The End Of The Road For Equality

The other day a BBC journalist was making or reporting a case for our concept of “equality” being a horrible muddle, confusing equality of opportunity with equality of outcomes. Well, duh, this used to be Political Ideas 101. Of course they are two different things! The right to compete on equal terms strictly implies the possibility of losing the contest. The journalist went on to claim, with an air of making a conceptual breakthrough, that people did not want equality in the sense of rewards being handed out to everyone irrespective of effort, as in Alice in Wonderland’s caucus-race, where everyone wins and everyone gets prizes. What they wanted instead was fairness, which is not at all the same thing. Duh again.

Human beings do indeed seem programmed for fairness or justice. You can see this in children, who would rather be properly punished for something they have done than mildly rebuked for something they have not done. Children do not like freeloaders either. The socially corrosive effect of inequality, the journalist argued, came not from people achieving different incomes from working hard, while the lazy rotted in poverty, but from one person working hard and prospering while another worked just as hard and starved. It came from opportunities being unequal for no fault of the individual concerned, it came from the game being rigged. “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded.”

Traditionally, what we called socialism was ambivalent about this. In its theory it could sound surprisingly like an uncorrupt capitalism and the economist’s dream of “perfect competition”. “He who does not work, neither shall he eat”, said both St. Paul and Lenin, but later on, political doctrines were tailored to the workshy bohemians who derived their sense of entitlement not from noble birth but, in the Romantic manner, from allegedly superior souls. To his shame, in his youth Hugo was one of these, believing in the “lifestyle” of living on the dole, but he is all growed up now. It was undoubtedly people like him, and even more the hippies, who sterilised the whole idea of socialism for the working men and women for whom it was originally created. Wanting the just fruit of their labours, but not to have to share it with bums, they gave ear instead to the people who had been rigging the game and ripping them off since the dawn of time, but had now learned how to offer them a fairness they had no intention of delivering.

Recent years have seen a yet deeper perversion. Since equality of opportunity means the right to enter a fair competition, you might lose, and that would never do. So instead you demand equality of outcomes, whereby losing any game becomes ipso facto proof of the rules being rigged. Should you win the game, on the other hand, then that is evidence of your superiority to those you have out-competed. You switch between the two paradigms, the right to play and the right to win, hailing equality as long as it works in your favour and not a second longer.

Nay, you can go further still, and demand perfection of outcomes, whereby anything unsatisfactory in your life becomes ipso facto proof of you being oppressed. Finally you can enact that one of your fundamental rights is freedom from blame and responsibility, so that “equality” means, no longer what it says on the tin, but a blessed state of having everything you want and nothing you do not want, for the first time since you were in the womb.

Posted on February 1, 2013 at 22:10 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, A Theory Of Everybody

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