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Friday, April 26, 2013

Against Equality Again

Against Equality Again

"Equality in the present age has become an idol, in much the same way as property was in the age of Locke. Many people worship it, and think that it provides the key to the proper understanding of politics, and that on it alone can a genuinely just society be reconstructed. This is a mistake...

The concept of equality belongs, properly speaking, to the mathematical disciplines. Numbers, lengths, angles, vectors, tensors can be said to be equal to one another without any trace of metaphor. There are some attributes of men where questions of equality can be raised without any conceptual strain. We can ask whether one man is as tall as another, or we may, like Procrustes, seek to establish equality among all men in this respect... most human attributes cannot be quantified without distortion. I cannot have as much education as you, nor as much love, nor as much happiness, because education, love and happiness are not commodities that can be measured and thus compared. One fundamental objection to egalitarianism is that it encourages people to view the good things of life in depersonalised, homogenized terms so that politicians can argue about how much should be assigned to anybody, but nobody can actually engender or enjoy them. It misconceives our human nature to see us primarily as possessors rather than as agents. Although we have feelings of pleasure and pain, and can have possessions, we are first and foremost agents, who do things. We are happy, we love, we are educated, in and by doing things, not in having things done to us or being given them. To talk abstractly of these goods as something that we can have is subtly to misconstrue their real nature and thus prevent our achieving them...

Instead of saying that we shall all die---which is true but not very grandiloquent---we talk of death being the great equaliser. Equality before the law does not mean that the law metes out the same sentence to us all, innocent and guilty alike, but only that we are all under the law and all answerable for our illegal acts...

Discrimination between the sexes has been called in question in recent years `because, it is argued, no one has yet shown good enough reasons for thinking a person's sex relevant to the income he should earn---and the burden of proof rests on the discriminators'. But sometimes a practice is not called in question or is thought to be justified, as Benn goes on to point out: `On the other hand, discrimination according to sex for military service has been generally accepted without much question and is usually considered well grounded: so it is rarely called an inequality'... It is easy to ask questions, and easy not to be satisfied with the answers given. But not all questions ought to be answered, and often merely by asking a question one is committed to waiting for an answer and not dismissing it out of hand. Moreover, without considerable qualification the presumption of equality is bound to prove internally inconsistent. It cannot be a presumption we are always entitled to make...

It is dangerously easy in seeking a rational justification to smuggle in an assumption of omnipotence. In our age of unbelief we tend to be `egotheists' and to assume that we, or the State at our bidding, can arrange everything as seems best. But not everything is possible to the State, nor should it be. If we insist on the State's being answerable for all the arrangements of society, we implicitly concede to it absolute power. Unless we are totalitarians, we must be prepared on occasion to disclaim responsibility, and to refuse to offer a justification in the terms desired of some social arrangement which has attracted criticism. In an imperfect world inhabited by imperfect men, many things will go wrong, which are indubitably wrong, but which cannot be remedied except at the cost of much greater evils. Egalitarian sentiment leads easily to totalitarianism, and if we abhor totalitarianism we must be prepared on occasion to rebut the presumption of the egalitarians, and concede that not everything in our society can be justified...

