Friday, May 11, 2012
There are many “lenses” we might set up through which we attempt to define and / or correct social affairs. Though the list is long, I would like to address one such “lens” that has been foisted into my sphere of attention of late. The lens is that of equality. This is a good word and a wonderful concept but a poor lens. I have had many occasions to say that our task is to put things in their proper place. There is a proper place and role for equality but it must not take center-stage in our philosophy or sociology. Though the Declaration of Independence contains the phrase “…all men are created equal…” we can only understand the appropriateness of this phrase within its context. For example, I do not believe Jefferson would attempt to defend the idea that all men are created with the equal capacity to see or hear as some are born blind or deaf. This, obviously, is not the intention of the statement.
That being said, I simply offer an illustration to show that pursuing equality as the solution to social ills is unwise. I will do this by placing the idea within a context other than the large-scale operations of society (though this generally works itself out in the specific area of the relationship between the rich and the poor; affirmative action and welfare oriented affairs).
Imagine a professional football team. Ten people show up to try out for a position as quarterback on the team. The scouts and coaches observe the skills and maturity of the candidates. They determine such things as how far they throw, how accurately they throw, how effective their decision-making is, how they relate to the other team members and their role, etc. They then declare who cannot have a position on the team. Further, they will discuss how much they are willing to pay the various players based on the value of the contribution they make toward to the wellbeing of the team. What role does equality play in this scenario? Do all of those trying out have equal skill and maturity? The answer is clearly, “No.” Does their inequality become a factor in deciding the role they do or do not play? The answer is clearly, “Yes.” Does it benefit the team to declare that they should all receive equal playing time regardless of the contribution they make? Does it really make any sense to say that all ten individuals who tried out should receive equal pay? Does demanding equality, in this way, make a better team? Do such evaluations and determinations on the part of the scouts and coaches mean that they are against equality? No, it means that they must put the issue of equality in its proper place and that proper place is not a place of ultimate criteria. There is a proper place for equality. All ten individuals are equally free to try out for the team. But even the issue of trying out cannot be effectively handled through the lens of equality. In reference to a professional football team, should they be forced to allow a five-year-old boy to try out under the cry of equality? Should a twenty-year-old woman be allowed to try out based on equality? Once we establish equality as the lens and compass we begin saying, “Yes” to such questions, not allowing such boundaries and distinctions to exist.
Once a society begins evaluating the relationship between the rich and the poor through this lens, we will fail to consider the dynamics present in this relationship and fail to improve matters, likely moving in the direction of the failed social and political philosophy of Marxism.