Even Steven -- Fundamental Problems with Equality
The further into the frightening future we travel, the more we will need to understand what has gone wrong with our national thinking, and more importantly, how we are going to correct it. We have spent the last 6 years listening to our dear leader chastise us about equality, about paying our “fair share,” about redistributing wealth. His ideas are essentially and hopelessly false and infantile. Either we rid ourselves of such rubbish, or life in America will continue to go bad.
The idea of fairness is one of the earliest moral ideas that children grasp. If little Steven sees his sister with a cookie, he’s going to throw a fit if he doesn’t get one, too. You expect that in a little kid. Grown-ups understand the more sophisticated concept of justice – maybe Steven’s sister ate her broccoli and is being rewarded, maybe she helped wash the dishes and that is her wage. Steven’s too little to get that.
Basically there are two faces to the concept of fairness: fairness as in equality, and fairness as in justice. We can no longer afford to confuse the two.
- Fairness, as in equality, deals with outcomes – outcomes that have to be forced. Let’s say Steven’s favorite aunt, Nancy, takes pity on him and forces his sister Suzy to share her cookie. That’s not just – she earned it and he didn’t, but it is equal.
- Fairness, as in justice, deals with process, with merit, with intrinsic value. Suzy completed a task; she screwed up her face, squinted her eyes, held her nose then chewed and swallowed the nasty vegetable. Her plate was clean and she had obeyed her parents. Steven had just flat-out refused to be bribed into eating anything green. Justice demands that he suffer the loss of the treat. That’s sad for him, but it is just.
A nation’s government needs to be concerned with justice, not with equality. Why?
- Because equality is a lesser idea than integrity -- it is not equal to justice.
- Equality suggests a numerical accounting.
- Justice suggests a moral or legal accounting.
- Equality emphasizes what we have, what we get, and does so with concrete, palpable measurements -- salaries, property, pleasures. In feminist thinking all women should earn the same salary as men in similar jobs. That seems fair, but the just arrangement takes into consideration that women often quit their jobs to care for children, and often don’t enter the workforce until their male counterparts have accrued many years of experience. Parity here is not necessarily just.
- Justice emphasizes action and accurate, truthful evaluation of that action. When the crowds went nuts in Ferguson it was because they were not looking for justice -- they wanted equality. They wanted the life of Darren Wilson for the life of Michael Brown. No one was concerned about the actions of either person. They wanted a white life for a black one. Period. The crowd had that all backward -- justice had been served, the evidence considered and an evaluation of the actions of both Brown and Wilson had been issued. But the crowd appeared unable to understand that level of fairness; they could only comprehend the little boy level, the Steven level, the you-got-yours-I-want-mine level.
But don’t our founding documents deal with equality? Yes -- the Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.” So, aren’t people entitled to demand that kind of fairness?
In the phrase “created equal” who is it doing the creating? God. Not the government, not other people, but God. “Created” indicates the beginning of a life, not the middle or the end. And if God created us He must have had a purpose for doing so. This statement refers, if one reads closely and thinks clearly, to equality in purpose. If God created each of us, then each of us has a reason to be here, a functional part to play in the plan of God, a place in that plan that is of equal importance to everyone else. That’s where we start. God didn’t create all thirty-somethings to earn the same wages or live in the same kind of houses. We were created different from each other, totally unique and sameness has no place in this picture.
We have to remember that our Founders had left a country where people were not deemed to have equal value. The peasants were the peasants and could become nothing more. The royalty was the royalty, and while they could become dead, they would never become peasants. That fixed status was part of what had driven people to these shores. Ridding themselves of the yoke of a frozen class structure was a big piece of the free market puzzle that this nation, and no other nation, solved.
Now we could look at this equality clause through a postmodern, deconstructionist lens and we could decide to read into it our own desires to return to childhood dependency and throw fits whenever life didn’t give us cookies. And most institutions of higher “learning” do just that. This is another part of our thinking that has to grow up if we are to remain America.
Equality in outcome can never be realized. When we institutionalize equality, some human beings have to impose that equality, and therefore those people are, by necessity, above all others. If Steven and Aunt Nancy is going to equalize cookie-eating, she has to have the authority to make Suzy share. And Nancy can have all the cookies she wants. Don’t forget that.
We can either have the market determine who has more (a matter of merit or justice), or we can have government determine who has more (in an effort to impose equality), but either way someone will come out ahead. If we determine superiority by justice – he who works hardest, has the best ideas, i.e. the most merit, then who-has-what will happen naturally and can fluctuate according to the wills of the individuals in the society. Yes some will become wealthy and will therefore have more power than others -- temporarily, but that is always open to change. When someone who is more energetic, more intelligent, more talented will come along and supplant the powerful.
If, however, government determines who-has-what:
- Individual talents and abilities are wasted, therefore there is less wealth available to share equally.
- Change is slow, cumbersome, and usually ineffectual. Government has life-or-death power over individuals and private business does not; the fear of governmental reprisal stultifies ingenuity and progress.
- Graft and corruption become more prevalent because the idea of justice and merit takes a lower position in the conscience of the society, and because everyone wants in on the opportunity to amass more than his own “fair share” of the wealth.
- Government targets business, its nemesis. Therefore, in order for business to survive it has to sidle up close to government. This increases graft and corruption and further damages the fluidity of the markets.
Before long no one has any cookies -- Aunt Nancy has eaten them all, and Suzy’s mom has gotten tired of baking cookies; there was no percentage anymore since Suzy was also refusing to eat her vegies; Suzy could see no advantage in doing so. Everything is even-Steven, yes, but no one wants an equal amount of nothing. We can only fix this by thinking clearly ourselves and by sending those clear thoughts out to others. Fill our national bandwidth with rational thought; push the nonsense back down the drain where it belongs.
Deana Chadwell is an adjunct professor and department head at Pacific Bible College https://pacificbible.edu in southern Oregon. She teaches writing, logic, and literature. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.