Monthly Archives: August 2018

Ten Mangled Words – “Equality”

Equality is one of those ideas whose basic meaning is understood, but whose presence is demanded where it cannot possibly be expected. After all, equality is a fairly simply concept: when two amounts are equal, neither is greater or lesser than the other. But while equality in mathematics is a simple matter, equality in human affairs is vastly more complex.

Understanding the difference between equal opportunity and equal ability seems lost in modern discussions. Equal treatment does not mean equal outcomes, or even equal beginnings.

When two people are equal before the law, neither has an advantage or disadvantage in the court before the case has been heard. That does not mean both are equally innocent, equally guilty, or will receive equally capable legal representation. It just means neither is prejudiced by the court because of ethnicity, sex, or economic state.

When it is said that men and women are equal, those words can be taken as a loose generalisation of the statement that husbands and wives are “co-heirs of the grace of life”. Both equally receive salvation, the promises of God, and His enablement for life. It does not mean that both are equally capable of defending the home or nurturing infants. It does not mean that the roles in the house must be exactly shared in equal halves. It does not mean that husbands and wives should do exactly what the other one does.

Unfortunately, equality has come to mean something very different from equality before the law, or equality of worth before God. It has come to mean that social planners must eliminate God-given differences, manipulate providential circumstances, and meticulously tinker with the scale of fairness, until they are sure that their idea of equality has been achieved.

Their idea of equality might be imagined thus. Imagine sprinters lining up for a race. Previously, equality meant that all start behind the same line, all begin at exactly the same moment, and all run exactly 100 metres. In its mangled form, equality would mean determining if one of the sprinters were previously advantaged by being wealthy enough to afford good training, and if so, putting his starting blocks back by a metre or so. If it turns out that another sprinter experienced poverty at some point in his life with a corresponding period of malnutrition, his starting blocks should be put ahead by a few metres. We then find out that one of the sprinters is unusually tall and powerful, and this seems to confer an unfair genetic advantage, so he is forced to run without shoes. One turns out to have had almost no coaching at all, so he is positioned a quarter of the way up the track. When another is discovered to be the grandson of a famous sprinter, and the recipient of inherited wealth, his starting blocks are removed, and he is given ear-muffs to slow his reaction to the gun. The starting line-up seems over-represented with people of African descent, and a truly representative running race should have some Asians and Caucasians. Four faster African athletes are removed, and replaced with four slower Asian and Caucasian sprinters.

When we now look at this ridiculous result, what do we see? An eclectic mix of men spread all over the track, in all kinds of states, and not even the fastest men on earth. The very last thing we would now conclude is that matters are now equal, and that now the race will be “a fair fight”. But our social planners would ignore the evidence of their eyes, and happily conclude that they have now “leveled the playing field”, “redressed the inequalities of the past”, and “assisted the previously disadvantaged”. Instead, all they have done is create a ludicrous situation that no longer even resembles a race. They have confused equality with Cosmic Justice, and the result is not equality. In fact, they have removed the very thing that makes a race interesting: how the abilities of one will triumph over the others, if all run an equal distance at the same moment. It is as if the social planners actually wish life to always result in a tie, where there are no winners or losers.

The problem with pursuing Cosmic Justice is its refusal to accept that some inequalities are not morally necessary to correct. Some are quite tolerable. Some actually stimulate great feats of competitive effort. Some are in the nature of things. Some are brought about by history and providence. Some have been developed through hard work. Some exist because of laziness, and self-destructive behaviour. Some appear accidental. Some are unfortunate results of living in a fallen world. Inequality has an innumerable number of reasons for its presence, and only someone with omniscience and omnipotence would be able to know when, why and how to perfectly “re-balance the scales”. In fact, Christians believe He does, and will.

But attempting to tinker with life to bring about Cosmic Justice in this way reveals a massive misunderstanding of what equality is, and what kind of equality can be, or should be, reasonably pursued.

Purchasing Without Paying

Websters Dictionary:

Expropriate
1: to deprive of possession or proprietary rights
2 : to transfer (the property of another) to one’s own possession

Compensation
payment, remuneration

Let’s try that definition in circumstances other than land. I enter your shop. I wish to transfer the goods you own and are selling (your property) into my own possession. I do so without compensating you. That is, I take them without paying. What is that usually called?

I wish to have your car. I demand that you sell it. You refuse, because you legally own the car and wish to keep it. I then confiscate your car, legally transfer the car into my own name without paying you. What is that called?

I want to own your house. I demand that you sell it. I can prove that three generations ago, another government expropriated (stole) the land from my family. You, however, did not receive it for free from that government, but bought it from another private seller, and so you refuse to sell. I then confiscate your house with no payment, because you did not accept my offer. What is that called?

Is the land issue more complicated that those examples? Yes, considerably so. Does the moral question of theft ever change? No.

Wayne Grudem:

The commandment “You shall not steal” implies private ownership of property, because it implies that there are some things that belong to certain people and not to others. The moral goodness of the idea of private property is reaffirmed in both the Old and New Testaments. Communism seeks to abolish private property, and is therefore horribly dehumanizing.

Richard Weaver:

Weaver vigorously defended the inviolable right to private property, naming it “the last metaphysical right.” He used this nomenclature to emphasize that the right to private property exists independently from, if not regardless of, its social utility. This metaphysical nature of private property rights derives from the natural connection between honor, responsibility, and the relationship of a person to property. Weaver also contended that work, honorable in itself, tends to result in the accumulation of property. Hence property becomes an extension of one’s labor—and of oneself. Weaver believed that property constitutes a great source for personal growth because of the inalienable bond between a person’s labor and property. Weaver also noted that the ownership of private property can serve as a check on the pressures of majority opinion, allowing anyone to think and to act as he or she chooses without having to appease the majority opinion to secure a place to live or food to eat. Another reason that Weaver labeled private property as a metaphysical right was to show that it is based not in the changing, temporal material order, but rather in the unchanging, eternal order of the spiritual. For Weaver, rights and obligations correlate with each other. To properly preserve the right to property, an obligation to engage in proper stewardship must also be recognized in order to prevent property from being spoiled from use by successive generations. Property rights then essentially promote a communal continuity between the dead, the living, and the unborn. Weaver never tired of advancing these convictions, always confident that these convictions truly reflected reality.
HT: Acton Institute