Equality

The doctrine of equality is a key one in modern politics. Yet it is fairly ambiguous. Does it mean equality of wealth or equality of opportunity or equality under law or something else? The doctrine is widely held as a given, a primary, as something that needs no justification. Is it really a primary or can it be derived from more fundamental principles?

Men are born with widely varying abilities (both mental and physical) and are brought up in widely varying environments and circumstances. These differences are metaphysical. They are not open to human choice.

In what way are men equal then? They are equal in that they have the same nature. They all have a need of knowledge to survive and they have the same (and only) means of obtaining that knowledge – a rational mind. They all have free will. They all have a mind that must think and judge on its own. This equality too is metaphysical, not open to choice. No man can think for another nor can he force another’s thoughts.

Man’s nature requires that he be free to act on his thoughts, his mind being his sole source of knowledge and sole standard of judgement. A man who acts under force (or the threat of physical force) acts against his nature.

The only way for a society to be civil is to outlaw the initiation of force since the only proper response to an initiation of force is retalliation to end it. It is man’s nature that is the source of his right to be free of force. Since men are equal in their nature they all have this right equally. That is the only moral doctrine of equality and the only one that is achievable in practice.

What is the nature of attempts to enforce other forms of equality? They are a revolt against the nature of existence and the nature of man. They are attempts to change that which is not open to human choice. They are a revolt against the fact that sustenance is not free, that man must produce in order to live, that the extent of his ability (and favorability of circumstances) will determine his success.

Attempts to enforce equality of wealth have led to disastrous consequences in the last century in about half the world and now stand mostly discredited. Attempts to enforce equality of opportunity, however, are very popular today. They can be observed in policies such as progressive taxation, affirmative action, social security, socialized medicine, subsidized goods etc. “Opportunities” such as the “opportunity to a good education” or the “opportunity to a good job” or the “opportunity to health care” are not free. They are created by the efforts of men (such as the efforts of investors, educators, entrepreneurs, doctors, etc) and must be paid for (by one’s own efforts or by ones’ parents’ efforts or by charity). Asserting a right to equal opportunity is asserting a right to enslave the men whose efforts create the opportunities in the first place. Since these attempts are not as radical as attempts to enforce equality of wealth, their consequences are milder but not different in nature. If an attempt to enforce equality of wealth is murder (and not just figuratively, as history shows), then the attempt to enforce equality of opportunity is murder by slow torture.

K. M.

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15 Responses

  1. Anyone who is familiar with any of the works of Rand or some libertarian philosophy will immediately agree. The big headache is convincing the eternal bleeding hearts that their idea of social justice and imposition of egalitarianism is down right evil.

    I would have called myself an Objectivist a few years ago. But now I am doubtful for I want something more – a practical road map from the mess we are in to Galt’s Gulch. That Rand did not provide. Maybe she couldn’t.

    Well, I ‘ll leave it for another time. There is another Objectivist blog that is missing from your blog roll. And it is huge – Leitmotif.

  2. “The big headache is convincing the eternal bleeding hearts that their idea of social justice and imposition of egalitarianism is down right evil.”

    If you make that the goal, you will almost certainly fail. The goal is to convince thinking people and to make the bleeding hearts irrelevant. It can be done. There are not that many people who are willing to act to impose social justice and egalitarianism. The only power the bleeding hearts have is the power of the moral high ground that is theirs by default. We have to reclaim it.

  3. Thank you K.M. I think that your postings are interesting and very well-written. I am enjoying your blog immensely.

  4. I would have called myself an Objectivist a few years ago. But now I am doubtful for I want something more – a practical road map from the mess we are in to Galt’s Gulch. That Rand did not provide. […]

    Objectivism is a particular philosophy, the one created by Ayn Rand. A philosophy is a systematized set of the broadest principles about the world and man’s role in it. A philosophy is universal in that it applies to everyone, everywhere, and at all times.

    By contrast, an ideology is an application of a philosophy to a particular milieu, that is, a particular age such as our own time. An ideology is not a philosophy.

    Likewise, an ideology is not a strategy, which is a broad plan for achieving goals set by one’s ideology (and therefore one’s philosophy).

