Equality – In Principle and In Practice

It is easy to speak of righteous ideals; especially when one benefits from them.  Difficulty in support does not arise from the self-beneficial trait – one would be foolish to deny that which is advantageous. The difficulty occurs when the ideal is in opposition to another that one holds. A conflict between the two compels a compromise – either partially or in whole. If the individual is critical of his beliefs, he will weigh the importance of both with respect to his own values. In other words, he will ask, “I if hold both, are my values in danger of hypocrisy?” In most instances, a partial compromise occurs to maintain both benefits, but this often results in the degradation of those same benefits to a separate party.

Why must the degradation of similar rights occur to another party?  This consequence is a result of the compromise; not to one’s own rights, but to the rights of others.  An easily demonstrable example is slavery. Men such as Thomas Jefferson – morally superior in his own time, but a hypocrite by today’s standards – championed the principles of liberty and justice; for all but those of color. Since we are unable to peer into a man’s mind – literally – much less a man that no longer breathes, we must speculate to understand his logic. How does one justify proselytizing equality one minute and supporting the enslavement of his fellow man the next? Simple: both ideals were beneficial to him.

Now, it is well documented that Thomas Jefferson was amenable to the abolition of slavery. We are aware of this from his correspondence.  We have evidence that he released several slaves – possibly his kin – and he was a proponent of legislation that minimized slavery. The era in which Jefferson lived was not as liberal as he was; a fact often alluded to when defending his precarious position. It is also argued that individuals in the past should not be judged by today’s standards. To the latter, I disagree. Jefferson was well aware of his duplicity, but stopped short of rectifying it for unknown reasons.  He led the charge for many, but stood idly for others. This unfortunate blemish upon the reputation of such a shining example of humanism should serve as a lesson.  Jefferson is not to be chastised, but rather, he supplies all with a reminder to maintain moral consistency.

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Categories: Philosophy

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8 replies

  1. That’s a long post but worth all the time reading it. I think we must all work towards creating equality for man and guaranteeing these rights and freedoms for future generations!

  2. What’s Happening i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It positively helpful and it has helped me out loads. I hope to contribute & help other users like its helped me. Good job.

  3. in re: “Instead of observing the will of the people, representatives vote according to the will of lobbyists; the influence of corporations has replaced the influence of the constituents.”

    In ancient Rome, direct democracy was a groundbreaking, but also feasible, accomplishment. I don’t know that you could find a situation today, however, where this is the case. Maybe in some of the small tribal and clan-based societies in parts of Africa and Central Asia? Is the situation you describe above the pareto optimum outcome in a nation of more than 300 million constituents? Can you decipher the collective will of 300 million people? If so, how?

    Politicians can only listen to those people who actually speak to them. In a country where political apathy and civic inaction has grown steadily for more than 100 years now (particularly so at the local level), who else is speaking to them? If 45% of a representative’s constituent population votes in a particular election, is she/he to consider that as a plurality instead of a minority?

    Also, how do you decipher and place weight on the aims of lobbyists and corporations? Lobbies are collective associations of the same constituents you assert have a muted voice. Why does a group of voices count less than a multitude of individual voices? And corporations can be viewed in the same fashion. Aren’t corporate managers constituents with rights and expectations as well, even though they might differ than those of many others? If a corporation, in fighting for enhanced privileges, is able to create something of a benefit to a mass of the rest of the population (either in terms of a product that enhances quality of life or in enhanced economic benefit), doesn’t this indirectly benefit the civic non-participant? Can a corporation’s expectations ever be selfish yet beneficial to others at the same time?

    • You have raised some very interesting and insightful points, Tony. I have considered many of these from time to time. Admittedly, however, I have fallen short of proposing solutions – even to myself. Before I address your points, please consider this: If an issue is raised which has seemingly no solution, does it cease to be an issue?
      I hope you will forgive my terse replies to some of these.

      With respect to direct vs. representative democracy: I am not suggesting that a direct democracy is ideal for our nation. In fact, I tend to agree with Rousseau in that a democracy can only succeed in smaller societies, as you mentioned. In saying that, however, I have a propensity to prefer an inefficient and distorted democracy to any alternative.

      This is where I must admit that I have no solution: How can we decipher the collective will of 300 million people? I’m not sure. In theory, the concept of lobbying performs this vital function. However, I think you will admit that special interest groups speak for a minority. But that in itself isn’t the problem. The problem occurs when certain groups attain more influence based on the influence – monetary or other – they in turn provide. Meaning, Group ABC attains more support than XYZ because ABC provided more campaign contributions. This is where the imbalance between a politician’s personal will, corporate will and constituent’s will occurs. Our politicians aren’t lending support based on merit; they’re lending support based on the likelihood of a return investment. Increased regulations have reduced the steady flow of corruption to a trickle, but people are savvy, and loopholes are inevitably discovered.

      As for corporations and their rights, I do not support the humanization of corporations, which I believe you’re alluding to. I am also not a proponent of trickle-down theories. There are plenty of examples where the original intention of a trickle-down theory has resulted in the opposite effect.

      Since this has resulted in an extended response, I will add this to my list of possible writing topics. Many of the points you made are worthy of individual posts themselves! Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  4. Also, in re: “Because career politicians bend their ear towards those with money, those without suffer…As a result, inequality has reared her ugly head once again.”

    Is the end merely economic equality? Defined how, and by whom? Or is the end overall enhacement of life for the greatest number? Some say that a rising tide lifts all ships. Imagine that Nation A has a strong natural resource Lobby. This Lobby is large and has hired the most skilled lobbyists and has a much stronger voice in the political arena than that of the individual voter, who knows very little about the industry and the pros and cons of natural resource extraction. Lets say that the Lobby fights and wins the political rights (perhaps via a relaxing of business or environmental regulations) to drill somewhere previously unexplored and happens upon a motherload of some highly demanded resource. Lets also say now that as a result of this, the Industry and thus Nation A (via taxation), soon realizes a significant enlargement of the size of its purse, and every individual in the country receives payment as a result, a fact that continues for many years as the extraction process maintains vitality. The standard of living of everyone vastly improves. The political situation vastly improves because the nation now has more money and thus an enhanced voice in the international arena. Finally, the economic situation of Nation A is also vastly improved because the discovery of the resource complemented by an improved political situation attract significant further investment. Obviously this is a rather drawn-out hypothetical but I suppose my point in summation is this: Is it always the case that when the voices of those with money are heard over the voices of those without, that anyone has to suffer as a result? If my new income raises 5%, while the income of the richest class raises 10%, is this inequality undeserving of the overall improvement? Is income the only determinant of political equality?

    Okay, I’m done with the questions now! Haha I don’t expect a reply to each one, these are just the little bits of food for thought that my brain was chewing as I read this. Otherwise, I’ve enjoyed your pieces thus far!

Please share your thoughts here. With the exception of blatant spam, no one will be censored. I invite criticisms and disagreement, but hope we can maintain a cordial and respectful dialogue. Thanks!

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