One of the more confused concepts making the rounds today, and one of the more obvious examples of weasel words, is that of “equality”. Plenty of muddied thinking and sloppy moralising surrounds this concept. People are making all sorts of claims and demands about equality, but often in a rather illogical and nonsensical fashion.
Many of our modern discrimination and inequality commissions and bodies are based on faulty notions of what constitutes equality. Indeed, radical activist minority groups, such as the militant homosexual lobby, are happy to carry on about equality and the like, and build their case for things like same-sex marriage by referring to “marriage equality”.
All over the Western world various anti-discrimination and equal opportunity bodies have been set up, not so much to address real issues concerning genuine inequality, but to push radical social engineering agendas. And often the push for special rights for homosexuals is at the top of the list.
In today’s Melbourne Age – not surprisingly – we have an opinion piece by the outgoing equal opportunity and human rights commissioner in Victoria, Helen Szoke. She came in under the previous Labor government, who along with the then Attorney General Rob Hulls unleashed a reign of terror, inflicting one radical social engineering program after another on hapless Victorians.
According to press accounts, she quit because the current Liberal government is “trashing some of her key achievements”. Thus she uses the PC Age today to boast about all her achievements – all in the name of equality of course. She also complains that much work remains to be done.
Of real interest, considering that this was in the uber-leftist Age, are the majority of comments appearing below her piece which are in fact critical of her and her organisation. Many of these commentators rightly point out the fallacies of these trendy notions of equality.
Consider just one comment: “When will people realise that not everyone IS equal? I mean seriously, even on a genetic or biological level, we are not equal. Treating everyone as equals only leads to the lowest common denominator being king – which is probably why Australia (and Melbourne, the nanny state) is run by idiots.”
What these critics are arguing is what many leading intellects have long known: false notions of equality will only result in harmful social situations occurring. One such intellect who has written about these themes for years is black American economist and social commentator Thomas Sowell.
He says so many important and commonsensical things about this topic that it is wisest for me simply to offer the reader a number of key quotes from Sowell. In his masterful 1999 volume, The Quest for Cosmic Justice he says this: “Equality, like justice, is one of the most fateful – and undefined – words of our times. Whole societies can be, and have been, jeopardised by the passionate pursuit of this elusive notion….
“There is nothing wrong with equality in itself. . . . But to equate the attractiveness of the concept with a mandate for public policy aimed at equality is to assume that politicizing inequality is free of costs and dangers, when in fact such politicization can have very high costs and very grave dangers….
“The abstract desirability of equality, like the abstract desirability of immortality, is beside the point when choosing what practical course of action to follow. What matters is what we are prepared to do, to risk, or to sacrifice, in pursuit of what can turn out to be a mirage.”
In a 2006 collection of essays (Ever Wonder Why?), he speaks about “Equality, inequality, and fate”. It is worth quoting at length: “One of the confusions that plagues discussions of equality and inequality is a confusion between the vagaries of fate and the sins of man. There are plenty of both but they need to be sharply distinguished from one another.
“The plain fact that there are large differences among individuals in incomes, occupations and whole ways of life dependent upon these things has been widely seen as ‘unfair,’ especially when the accident of birth has had much to do with these large economic and social differences.
“Life is unfair. There is no point denying it. Indeed, it is hard even to imagine how life could possibly be fair, given all the innumerable factors that go into individual success or failure – and how these factors vary greatly from one person to another, one group to another, and one nation or civilization to another.
“Whatever the potentialities with which anyone enters the world, the development of those potentialities into specific skills and abilities depends on each individual’s parents, schools, peers and the surrounding culture and its values. These are never the same for everyone. Eskimos no doubt have all the intelligence required to grow pineapples but they are unlikely to have the experience to do so. Nor are Hawaiians likely to know how to hunt seals in the Arctic.
“Children who grow up in homes where sports are discussed constantly, but science is not, are unlikely to have the same goals or careers as children who grow up in homes where the reverse is true. None of this is really anyone’s fault, not even that universal scapegoat, ‘society.’ These are simply the vagaries of fate.”