If the egalitarian is entitled to call any form of discrimination in question, then the anti-egalitarian can reduce the presumption of equality to absurdity by calling in question some form of discrimination the egalitarian is disposed to accept. American advocates of Women's Lib who believe that considerations of chivalry should secure them exemption from the Draft Law are being inconsistent if they base their claim for equal treatment on a general refusal to allow that differences of sex can ever be relevant to the treatment meted out to a citizen by the state. Often in politics criteria of relevance are difficult to determine, and we have to take into account many different considerations based on different facts. The presumption of equality, however, focuses on just one factor, and ignores all the rest. At one time advanced educationalists get hot under the collar about inequalities of opportunity, and ask indignantly why the son of a rich man should be given a public school education while the much abler son of poor parents is denied one. No fluffy answers are accepted, and under the concentrated gaze of public scrutiny it becomes evident that what sort of education you get should not depend on who your parents are. A generation later the centre of indignation has shifted, and advanced educationalists ask indignantly why the education a boy gets should depend on the genes he happens to have inherited from his parents, and left-wing thinkers extol comprehensive schools with the aid of the same arguments that old Etonians used to use against the grammar school brigade in the days of the Butler education act. We may smile ironically, but should recognise that education is being grievously damaged and clarity obscured by a scheme of argument which presents issues in terms of a few arbitrarily selected black- and-white distinctions instead of a multitude of grey ones. The presumption of equality concentrates our attention on one distinction and leads us to ignore all the others. But whether a distinction is relevant or not cannot depend on whether the egalitarian happens to question it or not. It may be that at present no one questions the 18-plus selection for the university on the basis of academic ability. But if egalitarians aver that intellectual ability is no justification for giving one child an academic education denied to another, then I am anxious to know what, should the question of university entrance ever be raised, their answer will be. Ought I to be preparing myself to lecture on Aristotle's Ethics or on First-Order Predicate Calculus to people who know no Greek and cannot do Logic, but have come to Oxford in order to play rugger or row? It is, of course, a rhetorical question. But it shows the weakness of a schema of argument which depends on asking questions that are rhetorical in as much as no serious answer is sought for or listened to. We cannot avoid every sort of distinction or discrimination. If we set out to establish equality in one respect, we shall thereby establish some other inequality in another respect. The free use of the presumption of equality is bound to lead to inconsistency. It must, therefore, be, at best, a principle of only restricted applicability, and before the egalitarian can apply it, he needs to show that the case is a suitable one for its application...

The quotation from J. C. Davies, `I am as good as anybody else; I may not be as clever or hard working as you are, but I am as good as you are'. But this, although a genuinely egalitarian doctrine with characteristically untoward consequences, is not what the principle of proper consideration of interests establishes. What the principle establishes is `I am a man. I am not to be ignored, nor should my interests be systematically discounted'. To go further and to claim that I am as good as anybody else is to divorce goodness from all possible criteria, and ultimately to devalue personality. If I am as good as you no matter what you do and I fail to do, then it does not matter what you do or what I do; similarly, if my view is as good as yours, irrespective of the fact that you are clever and I am not, and you have examined the evidence and considered the arguments while I have just opined, then it means that there is no right or wrong in our thinking, and that any view is as good as any other... To reason is to lay oneself open to the possibility of being wrong, and if the egalitarian is so wedded to the principle of non-discrimination that he cannot entertain the possibility of anybody's being wrong unless everybody else is too, then he is committed to irrationality.

The peer-group argument goes back to Plato. We need to treat some men---colleagues, friends, partners---as equals, peers standing in the same relation to oneself as one does to them. Although not all relations between men need be, or are, reciprocal, groups of fellow citizens, fellow officers, fellow rulers, played a central part in Greek social life, and still meet important emotional needs in our own society. Plato envisaged the rulers of his ideal state being so much of a peer-group that they would have everything, even wives and children, in common, so much so that the use of the first- and second- person pronouns---I, me, my, and you, your--- should be replaced by the first person plural (Republic, V, 451c-469b). Likewise in the sub-ideal community for which he laid down the Laws, he is aware of the importance of fellow-feeling and peer-group behaviour (Laws, VI, 777d5 and XI, 919d7). We may distinguish two strands in the argument: one is that of anti- selfishness. Plato was appalled at the me-firstism rampant in Athenian society, and so he opposed to amoral self- aggrandisement the selfless pursuit of the common good. So, too, many modern egalitarians are moved primarily by a detestation of the profit-motive. But the alternatives are not exhaustive, and the dangers of corporate selfishness are no less great, indeed they are more insidious, than those of simple, individual greed. The first-person plural is still the first person, and in danger of excluding third personal outsiders. Within the group there is total equality: but the group is restricted, and there is no equality between members and non-members of the group. Plato's peers, like the peers of England, are more noticeable for the inequality which separates them from everybody else, than for the equality which does exist among them. So, too, modern denunciations of the profit-motive have been the pretext on which bureaucratic empires have been built up, and have resulted in an inequality of power which is both more unequal and more dangerous than the inequality of wealth to which objection was originally made...

