Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Equality as a social construct

 Dear Son,

One of the most brilliant things I've ever seen posted on Facebook was a picture of a hawk chasing a smaller bird and a caption that stated the following: Equality is a social construct.  In nature nothing is equal.


When I say there is nothing equal in nature I mean it, but there are few things less equal in nature than people.  I have seen some societies where people appear to me equal and they are societies where people are most living like animals.  Aborigines in the Amazon are said to exist without poverty because they all happen to be living in squalor.  The man in a favela is poor because somebody else built something better than a tin hut.  Inequality is only a result of our invention and our virtue.  You can only be a rich man and a safe man if somebody somewhere is a great man.  In the best societies the rich man and the safe man and the great man are the same man.  In the worst societies the rich man and the safe man is a violent bum.

Once you know equality is a social construct you know nearly everything that is good and bad and true and false about America; and in the end, the degree to which you swallow it is what makes you an American.  All men are created equal is an incredibly stupid thing to say, and barring stupidity it is something only a religious man can say -- even if the man saying it claimed to be a deist.  It belongs to a world transcending this world, and beyond this a world seen with eyes other than human.

You almost have to be blind in order to see it.  That two people could ever stand equally before anyone else, or that two people are equally good for every good thing.  You have to believe in a soul and free agency.  You have to believe that we are going to the same judge and playing by the same rules.  You have to insist that we all know the same rules in the same way and that each of us is capable of understanding the meaning of the rules and when they aren't applicable.  And most of all you have to maintain that a man's spirit makes his body and birthright irrelevant.  There is no antidote for the "disease" of difference in the world but this.  Once you lose this you lose equality.  The people who throw away God throw away universal brotherhood*.  Without God we are equal only in that we die.  Everything else is superiors and inferiors.

I say the degree in which you swallow this makes you an American because Americans are very good at preaching equality and terrible (though better than most) at pretending it.  We say perhaps more than anyone that losers are just as good as winners, and we have historically (and I stress, historically) been better than anyone else at letting losers suffer just for being losers.  Our hypocrisy was both stunning and brilliant.  On the one hand it pacified the underdog by making him feel he'd got a clear shot, and on the other hand it encouraged the hero by not letting him be encumbered by the loser.  In the long run the loser may not win but he's dragged along many times unknowingly out of starvation by the winner**.  In the really long run the losers have won.  They began winning as soon as they cashed in on the idea that they're equal and that the only reason they appeared unequal is because someone was obstructing them.

Those who have cashed in are not actually dunces but brilliant. They lack the intellects to take us to space but they have enough brains to take their heroes to court.  We have for a long time now thought of brilliance as the thing that builds companies and strategies and patents and theories.  But all brilliance is a matter of adaptation to or overcoming our environments***; and the man who evolves best has got to understand the environment he lives in.  Yesterday with capitalism the men who fit in the best were thinkers and doers in a world which accepted their inequalities and benefitted from them.  It was a world which tacitly accepted our diversity.  Today the men who fit in best are the non-thinkers and non-doers who abuse the social construct to further themselves and their families.  It isn't a long-term strategy but for many men it is their only strategy.  They get more and breed more and their power increases as they tyrannize the public discourse.  To prove this you need only think of who you can't make fun of without losing the business you've built.

It isn't glorious but it's evolutionary.  We created a system and someone decided to live in it.  Some of us have adapted and other ones haven't.  The winner used to be a great man and by the new rules he's almost the worst.  He used to be beautiful and strong and industrious and brilliant.  Now he's a bum; and being the right kind of bum, the bum born with the right characteristics or into the right religion, is as good as any hereditary title.  He adapts not by what he can do but by what the law allows him to claim.  He claims because we let him.  We let him because we have turned equality into a privilege.

Your father,
-J

*In perhaps the coldest passage of the New Testament Jesus describes a rich man who ended up in hell for not taking care of a poor man.  Nobody who reads the story can argue even for a second that the rich man was good.  But it is perhaps more difficult to argue from this that God isn't bad.  Abraham says to the rich man in the midst of eternal suffering:
Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
Equality before God seems to be this.  There is no story behind the rich man or the poor man.  Both have received what they got from The Almighty.  The rich man is judged for what he didn't give and the poor man is judged for what he couldn't.  Anyone -- and especially any American -- who reads this without the most inescapable terror is either an idiot or a liar.  Television and the internet have brought every poor man in the world to our gates, and what we have earned was never our own to keep.  There is no way to win except by abject poverty.  The whole world of producers is going to hell and the winners in life are the bums.

**Capitalism breeds inequality but it also enriches the underdog best.  It isn't frequently mentioned, but during the Industrial Revolution, when parents are children were crammed into factories and mangled for long hours for little pay and no weekend, the infant mortality rate was halved.  Our kids used to die because they had nothing and now they were living because someone was abusing us.  Human rapacity did more for our children than charity.  Your child was twice as likely to live because of a robber baron than because of a Catholic Priest.

***The inimitable Chesterton on evolution:
The theory of survival of the fittest simply means this: that if there is nothing but dirt, those who survive will eat dirt.  It says nothing about the "height" of dirt eating people; it does not even indicate that dirt-eaters will improve the physical universe, let alone the human commonwealth.  To hear these people talk you would think nature conducted a competitive examination in the works of Ruskin; or put all the animals into a Sunday school where they got points for politeness and clean collars.  The truth at the back of all the confusion is quite simple.  The truth is that evolutionary theory, if true, is totally useless for human affairs. [...]  All these attempts to apply the parallel of our physical evolution to our ethical progress end in one of two things.  They end in cutting ethics to fit evolution, which means immorality and madness; or they end in cutting evolution to fit ethics, which means unscientific balderdash.      

1 comment:

  1. It seems to me that anyone who reads Abraham's words and is filled with inescapable terror is both an idiot and a liar. A liar for claiming to make sense of something that they know makes no sense, and an idiot for fearing the irrational claims of mythology. (Regrettably, both of which I once was).

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