Equality

2007-01-09

One topic we all hear a lot about today is discrimination. People use the term to refer to someone being treated differently from others for a reason that really shouldn't matter. Gender is a common one. I have been told that women are of were treated unfairly by men more times than I want to remember. This usually comes with the implication that, not only am I at fault here, but that I should be doing something about it. What that is, however, is not always so obvious.

The goal, of coarse, is for people to be treated equally. Unfortunately, even that can be unclear. In mathematics, two numbers are equal if they are at the same point on the number line. The problem with that definition is that it only works for measurable quantities, and although people do have measurable quantities, these are not generally what we are trying to declare equal. Trying to make everyone equal in height, for example, is a bit of a lost cause. When we say people are equal, it seems to me that we mean that they are to be treated like they were interchangeable, not to say that any individual has little value, but in the sense that anyone could instantly take the place of anyone else with no harm done. This isn't a perfect definition, but it seems to work.

It does, however, cause certain problems. Whatever we might wish, there are things that some people can't do. Atheists can't become the pope. Short people can't play professional basketball. In addition, there are limits imposed by what people want to do. No matter how unbiased a tractor-repair company was about hiring people, it is almost certain that the men working there would outnumber the women. There are also certain dangers that can be associated with gender equality. Angry men might try to restore the status quo by force. More women working full-time might result in a population decline. It's possible that children who are, for the most part, raised at various day cares could grow up with a different set of values and social expectations than their parents, not because of some insidious intent, but simply because they grew up in different circumstances.

None of this means, however, that equality is necessarily a bad thing. It is certainly fairer, in the sense that it treats everybody in the same way. Whether or not they should be is the basis of the issue, so using it as a reason to support one side sort of begs the question. The economic benefits are significant and hard to disagree with; given the size of the economic boom that occurred when a large number of women entered the workforce during the Second World War and afterwards. On top of this, there is international opinion to consider. The developed world, as a whole, seems to be in favor of as much equality as possible, and making the rest of the world angry is seldom a good idea.

The fundamental problem, however, is that power corrupts. Historically, whenever one group is firmly in charge, the members of that group tend to use their power for their own ends, often at the expense of everyone else. On the other hand, the current equality movements have their own abuses, such as deliberately picking people for jobs from minority groups over more qualified people who arenít. The whole issue has become extremely tangled, and isn't likely to get any clearer soon.

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