Equality, A Conversation

Snippets from a conversation with friends:

W: “We so rarely hear arguments in favor of human inequality that we are in danger of forgetting that, for most of world history, inequality has been regarded as almost too obvious to require justification..Likewise with democracy; the arguments against it are rarely voiced in public American settings today, so that it becomes easy to think democracy as a natural or default situation rather than as an extremely unusual historical achievement.” Patrick Allitt

FOO: “I’ve never understood the equality claim. Equality assumes a sort of metric where we can measure people and that number happens to come up the same for everyone. While I know what it means to say that two people have equal height or weight or number of teeth in their mouth, but what does it mean to say that we people just are “equal” or that they have “equal worth”. How is this worth to be determined? What sort of calculus does it use? Is there any intelligible idea to summing up the value of everyone and that number being the same for everyone? Or maybe we should have a slave market where the value of someone is how much a person is worth on the market.

“The notion makes no sense and empirically of course different people have different height, weight, talents, abilities, etc. Unless we want to collapse the worth of someone into these particular empirical qualities, to speak of the worth of anyone, and thereby that worth being “equal” to everyone else, is meaningless. Different people just are endowed with different abilities and that’s that.”

B: “Dominic, it starts with “all men are created equal” in the Declaration, and the notion of “equal rights” as opposed to things like slavery, “women can’t vote”, and now it had been extended to all kinds of things in out culture (“marriage equality”, etc). It is pretty much ingrained into the culture.”

FOO: “Even on that conception equality still doesn’t make any sense. As I understand it the US still has criminal disenfranchisement whereby people who commit crimes lose the right to vote. Thus whether someone has the ability to vote is still contingent upon facts like being under civil censure or not. Furthermore most Americans think that it is fair to impose unequal tax rates to people of different income groups. There are basically two kinds of equality only one of which makes sense. This is formal equality or simply equality under the categories of the law. Under this conception, if law says all black income earners are to enjoy a 10% tax reduction, then the law must be applied consistently across all people who fit into the category regardless of height weight or even gender, or all who earn above a certain amount are to be taxed 30% regardless of their age. However this is pretty trivial and compatible with what many would consider “unequal” legal arrangements, e.g. All black slaves are equally not allowed to enter certain areas. The other conception is “substantive equality” which is not consistent application of the categories of the law but the removal of those categories itself, e.g. the category of race, gender, etc. This conception makes no intelligible sense to me because the law itself exists precisely to categorise certain acts or persons as distinct from others and to prescribe a different treatment according to these categories. So to eliminate all categories is basically to eliminate the law itself.”

ME: “There is equality of dignity as image bearers of God, equality before God’s law, equality of deserving sin and undeserving of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. There is really no equality in any other way among or between humans. There’s not equality in worth: my wife is worth more to me than any other human; and then my daughters are worth more than any, save my wife. There is not equality before the law: minors are not held to the same law as are adults; women are not held to the same penalties under law as men in marriage cases or cases involving abuse such as rape. There is not equality among abilities, talents, knowledge, skill, life choices that lead to better or worse standards of living and future opportunities for children and eventual differing communities. There is not equality of opportunity, unless one levels the playing field after each generation; unless one severs the children from their parents’ prior successes; unless one treats unequally those who excel, hindering them so that those who do not merit a thing nonetheless obtain it unequally to those others who likewise do not merit it but who are given no “special”, that is unequal, treatment. There is not equality of result, unless some likewise unequal treatment is given to people as they go about their lives; hindering the winners and artificially (unequally) advancing the losers.”

“Equality is that thing which Plato said as a principle gets into the houses and infects the animals, until there is no longer any differences of any kind: the old pay deference to the young and the young speak on equal level to the old, the teacher stoops before the students and the students disregard the teacher, the men become in manner, appearance, and position indistinguishable from the women and the women take on every authority and role of the men, lovers and children are all in common, possessions and wages and jobs and knowledge are all distributed equally, animals are valued as human life, divorce is equal to marriage, death is equal to life, war is equal to peace, poverty is equal to provision, ignorance is equaled with comfortable progress, destruction is equaled to progress — until the people groan in their chaotic morass for some tyrant to save them from equality’s disastrous effects.”


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