About ten years ago I wrote a book called "Life is Fair." That was back in my fundamentalist days, when I was pleased to toe the Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) party line on karma, vegetarianism, and most other doctrinal matters.
But you know, I still believe that life is fair. Just not for the same reasons that I expounded in the book.
I got to thinking about life's fairness when someone emailed me a few days ago, asking if "Life is Fair" still was being sold. He'd noticed that it wasn't listed on the RSSB (a.k.a. Science of the Soul) web site. I checked and was told that the book was out of stock.
So I have to assume that it's still being sold with my name on it, notwithstanding the fact that I've come to be viewed as a heretic by the RSSB powers-that-be.
My own perspective is that I'm still 100% devoted to the true Radha Soami Satsang Beas teachings. I've simply decided to let go of ritualistic religious fluff that has nothing to do with genuine mysticism or spirituality.
I'm also much more willing now to say "I don't know." So I'll say it: I don't know whether much of what I wrote in "Life is Fair" is true. Such as, whether this depiction of the Fairness Machine reflects how the cosmos really works.
(I'll upload my final Word version of the manuscript for those who want to read all or part of the book. It's 3.8 MB, due to the cartoons. The Fairness Machine chapter starts on page 82. The cartoons scattered through the pages are worth the book's modest price, which in this case is zero.)
I don't know whether reincarnation is a reality. I don't know whether there is another dimension to the cosmos where karma is stored for dispensation in other lives. I don't know whether what happens to us in the life each of us is living now is partly due to our actions in previous incarnations.
Yet I still believe that life is fair. It just seems much more likely than the obverse. By "fair," I mean there's a reason for things. They don't pop out of nowhere, miraculously or randomly. Even the laws of quantum physics, where randomness is an integral aspect of the subatomic world, have a foundation in well-formed mathematics.
When people say, "life isn't fair," they're speaking anthropomorphically or personally. What they usually mean is that stuff happens that shouldn't, in their opinion. Babies are born blind. Tsunamis strike villages without warning. Bad things happen to good people.
But unfairness doesn't exist without a privileged position, either human or divine. Here's a personal example from the Homo sapiens side.
I head into town (Salem, Oregon) this afternoon from our rural home five miles outside the city limits. My wife has warned me that they're back to paving the road adjacent to some new subdivisions. Ever the optimist, I still leave at my regular time, figuring that my good karma will produce a "Slow" rather than "Stop" sign when I get to the flagger.
I'm wrong. Half a dozen cars are lined up ahead of me. I wait. And wait some more. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes. No traffic is coming through from the other way either. Then, there is.
Unfair! I say to myself. I'm in the group heading into town for important business, like, in my case, exercising at an athletic club. The cars breezing past me likely are heading home.
Of course, the rational part of my brain (what little is still operating after a quarter hour of fuming) is thinking, "The people who got to pass through the work area first are feeling good that they're finally moving. That seems fair. So how could this delay be both unfair to me and fair to them?"
Well, because I'm me and they're them. And the guys operating the paving equipment, who have to stop every time traffic drives through, probably have the attitude, "Geez, it'd be a lot fairer if we could get the job done without so many interruptions."
So when we look for fairness or unfairness in life, there aren't any objective signs of either. What we find are people who stamp something as "Fair" or "Unfair" on the basis of their subjective perspectives.
How, then, can I believe so confidently that life is fair? Simple. I don't see any evidence of the privileged position that unfairness requires. There's no Fairness King or Queen who can sit on his or her throne and proclaim, "This is fair; that is unfair."
What we do have is a demonstrably interconnected universe where no thing, living or inert, stands alone. I'll quote myself, from the Fairness Machine chapter of "Life is Fair."
The main thing to remember about the law of karma is common to all laws of nature—the equal sign. Remember this, and you will know most of what you need to know about karma. To say "Life is fair" really is the same as saying "Life = some chain of causes and effects."
… We already know the end result, because this is us right now: our health, our wealth, our family, our friends, our beliefs, everything that makes up what we call "my life." What we don't know is what produced all of this. So we are left with only an answer, a solution to some unknown set of equations: My life right now = x + y + z + ….
There's a lot in my book that I don't agree with now, or at least am unsure about. However, the notion that there are causes for everything evident in this physical world still makes good sense to me.
Those causes are the reason I believe life is fair. The workings of the Fairness Machine that is our universe likely aren't how I described them. But the machine itself is undeniable: it's all around us, and indeed is us.
We don't know how the contraption works from the inside. The outside, though, is clearly evident. And it's product is: fairness. Cause and effect. Interrelatedness. Seamless connections. Quoting myself again:
Gravity controls the motion of all the trillions of celestial bodies in the universe. Gravitational forces guide the motion of everything in space, from microscopic specks of interstellar dust to giant galaxies.
Now, is there a big computer somewhere that keeps track of the incredibly complex dynamics in our unimaginably vast cosmos? No. And there isn't any earthbound computer which can come close to the precision of nature that keeps every heavenly body perfectly related to every other heavenly body. If one entity changes, such as a star exploding or an asteroid hitting a planet, then everything in the universe adjusts to this event instantly and automatically [note: I shouldn't have said "instantly," since gravity acts at the speed of light].
Gravity is a fascinating reflection of the higher metaphysical law of karma. This all-pervading force of nature illustrates a point that applies equally well to material and spiritual states of reality: the laws of nature are self-executing and self-balancing. "Self-executing" means they operate continually in every corner of the universe. There is no stop button that allows us to temporarily halt their workings.
Again, I'd quibble with myself about some of what I said in those paragraphs. However, the main thrust of my argument still seems unarguable to me. Somehow the universe functions as a whole, effortlessly weaving actions and reactions into an ever-changing tapestry of causes and effects.
I may not like what I see or experience. I may call it "unfair." But there's no evidence of unfairness when I look at things from the perspective of the entire universe (insofar as I'm able). The cosmos, a unity, doesn't have a privileged position. It's positionless, being everywhere and everything.
This leaves divinity as the other possible source of unfairness. If there's a Zeus who arbitrarily casts thunderbolts of suffering down upon some, while bestowing capricious godly favors on others, that sure would be unfair.
Where's the evidence of such a being, though? There isn't any. Not a whit. Which is fine with me. I'd like there to be a god who makes things peachy-keen for me, because I'm so obviously deserving of peachy-keenies. But that's much different from a god who just does whatever the hell (or heaven) she wants.
I'm happy being a tiny part of the whole that is our universe, all mixed up with other parts. I used to enjoy feeling that I was a special part, chosen by God to enjoy divine favors. Now, that strikes me as horribly unfair.
In the end, though, what do I know? I could be wrong about everything, including what I just said.
Maybe only Dilbert has the answers.
[Update: This "Life is Fair" piece from the Stanford Daily ends up with pretty much the same conclusion as I do. The author exhibits a pleasing cynicism. I like his opening line, since it reminds me of me: "When lying in bed late at night, alone and without easily available pornography, I sometimes turn my enormous brain to contemplating the nature of existence."]