The argument from fraternity to equality fails in two respects. It fails first because we are not all brothers. Half the human race are disqualified by sex from being even metaphorical brothers, and although the advocates of Women's Lib seem to suppose that Sorority should be the watch-word of the Sexual Revolution, it seems to me that the aspirations of most women are deeply unsisterly. Young women give few indications of seeing themselves as sisters or wanting to be treated in a sisterly fashion by the young men of their acquaintanceship, and in later years maternal and grand- maternal affection loom much larger in their life than any desire to gatecrash other people's peer-groups. It is no accident that we find Plato's treatment of sex the most repugnant part of his programme in the Republic. Sexual relations are essentially asymmetric, and the emotions they engender are not only intense but necessarily exclusive. In addition to the exclusive love between husband and wife, many other relationships, both within the family and outside it, are similarly asymmetric. I cannot really regard even all male men as my brethren, without misrepresenting the true state of my feelings for my father, my sons, my ancestors and my possible descendants. Similarly, the regard I have for my teachers and tutors, mentors and benefactors is necessarily asymmetric, as is the concern I feel for my pupils and possible recipients of my advice or benefactions. It is essential to society, and, as I shall argue more fully later, essential to each man's emotional fulfilment that there should be some differentiation in the structure of our society and in our social relations one with another. The full-blooded argument from fraternity to equality fails because it is founded on a premiss which is false in fact. We are not all brothers.

Fraternal feeling is none the less a good thing. It needs to be cherished and catered for, and sometimes calls for some equality in treatment or circumstance. But it neither requires, nor can endure, total equality... It is not equality but justice that is essential if fellow-feeling is to flourish. I can identify with you and enter into your aspirations and purposes so long as I believe that you and I are tied together by bonds of mutual respect, and that each will accord the other a consideration which we both believe will be reasonable. Equality of circumstances may conduce to fellow-feeling, but need not, and will not if in fact it seems unjust. Equal conditions often fail to engender feelings of fellowship: and even in the small, cohesive peer-group there is, and has to be, some recognition of the differences between different members...

The argument from Universal Humanity can be called in aid of inegalitarian, as well as egalitarian, conclusions. Many inegalitarian societies show more respect for each individual man than supposedly egalitarian societies do. Marx saw merit in feudalism, in contrast to the liberal societies of his own day, because in a feudal society each man had his own place, and was respected in that place. It is better to be a bathroom attendant in an Oxford college than to be a prosperous proletarian in an amorphous plebs, because the bathroom attendant, although he occupies a relatively lowly place in the college hierarchy, nevertheless is enabled to feel that he is a valued member of that society, making a real and definite contribution to its well-being. In comparison, a modern egalitarian society can be very heartless, showing no concern for any individual as such. Although the prosperous proletarian has more money than the college servant, and although he is not obliged to regard anyone as his superior, he does not feel that he is valued for himself alone, or that society cares for anything but his cash. A society which accords respect to each man in his place is appreciated because it seems to individuate individuals in a way in which societies committed to the egalitarian ethos are unable to do. If the only social relations are transitive symmetric relations, then I necessarily stand in exactly the same relationship to society as anybody else, and therefore I can have no social position which is peculiarly my own. Since my relationship to the rest of society is the same as yours, it would not make any difference if I were replaced by you; and from this it follows that I in myself am replaceable, and therefore dispensable. In a totally egalitarian society I am always potentially redundant. I am merely a unit, not a unique individual. If I see myself as a man, with a real personality and a real contribution all of my own to make to my fellow men, then I shall reject the ethos of egalitarianism and see positive merit in a social order which acknowledges the distinctiveness of the individual and therefore the differences between men.

