Egalitarianism, a colossus powered by what we feel rather than what we know. There is a constant strive towards equality, a constant yearning for all of us to be equal. This is portrayed in academia, politics, the media, and many other agents for change. Yet despite all this push and all this noise, nothing seems to change. Of course, there are artificial causes for inequality that are brought about by our political system (i.e. subsidies, bailouts, Cantillon effects) however inequality is a result of nature and thus can never be squashed. Even in the Soviet Union, there were black markets and other forms of inequality. All the noise, force, power, and effort will not completely eliminate inequality. Thus, egalitarianism is an origami crane, something that seems nice on the outside, but deep down it’s a weak concept.
To start with this examination let us consider some logical axioms to work off of. These axioms must be universal and unfalsifiable in order to not only create an objective framework but leave our individual personal feelings at the door. This is a logical method of examining egalitarianism in that it can not be falsified by empiricism and will remain true regardless of time and space.
- Each and every human on this earth right now, in the past, and in the future, is a unique individual with a unique mind and body.
- Because we are all different unique individuals, disparities are inevitable. Differences between each and every individual create disparities between each and every individual.
For axiom 1, understand that even if individuals can have similarities, the fact of reality is that we are all different. This is not to touch on the issue of collectivism, seeing as how behind every collective is a group of unique and diverse individuals. One might argue that we should consider our similarities instead of our differences (all humans have brains, all humans have arms, etc.). Even our similarities have differences, however. Sure we may all have arms, but are the arms of one completely identical to another? Some arms are muscular, some fat, some skinny. Let us assume, for the sake of the skeptic, that two individuals completely defy nature and are completely identical in looks and personality. Even then in this scenario, there is difference. These two individuals must occupy different places at different times, thus leading to a difference and disparities.
To simply disagree with axiom 1 is to enter into a performative contradiction. By disagreeing with the objective fact that each and every individual is unique is to show a difference by simply disagreeing with me. If we were all the same then there would be no disagreement and there would be a universal consensus among humans regarding knowledge. Thus, axiom 1 cannot be falsified.
Axiom 2 simply follows axiom 1 in that the fact that we are all unique individuals with differences will eventually lead to disparities between individuals. One may predict how these differences can lead to disparities but one can never be too sure, especially in regards to future knowledge. For instance, someone with a much greater work ethic will probably get ahead more in life than someone with a much lower work ethic, but we can’t know for sure. Work ethic is a big factor through which we can see as an important factor in disparities. Intelligence is another one of these significant factors as well as wealth and the family you were born into. Small differences can also cause disparities, for instance, a difference of one person reading a certain book and another person not reading a certain book could lead to completely different lives.
Now that we have our axiomatic framework, we can begin a critical examination of egalitarianism as a theoretical concept.
Theory of Egalitarianism
A definition of egalitarianism is required before we can perform an autopsy. Merriam-Webster defines egalitarianism as “a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs” (Merriam-Webster). As discussed earlier with artificial inequality, the political sphere’s implementation of policies that cause inequality do not follow the axioms in that the inequalities there are not due to individual differences. On a social and economic field, the axioms apply and thus this will be our main focus.
The second word of the definition should arouse suspicion, ‘belief’. With our axioms we need not rely on faith or belief to validate them, rather, nature and objective truth do that work for us. The third and fourth words, ‘human equality’ serves as an example of an oxymoron. Humans, as we have established, are not all equal, soulless, robots. We have indisputable human differences. For there to be ‘human equality’ humans must be equal, to begin with. A belief in human equality is akin to a belief that everyone is reading this sentence at the same exact time as everyone else. If we were all equal, then our actions must all be the same too, but since you are reading this while others are not, we must conclude that we are not ‘equal’.
It should be stressed that egalitarianism and standard of living are not synonymous. It is a fallacious stereotype to think that libertarians hate the poor when really the area of contention is egalitarianism. People can be unequal yet live extremely prosperous lives, for instance, picture a society where those less off have mansions and one robot servant while those more well-off have spaceships controlled by hundreds of robots. This scenario is not egalitarian but it nonetheless has both people living great lives. To critique the idea that we should all be equal is not to advocate in favor of poverty or something.
Critique of Egalitarianism
Now that we have established what egalitarianism is and isn’t, we can use our axioms to prove its failures. Egalitarianism actively attempts to subdue both axioms and fight against what is objectively true. It makes an effort to force people to be equal and in doing so destroy their humanity. By saying that there should be an equality of outcome is to say that we are all identical not only in personality but looks. Advocating for egalitarianism while we have established unfalsifiable axioms about human nature is to advocate that two plus two equals five. It is a concept that tries to wrestle humanity, thus it is egalitarianism that ethically should be viewed as problematic as opposed to individualism.
Egalitarian arguments amount to subjective statements as opposed to any objective logical arguments about human nature. Furthermore, it is already assumed to be a virtuous concept by academics without any thought to what they’re discussing. It’s become somewhat of a religious icon, a holy idea not to be critiqued or slandered.
One of the most popular philosophical arguments for egalitarianism comes from political philosopher John Rawls who proposed the ‘original position’ thought experiment. In the experiment, we are asked to imagine ourselves ignorant of our skills, intelligence, personality, etc. and from there we are then asked to construct rules for society. Being ignorant of our humanity would lead one to adopt a more egalitarian perspective, however, this argument is too abstract. We do have knowledge of our skills, personality, and intelligence and we also have knowledge of issues involving scarcity and demand. The question for society then becomes how to best allocate these scarce resources to meet the most demand, and since we are aware of our humanity, we can conclude that our differences in who we are lead us to have differences in outcomes in order to solve this problem for society. There is no need to assume this in that it has already been decided upon with the spontaneous emergence and strength of capitalism.
Our standard of living matters, not so much egalitarianism. While many left-leaning academics will critique the rise of global capitalism in the form of inequality, they will obfuscate the fact that standard of living has been on the rise where capitalism has touched. One look at the Human Development Index will show how much countries have improved as globalization (in the context of capitalism) has taken place. While inequality persists, life expectancies and overall living standards are on the rise. This should be at the center of focus if one is to really eradicate poverty, not levels of inequality.
Egalitarianism is an origami crane, a concept that seems nice on the outside, but in reality, is very weak. It completely contradicts logical axioms about human nature and is thus itself unnatural. It aims to bend the unbendable. If we are to really consider the living standards of those less fortunate then this must be our direct aim, living standards. Concerning ourselves with inequality instead of living standards may ultimately lead us to more equality but at what cost? A fight for equality is a fight against reality.