The last post concerned equal outcomes which is often confused with equal opportunity. For clarity one must often discern which one is meant, even within a single sentence.
At issue is the fact that freedom and liberty will naturally result in wealth disparity. This introduces an extremely emotional component, with feelings of unfairness. The fact is however that populations are made up of diverse individuals. Some will try with varying success, some will try and fail, and some will just go surfing.
Another problem with the notion of “equal opportunity”, some complain, is that all are not born into equal circumstances which are wide ranging, most of which are out of a given person’s control. Still, in recent American history most of these circumstances, mixed with hard work, ethics, motivations and wisdom, (which are free to all) would have landed a person somewhere in what we call the middle class.
But the goal of equal opportunity only seeks to provide equality to whatever circumstances a person brings to the table. While it grasps that not all begin on equal footing, it also grasps the limitations of mortal man. In 1961, the satirist Kurt Vonnegut illustrated this dilemma in a short story about a Harrison Bergeron. Bergeron, so the story goes, had an unfair advantage because he was highly intelligent. This was unfair so he was forced to wear an earpiece that randomly emitted loud noises to interrupt his thought processes.
The arts provide another poignant illustration of outcomes vs. opportunity. The rock group, Rush, produced a song1 called The Trees 2 in which the maples were upset with the oaks because the oaks hogged the sunlight. Equal outcome was finally enforced by “hatchet, ax, and saw”.
In the end, this discussion concerning outcomes vs. opportunity raises an important question for those who judge equality by outcome: If what one does doesn’t ultimately matter, what does it ultimately matter what one does?
Note 1. “The Trees”
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the maples
Can’t be happy in their shadeThere is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream ‘Oppression!’
And the oaks just shake their headsSo the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
‘The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light’
Now there’s no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe and saw