”
Which leads to this possibly real, possibly manufactured encounter. Who knows for sure? I mean, were any of us there?
A Rich French Person is berating a Poor French Person, for arriving late for work.
POOR FRENCH PERSON: I am sorry, Your Grace, but I was detained by the police for sleeping under a bridge.
RICH FRENCH PERSON: Sacre Bleu! Do you not know there is an ordinance against such activities?
PFP: Yes, Your Grace, but I’ve been thrown out of my hovel. I had nowhere else to sleep.
RFP: Not acceptable. Or, in French, accept-able. After which we shall dispense with accents altogether. This “sleeping under a bridge” business is absolutely disgraceful. Say, after a sumptuous repast, one feels the desire to take a stroll in the cool night air. And in the course of outing, one passes under one of our Fair’s City’s splendid and beloved bridges, only to come face to face with a teeming mob of unwashed humanity, engaged in the highly illegal act of “Sleep Vagrancy.” Snoring, drooling, some of them, scandalously unbuttoned, and stacked together like cordwood. Mon Dieu! And, if you have a lady of delicate sensibilities on your arm – incroyable!
PFP: With all due respect, and I beg you not to chop off my head or any of my other extremities for that matter for saying so, but I do not think it fair to prohibit desperate people who have nowhere to go from enjoying the harmless sanctuary of sleeping under a bridge.
RFP: Not fair, you say? Not fair? Why it is eminently fair. And – dare I add, and I most certainly do – fundamentally democratic. For as you well know, my poverty-stricken employee, a rich man is equally prohibited from sleeping under a bridge as a poor man. So, Ha!
PFP: Why would a rich man need to sleep under a bridge?
RFP: That is hardly the point, which I feel you are deliberately ignoring, in a calculated effort to play on my sympathies. The point is, that when it comes to sleeping under a bridge, the rules are the same for one and all. No one is permitted to sleep under a bridge. Not the rich. And not the poor.
PFP: But Your Grace, the poor and downtrodden lack anywhere else to sleep.
RFP: Oh, boo hoo!
PFP: While you, Your Grace, have this magnificent chateau, and therefore have no need whatsoever to avail yourself of a sleeping arrangement beneath a bridge.
RFP: Still, if I wanted to, I couldn’t. Just like you, you criminal!
PFP: Forgive me, Your Grace, but if I had the option of sleeping in a chateau…
RFP: You do.
PFP: You are inviting me to sleep here?
RFP: Oh, Dear God, no.
PFP: I am sorry. I must have misunderstood.
RFP: Big time!
PFP: It’s just that you mentioned that I had the option of sleeping in a chateau…
RFP: You do.
RFP: Well, sir, by acquiring your own chateau of your own.
PFP: Your Grace, perhaps as a result of being a man of means, as well as the scion of a family of means, and are married to a woman who herself is a scion of a family of means, and you socialize exclusively with other people of means, you are, through no fault of your own, unaware of the subtleties of the concept known as “being poor.” Being poor means…you have nothing. No money, whatsoever, or very little, beyond the greatly appreciated pittance you pay me – to purchase the basic necessities of life – food, shelter, a second-hand scarf. Normally – and I hope I am not being facetious in this regard, and if I am, I profusely apologize in advance – when one is poor, one is bereft of the adequate and sufficient means for purchasing a chateau.
RFP: You know, Poor French Person, long ago, at the beginning of my family’s history, my ancestors were also poor. And now, we live in a chateau. Do you see what I am saying to you? A poor person could wind up living in a chateau.
PFP: Only if they become a rich person in the interim.
RFP: That’s right. So, in fact, you are only one step away. From poor to rich – a single step. You have ambition and drive, don’t you? Le gump-tion, as they say?
PFP: Oh, yes, Your Grace.
RFP: And you believe you are as good as I am.
PFP: Am I permitted to say so?
RFP: Just this once.
PFP: Then of course.
RFP: “I do” would have easily sufficed.
PFP: Sorry, Your Grace. I do.
RFP: Good. Then use me as an example of that glorious possibility. My family made it. So can yours.
PFP: I understand, Your Grace. But until I accomplish that “one step” of going from poor to rich, could you not find it in your heart to allow me – and the other unfortunates of my ilk, occasionally, when necessary, at such times when the weather is particularly disagreeable – to sleep under a bridge?
RFP: Sorry, Poor French Person. If I can’t, you can’t.
It’s only fair.