Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On Equality

The word "equal" has been so abused that the few people who do believe in true equality have begun to disabuse themselves of the term. So let us look at the idea of equality and compare it with two ideas with which equality is confused: identify and egalitarianism.

To learn what equality is, let us first discuss what it is not. Equality is not egalitarianism. Which of course only begs the question of what egalitarianism is. "Egalitarianism" comes from the French "egalite," which means "equality." This being the case, how can I claim that egalitarianism is not the same as being for equality? Well, the French, much more so than does the English, carries with it the idea of absolute equality, or identity. Identity comes from a Latin word meaning "the same." If you share someone's identity, you are the same as them. Further, it has the kind of mathematical precision as our word "equal" carried when we use it in mathematics. When we say 1 + 2 equals 3, we are saying they have the same identity, that the set on the left is the same as the set on the right. The fact that our word "equal" does carry this meaning in it is where the problems occur. "Scientific" socialism (meaning 19th century science), looks to mathematical certainty, finds the term "equal," and applies that usage to human beings.

I reserve the word "egalitarianism" for this use of the term "equal." Egalitarianism seeks equality in the absolute sense, where everyone is identical economically, socially, and politically. This is the sense in which the Left uses the term "equal." We have accepted that use, and find ourselves opposing equality.

Perhaps we should abandon the word "equal" to refer to the idea of equality I am talking about. That would solve the problem we run into when we say things like "Equality is not equality of outcome," because after all "equality of outcome" is a kind of equality, even if a bad one, and thus the term "equal" contains this meaning. On the other hand, I don't want to abandon the term precisely because if we do, we abandon the interpretation of "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." to the Left's interpretation of equality. If we do that, we face justifications for socialist and social engineering policies which fly in the face of human nature, and nature itself.

So let us not abandon the term "equal," but rather recover its meaning, and place it in context with other social values and with human evolutionary psychology and sociobiology. From the latter two perspectives, humans aren't much interested in, and are in fact uncomfortable with, equality. We naturally construct hierarchies, which is why we find them in businesses, governments, schools, churches, and even circles of friends. This is part and parcel of being a social mammal, as anyone who has owned dogs knows. If you want a dog who is nervous, always barks at everything, and snaps at everyone, then let him think he's top dog. Worse, keep him confused as to where he fits into the hierarchy. Almost all problems people have with their dogs stems from the fact that they haven't dominated their dogs properly, putting them low in the pack hierarchy. The same problems occur with humans who do not know what their place is in society because of the Left's idea of egalitarianism, which has pervaded American society. Of course, by saying that people need to know their place, that does not mean they should stay in that place -- rigid hierarchies, caste systems, and class systems go against the idea of equality, and of natural hierarchies. The social organizations of social mammals are hierarchies, yes, but they are fluid hierarchies. The lowest in the hierarchy can one day become the alpha. Thus, rigid caste and class systems are just as unnatural as are egalitarian systems, and often result in very violent social reactions against them. This begins to get us to the idea of equality I am talking about, which is equality of opportunity. The lowest in a hierarchy has an opportunity to rise if they are willing to do what is necessary to rise to the top. In human societies, this means they have self-control, become educated, are hard workers, develop strong social bonds with the right people, etc. In a free society, those with the most virtues of this kind rise highest. In government-centered societies, those who know how to work the system, who develop strong social bonds with those in power, who can get laws passed in their favor, those who seek power above everything else, etc. are the ones who rise highest. In this kind o system, those in power stay in power, and are able to protect their power. Bureaucrats do not have to answer to you, and their jobs are not based on whether you are happy or satisfied or even treated well. Government bureaucrats are often nasty toward citizens because they can be, and because they know that they have the (unelected) power to do whatever they want. Those who rise high in a government-centered system typically think of themselves as better, smarter, wiser than everyone else, and thus deserve to be and remain in power. Since they have the power and also the ability to distribute ir (or not), their elitism is never challenged. To them, everyone is equal: equally dumb and incapable of taking care of themselves. Which is why they are needed. In a free society, you are always challenged, and always humbled by those who keep rising to show you who you are and to make you better. People are free to ruse up and challenge and even to, peacefully, overthrow you. Of course, just because someone is free to make more money than than Bill Gates and thus become the richest man in the world, it does not mean that Bill Gates has to lose a single dime -- or that anyone else has to either. Fluid hierarchies in free societies where growth and creativity create more things of value harm no one. Quite the contrary. But if you want to move up in a rigid hierarchy, you have to overthrow those in power. Violence begets violence. Force begets force.

