We Are Not Equal

Ever since coming across the term equality, I’ve cradled certain curiosities concerning its meaning, origin, and purpose[s]. Everyone remembers this iconic scene of the USS Equality with its nose up, buckling under its own arrogance:titanic-sinking

Obviously the above is actually a scene from the movie Titanic, but the following scene therefrom will help set the stage for my assessment of equality:

Viewing this film as a young male teenager, I was appalled, knowing that in a similar situation I’d be cast aside as a second-class citizen merely for being born male.

Clearly I jest, and although indeed male, I would also take issue with this type of thinking were it women who were unjustifiably prohibited from escaping in a lifeboat.

For years it has proven difficult to reconcile phrases such as, “all men are created equal” with express prohibitions above, or that certain crimes were particularly heinous given they were visited upon women, children, or the elderly.

I can see no reasonable defense of allowing women to escape a watery grave over men. That they can later produce children is of no defense, as a man can also muster the same effort with other women. We must concede then, in the lifeboat example, that women were somehow deemed of lesser ability (to swim to safety? to survive in cold water?) or value, and being granted opportunity to leave a sinking ship safely is an effort to make up for their lesser status.

Additionally, recent American history teems with mass violence in the form of school shootings. Why do such events elicit widespread emotive responses? Because children are viewed as more vulnerable than adults in terms of ability to defend themselves. So if children are more vulnerable than adults, how are they equal to adults?

Any cursory glance at humanity reveals innumerable differences in physical dexterity, mental soundness, appearance, behavior, income potential, intelligence[s]. In what sense then are people equal?

What of the many American civil rights movements? It might be tempting to side with Nietzsche who claimed that morality was an attempt by the weak to overcome the strong, but such does not account for all attempts at equality.

Differing from the lifeboat example where women appear to have been deemed of of less ability—or greater value?—affording women the right to vote was not an attempt to compensate for deficiency between the sexes in terms of innate ability; laws actually explicitly prohibited women from voting, and the collective tide had turned against such inequality.

In addition to legal segregation, Blacks were for a time de facto prohibited from voting, even after gaining freedom from slavery. Attempts to redress these evils were also reasonable attempts to set right systematized inequity.

So we have established that 1) not everyone is equal in terms of ability and potential; and 2) some efforts to afford “equal rights” arise out of attempts to diminish institutionalized inequality, not to give to simply take from the haves and give to the have nots.

It appears then then only foothold for ‘equality’ comes from the notion that humans somehow cradle the selfsame intrinsic worth by mere virtue of being human: one life is as valuable as another.

Interestingly, however, President Obama recently traded five Taliban leaders for one American soldier, which invites considerations of whether a criminal and noncriminal or an American and non-American share the same value.

Overall, those who would claim women have more of a right to a lifeboat than men would be forced to address these grievances leveled against notions of equality, or else be forced to contend that humans are not equal.

Romantic notions of equality that state people ought to be accorded equal respect based on intrinsic human worth are respectable, but likely only because it’s a feel-good idea with positive outcomes. Nevertheless, oughts are philosophical—I’d happily welcome evidence-based support for equality beyond such romantic notions.

“We are equal” and, “We ought to be treated equally” are separate concepts, and so far the best arguments support the latter.

Until such evidence appears, it must be claimed, “We are not equal.”

I think.