Focus on ‘universality,’ not equality
by Melvyn L Fein
May 13, 2013 12:05 AM | 1120 views | 3 3 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A few weeks ago, a liberal colleague of mine at Kennesaw State University emailed me a short, short story. This was Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 tale “Harrison Bergeron.” I had never seen it before — and it was a revelation.

The story begins, “The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way.” Apparently this equality had been mandated by two amendments to the Constitution and was enforced by a “Handicapper General.”

Much as horses are handicapped by requiring the most fleet to carry extra pounds on their backs, so people who were smarter than average wore an earpiece that disrupted their thoughts, those who were physically stronger had weights dangling from their muscles and those who were especially beautiful wore masks to cover their attractiveness.

The reason for this, of course, was that just as some horses are born to be faster than others, some humans are born with superior attributes. The only way to make them equal in every respect was therefore to reduce the advantages of the lucky ones.

Furthermore, because it was impossible to improve the abilities of the less fortunate to such a degree that they matched their betters, all had to be diminished to the lowest common denominator. Even mediocrity would be too exalted if everyone was to be completely equal.

If this sounds absurd, please understand that many liberals desire not an equality of opportunity or an equality before the law, but an equality of results. This is why they would confiscate the resources of the rich and transfer them to the poor. It is why they institute programs to “empower” the less affluent.

Were this just a left liberal penchant, this proclivity might simply be amusing. Unfortunately, these radicals have been able to convince a sufficient number of voters that this sort of social engineering is essential to create “social justice.” They even claim that it is built into the Declaration of Independence.

Needless to say, this is a canard. Jefferson told us that we were endowed with equal rights, not that we were, or ever could become, completely equal. Indeed, in his other writings he advocated an “aristocracy of merit.”

So what I propose is that in order to reduce this confusion we start talking about “universality” rather than equality. Universality means that all rules are applied equally to everyone irrespective of social status. No one gets an authorized advantage because of race, ethnicity, gender, social class or sexual orientation.

Were this standard respected, no individuals would get admitted to college with lesser credentials because of skin color, no woman would be hired for a job because there was a quota for females and no rich person would have to pay more for the same services as a poor one.

This may sound like a peculiar way to do business, but my students at KSU understand it very well. Were I to award a higher grade to someone just because she was my cousin, they would be outraged. If her work were not up to snuff, they would expect me to grade her accordingly.

Moreover, this seems to me to be the essence of democracy. Democracy is not just “one person, one vote,” but a parity in social standards. We do not bow down before aristocrats; we do not kiss the rings of the rich. Even Alexis de Tocqueville, a century and a half ago, noted that Americans did not treat anyone as deserving special advantages because of his/her social position.

This was something to be proud of then; it is something to be proud of now. The United States has assimilated people from around the world — and should continue to do so. But it should do so on the basis of universalism, not an equality of results. Indeed, it is only by being honestly universal that we will induct them into being honestly democratic.

Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.
Comments
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Tony Maddox
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May 14, 2013
Dr. Fein, by chance is your liberal colleague named "Sam?" Or is this writer one among many liberals who specialize in the art of regurgitating rehashed/overused liberal arguments that nothing anymore. As with all liberals, the thinner your message, the louder you scream.
off balance
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May 14, 2013
@Samsat3

Your response #1 --posh. It was greed pure and simple. You are judging events of the past with the knowledge of the changes of more than two hundred years.

Your #2 suggests that you believe that the programs of today , no matter how unfair or flawed be continued for two centuries--or at best, derides the fact it took two centuries for this (un) balance to be rectified.

Your #3 - well I guess you do not underdtand the author's meaning.

In toto, you missed the complete purpose of the article. You use "presentism" to judge the actions and attitudes of the past, and , you appear to believe that you are the of the few fair minded people in America.

There are many flaws in your thinking.

SamSat3
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May 13, 2013
There are many fallacies in your positions.

#1

"Universality means that all rules are applied equally to everyone irrespective of social status. No one gets an authorized advantage because of race, ethnicity, gender, social class or sexual orientation."

It is the notion of privilege that precipitated the slave trade -- that gave one race the idea that it was somehow its "manifest destiny" to enslave and subject an entire race of beings to inferior status. The idea of privilege based on race remains engrained in the American psyche.

#2

Were this standard respected, no individuals would get admitted to college with lesser credentials because of skin color, no woman would be hired for a job because there was a quota for females and no rich person would have to pay more for the same services as a poor one.

It is very convenient to have this standard now, after more than two centuries of unequal treatment under the law for some of the nation's citizens.

#3

Democracy is not just “one person, one vote,” but a parity in social standards.

And I suppose that a parity of social standards exists in the unequal distribution of resources, i.e. funds allocated to poor and rural school districts vs. those in more affluent urban and suburban communities.

Give me a break!

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