A status society does not have to be strictly ordered. It is compatible with there being some ordering-but the ordering does not have to be complete, and, more importantly, does not have to be all important. What is desired is that each man should stand in regard to the rest of society in a relation which other men do not, and that this relation should itself be the ground of respect. The village cobbler performs a different function from the squire or the parson, and one that is needed, and cannot be performed, by them, however wealthy or well educated they may be. Each man wants to be respected. The egalitarian seeks to satisfy this need by ensuring that no man is ever in an inferior position vis-…-vis anybody else, and so insists that all social relations shall be equivalence relations. That fails to meet the need, which is much better met by allowing relations which are asymmetric but securing for each man that there is some relation with respect to which he is superior to other people. No one should be always the underdog...

Two inequalities are better than one. It is better to have a society in which there are a number of different pecking orders, so that a person who comes low according to one order can nevertheless rate highly according to another. One advantage that English society used to have over American was that whereas in America wealth was the only criterion, in England social standing was largely independent of wealth, and could, therefore, act as a corrective. More generally, it is good that there should be an athletic hierarchy besides the academic one, so that boys who are not blessed with brains may nevertheless be, and feel themselves to be, the stars of the football field. A man may not be a great success economically but still can be a big noise in the Boy Scout Association or the pigeon fanciers' club. So long as we have plenty of different inequalities, nobody need be absolutely inferior. It is only if, in the name of equality, we set about eliminating them all, that we shall succeed in eliminating many of them and thereby make those that remain far more burdensome.

Egalitarians are angered when the argument from Universal Humanity is called in aid of inegalitarian conclusions, and produce vehement counter-arguments against it. They will not accept that the college servant is really better off than the prosperous proletarian, however much happier he may subjectively suppose himself to be, because the mere fact that the society recognises a difference in status between the college servant and, say, the fellows is itself an affront to human dignity. If we differentiate at all between one man and another on account of the social functions they fulfil, then we are no longer regarding them as men but merely as performers of certain roles. The bathroom attendant may think that he is valued for himself alone, but he is wrong; he is valued merely as a cleaner of baths and lavatories, merely as a pair of hands, merely as a useful automaton and not at all as a person, a child of God, a human being, an immortal soul, the bearer of an eternal destiny. This argument has powerful emotional appeal, but it is confused. It confuses the minimal and the maximal respect we may pay to a human being... I respect another man's humanity by observing a certain set of minimum conditions towards him---by not killing him, by not torturing him, by not leaving him to starve by not depriving him of civil rights---and it is important to see these conditions as minimum conditions which must be fulfilled rather than as maximum conditions to which we should aim but which we cannot be blamed if we fail to achieve. If we set our sights too high, we shall secure nothing. It may---or it may not---be desirable that I should identify fully with the bath attendant, and seek to enable him to fulfil his potentiality in every way; but it is a fact that most people can, or at least do, identify with most other people only to a very limited extent; and if we want to ensure that there shall be nobody who is not identified with at all, we must accept the consequence that the extent to which identification is achieved will be a fairly minimal one...

Although I may object to being regarded merely as the performer of a certain role, I do not normally object to being regarded as a person who does perform a certain role, or who has carried out certain achievements. The reason is that these roles and achievements are activities or actions of mine, and therefore manifestations of my own personal choices, and so very much part of what I essentially am. What I do is the mark I make upon the world. I am different from everybody else, and one chief way in which my being different from everybody else is made plain is in what I choose to do. Even if what I choose to do is something fairly humdrum, like cleaning baths, it nevertheless is what I have done, my own special contribution to making the world a better place. A society which differentiates between people on the basis of what they do is not denying their humanity, but emphasizing a most important facet of it...

