Recently I’ve been thinking about the word “equality” and what it really means. I always think that when you are thinking about word and are unsure what it means a good place to start is the dictionary. But that didn’t help much because the major definition simply says “the state of being equal” or defines equality in terms of mathematics. I think most of who think equality is important would define it in terms of equal status, equal rights, and equal opportunities. Such equality might be easy to legislate, but it is not easily found.
The interesting question to me is why equality is something that some people thing is important and others don’t. Part of the reason is that many simply don’t see other people as equal. And most troubling are those who see someone as inherently unequal simply due gender or race. It seems to me that those who fight for equality and who believe that equality is important in a society don’t see inequality as inherent, but rather a product of environment.
Equality, like freedom may be a difficult ideal to obtain, but it seems to me the true inequality in this world is between those who think we can attain it and those who think inequality is inherent for whatever reason. And so I wonder, what is the common bond between people in both those groups of people? Since race and gender have nothing to do with how smart you are, your physical abilities, your potential to be successful, or your ability to show love and kindness, why are there people who think that race and gender automatically pre-determines such things? Children carry no inherent sense of inequality in regards to race and gender, so where does it come from? What trait oh of humanity leads people to adopt the idea that one person is less than another? When does it start to develop? Is it a desire for power? A fear that in balancing the equation that for one group of people to rise up, that we must then relinquish some power and come down? Maybe equality isn’t something we can attain, but maybe we can at least see everybody as valuable if not equal. To be honest, the fact that we are all equal regardless of race or gender seems so obvious to me that I find it vexing that anybody should think any other way, so I am interested in hearing thoughts from others.
9 thoughts on “Equality, I Spoke The Word As If A Wedding Vow”
In sociology, race theory, and in various postmodern analyses, among other areas, they make an important distinction between equality and equity. Equality usually implies that there is the opportunity for equal treatment and chances to be successful in life, however you define successful, but equity is the guarantee that people will achieve these things. In my master’s research, for example, I examined the notion of education being the great equaliser. The idea is that when we guarantee [primary/secondary] education for everyone, everyone theoretically has the same chance to get what they want out of life. Unfortunately, this precludes limiting factors such as gender and race, as you pointed out, but also socioeconomic status and proficiency at the dominant language. All of these things can work against people because the system favours people with particular characteristics that allow them to do well in school. In the grand scheme of things, much of our life is governed by competition: competing for scarce resources, such as food, jobs, whatever those things may be that allow us to survive and maybe even thrive, and competitions entail winners and losers. The “losers” will have things like race and gender working against them. It’s sad that this is not just people thinking that they are better than others, but this is actually a systemic problem stemming from even our public and educational policies. I don’t know that I have any great solution to it either, but if I’d been able to get a job in educational policies, I would have tried to work on fixing it as best I could.
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I would agree that I think education is the best chance to be the great equalizer. But these things you describe still indicate that equality, or equity is a product of environment not something that is inherent. It seems at least to me that when you talk to those in a position of privilege who have no interest in equality they tend to think that who they are, as a certain race or gender is why they are in a position of privilege. Even the common attitude towards the poor “people are poor because they are lazy” indicates a mindset that some inherent quality of the person is the reason for their lack of success in life, rather than a lack of opportunity. In fact maybe it’s not even so much that those people aren’t for equality, they think that things are as equal as they can be, and that people’s inherent qualities are what are holding them back. “She’s a woman and thus can’t do science”, “He’s black so he’s a criminal”, etc. Is this stuff that we just make up to pacify our guilt of having privilege?
The competition for resources argument has also seemed strange to me, because of course we find that we can utilize resources better when we don’t compete and cooperate instead. In terms of long-term survival a cooperative model is likely to make our resources last longer than if we took those resources and equally distributed them. Our success as an evolved species in general is built on cooperation. While it’s true that the Earth’s resources are finite, the fact is that at least in today’s age no one person can use all of any particular resource in their lifetime, so it seems like, at least now, we are no longer really competing for a limited amount of resources.
I’ve always thought that people who take the position that people are inherently unequal do so out of a place of insecurity. It makes them feel less special, less important, etc. It diminishes their ego in some way.
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Perhaps you are right Ryan. Psychologically there is basis for that. I also know people who are very insecure about themselves but do falsely raise themselves above others either. So I’m not sure. Perhaps there deeper levels of insecurity?
I think for most people there’s definitely a psychology behind it. Unfortunately, some people actually have used faulty scientific processes to actually posit that there are physiological causes to why some are better off than others. In the past, people relied on phrenology, the believe that head shape indicated the size of various parts of the brain and therefore could tell you about their personalities and intelligence. Later, there was Herrnstein and Murray’s The Bell Curve, which used IQ test results to conclude that intelligence levels determined your lot in life–what socioeconomic class you would end up in, whether you were going to commit a crime or become a CEO, etc. There was a professor at the U of Western Ontario, Philippe Rushton, who believed that penis size determined intelligence and what you could achieve in life. This is because IQ tests, the WISC, which is the main one used in North America, consistently shows that “whites” are average in intelligence due to average penis size; “Oriental”, meaning Chinese types, are more intelligent due to smaller penises, so they spend less time engaging in or thinking about sex and can devote more of their energy to intellectual pursuits and explains their higher than average IQ results; African-Americans have the biggest, which explains their consistently lower scores, because they’re too distracted by sex to care about academics. Don’t ask me how he explained women! We could say that maybe such people devised experiments to support their insecure feelings, but there are people that have published papers and books with their so-called evidence that some people are inherently less deserving than others. There was never talk of how we could fix this because all people deserve to be treated equally; their conclusions were that we should simply accept that physiology necessarily determined what we could expect out of life and that we simply would have to accept it because you can’t change physiology.
Swarn, excellent blog of questions. I believe if you ask different people other than who normally reads your blog you might get many enlightening answers. I have many gay friends, multiracial friends, short and tall friends, skinny and hefty friends. They would all have a different answer.
For myself, I never felt unequal, but then again I was born with some extra talents that most would feel they would not be parallel to. This is only one reason why I became a therapist, author, blogger and inspirational speaker. I am not better than nor lessen than, I am myself.
For others to see this factor and have unbridled confidence is a life struggle. And yet the confidence is ever built upon. Growing up on 3 continents may have offered a wider lens to my views, or my father and his associations that offered a wide prism.
I do know when a person feels or experiences inequality, it affects their lives in many directions and a new view of life can be offered.
However, we see inequality all through our society of humanity, planetary and animal life. Humans are savages to the latter two mentioned, but this is a smaller minority.
As I reach out globally to others, I find more good and more compassion and more positive in our humanity coming to the foreground – and yet we must always remember as humans we are perfectly imperfect in all of our endeavors. A constant learning curve – keeps us on our toes.
Thank you for thinking about life on this planet and examining the conundrums of our minds and status of life. Cheers MicheleElys
I believe as we grow older, sometimes from experiences, and sometimes not; our fear and insecurities makes us develop these thoughts (of inequality) against others.
Thank you so much for your comments. I agree that experience or lack of may lead us to incorrect conclusions or incorrect assumptions. I still find however that those people who value equality are more willing to challenge those assumptions and beliefs, and continue to strive for a world in which things are more equal. Perhaps my questions are not posed well. Maybe what I’m trying to understand is why some people can see their privilege and others do not? Or why, when two groups of people are unequal why do some people attribute that inequality to something inherent to the nature of the people and not due to bring a product of environment?
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