The Fairness Instinct: The Robin Hood Mentality And Our Biological Nature by L. Sun

Superheroes are in vogue now; maybe they always have been. Their vigilantism appeals to our sense of fairness. We love to see the bad guys get what’s coming to them. We like to see good guys get what they deserve. Biologist Lixing Sun has studied animals and their behaviors for some years and in his book The Fairness Instinct: The Robin Hood Mentality And Our Biological Nature he explores this need we have for fairness. Where does it come from? Why does it appeal to us so innately?

The story of Robin Hood – one of the original vigilantes – is used as his framework for this exploration. Sun makes this assertion: our love for fairness is a corollary of social living, driven by reciprocity and compromise. He attempts to explain this instinct for fairness as an evolutionary response to social interaction. Even if you do not agree with the evolutionary angle there is still an interesting perspective in this book.

“As long as our social system is imperfect – if there is such a thing as a perfect one – we question it’s fairness and legitimacy; we want to change it,” states Sun. Enter Robin Hood and his counterparts, those figures who fight for fairness, justice, equality. After establishing our universal desire for fairness he begins to expatiate on other emotions that derive from it, such as envy and anti-intellectualism and revenge, or “wild justice.” It’s fitting that forgiveness is featured in that particular chapter. Sun concludes: “forgiveness, though not invincible, is the first – and also the best – line of defense against spite.”

A theme running through the book seems to be that the world is full of bad government. Is there anyone who doubts this? Poor or oppressive leadership allows inequality to be clearly seen. This destabilizes society. From this spring revolution and terrorism, both touched on in the book. In fact Sun reaches a good conclusion when discussing terrorism. There is an old adage that if we forget history we are doomed to repeat it. But, terrorism is often mired in a “history of past conflict”. The memory of inequality – driving a desire for fairness – engenders more violence. Perhaps forgiveness is the route to take. After hitting those hot issues, he concludes with polygyny, monogamy and religion.

Sun’s style sometimes gains rhythm and cadence, avoiding density of words while still presenting facts. It’s not easy to read in the sense of being a page-turner. I had to refer back to other parts of the book to understand some conclusions properly. But the writing doesn’t bog down, either.

It covers a great many societal issues: distributive justice, procedural justice, reciprocity, compromise, asymmetrical reciprocity, equity rule, anti-intellectualism, relative deprivation and forgiveness. He does not seem to be promoting any philosophy or specific way of thinking, just the facts about fairness and how it has affected the world.


Journal 12


Almost done.

Then, eleven days off. Eleven. Days.

But, until then …

  • Updated production report
  • Counted tires left for a particular customer to make sure we’d have enough for their order today – success!
  • Successfully archived email
  • Sorted through remaining email
  • Coordinated a shipment back to us
  • Began preparing inventory spreadsheets for next year
  • Started making adjustments to another version of our scheduling program
  • Created POs for raw materials for next year
  • Went to do some purchasing errands
  • Did month end inventory
  • Cleaned off desk
  • And I’m out for the rest of the year!

Journal 11

Perhaps I should include gratitude comments in this journal, too. I’ve been reading alot about keeping a gratitude journal on Cool stuff. Let us experiment.

  • Thank you wife for cash to buy coffee and cinnamon roll this morning
  • Thank you Maverik for the coffee and cinnamon roll
  • Thank you car for starting (both of them)
  • Then I got to work
  • But, hey, thank you job for existing and paying me
  • Ran some production reports
  • Conducted a flow audit
  • Analyzed a couple of discrepancies
  • Created a new spreadsheet for a particular production step
  • Did a physical count of tires to verify we have enough to finish the month and shutdown for a week and half (can’t wait for that!)
  • Reviewed my To-Do list
  • Entered a requisition for transmission fluid
  • Searched for a binder holder that can be mounted on a desk
  • Requested some final invoices for capital projects to close out the year
  • Thanks for the daily text
  • Tried to get a non-compliance fee charged to a vendor reversed
  • Began a purchasing survey from corporate (shudder)
  • Sorted through email
  • I think I’m getting WorkADD again, need to set timer
  • Coordinated the installation of some fork lift attachments
  • Joined a conference call
  • Went to lunch after reading an annoying article
  • Responded to emails
  • Reviewed production plans for January
  • Ran some open PO reports
  • Updated el project list
  • Prepared some delivery notes for shipments on Monday
  • Updated some usage calculations
  • Requested some No Smoking signs
  • Started an email program archive but it’s not done yet and I’ve gotta go so I’ll check it in the morn …

Journal 10

I have skipped a few days. This is informative. The days have been packed and have distracted me. They have also been frustrating and aggravating and journalizing would doubtless have helped.