But in the eyes of the left, any such inequalities are in fact a result of society, and it is the necessary job of the state to step in and correct all these inequalities. Of course to do so simply takes away individual liberties while adding ever more powers to the state. Sowell speaks to this as well.
In his important 1987 book, A Conflict of Visions, he notes that the ideological divide here is wide and unable to be bridged. The constrained, or conservative, vision sees life in a fallen world as being full of inequalities, and argues for constraint in what the state can do to rectify this.
The unconstrained, or leftist, vision sees all inequality as morally wrong, and something which the coercive power of the state must address. Says Sowell, “The crucial difference between the constrained and the unconstrained visions of man is not in their perceptions of people as they are. What fundamentally distinguishes the two visions is their respective perceptions of human potential. . . . It is not over the degree of equality that the two visions are in conflict, but over what it is that is to be equalized.”
Elsewhere he notes some practical implications of this: “While it is heartbreaking to think of the large differences in ability and behavior that can be created by the ways different parents raise their children, it is no less heartbreaking to think of other social differences that go back to the ways kids are brought up. For example, anyone who watches the television program Cops will see an endless succession of real losers who wreck their lives and the lives of others through sheer irresponsibility and lack of self-control.
“When one of these losers is being chased on the highway by a couple of police cars, and with a police helicopter overhead, you wonder why he doesn’t just stop and give it up before his crazy driving kills him or someone else. But you also have to wonder what his parents were doing while he was growing up that they couldn’t raise him to become a rational adult.
“A majority of the men in prison came from fatherless families. In some cosmic sense, it may not be entirely their fault that they took the wrong road. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was the wrong road – or make it any less dangerous to turn them loose.
“No doubt such concerns are behind efforts to ‘rehabilitate’ prisoners or substitute ‘crime prevention’ programs for incarceration. But magic words do not create magic realities. Innocent people have been killed by ‘rehabilitated’ criminals who had been set free. And ‘prevention’ programs do not prevent anything other than putting dangerous people behind bars. The pretense of having solutions can be more dangerous than the problem. Yet there are whole armies of shrinks and social workers whose jobs depend on pretending that they have answers, even when no one has answers.
“In terms of broader social policy, we need to make a sharp distinction between saying that some people are victims of a tragic fate and saying that they are victims of discrimination by employers, bias in the courts, or the sins of other individuals they encounter. Scapegoating other people is not likely to help – and it can distract attention from the real problems, which are too serious to misdiagnose.”
The simple truth is, all things are not equal. While we are all equal in terms of being made in God’s image, we differ tremendously in terms of abilities, talents, gifting, motivation, desires, and so on. Forcing unequal things to be equal simply results in new inequalities.
As I write in my forthcoming book on homosexuality, trying to make unequal things equal is fraught with danger: “To get married you must meet the qualifications of marriage. The primary qualification of course is to have two people, one from each gender. These restrictions apply equally to everyone, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Thus there is no discrimination here.
“When homosexuals try to circumvent these rules or ignore them altogether they are not endeavouring to get equal rights; they are attempting to get special rights. Indeed, what they claim ‘is a new right; the right to reconfigure the conditions of marriage in such a way as to change its very definition, while denying they are doing any such thing.’
“Indeed, what is being attempted here is to treat unequal things equally. But a basic purpose of justice is to ensure that equals are treated equally. If equals are being treated unequally, then charges of injustice can be made. But there is no injustice in recognising the obvious differences between a same-sex relationship and a heterosexual relationship. Sure, homosexuals, as individual human beings, are fully equal to heterosexuals. But while all people are equal, not all relationships are.”
Much more needs to be said about concepts such as equality, justice and the like. But the fuzzy thinking of the social engineers and radical left helps no one here. These faulty understandings of equality end up diminishing equality, along with basic liberty. The only beneficiary is the ever-expanding state.
For those who prefer watching a brief video clip rather than reading articles or books, this clip features both Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell helpfully discussing the concept of equality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJBeuR0xEP8