Liberty requires that we let people be different, justice that we treat them differently: the one because it is for them, rather than for us, to decide what they shall do, and different men decide to do different things. the other because all the relevant factors should be taken into account, and these will often be different and demand different sorts of treatment. Radical egalitarians recognise the incompatibility between their ideal and the ideals of liberty and justice, and say, simply, that these ideals are less important and ought to give way when they conflict with the overriding claims of equality. Most egalitarians, however, seek to reconcile the various ideals by claiming that the uniformities they seek to ensure are compatible with the exercise of liberty and positively required by justice. They envisage a society in which each man does his own thing, but important equalities between different people are not upset by the different things they do. It is permissible to hope for this, but not reasonable to expect it. Unless our liberties are so circumscribed that we can make choices on our own account only about matters that are essentially trivial---if we can choose our hobbies and the decor of our flats, but not our jobs or where we are to live some of our choices will impinge on the way important affairs turn out, and will work out well or ill for us not only in our own estimation but in that of others too. Contrary to the belief of some lovers of liberty, our values are not entirely our own but have some tendency to be shared. In any society there must be some shared values, and therefore some shared assumptions about what is to anyone's advantage or disadvantage, and so some common standards of success. This is why, although there is no necessity for social relations to be ordering relations, nevertheless a social order tends to establish itself. Although I may, in accordance with the Declaration of Independence, pursue happiness in my own way, and although many Americans have in fact set themselves idiosyncratic goals of success, nevertheless for most Americans success is to be measured in pecuniary terms. We want to succeed not only in our own eyes but in the eyes of other men too: we are competitive creatures, who value goals not because we have assessed them independently on our own account, but because others do and we want to outdo them. If we allow men liberty in things that matter, they will soon establish inequalities that signify. hence, if we value liberty at all, we cannot abolish all inequalities, but only, at best, reduce their impact by multiplying them...

The argument from justice is more difficult. Whereas most people sense some difficulty in reconciling liberty and equality, many think that justice and equality are not only compatible, but come to the same thing. Nevertheless, justice is not equality, even though it sometimes requires that people be treated alike, as equality always does. We can see that justice is not the same as equality, because we sometimes stigmatize as unjust laws imposing `strict liabilities', although they are evidently unobjectionable on the score of equality, since they apply to everyone without exception. If there were a law imposing the death penalty on the driver of a motor vehicle involved in a fatal accident, it would be unjust in spite of---indeed, because of---its treating all such drivers the same. We fail to do justice to the individual unless we give due consideration to the circumstances of his case. Equality, because it focuses attention on only a few circumstances, may well lead us to ignore some other circumstances that are relevant, and thus to be unjust. Again, justice gives rise to certain procedural requirements, while equality is concerned only with results, not processes. Equality does not insist upon the principle audi alteram partem: audi neutram partem would be just as good so far as equality is concerned. justice is much more complicated than equality...

The divergence of justice from equality is particularly important in economic affairs. Many people have argued against economic equality on the score of expediency, and some weight should be given to the need to provide people with adequate incentives. But for many people, particularly for members of trades unions, the question of expediency looms less large than that of justice. So long as money plays an important part in our way of life, it will be a tangible token of esteem and gratitude which ought not to be withheld from those who have done well by us and deserved well of us. Much of the current concern with differentials is concerned less with incentives than with respect. People ask for more not because there is an imbalance between supply and demand for their services---though this may well have a bearing on the readiness of employers to concede their claims---but because they think existing remuneration does not reflect the real value of what they do, and they are unwilling to acquiesce in other people putting a low valuation on their efforts. Although on occasions, under limited conditions, for set purposes, we may agree on a flat rate irrespective of effort or skill, there remains an obstinate feeling that those who have borne the heat of the day ought to be more handsomely rewarded than those who have laboured only briefly or made only a slight contribution to the success of the enterprise. Economic justice can argue in the opposite direction to economic equality.

Arguments from social expediency can also be urged. The argument from incentives is too well known to need elaborating here. The argument from innovation is not so well known. Professor Hayek and Lord Hailsham point out that inequality has been the means whereby economic progress has been achieved. If there had not been some rich people in the early part of this century who could afford to waste a lot of money on horseless carriages, there would be no production of cars now...

