The field of equality (yes, it’s something of a business) was a cottage industry for most of human history. It has had ups and downs, but stripped down to its basics it appears in the teachings of most major religions.
In America, slavery was abolished in 1863, and during the following one hundred years, the definition of slavery continued to be examined. Without equal rights, slavery is only watered down. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 demonstrated there was still room for improvement in the laws and practices in America, and while it was not a complete solution, it at least pointed out some of the remaining problems.
The issues that slow human progress are typically rooted in ignorance. Both the lack of intelligence among the masses and the ability of those in power to manipulate that lack of intelligence. Well meaning movements have been perverted, and programs that interfere with equal rights have prospered due to clever marketing. I face the frustration of the situation with the attitude of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”, You want utopia? You can’t handle utopia. I have no doubt we’ll get there, but it will be a slow laborious journey.
In America, we fumbled “Equal Rights” into “Equality”. It seems like such a subtle difference, but it isn’t.
All men are created equal sounds very nice, the actual phrase is just a little more complex “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“. We know we are not equal. I am tall, others are short. “Equality” refers to the rights, in this case “negative rights” provided by the government. Negative rights are sometimes called preventative rights, a right which restrains the power of authorities. The right to free speech is the right to not be prosecuted for your speech, thus it is a negative right.
By confusing (or allowing confusion about) the meaning of equality, the quest for equal rights is hampered. Nothing hurts sympathy for a good cause as much as bad representation. Well, one thing. Bad implementation. Affirmative action, the process of discriminating against qualified applicants in order to balance employee diversity, is still discrimination. White people who can’t get a job are not feeling racial harmony when a less qualified black applicant gets the job, they feel justified in their bigotry against black people. Forcing accommodation of minority groups ensures continued resentment.
Not all discrimination is equal. Ask your Jewish friends how they feel about every mass murder being compared to the holocaust, ask a black person over fifty how they feel about every fringe group comparing their “struggle” to the civil rights movement. The Equal Rights Amendment, designed to protect the rights of women, was written in 1923. It was introduced to congress in every session until it passed in 1972. It has failed to be ratified, and has been reintroduced since reaching its ratification deadline. As the amendment addresses the rights of a specific group rather than humans in general, it has little chance of ever being ratified, as the argument it is redundant at this point in time is valid. We don’t each need an amendment for our group in order to be equal.
We can pass volumes of laws, but true equality cannot be legislated. It comes from within, it is determined in the immediate reaction to another. Can we accept someone who is different as having equal rights? It requires a change within ourselves, as we cannot be expected to see others until we can see ourselves. Am I to accept the repugnant as beautiful? That would depend on whether I see myself as beautiful or repugnant. When we are able to appreciate the balance brought by diversity, we will be far more willing to embrace it than we do now, the ability to see the beauty in the differences rather than conformance to a standard.
Equality is horrifying. A universe occupied by perfectly equal elements has no growth. A lack of growth is equivalent to death, or perhaps I have not evolved to the point I can appreciate it. I often envision the afterlife as a state of entropy, so perhaps that is the direction in which I am traveling.
In his 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron”, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. investigated a society based on legally enforced equality. Strong people had to wear weights to slow them. Intelligent people wore earphones that produced disturbing noises to protect them from coherent thoughts. The beautiful were forced to wear masks. The story is thought provoking (as long as we take our earphones off) and has been produced as a feature length film which strays wildly from the original, and a short film which is more faithful. The audiobook, below, is only twelve minutes long, I highly recommend it as a starting point in exploring the various productions. If anyone knows how I can obtain a copy of the 2006 short film please let me know.
We can do better than we are doing now, but I do not believe we are currently on the path to that better future.