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Hello reader,

Welcome to the fourth post in the Divisions series! I could make this segue more gracious, but I’d rather hurl you right into the thick of it.

Have you ever played an online multiplayer game? No? It’s somewhat poignantly similar to real life.

I myself am an avid player of an online multiplayer game about spaceships.  I have always been a fan of flight simulators, and like many people I am also a fan of explosions and pointless violence.   Therefore, this game is perfect for me, because it allows me to (a) fly really fast, (b) blow things up, and (c) be a little bit of an asshole.

Actual in-game footage.

I’m a special person.

Now, I don’t just mention this because I’m playing the game as I write this post. NAY, I mention this because it made me think about ethics as I was playing it.

A perpetual source of frustration in online player-against-player games is the skill gap, as any gamer can tell you.  Nothing is more infuriating than going up against someone who is just legitimately better than you at pressing a particular sequence of buttons to make your magic box turn a particular color.

What’s just as frustrating is the premium gamers.  The people who have, for whatever reason, elected to spend money on the game and improve themselves accordingly.  These people usually have some inherent advantage over the other players–even if it’s just that their ship looks cooler.

In other words, it’s not fair.  Which can be annoying.  Studies have shown that even monkeys understand when a situation is unfair.  Now if monkeys can pick up on an unjust pay system, surely popular news programs video game players can figure out when something is unjust.

This had been much on my mind recently when I went into my Chinese Philosophy course. So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I found my exact concern addressed by my professor, who addressed the idea of fairness in Chinese culture.*

*keep in mind that this is an idealized concept of “Chinese culture,” which was doubtless designed more to help provide a foundation for understanding for students who had never been to China, nor studied anything remotely Chinese.**

**but why on earth should that mean that we can’t use it to draw useful moral lessons?

His essential point was tied back to earlier discussions of the communal, fragmented social system, in which each individual in the heirarchy is responsible for their own little bit of power.  Much like the mythological landscape, where each brook and bramble has a spirit, everyone has a little power, which they exercise as subtly as possible. Even the housemaid has her own little sphere of influence–piss her off, and your dishes will be ever so slightly dirty for months.

Their society, like every society, is unfair. Civilization is unfair.  Civilization is based upon structures of asymmetrical power, upon hierarchies and hegemonies, and it is inherently incapable of becoming ‘fair.’  No one is born with the exact same set of privileges and plans as anyone else–and think how boring it would be if we were all the same!  There would be no one new to talk to.  Every conversation would be like watching a Frasier re-run for the seventh time–once, it might possibly have been interesting, but now, it’s exactly what you expected.

What I find interesting is that we, in the West, have come up with this idea that somehow the world needs to be fair.  Somehow everything needs to be balanced.  Everyone needs to be equal.

I think this is stupid, not to mention perspicaciously false.   (whoa) (what a big vocabulary) (and you know what they say about guys with big vocabularies) (they have large theories about the nature of reality)

If you’ve grown up and existed anywhere ever, you realize that people are not equal.  Some people are smarter than others.  Some are better at sports, or at wearing clothes, or at asking questions or doing academic work or hanging clothes–and whether this disparity is the result of legitimate skill-building or not doesn’t matter, because the end result is: nothing is ever going to be truly fair. 

This is obvious.  And I should stress at this point that I don’t disagree with fairness as an ideal.  I think it’s a good place to start.  But it isn’t enough.  Do we really want equality? I think that sounds dull, like a movie where everyone is the same character.  Real life has a dynamic quality–and I mean that in the dictionary definition of the word, as in life is a dynamic system, constantly changing, kept in balance by the flow of energy and advantage from one person/group to the next.

I still reflect on ethics when I play my spaceship game.  But now I fly secure in the knowledge that, while we may not all fly from the same starting point, my ion emitters can turn the enemy to slag just as effectively as anyone else’s.  And that’s what we really want–not for everyone to be equal, but for everyone to be able to have fun, to enjoy life, to develop themselves to the fullest point of their potential, and to unleash molten hell upon their enemies in the form of 70-pound coil-driven mortar shells.

Tune in next time, reader, when we take this point about value, inequality, and fairness and apply it to the universe!  

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