Those who preach for the justice of egalitarianism are telling people not that they can move up in the world if they work hard enough, but that it is unfair that someone else has more than them. This causes people to aspire not to have the same kinds of things as Bill Gates, but to have the same things as Bill Gates. Egalitarianism is identity. Made dissatisfied with being in a hierarchy at all, the people low in the hierarchy are encouraged to steal from those with more, either directly through robbery and burglary, or indirectly through various welfare programs paid for by the government stealing the money for them. We should not be surprised when those who live off of theft are immoral in other ways. This is not justice, and we see again a misuse of the term by the Left. For the Left, justice is egalitarianism. Yet Elaine Scarry shows in On Beauty and Being Just that justice means fair, and fair means beautiful, meaning justice and beauty are related. Aristotle says too that virtue aims as the beautiful. We do not have beauty if we have an egalitarian distribution of color on a canvas. We get beauty through the unity of complementary opposites and with variety in unity and unity in variety. Beauty is in many ways the opposite of egalitarianism. A beautiful equality -- which is to say, a just equality -- is one where equality is placed in a yin-yang relationship with hierarchy to create the kinds of fluid hierarchies already mentioned. Bland sameness is not beautiful.

So let us look again at the complementary opposites of Confucius. In a real sense, each of the pair is necessarily equal to the other, in he sense of equality I am arguing for. Men are equal to women, and vice versa. This does not mean they are identical. Men and women do not share an identity. Men tend to be masculine; women tend to be feminine. Some women have some masculine traits; some men have some feminine traits. But the masculine and the feminine both contain strengths and weaknesses. As it turns out, these balance each other out -- that is, they complement each other. One approach to the world is not better or worse than the other; they are merely different. The feminine desire to just listen and be listened to is right, and the masculine desire to solve the problem at hand is also right. Men should temper their desire to solve the problem at hand with listening, so they understand the entire problem and bond with the person; women should temper their desire to be listened to with taking the solutions to their problems to hear and using it to solve their problems, and understanding that this is how men show that they care for you.

With old and young, we see a need to balance the two equally as well. The young bring enthusiasm, idealism, ability to learn new things quickly, and a liberal pressing into the future; the old bring temperance, wisdom, a knowledge of the past and of practical things learned in life, and a conservative anchor to the past. As Winston Churchill wisely (if mythically) said, "If you're not a liberal when you're young, you have no heart; if you're not a conservative when your old, you have no brain." (It seems the actual quote was made by Fran├žois Guizot, who actually said, " Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head." All of which only proves that myth is a good source of truth.) If the old and the young are balanced, we get healthy growth in culture and society. If imbalanced toward youth, we get cancerous growth, leading to decadence and destruction; if imbalanced toward the old, we get fossilization, leading to rigidification and death. Thus, we need each equally, in equal proportions -- well, perhaps equally in golden mean proportions for proper growth.

For a final clarification, let us look again at the teacher-student complementary opposites. There is equality here, too, though again, not in an egalitarian sense. It seems obvious that the teacher and student are not equal, by definition, as the teacher has the knowledge, and the student is ignorant until taught. Recent moves toward teaching students how to find knowledge rather than teaching them anything have attempted to turn this relationship into a more egalitarian one, since the teacher cannot "colonize" the student's mind with what they know. In fact, this only puts off onto others the teacher-student relationship, as the student will still be taught content by those they read. Assuming they bother to look up anything. They won't, since this kind of deferment results in students who don't know what to look up, not knowing what is actually out there to look up and learn, or why they even should, having no foundational knowledge to build upon. So the ethical teacher is one who takes it upon himself to teach content to the student, to develop their knowledge and to show them why this is interesting enough to learn more about. But as any good teacher knows, when you teach something, you come to learn that subject better. Thus, to teach is to learn. The student too comes to the teacher with questions, pushing the teacher to learn more and more and to come to better understand what he knows and understands and why. Thus, the teacher and the student grow together in knowledge. Each needs the other, equally. They are complementary opposites, the student containing a bit of the teacher, the teacher containing a bit of the student. Egalitarianism undermines this process, preventing the teacher from growing, remaining unchallenged, having given the student nothing to work with.

These same kinds of harmonious equalities should also exist in friends (your friends should complement and balance you as an equal), ruler-subject (we should have a government where the ruler is subject and the subject is ruler, each having bits of the other), and parents-children (a relationship that allows each to mature properly and healthfully). The balance makes us bette, more complete human beings. And being in these relationships, and on both sides of each relationship, contributes to our own growth, improvement, and creativity, meaning for healthier individuals, cultures, and societies.
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