Why worry about equality

We all gain in numerous ways from the fact that we are all different to varying degrees in most respects. Strict equality in any respect can only mean uniformity in that respect. Equality as such is not generally a good thing. Certain varieties of socialist thinking that focus on eliminating inequalities inevitably turn out to be very oppressive. (Marx himself was not guilty in this respect.)

However there are many kinds of inequalities that have very detrimental effects on people’s lives. Some of these are due to natural causes, like many physical disabilities. It is to the credit of the much-maligned “nanny state” that we devote quite a lot of resources to helping people with disabilities to participate in as many areas of social life as possible.

Many other injurious inequalities are socially constructed, sometimes deliberately, but often as an unintended result of activities, some legitimate, others criminal undertaken for other reasons and causes. Some of these are remediable without recourse to compulsion, simply by dissuading the culprits from doing certain things, often just by shaming them. Those so shamed often attempt to deride this as “political correctness”. Obviously it can go too far.

Even those activists who operate principally without invoking political authority sometimes try to have the activities they want to suppress declared illegal, not so much in order to impose legal penalties on their targets as to show their opponents that the nation collectively disapproves of what they do. Obviously, that can help the activists to defend themselves from the imputation of being an idiosyncratic clique. It is a two-edged sword. Concentrating on legality invites the response that nobody has a right to criticise people who are doing what they are legally entitled to do. Usually the sorts of activity in question are mainly matter if intent in acting and notoriously difficult to prosecute. So some egregious offenders escape. Moral matter should as far as possible be left to moral suasion. Continue reading