    Even more narrowly, a tactical plan applies the broad strategy to the narrowest, most short-term circumstances such as introducing a philosopher’s books into a particular school system or electing a particular legislator who will protect freedom of speech.

    Before abandoning a philosophy, one should keep the law of identify in mind.

  5. Before abandoning a philosophy, one should keep the law of identify in mind.
    I guess you mean law of identity. You have explained things so authoritatively that I ran on search on that phrase just to make sure it doesn’t exist.

    I am still very much sure that Objectivism is the perfect philosophy for a human being. But remember that it is a political philosophy – something that is meant to be put into practice. It is not a – “we are all an illusion, the world is an illusion, everything is a dream” mumbo jumbo that can never be realized.

    So, the system has to provide a means to attain it. You can call it ideology, strategy or whatever, but I am talking about a concrete answer to the question how to go from A to B. I think you knew that before you replied, but still replied the way you did. Because without this answer, the only place where Objectivism will live and die is inside the human mind.

    If you have ever written a software which uses a new architecture for storing data, and a customer already has preexisting data in an old format, unless you provide a method to seamlessly transfer the old data into the new system, the customer simply won’t pay for it. There will be no buy in. And that is the same with Objectivism.

  6. There is a practical way to get where you want to go. It consists simply of denouncing vicious ideas. And from your blog, you seem to be on the right track. Therefore I will only address what I see as your despair at the current state of society.
    It is irrational to have desires that are impossible to achieve

  7. aristotlethegeek, thank you for catching the typo!

    I have three main points to offer:

    1. You say: ” … Objectivism is the perfect philosophy for a human being. But remember that it is a political philosophy – something that is meant to be put into practice.”

    Objectivism, as I suspect you know, has five branches. Only one of those branches deals with politics. However, all of the philosophy is designed to be put into practice: the metaphysics, the epistemology, the ethics, and the esthetics, as well as the politics. It is, in Ayn Rand’s words, “a philosophy for living on earth” (Britting, Ayn Rand, p. 92). It will remain so, even if Objectivists never succeed in creating a capitalist political system.

    2. Further, you say: “So, the system has to provide a means to attain it.” By “system,” do you mean the philosophy of Objectivism? If so, then I disagree.

    In the first place, Objectivism is a closed philosophical “system.” Its creator is dead. Nothing can be added to Objectivism as a philosophy. (Of course, individuals who adopt it as their own can add new principles, but then that is their philosophy, not Objectivism.)

    Second, a philosophy that specifies particulars for implementation entails a contradiction. Philosophy provides broad abstractions. Each person and each group of individuals must apply those principles in their particular circumstances. A plan containing particular steps suited to a particular situation cannot be part of a philosophy.

    3. ARI has developed a plan for spreading the philosophy of Objectivism in our milieu, particularly in English-speaking culture. One result, if the effort is successful, is that the political system will change–eventually.

    Are you dissatisfied with ARI’s approach? If so, have you considered developing an alternative?

  8. 1. I know that. And amongst them all, I consider politics to be the most important because that is the one which is out of my (or any rational person’s) control at the moment. Be it the Earth or Titan, it is a philosophy for human beings, and I recognize that.

    2. You have been trying to narrow down the meaning of some phrases and I think I understand what you are trying to say. In that case, let me clarify. When I say system, I am talking of something that when given Objectivism and a particular society provides a method to apply the philosophy to that society. So if I provide Objectivism and USA, I should get a series of steps that when taken should move USA from some kind of psuedo-capitalist mess to a laissez-faire one. It is a hard ask, but who said it was easy. I would have thought Rand would have worked on that aspect. The thing is, starting on a clean slate and modifying something that already exists are two entirely different things. The latter is an extremely demanding task, and from the looks of it appears impossible.

    This closed and open system debate, I am not willing to get into at the moment because I am not too sure what Kelley is talking about. Its been five years since I last had any touch with Rand or Objectivism in a non-book context (I first encountered Rand another four years prior to that) and things seem different now, though Kelley and his society seem to have existed even then (of which I had no idea). The only thing I can say on the issue is this – you cannot use a system against itself to change it or add to it. That would be a contradiction. So, Objectivism + rituals and Objectivism + spirituality are not something I am comfortable with. In fact, the first one is patently stupid.

