True Equality, Social Justice part 6

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 unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas
The trouble with the maples
(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
There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream ‘Oppression!’
And the oaks just shake their heads
So 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
Note 2


Filed under Equality, Social Justice

16 responses to “True Equality, Social Justice part 6

  1. “Equal opportunity” becomes such a massive concept that in France they are outlawing homework because of it. “Some kids don’t have parents who can help them, so they are disadvantaged. To remedy this unequal opportunity, we’ll eliminate … all opportunity.” There, now, see? It’s “equal”.

    • That reminds me of a movie; “The War Of Roses”. A divorcing couple were in the lawyer’s office (Danny DeVito) and were explaining to him some insane plan of how they would divide their assets. It included drawing a line around the interior of their house pr some such thing. I’ll never forget the look of incredulity on DeVito’s face when he asked them, “Does this plan make sense to you”?

  2. I have never liked Rush, and frankly I don’t see the attraction. That being said, I really like the words to the song. I have saved this for future reference.

    • I never understood the fascination with Rush either. Interestingly, one of the commenters on the youtube said that one of the musicians said that the was not meant to have any meaning, or something like that. That made me chuckle a little.

  3. Milton Friedman was a proponent of Equality of Opportunity… of the few flaws I have with him, because by its very definition and aim, equality of opportunity must deprive some of their liberty and/or take from them in order to provide something for another/everyone.

    • I don’t understand. How does equality of opportunity deprive some of their liberty?

      • l\Let’s put it this way….how can you ensure that the son/daughter of say Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith will have the equal opportunities of say the 3 children of a single mom who is a minimum wage earner from the projects?

        You can’t elevate every child out of the projects to Will Smith’s son’s level….so you bring their kids down (a lot) and bring up the projects people’s kids (a little) to equalize.

        A brief explanation:

        • I understand the dilemma that the harsh realities of our existence present. I address all these concerns f your link in the post. I would challenge you to think through a couple of things however:

          1. The “you” in your comment has massive significance. You and I both know that you and I are not going to do any of these things, whether it be bring anyone up, or take anyone down. So who is that “You”, that will have the power to do all of this? Who will be the one who rises above his own humanity and then bring about equal outcomes? It’s funny how all the “You’s” promising equality don’t ever practice what they preach. I explain this in the 2nd installment of this series:

          2. I think we miss it when we judge our existence, and the existence of others, based purely on financial well being, or what I call materialism. We might as well face it, if money means happiness then happiness will always mean hopelessness for the world’s population.

  4. yeah, that didn’t make sense to me either.

  5. Pingback: Is equal opportunity incompatible with freedom? – Sifting Reality

  6. As long as we’re posting links, Read this one I just posted. Yaad, you’re very confused about what equal opportunity really means.

  7. What is your view regarding anti-discrimination legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the (UK) Equalities Act? In the UK the Equalities Act stipulates that employers must make “reasonable adjustments” when employing people with disabilities. In my case my employer purchased Jaws which converts text into speech and braille enabling me, as a blind person to use my computer’s screen and do a job of work. Some economists argue that “reasonable adjustments” place unnecessary burdens on organisations and that anti-discrimination legislation should be revoked leaving it to the free market to provide job opportunities for people with disabilities. If a disabled person has the aptitude to do a job of work and the employer is convinced of this then he will be hired without the necessity for equalities legislation the argument runs. I am a supporter of the Equalities Act and similar legislation as some organisations would discriminate where their no rules in place to prevent them from doing so. Also there is a benefit to the economy from having disabled people in work and paying taxes rather than being passive recipients of welfare.

    • That is a tough question. You might note that I tag some of my posts with the category “harsh realities”. Life presents all of us with these realities, and there is an economic cost to them all, both for us individually and for society as a whole. I am very much in favor of the free markets. I think that the free market solves problems that are much too large for a government planner to solve. That said, I don’t see how those free markets can help those with severe disabilities. I personally have never been opposed to such legislation.

      The problem I do have, however, is twofold: the interpretation of “reasonable”, and the propensity that such legislation can be used as a weapon against political opponents who own a business, and by large corporations to stop competitors from entering the marketplace.

      In New York, for example, some Nuns wanted to rehabilitate an abandoned building for a homeless shelter but had to abandon the project because the city demanded that they install an elevator to comply with disabilities legislation. That is senseless, I think you would agree. And, there are other example like it.

      There is also the fact that most businesses are not large and therefore are unable to absorb the costs of compliance. Us on the right are often accused of being for big business. I, for one, disagree. This is but one of the sort of legislations that can be, and is, used to make it impossible to open a business due to the added costs of compliance. This is not good for society, both those with and without disabilities, and it helps big business ensure that no new competitors can enter the marketplace thus thwarting the whole concept of “free-markets”.

      Yet, all that said, we humans struggle daily with the harsh realities that confront us, the worst of them being our human condition. Sometimes I wonder that anything at all ever gets done, yet we somehow pull it off… more recklessly probably than any of us would like to admit, but we do it nevertheless.

      • My understanding of the UK legislation is that the concept of “reasonable adjustments” is flexible in that what might be deemed reasonable for a large organisation, for example a supermarket with many outlets would not be so construed for a small newsagents employing the owner and two staff. There is also the issue which I mentioned previously of the economic cost to society of supporting disabled people with welfare payments. Of course a small number of people with disabilities can not work, however the vast majority are able to maintain gainful employment given the opportunity and by being in work they are generating taxes and contributing to the economy which is, surely a good thing.

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