  • Had two extra cups of coffee this morning
  • Drove to work
  • Ran production reports
  • Started seriously thinking about year end shut down
  • Analyzed the numbers to make sure we’ve got enough tires to finish the month
  • Conferred with production manager on shut down
  • Discussed some start up options
  • Audited the flow
  • A piece of equipment that’s been down for months is finally operating
  • Discussed what to use it for until the end of the week
  • Sorted through email
  • Prepared a returns shipment
  • Shipped an erroneous package to its proper consignee
  • Prepared another return delivery, our normal route to a material supplier
  • Reviewed production
  • Checked in tires
  • Verified a tire order
  • Participated in a conference call
  • Followed up on some projects
  • Had lunch
  • Ran some domestic errands
  • Made out POs for next year
  • Attended a capital budget meeting
  • Discussed this year’s capital issues after said meeting
  • Did a mini-audit of the flow
  • Researched some parts
  • Checked in some tires
  • Took right off …

My paperback copy of Walden is not just a vehicle for transcendental philosophy: it is also the result of a tightly orchestrated chain of industrial events spanning the globe—from the cultivation of trees and their distillation into pulp, to the pressing of ink to paper by machines run by arrays of circuit boards not too different from those found on the assembly lines of electronic gadgets like, um, the iPad.

– Dannie Zarate, “Thoreau and the iPad” from The Paris Review


Journal 9

Behold, it is Thursday. I have gained a headache. Lovely. At least I have access to an Excedrin dealer here at work.

  • Ran production reports
  • Had long discussion with production manager about tires from last night
  • Verified some machine serial numbers
  • Took pictures of a thermostat that’s not working
  • Showed the universal waste collectors where our waste was at so he could, you know, collect it all
  • Emailed said pictures
  • Updated Projects list
  • Ran PO reports
  • No one here knows that nothing is local so I get asked to go find stuff locally that isn’t here
  • Took a PC for possible repair
  • Delivered some batteries to an associate
  • Searched our lovely town for some inserts and bottoming taps. No success.
  • Had more discussion about above parts
  • Checked in tires
  • Audited the flow
  • Went through email and added detail some requisitions
  • Sorted through a bunch of fuses
  • Made a list of these fuses
  • Drank tea from Sonic
  • Reviewed some parts that just arrived
  • Reviewed Projects list
  • Deleted some junk email
  • Sigh O Nora …

Journal 8

Well, completely missed the entry yesterday. That about sums up how ridiculous the day was.

Today is not boding well.

  • Set coffee last night so I was able to have a cup as I stumbled around this morning
  • Got to work, ran my usual production reports
  • Audited the flow
  • Checked in tires
  • Updated my Current Projects sheet
  • Entered a requisition
  • Asked plant manager to review all the req’s already in the system
  • Found out our other car didn’t start again this morning
  • Checked in more tires
  • Reviewed tires in process
  • Gotta run to the house, pick up the wife
  • Took her to work
  • Borrowed a battery charger
  • Rockin’ Joe Satriani Radio on Pandora
  • Handled some To-Do List items
  • Called for some pricing
  • Looked up parts information
  • Called a vendor to coordinate a hazardous material pickup
  • Verified hazmat items for pickup
  • Spoke to HVAC vendor regarding some quotes
  • Coordinated the handling of some expired materials
  • Scanned some old papers
  • Coordinated goods receiving personnel schedule for the week of our shutdown
  • Scanned a data report for a vendor
  • Local sign guy came by to number our fork lifts
  • Called corporate production scheduler to discuss some customer requirements
  • Went through email and filed/responded
  • Organized and labelled parts
  • Checked in tires
  • Audited the flow
  • Still got questioned about it
  • Checked in tires
  • Straightened the desk
  • Had quite enough …