Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Egalitarianism Fails

Egalitarianism is one of those philosophies of the community that defeats itself. In principle, it's a lovely ideal: equality in the social, political, economic, and legal sense. For all to be equal under the law, in society; for all to have the same access and the same treatment; these are the hopes of egalitarianism.

But the problem can be reduced to a simple point. There are only two levels at which all humanity can be said to be equal: all or nothing. At any other level, there would be differences. So, as many philosophers have pointed out, Death is the great leveller — it makes all things equal, whether by complete loss of all things or by the attainment of all things.

It's of course possible for society to make the vain attempt to defeat the natural biological tendency to discriminate and differentiate. It never works out, because all humans are not equal and never will be.

But, hang on, someone might argue, why can't we do things like make the poor richer and feed the hungry? If everyone were equally well-off, that would be good, wouldn't it?

Actually, yes, it would be. But humans aren't like that. Godliness with contentment is great gain, said a 1st-century philosopher. But humans in general are not gods, and are never content. Nobody wants to be equally well-off; at the very best, we want to be differently well-off. Give any two people the same amount of resources, and they will definitely do different things with them, for all humans are not equal.

So at what level are humans equal? Surely we have a common humanity?

No, we don't. We can try for things like equal opportunities and equal rights, but the most adept (in both good and bad ways) among us will always come out on top because they are better at manipulating things. No two humans are the same; ergo, no two humans are equal. Forcibly making things equal has Harrison Bergeron consequences.

But even in a Harrison Bergeron society, where the authorities make everyone behave as if they were equal, having that authority makes a person different. Only in utter anarchy would things be equal, if you define anarchy as having no person in authority over another. That, however, is worse. The removal of societal hierarchies leads to biological competition, which is even less forgiving and less egalitarian.

Which brings us to the debate on elitism in education. If egalitarianism fails, then elitism triumphs. Education systems must be set up to channel the elite, not corral them or confine them or Harrison-Bergeron them. If people are 'more fit' for some purposes, so be it. It doesn't mean the rest have to make themselves worse by spending time in envy and discontent.

But they will. Because humans are like that.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Similar to why Communism failed, hmm?

Well, true that no two humans are the same. You also mentioned that each of us is better in some areas than others; I also recall you mentioning not too long ago that we can all be extraordinary in our own ways, each with our own strengths and weaknesses.

Question, though: If you take the whole weaknesses and strengths thing too far, would that lead to some degree of social determinism?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 4:51:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, now I have access to a real computer. Anyway.

With regards to what I said in previous comment. Social determinism is the wrong term. What I meant was something along the lines of being determined to do a certain job, etc. based solely on what you're good at. It's rather irrelevant and vague now that I think about it.

/Sorrows

P.S. Lol at the strange chinese comment and the stupid spam links.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 6:22:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

Well, the more complex a society, the more different people have to be and the more situations in which certain skill sets can dominate.

However, some people have the über skill sets like communication, teaching, leadership, synthesizing etc. Those are general-purpose. The people with these skills at a very high level can do a lot more in more situations. They will end up in the elite, or at least, the establishment.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 6:39:00 pm  
Blogger xylph said...

Concerning judicial equality, surely we can be equal in dispensation of law, as originally intended by the French Revolutionists who formulated égalité?
I am also more inclined to think that the government's responsibility is to dispense equal treatments, say, opportunity for higher education; but what one does with that opportunity is outside the government's responsibility.
But of course, applied the same treatment, we would split, Gaussian fashion. Honestly, if everyone is the same, it would be dystopian. A boring one, at that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 5:10:00 am  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

Xylph: In theory the State would have to exist to provide equal dispensation of law. But then officers of that law would exist. And then you would have to differentiate them from other people (e.g. cops can indulge in 'hot pursuit' and carry weapons and arrest people)

Everyone would be entitled to equal redress under the law, irrespective of their status, of course. But then the more 'law-literate' would be more aware of those rights and better at using them. The only way forward would then be to have everyone law-literate and law-capable. We'd all be cops, lawyers, judges and whatnot. But then society would fail.

That's why egalitarianism will always kill itself. Great ideal, impossible to implement except as an imperfect approach. We strive for it, but it will never happen in real life.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 4:57:00 pm  

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