Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Equality, like simplicity, means several different things. There's social equality, economic equality, moral equality, legal equality, and political equality. There's also equality of opportunity, equality of outcome, and something called asset-based egalitarianism.

Social equality means all people have the same social status in a society; it includes equal rights, equal access to education and healthcare, and equal opportunity. Economic equality means all people have equal access to economic wealth, power, and resources; this is a basic principle of socialism and communism. Moral equality means that all people have the same worth, the same moral value. Legal equality states that all people will be treated the same by the law. Political equality means that everyone has the same political rights and the same access to political power; this is a basic principle of democracy. Equality of opportunity means all people have equal access to education, healthcare, employment, housing, etc. Equality of outcome goes beyond this to measure results, to move toward equalizing income and/or wealth (seeing this as the economic outcome). Asset-based egalitarianism is an attempt to equalize material resources by giving a set amount of money to each person as they reach a certain age (one proposal suggests $80,000); a critique of this is that since different people have different abilities to manage money, there would be an unequal outcome over time.

What do I mean by equality? In a sense, I mean most of these things. I want to work toward a world where everyone is socially, economically, morally, legally, and politically equal. I particularly want to see equality of power. To understand what I mean, it's necessary to look at inequality.

One of the many forms of inequality is oppression, which is where a group of people attains power and privilege at the expense of one or several other groups of people. All the 'isms come from this. And oppressions themselves come from social or dominance hierarchy, where one person or group of people is viewed as more worthy, more deserving of power and privilege than others, and therefore controls the resources of the society. Much radical political theory focuses on oppression, looking at inequality in families, in the economy, in governance, between cultures, and even between nations (see my post of 7/6/08). Some of these theorists point out that there is a power elite in this society which holds much of the wealth, power, and privilege.

To understand the difference between equality of power and, say, economic equality, imagine a corporation where everyone is paid the exact same amount. However, this company is still structured hierarchally, with a CEO that makes all the decisions and sits in a comfortable office, and workers that do backbreaking labor. This is hardly equality, even if everyone makes an identical salary.

Equality does not mean that everyone is identical--in fact, since each of us is unique, everyone is different, with different abilities, skills, talents, interests, etc. What we are talking about is equal treatment and equal valuing. Therefore equality also doesn't imply levelling. There is no Handicapper General. People's different skills and abilities are valued, but this doesn't mean preferential treatment.

Above all, equality cannot mean exactly equal. No one goes around making precise measurements of equality. I picked up the term 'raisin counters' at some point; it refers little kids who have to have the exact number of raisins in each child's oatmeal cookie--or they feel someone is being favored. The point here is simple fairness, fairness for all. What we need is a world in which all people are valued, all people are deemed important, all people have access to what they need, and all people are supported and encouraged to grow and thrive. Love and compassion demand no less.

Quote of the day: "A value change is required as we move from death to life. People should not ask 'What is he worth?' and expect to get an answer in dollars. We should learn to value women and men, blacks and whites, adults and children, intellectuals and manual workers equally. There should be no rich as well as no poor..." - George Lakey
Word (or phrase) of the day: Red-Green Alliance
Hero(es) of the day: Common Ground Collective (New Orleans)

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