Sunday, December 25, 2005

Impossible Egalitarianism

Tibor R. Machan

Egalitarianism is undesirable, which is often left unmentioned when the idea is discussed. Many have thought it would be so swell if it only could exist but it wouldn’t. Everyone being the same, having the same, etc., etc., is a pitifully dismal vision of human—and the rest of—life.

But leave that be for now. It is, also, quite impossible. And egalitarians around us themselves are proving the point all over the place. Take The New York Times or The New York Review of Books, or its sister in the UK, The London Review of Books. Or take all the professors teaching a prominent colleges and universities, or teachers elementary and high schools who favor the stance. None, not a one, can actually act on it. That’s because people must make decisions, must discriminate as they select what to do in their lives, and the decisions will always be based on some idea of what is better, what worse. And that includes people and their doings.

Try as hard as you may, if you write something the editors of The Times or The NY Review do not like, you won’t get published there. Not that it means they are right to reject your contribution—I am talking only of what they happen to judge as worthy of being published, be they right or wrong in this judgment. And when hiring is going on at departments of political science or philosophy or at primary and secondary schools, even where the faculty is dominated by egalitarian ideologues, do not get the idea that you will not be evaluated by very harsh standards and rejected if you don’t meet them.

The fact is that evaluations are a necessary fact of human existence. The only matter that’s open is whether they will be done justly, objectively—or corruptly, with rank bias. And of course, it is highly desirable as well as quite possible to be sufficiently objective, say as one judges an Olympic gymnastic or diving or skating competition. And one can also botch the job good and hard. So, too, in life, one can make good or bad evaluations, based them on relevant or irrelevant factors, do them carefully or hastily and so forth. But one just cannot avoid them, including when it comes to judging other people.

So the lesson is not to attempt the impossible—not to mention pathetic—ideal of egalitarianism but to make constant, unrelenting, vigilant improvements on one’s evaluations. The problem in many areas of human society isn’t lack of equality but in how achievement is assessed, recorded, awarded. It is the responsibility of human beings to do this well whenever they need to and can but by getting distracted with the chimera of egalitarianism, sadly this reasonable and achievable objective is neglected. All the affirmative action measures, for instance, contribute to this sad situation—instead of upgrading the system of meritocracy, whereby those who are best qualified gain entrance to jobs or schools, there is all this official focus on trying to be fair to all, never mind how qualified they are.

Maybe this is yet another instance of the perfect being the mortal enemy of the good. Egalitarianism is a kind of perfection fanaticized by all too many visionaries among us. Imagine the world as if we could all be equally beautiful, equally smart, equally wealthy or healthy and champion getting this dream realized. In the meanwhile the prospect of realizing what can be, namely, an objective and just evaluation on all fronts, is neglected or avoided.

If you check out the current political scene, this is one of the corrupting aspects of it on numerous fronts. In economic policies, for example, instead of focusing on the possible and highly desirable objective of creating the conditions for greater prosperity, too many politicians, academics, bureaucrats focus on equal distribution of benefits and burdens. This infantile concern with what’s fair—often derived from modeling societies on how it should go at the family dinner table—is a major obstacle to what really would be of benefit to nearly everyone, a system in which wealth creation is made fully possible.

Alas, despite the near obviousness of all this, the resistance to it is nearly fanatical. Too bad.

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