You've heard it. I've heard it. We've all heard it. Someone has just done something breathtakingly unpleasant to us, and we've dared to open our mouth and remark on the fact that we would have preferred matters to have arranged themselves somewhat otherwise. And sometimes it's the perp him- or herself, or sometimes it's some well-meaning friend, but someone is bound to say, as if they think we wouldn't know (thanks, Tom), "Life isn't fair."
The last place I encountered this was rereading The Princess Bride (and yes, the book is better than the film, I had forgotten just how much better, even if Westley will always sound like Cary Elwes and the "angelic" Vizzini persist in doing an impression of the Grand Nagus). Goldman's evidence for life not being fair is that sometimes the wrong people die, which is perfectly true except that always the wrong people die, and so do the right people. This isn't life being unfair. This is death being fair. Absolutely, perfectly even-handed. What we want of death (unless we are particularly highly evolved people, i.e. not me) is that it should be unfair, in our favour.
Anyway, back to life. The subtexts of the statement "Life isn't fair" are many and various, such as "You are immature, whereas I am a grown-up". The unfairness of "life" is presented as an immutable condition of existence, a natural law: life is unfair because it was by God Made That Way, and who are we to tamper with the Nature Of The Cosmos? Sometimes, indeed, one can detect a certain grim satisfaction in the tone in which this eternal verity is uttered. Life is unfair, and he (the speaker) likes it that way. The fact that you've just had an open tin of bright blue gloss paint fall on your head while on your way to a major job interview is just icing on the cake for this guy. If you complain, you're only being a wimp. Wake up and smell the iniquity. Most of the time, though, the obiter dictum is uttered in a tone of rueful commiseration. It's a shame, but it can't be helped; life isn't fair. It would be nice if it was, but...
Strangely enough, though, the people who say this are almost always the same people who refuse to believe in any form of divination, or deity, or guiding principle, because they know they have "free will."
Um, if people have "free will", and therefore control over their actions, then why could they not use that free will to make life fairer?
The answer is of course that some people do. There are wonderful people all over the world who use their resources and their skills to help those whom others have cheated, slighted, harmed or abused. These people don't say "life isn't fair"--they go out and make it fair, in their small corner, as far as they can. There aren't enough of them, but even one is enough to redeem the world, and there are many more than one. I know more than one.
My standard response, when someone says "Life isn't fair", is to say "That's what we're for." These people, these human angels, are how I know.
Buttons and bars and such are courtesy of Jelane's Free Web Graphics, at http://www.erinet.com/jelane/families/.