The injustices of equality

We cannot both have individuality and equality.

And it would be a sorry day if humankind consisted just of clones and we had no differences. Without difference, equality is undefined and quality is meaningless and judgement is unnecessary. Discernment would not exist, there would be no “good” and no “bad”, and discrimination would cease to be.  Merely denying difference leads to injustice. Much of the legislation about “Rights” focuses on denying difference – as if that would make difference go away. Our very concepts of what is good or what is just depend upon being able to distinguish differences – in all the various differences that go to making individuals unique. Differences of capability, in behaviour, in performance, of competence, in appearance and – not least – in intelligence.

But it should not be beyond the wit of man to strive for justice – rather than a meaningless equality. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité  is inherently unjust and should instead have been Liberté, Justice, Fraternité. 

We applaud discernment and judgement but condemn discrimination. We use reverse discrimination to try and correct discrimination. We use “affirmative action” and quotas of various kinds to favour some groups – defined by their difference – to right their “wrongs” by wronging still others. Some gender equality legislation tries to deny that gender difference exists. The Swedish government has just proposed that the term “race” should be removed from all legislation. As if that would make differences disappear.

Given individuality, equality is often incompatible with justice. They are not synonyms and one does not imply the other. It is not for nothing that the phrase “just and equitable” uses both words and having both together assumes that a compromise will be necessary to get a measure of both.

It is a “classic” issue that every society has to take a call on and related to the conflict interface between “what is desired” and “what is deserved”. Should the individuals in a society be granted (as “rights”) what they desire/need or should they only be rewarded for what they deserve/earn? (Desire in this context must be equated  with “need” and anything “deserved” then must have been “earned”.) What an individual “desires” he terms as “needs”, and what he believes that he “deserves” is what he thinks he has “earned”. The surrounding society he operates in may have quite a different view of what he should desire (his needs) or what he has earned (deserves).

Simplistically this is socialism versus capitalism. “Socialism” can be described simply as being the wealth of a society being appropriated and accumulated into a common pool and then distributed “according to the individual’s needs/desires”.  “Capitalism” can be described as a system where each individual generates wealth or is remunerated according to what he has earned/deserved and individuals – rather than their appropriated wealth – are accumulated to make up that society. In these terms, a socialist society assumes ownership of all wealth and then takes a call on how much individualism it will suppress or permit, whereas a capitalist society assumes that ownership of wealth lies with the creators of the wealth who must then determine how much individualism they are prepared to give up for the “common good”.

In practice every society or organisation has a mix – often illogical and irrational – of the balance between “the needs of society” and the “rights of the individual”. Every society or organisation exhibits a mix of rewards for performance (earned) and allowances for needs (desires). This is a classic ideological problem that all trade unions face today. Once upon a time they advocated – for example – that a father of six should be paid more than a father of two because his needs/desires were greater. To even accept payment for “piecework” or any remuneration for “performance” was once seen as being heresy. Most large corporations today are essentially capitalist but generally implement remuneration on a mix of need and performance factors. Housing allowances, child allowances, education allowances are all examples of payments for perceived needs. Performance bonuses or allowances for extra qualifications or “danger money” have to be earned.

Inevitably socialistic societies tend towards an oppression of minorities by the “majority of wealth consumers” while capitalistic societies lean towards an oppression of the majority by the “minority of wealth creators”. This is the fundamental divide between the Right and the Left; to what extent should individuals and societies be subservient to or dominate the other? It is also the fundamental reason why there must usually be a conflict between “equality” and “justice”.

In this context, socialism maps to equality while capitalism maps to justice.

The desired versus deserved schism cannot be separated from how “equality” is viewed and consequently on defining what discrimination consists of. There is no equality of humans at birth. To be all born equal we would have to be clones and genetically identical which we are not. We are born to parents not of our choice, to our random positions on the predominantly bi-nodal gender scale. Our genetic traits (nature) and our subsequent experiences (nurture) determine our different capabilities and our different behaviours. Since it is these differences in our capabilities, our behaviour and our performance which make us individuals, what, then, should be “equalised” by subsequent unequal treatment?

In the name of “Equal Rights” we try to correct existing injustices. We use “Equal Opportunites” to mean removing the handicaps of unequal nurture for some individuals but in so doing we add handicaps for others. We don’t handicap athletes at the start of an Olympic 100 m race to ensure that all participants finish equal. For “gender equality” two women are paid the same amount at Wimbledon for 3 sets of tennis as two men for five but we accept that it would be an unequal match for the men to play against the women. Striving for equality, Wimbledon has achieved equality of pay for unequal performance. All societies tax their members unequally (and what does equal taxation mean anyway?) Creating or having wealth is taxed more heavily – perhaps justly – than wealth consumption. We punish (hopefully) justly – but unequally – for the same bad behaviour by different individuals.  We reserve places in educational institutions for those considered disadvantaged and thereby deny those same places for the deserving. A just health care system must provide unequal care with more care for those less healthy.

Given individuality, equality and justice will often be in conflict. To be just requires a recognition of differences and to then treat unequally to make suitable compensation for the difference. In theory “equality” should be an objective measure but as soon as it becomes the equality of something, it is just as subjective as notions of what is just.

Far better we strive for justice for individuals rather than for some diffuse and meaningless “equality for all”.

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