Equality is in fact the enemy

By Harrison Searles

Visions of human equality have inspired and motivated activists, philosophers, politicians and artists throughout history. Before the last couple of centuries, the primary type of equality desired was equality before the law or equality before God; however, with the Age of Enlightenment, the emphasis was turned to equality of power and wealth. Instead of seeing the equality of men as coming from objective laws or from a divine Creator, popular sentiment since then has emphasized the material trappings of equality. The recent aimless protests on Wall Street as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement are indicative of these ideas. Despite the dreams of a perfect social democracy, the stark reality is that equality is not congruent with the human condition and if ever attained would do no less than to destroy whatever it is that truly makes the human being noble.

Equality on earth would not be the utopia dreamed of by philosophers and activists. To the contrary, it would be no less than the dystopian visions of Dante and Ayn Rand. True equality would bind all human beings to the lowest common denominator of human morality – unfeeling apathy. Our moral lives would be chained to the refusal of all too many – dare I say the majority – to recognize the call of moral excellence and a purposeful use of our free will conditioned by reason. In a world where most cannot think morally beyond “what feels right,” moral equality would be damning the human race to live an empty life without the magnanimity that virtue provides. All of us would be like the Uncommitted in Dante’s cosmology – standing idle outside the gates of Hades, unmoving despite the stings of wasps and the feast of insects at our flesh, forever to be denied either the joy of heaven or the pains of hell because our moral lives deserve neither.

No one comes in this world with God giving us manna from the sky to subsist ourselves on. To the contrary, everything that is to be consumed must first be produced, a basic economic law emphasized by balance-sheets across the world, and not everyone contributes the same to improve the material conditions of humanity. Those who have more wealth than others have generally found a way to be a more productive member of the social division of labor, though it may take some economic intuition to realize that without a doubt, to demand economic equality would eventually be to demand that we all contribute the same to the economic potential of mankind and that would have the result as told by Rand – the mass starvation, bands of armed soldiers roaming America and the cities going dark.

The dreams of equality are tempting, though, and they continue to attract dreamers the world over. It is tempting because a world of equality would mean a world of stasis – a world where human desires have been satiated and where each can live out his life without anxiety. However, it is this that makes a world of equality so condemnable since it would tear out man’s heart by freezing him in the world of “good enough.” Yes, the desire for more can be a source of radical evil in humanity, that is clear. However, man is an animal that is always acting purposefully toward some end, towards a desire, virtuous or otherwise. This is what animates human life – the pursuit of perfection, a quest to attain the ideas that we know ought to be yet are not yet in the world. More can be source of vice, but is can also be a font of virtue. More virtue. More perfection. More mouths fed. Improvement. To condemn man to a world where he is satiated would be no less than tearing out whatever makes him human. Rather than seeing the world and his own condition as something that can be improved upon, he will simply be a brute content with what he sees, little but a lightning conductor of sensations.

The human condition is one of existing in a world that can always be made better. Whether that manifests itself in members of a nomadic tribe trying to find enough food to survive, an artist trying to capture true beauty on his canvas, a boxer trying to perfect his right hook, all are examples of the pursuit of a better world and they are all instances of the human experience. A world of true equality would prevent any of us from being able to transcend the norm and experience something more excellent and by doing so would prevent all of the experiences that make being human truly worthwhile. A well-spent life is not one that is simply spent passively taking in stimuli while lying on the ground. As noted by Aristotle, even beasts have a more dignified life than that, which is properly described as vegetative. Instead, it is and always has been in the nature of the human being to strive after truly great things and this requires that each be able to go beyond the norm into the excellent.

Without a doubt, the ideal of equality, so widely cherished in this day and age, is one that is fundamentally antagonistic against our human nature. While equality is the world of the lowest common denominator, the world that is characterized by humanity is one that even though it may be characterized by inadequacy, provides the potential for something greater than mere satiation – greatness.

Harrison Searles is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]