Fairness Copy


This value is obviously central when appealing to people to think or act differently.

Fairness has been a real major argument in same-sex marriage campaigns, which have insisted a lot on the fact that it was “fair” and “just” to treat people equally.

The principle of fairness is important for campaign tactics, as it implies that the public needs to have a high moral assumption of the target group. To generate this assumption can be difficult with highly stigmatized groups like LGBTI people.

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A lot of LGBTI campaigning aims at generating this sense of fairness by elaborating on the human rights abuses suffered by people, in doing so creating a sense of unfairness. But the big question is whether it is possible for the sense of fairness to develop outside of the care value, i.e. if people only feel unfairness if the victim is someone in the “care” sphere. If so, it seems ineffective to portray LGBTI people as victims in order to generate care. It would seem that good strategies would generate a desire to care first.

This is all the more important as victimization strategies tend not to work well when it comes to changing moral perceptions. Actually, some research has shown that in the US (and this might not hold true in other settings), the more people perceive victims as innocent, the lesser they value them.

In his book “Changing hearts”, Nick Cooney reports on a simulated jury situation where the victim was a woman who had been raped and was said to be either a virgin, married or a divorcee. The victim was seen as more at fault if she was a virgin or a married woman (and therefore by the conventional standards of the time more innocent and pure) than if she was a divorcee (Jones and Aronson 1973)

When wondering why people denigrate victims more when the victim seems most deserving of sympathy, he points to what Melvin Lerner calls this the « just world hypothesis ». People, he argues, want to believe that they live in a world where individuals generally get what they deserve, people are reluctant to give up this belief and are troubled by evidence that it isn’t true.

In the simulated rape trial, because the women who are virgins or married were perceived as more innocent, the idea that they could be raped was more of a threat to the « just world » belief than the idea that a divorcee could meet the same fate. Therefore, when the rape victim was a virgin on married woman, fault had to be found with her in order to keep the world seeming just.

So according to Cooney the fairness value is a double edged sword: it can trigger change  when people perceive the sense of unfairness, but it can also lead to denigration of the victims when people react with a kind of “they probably brought it on themselves somehow” reaction. The difference between the two reactions might be brought by the level of empathy towards the victim: if we can identify with the victim, we probably sense unfairness and want it corrected. If we don’t we probably reject the person even more.

What do you think of this? Would you agree with Conney or challenge his view?
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