Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Nasty Effects of Egalitarianism

Tibor R. Machan

Ideas do have consequences. You come to believe that you are invincible, you will take risks more readily. You believe government will bail you out, cover your debts up to a certain amount, you will borrow more (indeed, your financial advisor will tell you you should). You believe you can't lose at the roulette tables, you will wager more.

After all, ideas guide our actions. Even the tiniest bit of behavior has some ideas setting up its parameters and limits. Sure, some things we do is nearly instinctual but that's only because we have done them a lot and no longer need to reflect on or deliberate about doing them, like when we drive around in our manual shift automobiles and after a while shift gears without having to work it out consciously. The subconscious has been well trained and needs but a bit of monitoring to carry on. A very efficient system, this is!

But when you learn stupid stuff, that too has consequences. You are persuaded that nothing you do is up to you, that you are responsible for nothing since everyone is driven to act as he or she does by impersonal forces around the environment in which one lives, why bother paying attention? Why heed one's steps? Que sera, sera--what will be will be, so not to worry. Parents who believe their babies are all hard wired to act as they will can easily refrain from teaching their little ones. After all, they already know it all.

Now if you have been persuaded that you are equal to everyone--that your worth as a human being is no different from that of, say, Sergeant York or some other hero, or that your achievements organizing your socks in your drawers match those of Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci or Bill Gates--you could very likely be resentful about how these others are admired while you are not. Envy is one sentiment that those harbor who believe in universal equality, that no one can help what he or she is, what he or she accomplishes, that it is all a matter of sheer luck, accident and it’s all the same without significant differences among us. And that is much of the substance of the egalitarian political creed that is having such a fine run of it in the academy and in the White House and the halls of Congress these days, not to mention abroad.

Teachers who are convinced of this kind of robust egalitarianism will very likely grade their students’ papers and tests accordingly. I recall back at UC Santa Barbara, where I did my graduate work for my Ph. D., one committed egalitarian professor gave all students in his classes As. And he wasn’t brought up on malpractice charges! Not long ago the prominent Harvard Political Theorist Michael Sandel reportedly refused to let his own child play sports because that would teach them the idea that some people are better athletes than others and that this matters somewhat in one’s life. (Sandel is an avid advocate of egalitarianism and an vociferous opponent of libertarianism, although he routinely mischaracterizes this political position as implying that there are no ethics by which people ought to live! Well, there are but a persons needs to make the choice to follow the ethics in order to gain credit for good conduct!)

One result of taking egalitarian ideas seriously is to give up on ambition and on striving for excellence. And in a world where more and more people are beginning to live in regimes that make competition possible, more and more people are taking advantage of this opportunity, so if one is convinced that differentiations based on good performance, good conduct, are wrongheaded, this will have its negative externalities--side effects that are going to be wrongheaded and even harmful.

The only part of egalitarianism that is sound is that when it comes to our worth as infants, no one is morally better than another. There are no natural aristocrats, innately morally superior individuals. But thereafter, once one begins to make decision and choices in life, this egalitarianism vanishes and ranking kicks in big time (unless one has certain impediments that make this moot).

No comments: