Russell Taylor: Why Equality?

It has never mattered to me what other people have that I lack. It’s theirs, not mine. They did not take it from me or obtain it at my expense, so any envy I might feel towards them doesn’t constitute a legitimate claim to their property. This is why I am baffled by the modern obsession with equality.

In one of my earliest pieces for Bogpaper, I wrote: “It has always occurred to me that there is nothing wrong with inequality per se. After all, no one is outraged by the disparity in wealth between a billionaire and a millionaire, or even between someone earning £40,000 a year and someone on £30,000. Concern and indignation only come into play when someone poor enters the equation. And since making that poor person richer will remove them from the equation, it follows that inequality is not really about relative income at all; it’s about the absolute condition of those at the bottom of the pile. Make them richer and inequality will cease to be a problem.”

I concluded from this that egalitarians should recognise the pursuit of equality as a red herring and embrace capitalism, since it has the best record of improving people’s lot. After all, what’s the point of state-enforced equality if it doesn’t help people to become better-off in any meaningful way? It might assuage their resentment and insecurities, but it’s unlikely to improve their wellbeing. It’s like the school bully picking on the class swot: it might make him feel better about being a moron, but it will do nothing to improve his grades.

Liberals will tell you that this isn’t to do with money; it’s about social justice. They believe it’s wrong for some people to enjoy advantages denied to others, and think it’s better to sacrifice a little material comfort to be spared the anguish of living in an unequal society. But I don’t buy this. It may be wrong for someone to be denied equal treatment under the law – equal opportunity, in other words – but unequal outcomes are not objectively unjust. You don’t become rich by making me poor, any more than you make me sick by being in good health, so my envy of your success doesn’t represent a legitimate claim to your property. We may have a moral obligation to help those who cannot help themselves, but that’s not the same as saying that it is wrong for people to enjoy different outcomes in life. Inequality is not injustice. On the contrary, enforced equality is injustice, since it denies people the fruits of their labours, and blurs the lines between effort and reward.

There is something in equality that appeals to our caveman brain: an atavistic hangover from the zero-sum world of prehistory, where if Og didn’t share his mastodon leg, someone in the tribe went hungry. But time moves on and practical concerns become irrational superstitions. There isn’t a finite pot of money to be divvied up, yet egalitarianism assumes there to be. This is disastrous because by sharing the wealth, we discourage people from adding to it. Redistribution of wealth brings us closer to the zero-sum world that wealth redistribution is designed to remedy. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy that results in economic and social decline.

The baleful effects of egalitarianism are not always evident in the short-term, because they can take a while to work their way to the surface. But surface they will, crawling from the earth like the zombies in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Nightmarish creatures now stalk the land. The funk of forty thousand progressive policies fills the air. The undead hordes of welfare-claimants wander listlessly in our streets. The blood-suckers of the bureaucratic state drain us of opportunity and vitality. And the howling banshees of the liberal media spook dissenters into silence. As a consequence of this horror show, our finances lay in tatters, our freedoms are battered, our schools vandalised, our justice system broken, and our values corrupted.

It should be obvious by now that these outcomes are the inevitable consequence of left-wing dogma. Not just unfortunate mishaps that won’t happen next time, honest guv, but cast iron certainties. The best the Left can hope to achieve is a stiflingly conformist society, dominated by an overbearing state, inhabited by people whose individuality and dynamism have been replaced by an unpleasant combination of egotism, resentment and dependency. The worst-case scenario is North Korea. In between these extremes are fifty shades of grey, dehumanising drudgery, justified by the same pitiless goal: equality.

If liberals are genuinely concerned by the welfare of others, they should want nothing to do with any of this. Even if they believe that inequality is a source of mental anguish, there quickly comes a point where that pain is outweighed by the catalogue of miseries guaranteed by a more equal society. Yet, there is no amount of evidence that will deter liberals from their quest. The obvious conclusion is that they don’t really care about other people. They think they do – in fact, they pride themselves on doing so – but they are not concerned with the practical effects of their ideas. The theoretical effects, yes, but not how they work in the real world. This isn’t just a groundless slur, either. American studies have shown that conservatives are more charitable and neighbourly than liberals, and shed more blood in defence of their country’s interests. Any mook can sponsor the government to do good on their behalf, but real compassion is about making personal sacrifices for the benefit of others. The Left talks the talk, but it doesn’t walk the walk.

The liberal tendency to turn a blind eye to the roll call of failed socialist experiments has become the stuff of stereotype. The Orwellian oppression? The Gogolian bureaucracy? The debased standards? The waste, inefficiency and economic decline? Nothing to see here. Move along please. This is evidence of an abstract mind: one that concerns itself with the intentions of an idea rather than its real-world consequences. The Left can gaze blankly upon the devastation wrought by its beliefs without feeling a moment’s doubt or regret. All they see if the gleaming, immaculate idea at its centre, which no amount of ruination can spoil.

As liberals are always keen to remind us, they are nothing if not smart, so it’s inconceivable that they would fail to wonder how their preferred policies might pan out, or would reject sound economic arguments against them, or would be ignorant of cautionary tales from history. They would only overlook contrary evidence if they favoured equality irrespective of the harm it does to others. In other words, they must consider there something so virtuous and important about equality that no amount of human suffering can detract from its purity.

I’m willing to accept that there is a moral code that transcends popular opinion and defines us as civilised beings, but equality is not a part of it. An abhorrence of murder and rape, perhaps, but not equality. For the reasons described above, it has no rational basis and brings no net benefits. Perhaps it would if we humans were utterly selfless, completely immune to incentives, and quite content to have our potential blunted and our freedoms crushed. But that’s not us and never will be.

I suspect the fixation with equality has other explanations, quite different from the altruistic myth peddled by the Left. I think liberals are egotists. They have figured out that free societies do not give them something for nothing. Instead, they burden them with responsibility and expose them to the whim of others. They expect them to work harder than they are prepared to work, performing tasks that do not interest them, for less reward than they think they deserve. They ask them to put a lid on their appetites and show humility and self-restraint. They force them to confront their own abilities and shortcomings. They leave them susceptible to frustration, failure and humiliation.

These emotions are the shapers of a worldview and can afflict everyone from the impoverished to the privileged. Indeed, in the West, it is the privileged who tend to be the most passionate advocates of equality, since they have the most refined sense of entitlement and are most outraged by the impertinent demands of free societies. These ‘true believers’ understand that the only way of escaping the challenges they face, is to step on the desires and potential of the individual, and to replace them with the iron will of the state.

The philosopher Eric Hoffer observed that socialism “appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation. People who see their lives as irredeemably spoiled cannot find a worthwhile purpose in self-advancement. They look on self-interest as something tainted and evil; something unclean and unlucky. Their innermost craving is for a new life – a rebirth – or, failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, a sense of purpose and worth by identification with a holy cause.”

This describes the most extreme examples of egalitarian fervour, but, to one degree or another, resentment of an ego thwarted is common to everyone on the Left. Some wish to be absorbed into a collective whole, where dissatisfaction is no longer possible. Others want to see the competing interests of others crushed so theirs might prevail.

Under socialism, equality is achieved not by raising people up to the standards achieved by the privileged, but by lowering the standards to make them accessible to all. This disregards the fact that standards are intended to produce behaviour conducive to desirable outcomes – and that the reason the privileged enjoy the advantages they do is because they are successful at bringing about those outcomes. Instead, socialism takes standards to be arbitrary obstacles designed to foil people’s desires. This is why the Left dumbs down education, for instance, and cooks up pointless jobs in the public sector. They prefer the ego-friendly business of lowering the criteria of success to the stickier business of asking people to up their game.

While, for many people, equality promises liberation from the hindrances posed by free, unequal societies, for others it promises opportunities otherwise unavailable to them. The humanities graduate who wants to foist his snooty opinions upon others isn’t going to get his way without the state giving him a chance. The friendless wallflower who wants to take refuge in the public sector needs the state to create a job for her. The X-Box addict, who’s wants to spend his days twiddling in a darkened room, needs the state to keep him in Doritos and doughnuts. Equality, for their own sake, or, more persuasively, for the sake of others, is their justification.

It’s sad and dispiriting that in a culture that prides itself on its intellectual sophistication, such stupidity and venality can be passed off as moral progress.

11 comments on “Russell Taylor: Why Equality?

  1. concretebunker
    November 12, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    excellent post…but we’re overrun! Is it too late?…

  2. Simon Roberts
    November 12, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    I remain convinced that the root of all this lies in the darker aspects of human nature and a fair amount of self-deception is involved.

    I’ll never forget a conversation I had in the pub once with a couple of fellows who were soooo deeply concerned about the famine that was happening in Africa at the time. I pointed out that, if they really cared about starving people rather than massaging their own egos, they would donate the fiver they just spent buying those drinks to a famine relief charity. Needless to day, I was persona non grata for a while.

    Saying that Something Should Be Done about famine/poverty/inequality merely means that the government should do it (i.e. other people’s money, not mine thanks very much) and that my good intentions absolve me of any further responsibility.

    The hypocrisy and the reactions when it is highlighted are amusing, but it’s taking place at such a primal level that mental defence mechanisms come immediately into play and no progress is ever made.

  3. silverminer
    November 12, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    Imagine for a minute if the school system was based on the trivium and actually taught children how to think rather than what to think. We’d be a very different society. I would suggest a much more libertarian society.

    I have two children in primary school and I despair at the bullshit they’re having to go through. Badges and stickers for good behaviour, diversity, anti-bullying week etc. It’s a dog training exercise. I’d home school them from tomorrow morning if the ex would agree (fat chance…she’s a teacher).

    I find that most people I meet are very poor at applying logic. Even worse, they don’t seem to see the need to even try. This is where I think the dog training in the schools has ruined people (Prussian education). They just except what they’re told, they don’t question anything and that suits those at the top of the pyramid just fine. They just keep pumping the Big Government, politically correct propaganda out through the media and the sheep keep sucking it up.

    So, I think it’s less human nature and more that we’re in an engineered system designed to produce dumbed down, compliant citizens who aren’t going to rock the boat.

    • Russell Taylor
      November 13, 2013 at 6:50 am #

      We’ve put my daughter into a private school. We’ve got another on the way, so soon enough we’ll have to find two lots of fees. It’ll be a struggle, but I’d sell a kidney before I put my children in a state school.

      I’m not sure that even private schools are immune to the progressive bullshit found in the average comp, but they do at least encourage the right attitude: a concept of excellence, a desire to better oneself. These are the best defence against liberal dogma, because they require a person to deal with reality, rather than indulge in fantasy.

      This is why I wouldn’t push my children to go to university. Most lefties are in a state of arrested development. They want the power of adults but want to live in the consequence-free fairyland of childhood forever. I suspect that this attitude is reinforced by university. Just as you become a grown-up, you are whisked away to place where you can defer adult responsibility for a few years, are taught that you’re part of a learned elite, and develop a refined sense of entitlement. The result? An aloof Labour voter, who thinks the world owes him a living. We’ve enough of them already, thanks.

      Then again, I didn’t go to university, so perhaps I’m being one-eyed and chippy.

      • silverminer
        November 13, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

        You’re right about University, Russell. I rent a couple of houses to students (who attend a former Polytechnic now masquerading as a University) and all I see is children in adults’ bodies racking up massive debts to put off flipping burgers for 3 years.

        It worked for some of the top 25% of students destined for professional careers but what we have now is a total waste of time for many of these young people. I keep telling my two to go into something where you can be self employed and independent. Freedom is worth a lot more than any salary.

  4. Rocco
    November 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    Title’s too short.

  5. David
    November 15, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    The trouble with these arguments is that they as usual pick morally dubious exemplars as evidence that the concept itself is fundamentally flawed.
    Equality – a noble idea that the weak in a tribe is occasionally thrown a bone made redundant by the guy in the corner that seams content to eat nothing but bones and stare at the fire.
    It is never the example of the man whose leg heals and soon rejoins the hunt.

    Why let your morals be sullied by the poor instantiations of misguided ideals and the exploiters of these systems?
    How can you let your grumpy old men ideals lead you to think it would be better that children are not ‘exposed’ to these concepts at all?

    • Rocco
      November 15, 2013 at 1:53 am #

      Have you noticed that your imagery is always so violent David? Always hunters, and tribesmen on the verge of starvation; always brutality and choices between life and death. Is it on purpose, David? A stylistic choice? Or is it a cry for help? I worry about you, Dave, I do. 😉

      (Also, just a small tip, you’ve confused equality with charity.)

      • David
        November 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

        Oh don’t worry about me – really I just like debate.
        As for my obsession with brutality, maybe you have something – but it’s only because I subscribe to the general concept of ‘The Naked Ape’. Maybe it shows too much.

        If I have confused charity with equality fair enough, but my point still applies – round these parts they are bastions of leftist ideals, not to be trusted, and anyway are mainly for the benefit of the trustees and CEO’s … etc etc.

        I know – maybe this is aimed at state charity, but I still find it conspicuous in its absence -, the discussion of charity itself as a noble worthwhile concept that surely finds a place in most schemes.

        Off to read the new post then, sounds like it might be interesting.

  6. Ben
    November 18, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    Equality = no directed differential forces = total entropy = death.

    There’s an old saying… the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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