Thursday, January 05, 2006


In the last posting, I realized that the more successful economic systems prevalent today, have inbuilt measures to prevent equality. Which raises the question, how important is equality and should man take any extraordinary measures to bridge this gap.

It is easy to see that a certain level of equality is necessary to sustain any social community. If the gaps between the rich and the poor, the working and administrative classes, or different religions become too acute, then instability is sure to follow. As the clichŽ goes, Man is a social animal, so social instability is a serious deterrent to happiness, achievement, and progress. Thus, the gaps between different sections of society must never be allowed to exceed the point where it would cause rebellion and revolution. So there is obviously a minimum level of equality that must be maintained for the betterment of the human race. Is there a maximum? Is there any such thing as a society that is too equal?

At first glance, a situation where everyone is equally well off seems to be the definition of Utopia, however, if such a situation is indeed achieved, then there is no incentive for anyone to go out of their way and do anything better. For that matter, there is no incentive for anyone to do anything if that individual is assured a certain way of life, in either situation. I strongly believe that this kind of equality, and equality of outcome, where everyone has equal rewards irrespective of their inputs, is detrimental to human society. That is not to say that if such a situation is achieved due to natural means, for example everyone starts doing equally good and important work, is a bad thing. However, if someone who works 6 hours a day reaps the same rewards as someone else who does the same work for 12 hours a day, then we would have trouble.

On the other hand, synthetic means to achieve equality of opportunity are surely welcome. For example, everyone should be allowed to have the ability to receive the highest quality education possible. However, even this theory, as plausible as it sounds, runs into trouble when applied in practice. It will probably be impossible to have enough higher education institutions, of the caliber of the IIT's and the better American Universities, to satisfy every young person's needs. So the opportunity available to some youngsters will be greater than those available to others. And why shouldn't the efforts of the parents (i.e. parent's wealth) be a determining factor for who should get preference? This eliminates the ability to provide the equality of opportunity to everyone.

Besides the practical hindrances to equality of opportunity, is also the ideological question as to whether people who are better endowed have any responsibility to ensure better opportunities to the not as well of sections of society. As long as they make sure that these sections of society are not too far off (due to the practical purpose of maintaining stability) is there any moral duty to look out for them? Studying nature for answers, humans seem to be the most selfless animals of all. Very few other animals would risk their lives to save a being that they do not even know. Even fewer care two hoots about animals of different species. Humans are at the top of the pyramid as far as selflessness is concerned. So why are we so altruistic? I believe it is an evolutionary adaptation that was developed during caveman times. In those periods, man was among the weaker animals. He was very vulnerable physically and did not have the tremendous mental edge that he has now over other animals. As a result, he developed society as a means to better his survival rate. An important part of this was developing innate feelings of compassion for others and a moral duty to help each other. However, now that he has so much control over his own destiny, and his only enemies lie within the human race itself, he no longer has that need. So it makes evolutionary sense for those better off to be selfish and worry only about their own needs rather than concern themselves with the problems of others less fortunate.

A fine example of this theory is the parallel development of India and China on one side and the USA on the other. In India and China, education is key, and can mean the difference between a successful life and dying of hunger on the streets. On the other hand, in the USA, even a high school dropout lives a life that is of the same standard as middle class people in most other countries, by flipping burgers at the local joint. Thus the incentive to study is far greater in India and China than in the USA. At the same time, on both these countries, the education levels of the citizens are rising rapidly. They are churning out more scientists, engineers and smart people in general, with every passing year. On the other hand, the USA's standards in education are dropping day by day. American students fare miserably when compared to their counterparts in other countries in almost all international educational competitions. This cannot be explained by a lack of opportunity, because undoubtedly, the USA has the best educational facilities in the world. Instead it is because no one in India or China can seriously consider ending his education without at least a bachelor's, if they want to survive, while Americans have no qualms about dropping out of high school.

So if we want the human race to continue improving and evolving, maybe we should worry less about equality, and more about encouraging excellence and greatness.


beloved_witch said...

Equality can be quite a vague term of definition.I agree with the basis of your idea, i.e. equality of all possible forms is somewhat over rated.What we need is a basic degree of social equality, or rather lets say, end of social discrimination, caste, creed, colour, etc. No external attributes should be allowed to used as a tool of discrimination between people. However, a person's inner qualities, intelligence, talent etc are inherently different as a rule. In this case its not equality, but excellence that should apply.

btw, sorry about the wrong address...i corrected it now.

vRad said...

I understand what you are saying. I am not talking about social discrimination. I am talking about discrimination on the basis of skill and intelligence. Rather, the lack of it. All over the world, there are attempts to bring the back of the class in front. Immense resources are spent to ensure that the worst of the class becomes as good as the best. I am not against this, until, as it has now, it negatively affects the resources spent on the brightest. I think ensuring that the talented make good use of their talent is more important than bridging gaps, by improving the worst, while not doing anything for the best.

beloved_witch said...

i agree.The point is that there should be a discrimination in the concept of equality itself. One should understand, when equality should be stressed and when it should be negated. But then if most people could figure out a thing like that, a lot of problems would cease to exist.

luciifer said...


wispsofwhite said...

i agree with you. all through the post i was like i think that too.,

Sleepy Sentinel said...

Interesting viewpoint...I guess the ideal world would be a balance of performance incentives and the Marxist ideal of 'to each according to his needs, and from each according to his ability'.Freedom of choice is very important...even at the cost of rupturing the fabric of social harmony. However the downside of capitalism is that the most talented or intelligent are often not the msot successful, nor is the possession of intelligence or talent even a sure indicator of some success. What is the solution, a laissez faire system or one in which a few chosen ones dictate the workings of society as a whole, recognise a talented few and anoint them their successors? Your guess is as good as mine.Survival of the fittest comes with the disregard of other men in your struggle for a better life and not all men are born without a conscience.On the other ahnd sameness of people brings frustration along with it.All things considered, the governments of today do not have the wisdom or ability to enforce anything that puts social harmony into balance(or so the they think).Infact what they achieve is often diametrically opposite.If it aint broke, dont fix it.