The previous post concerned equal outcomes, which is often confused with equal opportunity. Many times discernment is needed to distinguish between the two “equalities”.
At issue is the wealth disparity that naturally arises in a free society. This disparity introduces a highly 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. The actual circumstances enjoyed by a person, or perhaps overcome, are wwide-ranging and mostly 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 today, 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 man named 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 all the sunlight. In the end, equal outcome was finally enforced by “hatchet, ax, and saw”.
In the final analysis, this discussion on 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 shade
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream ‘Oppression!’
And the oaks just shake their heads
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