It is difficult and costly to initiate action. If private individuals are to be able to take certain sorts of initiative effectively, they need to be rich. Not all people can be rich. If from this we infer that nobody should be rich, then we are precluding private individuals from starting things on their own, and thus are conferring a monopoly of initiative power on officials. And this is dangerous and illiberal. We want there to be at least some citizens outside the state bureaucracy who not only can resist the official point of view, but can get new ideas off the ground, because otherwise we shall be not only defenceless against the bureaucratic juggernaut but soon as obsolescent as the dinosaur... rich men are useful to have around, because they are easier to persuade to back their fancy than cautious committees or government officials...

I was fighting a motor manufacturer about the exclusion clauses in their guarantees, and my being an Oxford don was of crucial importance in securing the attention of a shareholders' meeting for two decisive minutes. In a finite world we cannot expect people to give adequate attention to everyone, and if everyone is to have equal attention then all will be equally ignored. Freedom of speech generates a lot of `noise' which may well drown the significant signals unless we have some pre-set filtering devices. Many of our social institutions have the important function of telling the world at large who it is they ought to listen to. What is a university degree but this? The university certifies to all those it may concern that Mr John Smith has shown himself capable of thinking for himself, and that his opinions therefore should be treated, if not with deference, at least with some respect. If you opine that I have got myxomatosis, it will not give me pause to think, but if a doctor does, I shall act on it at once. In a world of imperfect information we cannot take everyone for what he is really worth, and since it would be unwise to take everyone at face value, we are bound to rely on distinctions to enable us to discriminate between one man's judgment and another's, which therefore are inherently inegalitarian. It is as foolish to lament this fact as it is to worship it. If, in the name of equality, we attempt to disallow all social distinctions, we prevent people from making up their minds for themselves, and leave them all prey to the manipulators of the admass society. Better an inequality between doctors and the medically unqualified than that we should all be taken in by a plausible charlatan... in the rush of ordinary life we shall go on having to make snap judgments about people we do not really know, and must rely on socially established criteria. When the garage attendant tells me he has discovered a practicable way of obtaining energy from nuclear fusion I shall continue to be much less interested than if a professor of physics had said the same.

We need inequality because we are limited beings only imperfectly informed. If I were God, and could look into each man's heart, I could respond to him fully and totally as the person he was: but since I am only a man, I can know only the outer man, and must of necessity judge by appearances. It makes a great difference if the man at the door is a doctor, a colleague, a former pupil, a business man or an itinerant salesman. In a very small society where everyone knows everybody else, we know who each man is, what role he plays, and therefore what response is appropriate on our part. But we do not---cannot-live all our lives within the confines of a face-to-face society, and are constantly seeking for clues to enable us to address ourselves appropriately to strangers. How many young men on seeing a pretty girl glance at the fourth finger of her left hand to see whether they should be merely chivalrous or should risk rebuff by being something more?... Egalitarians find all such distinctions offensive; and often, indeed, they have their offensive features. But egalitarians fail to recognise the deep social needs that give rise to such distinctions--- our need to classify people in order that we may know what to expect from them and how far it is safe to relax our guard against them. Take away all outward and visible signs of friendliness and trustworthiness, and everyone will be treated as a debt-collector or high-pressure salesman. The effect of egalitarian principles is to ensure that each man is treated as every man's enemy.

Class distinctions enable a man to know where he stands... in some cultures men---like many other animals, according to the ethologists---reserve their enmity for their equals, and are remarkably forbearing to those evidently weaker than themselves.

We return to morality. It is forbearance and consideration of others that we want---not necessarily equal consideration, but consideration suited to the circumstances. The virtue of visible distinctions is that by indicating the sort of consideration that is appropriate they encourage us to give it. We cannot extend maximal consideration uniformly to everyone. If we are all equal, we are all competitors, since each of us, not being ready to merge his identity in Plato's ideal society, knows that sometimes he is seeking his good in rivalry with others. Few men feel willing---or can afford---to be always uncompetitive. If only equal consideration is to be extended to everyone, then everyone must be treated equally guardedly, and there will be no occasions on which it would be reasonable to go the second mile or give the other man the best of the bargain. De Tocqueville ascribed the acquisitiveness he noted in America to the egalitarian tenor of American society; and the connection is due in part to the way in which egalitarian assumptions structure men's concepts, so as to foreclose the possibility of one's sometimes having special obligations to extend extra consideration. Noblesse oblige does not flourish in a climate of egalitarianism. And whatever we may think of the noblesse, we can ill afford to dispense with the oblige.

