January 09, 2004

The false idol of equality

Posted by Curt at 05:15 PM in Language | TrackBack

Of all our common social ideals, I despise most the idea of equality. Where it is genuinely meant, it has nothing but a pernicious effect, and when not it remains nothing but an illusion. The insidiousness of the notion of equality appears at its starkest in ethics, because in fact the notion of equality undermines the very foundations of ethics. Ethics at its very core is the differentiation of people and acts according to a central dichotomy between good and evil, virtue and vice. To assert the moral equality of people does wrong to the good to the same extent as it countenances the wicked. Such is generally the nature of equality as a goal: it is an almost universally destructive and nihilistic impulse, by which the bad make gains towards, and finally achieve, a consummate mediocrity not on their own merits but at the expense of the good.

But equality is rarely meant so honestly, nor does it appear so clearly, as in ethics. In a social context, for example, when people talk about “equality under the law” or “equal rights,” or something else to that effect, they generally do not actually mean equality, but rather a certain minimum standard of rights and privileges. Just because a banker and a bum both enjoy certain common privileges as human beings does not mean that they are in any way equal. Even in the most circumscribed legal context, the concept of equality rings false. Both a banker and a bum may equally have a right to legal counsel in the U.S., but the banker can hire a high-priced celebrity attorney, whereas the bum will have to accept whoever the state appoints for him. Obviously, to establish a true equivalence between them in this matter would require much further-reaching provisions, perhaps the re-distribution of income between banker and bum, or forbidding the banker to take anybody better than a state-appointed lawyer.

Clearly, then, the concept of equality is only tangentially related to the prosperity or well-being, let alone the freedom, of those who fall under its scope. It concerns itself only with the sameness or equivalence between people, and only a jealous soul could hope for that.


The way the word "equality" is used in mainstream political discourse is an incredibly irritating abuse of language. "Equality" describes a relationship--a comparison of one or more characteristics of two or more distinct entities--and is not itself a quality nor a quantity. "Equality" means nothing unless you specify what characteristics are being compared. People who use the word "equality" in this way are deliberately evading specifying what they're actually talking about. If one won't specify in what respect two entities (things, people, etc.) should be made equal, how can one possibly determine whether it's a good idea, whether it's possible, or how it can be done?

I believe the only kind of equality that is of value to humans, i.e. moral, is equality of authority.

Posted by: Qiwi Lisolet at January 9, 2004 05:50 PM

However, I fear that is precisely the type of equality which will never come about, because those, like me and probably you, who believe in that tend to withdraw from politics and association with power, while those who don't are the ones who actually seize power.

Posted by: Curt at January 12, 2004 03:03 AM