    3. What is the plan? Is it a single document which presents a series of steps? Or is it a multitude of views on different things that happen in the political and economic sphere – what should the US do with terrorism, why Microsoft is right, and things of that kind? Because if it is the second, I already have pretty strong views on most of the things. If it is the first, then I am not aware of it and would appreciate a link to such a web page.

  9. Hi- linked here from desicritics. I have always believed thus- economic vs caste based reservations. Here, in the US, we find an “equal” opportunity Public Education system. This is the system that provides the basic K-12 education for both a CEO and a chaprasi. Each individual, based on his/her hard work and ethics in work, achieves a certain leve of economic freedom. To determine one’s freedom based on birth is silly.

  10. From only a very quick search, here is the page (“About ARI”) that I would suggest as describing ARI’s approach to making this a better world:

    http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_ari

    The page contains all the key elements of a strategy (which should contain very broad goals and the actions needed to achieve those goals).

    For the closest to a statement of ideology, see Ayn Rand, “For the New Intellectual,” the lead essay in For the New Intellectual. Ayn Rand describes the book as, in part, a “manifesto.”

    The title essay also contains suggestions that I would categorize as strategic. See for example pp. 24-27, wherein Ayn Rand describes the process of dissemination of ideas. Ideas cause history. That is the key to changing the world.

    If what you are looking for is a plan so detailed that it specifies particular actions at particular times and particular places, then I urge you to reconsider. What you would be seeking is impossible. Life in society is too complex and contains too many surprises for that kind of plan.

    If what you are looking for is an exclusively and specifically political plan, then I would suggest you are about 100 years too early. We must lay the groundwork first. Politics is last. (That does not mean that particular individuals can’t or shouldn’t work on both right now. If they have a passion for political changes, then they should, of course, “go for it!”)

    Thank you for the discussion. Such discussions are always helpful. At the very least, they help make explicit what was only implicit.

  11. I do not know how the smiley-faces appeared in my post above. They seem to be substitutes for the right-parentheses that should have appeared.

    I do not use smiley-face symbols in my writing.

  12. blokesablogin,
    I am not sure what you are trying to say. What do you mean by achieving economic freedom? Did you intend to say achieving economic self-sufficiency? These are very different things.
    Are you trying to justify economic reservations? If so you will have to refute my contention that trying to enforce equality of opportunity is a revolt against reality. And you will have to refute man’s right to be free from force by others, since equal opportunities cannot be enforced without an initiation of force.

  13. Okay, so the only way to go about it is accept the limitations of the present system of government and begin educating others on the benefits of freedom from an Objectivist point of view. But given the state of affairs (and the history of human “civilization”), I doubt if that is ever going to succeed.

    As for the book For The New Intellectual, I will try that. Other than her four novels and some parts of Virtue Of Selfishness and Capitalism – An Unknown Ideal, I haven’t read the others yet. Can read them for completeness’ sake. But that won’t help reduce the angst that I feel when I look at the world around me, and find that I can’t do anything other than write about it.

    Anyway, thank you.

  14. aristotlethegeek,
    There are two things that should help reduce your angst.
    First the state of society is not your primary concern. Your primary concern is your own life. Happiness is the result of achieving your desires. And your desires are open to your choice. In an irrational society, the key to happiness is to choose desires whose achievement is minimally dependent on the actions of others.
    Second, you must learn to accept reality for what it is. That we have a miserable system of government, that many people are irrational, that the world cannot be changed any time soon are facts. They are not open to your choice. Your writing about it is the best you can do. It should be a source of satisfaction, not of angst.

  15. K.M., I could not agree with you more regarding your two points to Aristotle the Geek: your happiness depends on your ability to gain your own values, and writing about the irrationality of the world can help bring reality into focus for you. Also, I agree strongly with Burgess Laughlin that such discussions are always helpful in bringing ideas to light.

    Once again, thank you both for fostering these discussions.

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