June 13, 2006

The modern obsession with equality is not my obsession. Human diversity being what it is, I judge obsessive concerns with equality as yet another rather vile form of anti-humanism, as a Procrustean agenda to stamp out the different. I wonder whether most egalitarians aren’t, in some obvious and disgusting sense, misanthropists.

But, but! I almost hear the sputtering objections. And some have been made by me. Sure, sure, I support equality too. I am a libertarian, and support the equality of liberty. When I come up against an inequalitarian, I often make such cases. But equality before the law and equality of liberty aren’t very egalitarian, not when compared with the rhetoric of most self-described egalitarians.

True, Wikipedia defines egalitarianism as the idea that all people have the same authority. By this definition, I guess I’m egalitarian too. Criminals and politicians take too much power, and peaceful citizens not enough. But after a person has usurped authority, they are to be stripped of normal levels of authority. And since crime (and probably politics) will always be with us, retaliatory inequality of status will probably be here, too. I’m not too worried about that. Those who prove themselves untrustworthy should not be trusted, and the authority to govern even their own lives might be abridged.

This acceptance of at least one level of inequality flies in the face of egalitarian rhetoric. So be it.

For instance, one often hears how we are supposed to treat people equally. Nonsense. I treat no one equal to another. I try to treat people on their merits in the contexts in which we meet. If you are a blithering idiot, I’m not going to engage in Socratic dialogue with you; I’m going to avoid you. If you are an egotistical bore, I’m probably not going to be able to talk with you either; as soon as possible I’ll leave your company. If you are a genius with interesting things to say, or just a normal person with thoughtful takes on common and uncommon experiences, then we’ll talk.

The person who treats people equally is a fool. People are unequal, and so needed to be treated according to their merits and lack of merit.

I try to apply a consistent standard, and apply that standard without much prejudice. So that might be what some people talk about when they talk about equality. But this really is barely equality at all.

Making people equal is of course no interest of mine. And people who insist on trying to make people equal are not to be trusted. Trying to do impossible things is not noble; it’s sometimes a sign of naivety; it’s more often a sign of knavery.

I don’t always comply with my own standard, however. We live in situations and contexts, and the most important value, for me, may be my limited ability to handle the presence of others. Like nearly every other specimen of our species, I like the company of people. But my desire for that company is satiated quite quickly. A few minutes and I’ve gotten my fix. Then I wander off.

I regard people like I regard medicines and poisons. The principle of hormesis is paramount. In low doses, human companionship is great. In high doses, it becomes intolerable, or at least stress-inducing.

So I’m by no means a humanitarian in the cheapjack, ever-lovin’ sense. Regarding human beings, the best of humanity is found in its art and science. In its trivial obsessions with sex and wealth and sport and group affiliation, humanity easily becomes poisonous to anyone with standards worth considering as humane. This is the paradox of humanism: the values it naturally encourages to the uplift of humanity succeed, most often, only in showing the downgrade status of most members.

The true humanist becomes a person least likely to be called a “people person.”

Or an egalitarian — or equalitarian, as they say in Britain.

The humanist is a qualitarian, a person who promotes qualities of goodness, beauty, and reasonableness. It’s the encouragement of quality that counts.

The Mahayana stance, of waiting around until all can share an equal quality proves an unnecessary and inglorious martyrdom. Equality can pull little interest from the person who honors quality, except on the remote, political level, where, in determining the rules for dealing with the settlement of coercive struggles, we choose standards that make sense to enough people that they can be equally applied to all.

Beyond that, and in most other situations, treating people equally can be nothing other than vice. Those who, against the grain of reality, insist on doing so, are more poisonous even than the low-minded amongst the human spawn, and are to be avoided with equal (ha!) fervor.

Wirkman Virkkala
Instead of a Blog

first published at