WHAT "EQUALITY" DOES NOT MEAN
by John Spritzler
The URL of this article for sharing it is https://www.pdrboston.org/what-equality-does-not-mean
Please read "Egalitarianism is NOT Utopia"
When egalitarians talk about how people are equal we do NOT mean that people are identical. We do not mean that people have the same talents or skills or integrity of character. We know full well that people vary from one another in all sorts of ways, physically and mentally.
Egalitarians do not advocate making people equal, in the sense of identical. We're not concerned that some people are different from others. Indeed these differences are often a positive thing that makes life more interesting! See some wonderful, amazing, stupendous examples of this below!*
And yes, some people deserve, and in an egalitarian society will get, more respect than others as leaders who should be followed in particular situations: the trained medical surgeon should be accorded more respect in an operating room than the janitor; the trained pilot of a passenger plane should be obeyed rather than some random passenger. And in most places where people are engaged in some enterprise, certain individuals will emerge as better leaders deserving more respect (because of their integrity and knowledge and dedication to the shared goal of the enterprise) in that situation than others. No-rich-and-no-poor equality has absolutely nothing to do with denying these differences among people.
Some people will also deserve, and get, more respect for other things, such as athletic performance or artistic performance or musical performance or literary creation or entrepreneurial ability, etc. An egalitarian sharing economy (read about it here) will let some superior athletes or artists or writers or musicians or entrepreneurs, etc. count their related activity as "working reasonably" and hence be the basis for their membership in good standing in the sharing economy, thus conferring the right to take from the economy what they need or reasonably desire or have equal status to receive scarce things equitably rationed according to need. Those whose demonstrated skill or talent in such activities is not sufficiently great are free to engage in them, but only as hobbies that do not count as their reasonable work required for membership in the sharing economy; they would have to contribute reasonably by doing something else.
In an egalitarian society a person who is very good at something will be able to do it full time and also the society will provide him or her with a large audience or material support to do something on a large scale. In contrast a person who is not so good at something will not enjoy this support. This is why, in an egalitarian society there is a strong motive for people to strive to be very good at something they love to do. The anti-egalitarian propaganda that says people have no motive to excel in an egalitarian society is absurd.
For egalitarians, equality (meaning "equality of outcome" as opposed merely to "equal opportunity" to get richer than others) most certainly does NOT mean anything at all like what the novelist, Kurt Vonnegut, portrayed it to be in his satirical story titled "Harrison Bergeron" in which:
"It is the year 2081. Because of amendments to the Constitution, all Americans are fully equal, meaning that no one is allowed to be smarter, better-looking, or more physically able than anyone else. The Handicapper General's agents enforce the equality laws, forcing citizens to wear 'handicaps': a mask if they are too beautiful, radio earphones with shrill noise to disrupt the thinking of intelligent people, and heavy weights to burden the strong or athletic."
Apologists for social/economic inequality want people to believe that egalitarians are crazy people aiming to make everybody exactly the same. Asserting that egalitarians hold such a stupid view is just a cheap debater's trick. Thus Ayn Rand, the champion of inequality, writes:
"To understand the meaning and motives of egalitarianism, project it into the field of medicine. Suppose a doctor is called to help a man with a broken leg and, instead of setting it, proceeds to break the legs of ten other men, explaining that this would make the patient feel better; when all these men become crippled for life, the doctor advocates the passage of a law compelling everyone to walk on crutches—in order to make the cripples feel better and equalize the 'unfairness' of nature."
The fact that the critics of egalitarianism have to resort to flat out lying about what egalitarians believe shows how incapable they are of making a persuasive argument against what egalitarians actually believe.
WHAT EQUALITY DOES MEAN
So what do egalitarians mean by "equality?" We mean equality in the sense of no rich and no poor. We mean that people--despite their very real differences--nonetheless have an equal right to enjoy the benefits made possible by naturally occurring and socially produced wealth according to need and reasonable desire if they contribute reasonably according to ability. It's that simple.
Sure, people have different needs. So a sick person needs more medical care than a healthy person; a large family needs a larger house than a small family; one person may need to eat more than another, etc. People have all sorts of different needs. So what? The point is that, among those who contribute reasonably, there should be equality of status with respect to being able to take (for free) products and services from the economy according to reasonable need and desire (or in the case of scarcity to have equal status when things are rationed equitably according to need). THIS is what it means to have "no rich and no poor."
Yes, of course, some people have greater or different abilities than others; and some people have greater or different needs and desires than others. We know that, and have no problem with that. We believe, however, that the differences between people are not a reason for some being richer than others. We believe, for example, that the children of a janitor and the children of a physician should enjoy the same standards of education, healthy food, quality health care, comfortable living space, quality clothing, leisure time, fun vacations, and healthy and attractive environment.
Egalitarian equality does NOT mean Equal Opportunity. Equal Opportunity means an equal opportunity to get rich in a society in which some are rich and some are poor. Egalitarian equality means there are no rich and no poor because all who contribute reasonably according to ability have the same right to take for free products and services from the economy according to reasonable need or desire (or, in the case of scarcity, to have things that are equitably rationed according to need.)
To repeat from the #1 discussion above, the children of a janitor and the children of a physician should enjoy the same standards of education, healthy food, quality health care, comfortable living space, quality clothing, leisure time, fun vacations, and healthy and attractive environment. This is the kind of equality egalitarians aim for.
Apologists for class inequality (i.e., those who approve of having some rich and some poor) such as Robert Reich, call for Equal Opportunity in order to divert people from even thinking about, never mind fighting for, what most people ACTUALLY want, which is egalitarian equality.
Equality does NOT mean anything like what the Marxist Pol Pot did in Cambodia: forcing the better-off educated people who lived in cities to work as laborers on farms in the same poverty as the poor agricultural population and killing the millions of such people (and their small children) who didn't enthusiastically agree to this. Equality--"From each according to reasonable ability, to each according to need or reasonable desire with scarce things equitably rationed according to need"--means something very different.
Local Assemblies of Egalitarians would most likely say that professional people, for example (those who have advanced degrees and who do higher-paid professional rather than blue collar work) would still be invited to do such work when it is socially useful and continue to live in their current homes (unless this was only possible by making others be homeless) and continue to enjoy having what they need or reasonably desire with scarce things equitably rationed according to need. At the same time, Local Assemblies of Egalitarians would aim to direct human and material resources to improving life for people equitably according to need: people in the greatest need (the poorest people) would have priority for improvements in their housing, etc.
* Here are links to some absolutely unbelievably amazing and wonderful examples of what some individuals can do that hardly any others can come even close to doing, and egalitarians CELEBRATE this kind of inequality:
4. Making stone appear as a transparent veil is a skill at which 19th century Milan sculptor Giovanni Strazza had no peers.
5. Learning to play the piano AMAZINGLY well by the age of only 5 years old! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQeC5i9c09M
6. As an anonymous carpenter in a chapel in the middle of nowhere, with only hand tools and wood, constructing a double spiral unsupported staircase that boggles the mind, as described at https://shocking.quora.com/https-www-quora-com-What-is-the-mystery-behind-the-Loretto-Chapel-staircase-answer-Craig-Weiler?ch=17&oid=74167145&share=2e7abeed&srid=Muxc&target_type=post&fbclid=IwAR2EIw4NNA0ViXVLvEy3_jkuo9oxj93TsXc5AyIqbPiBWTq2h5oy_65iTD8