I have worked with thousands of people for over 40 years in a career as a psychologist. Some were patients, some were students; others were corporate managers and leaders. As a political activist, I interact with many more people. A consistent theme that emerges in conversation and in print, even with progressives and liberals, is concern with fairness.
A long time ago while working with relationships in counseling, I realized that "perceived unfairness" is at the root of most breakups and a lot of breakdowns. That's in quotes because perception is the real issue. It
doesn't matter whether the other person or any other persons see it, if the individual sees it as unfair, it's UNFAIR. Thus is created the "mean streak."
I agree that there is this mean streak in behavior that covers an overwhelmed sense of generosity. I believe that the mean streak is rooted in fear that somehow others will get something more than I will without having to work for it or deserving it. That is most clear and most pervasive with the low end of the economic spectrum -- the poorer the folks the more we complain about them.
In other words, we have this disturbing national notion of personal worthiness as related to achievement, income, or competition. We play musical chairs in too many areas of life while believing and knowing there are never going to be enough chairs for all -- even if they do work hard.
Most of us are so overly focused on the unfairness of welfare, universal healthcare, cash for clunkers, or any attempt to level the field and provide more chairs that we neglect our humanity. We also allow corporate welfare, sociopathic exploitation of investors, and criminal neglect in product scrutiny.
I believe that people -- most of them -- are generous and kind at their core. What Stanley Milgram, a psychologist, showed in the 60s was that "good people " knuckle under (to) the demands of authority and perform actions that were callous and severe"".
As long as the people are competitive we are distracted and fragmented into splinter groups. Corporate interests like it because it leads to massive wealth redistribution to those who can exploit the idea of scarcity. As long as there aren't enough "chairs", people will compete with each other. While competing, we don't notice who is behind the curtain manipulating the show.
The media like it for that same reason and that competition leads to drama. Who watches peace demonstrations except for the possibility that they might lead to violence or conflict? Drama is both the outcome and the reason for competition. It's appropriate in some contexts and destructive in others. Our sense of perspective is distorted to such an extent that we have lost the will and clarity of thought to make appropriate choices. It ain't fair!
We have allowed some of our leaders, corporations, and media to distract us from the fact that as long as we are limited to this small planet we must learn to share, cooperate, and promote widespread prosperity. There are creative, cost-effective ways to do that. We should start to emphasize how to share, preserve, and distribute our resources instead of obsessing about if it's fair.