Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Futility of Egalitarianism

Tibor R. Machan

The ancient Greek myth of Procrustes’ bed has it that the bed had the attribute of being exactly as long as anyone who lay down on it. Procrustes didn't disclose to his guests his scheme that those who lay down on this extraordinary bed got manipulated so that if they were too short for the bed they had their legs chopped off and if too long, the legs got forcibly stretched. This, it appears, is where the expression “one size fits all” originated.

Egalitarianism is the political view whereby everyone must be subject to equal benefits and burdens, as a matter of public policy. Arguably the mess with the current loan defaults originated with this idea, namely, that all citizens, never mind their particular circumstances, must be treated as if they were the same, as if they could handle mortgages of the same size, purchase equally fancy homes, etc.

For egalitarianism to have a ghost of a chance it would have to be true that fundamentally, in their essence, all human beings are the same and only various accidents render them different. Public policy, in turn, is supposed to be aimed at erasing the differences, forcing us all into the same Procrustean bed.

One area where the idiocy of this doctrine shows up good and hard is in athletics. Mr. Michael Phelps, for example, won 8 gold swimming medals at the 2008 Olympics because he was very, very different from the rest of us, indeed even from other champion swimmers. Phelps is a giant, with huge hands and feet, and so his chances for winning the races for which he prepares are far better than anyone else’s. And he is of course just one example of such extraordinary talent. Roger Federer in tennis may be another, as used to be Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg, among a few others in tennis, and thousands of other athletes throughout history.

It turns out that a recent study (published in the September 2nd issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) has shown that matters are even more anti-egalitarian in human affairs. The study identified a gene variant that actually significantly extends people’s lives. Those lacking the gene live shorter lives, those with it live longer ones (on average and apart from accidental deaths). And this is just the way it is--as the article reporting on this in Science News says, “Life’s just not fair.” But there are diehards who will refuse to accept this and insist on remaking us all to fit their dream-world of universal human equality. And from that stem a hole lot of difficulties in public affairs. The most important result is a government that takes it as its task to force people to conform to various models deemed to serve the futile egalitarian goal. Perhaps the most drastic examples of this result were Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao's Red China. In each the government assumed the role of coercing everyone--well, not actually everyone since the leaders were exempted--to fit certain models of proper humanity. We still see remnants of this while looking at those insane parades in North Korea which symbolize the total absence of human individuality!

Certainly in both systems individuality was banned. That means, of course, that individual liberty was also banned since when men and women have their right to liberty respected and protected, they embark on vastly different pursuits! Dissent in such systems is regarded a form of mental illness and dissidents are locked up for fear that they will infest the rest with crazy notions like personal distinctiveness, with the possibility of excellence as well as failure.

But it turns out that that’s just what the study of genetics helps us further to appreciate, namely, that we are by nature very different human beings. Yes, there is our humanity which is universal (excepting some truly crucial incapacities), but one central aspect of our humanity is that we are also very different from one another. This is so clearly evident from just observing our friends, family, neighbors, and the various historical periods that exhibit human variations that the egalitarian effort to deny its centrality and eradicate it should both be given up as hopeless, futile efforts.

There is much more to be explored about this issue, of course, but one thing seems indisputable: the unfortunately prominent egalitarian doctrine--especially in the academy and among public officials--has produced and continues to produce some devastating public policies, Draconian and less so. That should be enough to turn us away from it for good.

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