Noblesse is, in fact, inevitable. The social advantages of inequality are so great that, however equal we try to make society in some respects, there are bound to be other respects, if not money then power or prestige, in which some people are markedly better off than others. If we will admit this, we can control it. We can take steps to prevent classifications being unjust or irrelevant, or becoming obsolete, and we can encourage those who enjoy advantages to take on corresponding responsibilities. We can ensure that degrees are not awarded on a basis of self- assessment or replaced by a form of self-advertisement, and the Queen can ennoble trades union leaders and can confer knighthoods not only on rich businessmen as of yore but on those who have proved their prowess in the field of football battle. The egalitarian, because he will not allow the existence of inequalities, is unable to ameliorate them or make them work out for the benefit of all concerned. It is no accident that in societies supposedly imbued with egalitarian sentiment snobbery abounds and public relations men prosper. Again, if we acknowledge the fact of inequality, we can adjure people to accept an inequality of obligation too. Our society is one that in fact confers great privileges on many men---perhaps deserved, but great all the same. Trades union officials, civil servants, chartered accountants, university graduates and all those in receipt of grants for higher education are very well done by, and do very well in consequence. But the fact and its concomitant obligations are not readily recognised. Pupils are surprised when I point out that a degree now is in effect a patent of nobility. The protagonists of the student movement were unable to see that because they were given advantages denied to other people, therefore their responsibilities were correspondingly different; and the reason why they were unable to see this was that they were so deeply imbued with the belief that privilege was wrong that they could not really accept the fact that they themselves were privileged, or that their being privileged could be a ground of obligation. Egalitarianism induces blindness. It not only leads us to avert our gaze from those inequalities not currently under attack, but it makes us unready to recognise in our own case benefits which perhaps, if egalitarian arguments were valid, we ought not to receive, but which, as a matter of fact, we do receive and enjoy. The rich egalitarian agrees that riches are wrong, and that the whole system ought to be changed; but meanwhile he remains rich, and he is tempted, having decided against riches in principle, not to allow the fact of his still being rich to enter into his moral reckoning. Moral reasoning is best based on facts as they are: and if, for whatever reason, there are in fact significant inequalities in our society, it is well that those who benefit most should operate with a scheme of thought which enables them to come to terms with the facts and recognise the responsibilities they engender...

Equality as a general goal of political endeavour is impossible to achieve, and in any case undesirable. Worse than this, the effort to establish equality everywhere has diverted the energies of many good men from more worthwhile endeavours. Because they have confused equality with humanity or with justice or with equity, men have thought that in endeavouring to establish equality they were ensuring that these other goods would be enjoyed by everyone, and have therefore been blind to the subtle ways in which our society has come to care less for men's humanity, has been less sensitive to considerations of justice, and has been more ready to countenance iniquity. Why is it that over the last thirty years our society has become more uncaring, more impersonal, more brutal? Other factors, no doubt, are also responsible, but one is our obsession with equality. It has blunted our perceptions and diverted our efforts. Instead of considering each man in his own individuality, equality has encouraged us to consider people in the mass, and in regard to those facets of their lives that can most readily be quantified and compared. If we had laboured to secure justice or humanity with half the zeal with which we have secured the more jealous god of equality, things might not have come to their present sorry pass."

--- from Philosophy 52, 1977, pp.255-280.


This has implications for objectification also. Basically objectification need not be all or nothing.

Also, equality, by seeing everyone as identical, objectifies them.


Addendum: See also: Balderdash: There lived a King
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