Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Idol of Equality

Sometimes it seems like the left has an equality fetish. They evidently think inequality is ipso facto proof of some sort of corruption in our body politic. Sometimes this leads them to rapturous excitement at some putative discovery of marginal validity of a primal egalitarianism between the sexes as in this article in the Guardian. The author gushes over a thinly supported theory of some anthropologists that primitive hunter/gatherer societies maintained sexual equality, to which one is tempted to respond by asking, "so what?" Apparently, any indication, no matter how tenuous, that women were treated as equals by men in some ancient culture is supposed to have important, if unclear, implications for us today.

On the other hand, liberals seem to be highly selective about the kinds of inequality which get their ideological juices flowing. For example, philosopher Peter Singer promotes a radical inequality which doesn't seem to ruffle the equality mavens at all. Here's an excerpt from a piece about Singer in which he declares that certain unborn children should not be treated as equal to the rest of us, or even to other unborn children:
On Sunday April 16, contentious Princeton Professor Peter Singer, once again argued that it is “reasonable” for the government or private insurance companies to deny treatment to infants with disabilities.

In the interview, which was perhaps ironically conducted as part of a press tour Singer is currently on promoting his new book about charities, “The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically,” the professor advocated the shocking claim that health care laws like the Affordable Care Act should be more overt about rationing and that we should acknowledge the necessity of “intentionally ending the lives of severely disabled infants.”

During the controversial segment, talk show host Aaron Klein quoted from a chapter of Singer’s “Practical Ethics,” titled “Taking Life: Humans” published in 1993.

Singer, who is known for his provocative and often contradictory views on animal liberation and infanticide, also repeatedly referred to disabled infants as “it” during the interview. Without offering any scientific evidence to support what amounts to a return to eugenics, Singer routinely contends the “right to life” is related to a being’s capacity for intelligence and having preferences, which in turn is directly related to an undefined capacity to feel and/or comprehend ethereal concepts like pain and pleasure.

Singer told Klein that health care rationing is already happening, and surmised that hospitals routinely make decisions not based on need, but rather on cost. He then used the presumed practice to rationalize the killing of disabled infants by arguing in support of “non-voluntary euthanasia” for human beings who Singer contends are not capable of understanding the choice between life and death, including “severely disabled infants, and people who through accident, illness, or old age have permanently lost the capacity to understand the issue involved.”
For Singer the severely disabled are less equal than the rest of us and therefore don't merit a right to life. Singer, despite his radical inegalitarianism, is nevertheless a favorite of the equality fetishists at the New York Times.

Here's another form of inequality that fails to impress the left: The richest 1% of the taxpayers in this country contribute almost 50% of personal income tax revenue. Now if we really sincerely care about equality we'd find that appallingly unfair. Where are the demands from the liberals so outraged by "inequality" for a tax code in which everyone pays the same tax rate?

Perhaps the most absurd expression of the left's obsession is the solution to inequality we're beginning to hear about more frequently. The abolition of the family. Some on the left believe that the best way to eliminate inequality is to reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator. Do strong families give some children an unfair advantage in life? Well, then let's limit what families can do for their children. This is only a step away from doing away with families altogether. Here's an example of the sort of thinking that is becoming more commonplace among liberals and other leftists:
The power of the family to tilt equality hasn’t gone unnoticed, and academics and public commentators have been blowing the whistle for some time. Now, philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse have felt compelled to conduct a cool reassessment. Swift in particular has been conflicted for some time over the curious situation that arises when a parent wants to do the best for her child but in the process makes the playing field for others even more lopsided.

‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’ Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations. So, what to do?

According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.
‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’
The break-up of the family is plausible maybe, he thinks, but even to the most hard-hearted there’s something off-key about it.
Indeed. In any case, Swift is not himself advocating the abolition of the family, he claims, but he does advocate limiting what families can do for their children.
‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.

The test they devised was based on what they term ‘familial relationship goods’; those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.

For Swift, there’s one particular choice that fails the test.
‘Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,’ he says. ‘It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.’
In other words, private schools are not necessary for family closeness, private schools confer unfair advantages on those who attend them, therefore private schools should be abolished. The same can be said for inheritance, of course, family connections, and even, perhaps, religious faith. Swift himself extends the concept to the traditional two parent model of the family:
‘Nothing in our theory assumes two parents: there might be two, there might be three, and there might be four,’ says Swift.
This is the sort of thing that follows once equality becomes an idol. There must be no differences, no advantage of one person over another, we must all be cut from the same cookie-cutter. How far have liberals fallen from the halcyon days of the 60's when all we heard was the need for individuality and the freedom to pursue our own ends in our own way. Liberalism employs this libertarian rhetoric until it succeeds in undermining all traditional institutions. Then it takes off the libertarian mask and reveals the underlying totalitarian impulse that seeks to control every aspect of our lives. The mask is starting to come off.