Free Markets, Free People

Equality: the wrong perspective

I’m always intrigued when I find this sort of nonsense about “equality” being trotted out as anything but stupidity on a stick.  But here we go:

‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.

‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’

Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations.

So, what to do?

According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.

‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’

Instrumental position?  I’m not sure what that means, but in the larger sense, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a philosopher got it wrong because everything was based on a false premise.  That somehow the “family” is at the root of inequality of opportunity. In reality, as you’ll see, he’s not at all interested in equality of opportunity.  He’s more interested in equality of outcome.  To make that happen, you have to control the variables.

But there’s more to this examination by philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse.  The premise is nonsense as history has proven.  To their credit, Swift and Brighouse sort of get it, but they have a goal in mind, so they really don’t.  They just hide the goal in a bunch of blathering about families and “equality” and attempt to convince you they’re pushing “equality of opportunity”.

‘Nearly everyone who has thought about this would conclude that it is a really bad idea to be raised by state institutions, unless something has gone wrong,’ he says.

Intuitively it doesn’t feel right, but for a philosopher, solutions require more than an initial reaction. So Swift and his college Brighouse set to work on a respectable analytical defence of the family, asking themselves the deceptively simple question: ‘Why are families a good thing exactly?’

Not surprisingly, it begins with kids and ends with parents.

‘It’s the children’s interest in family life that is the most important,’ says Swift. ‘From all we now know, it is in the child’s interest to be parented, and to be parented well. Meanwhile, from the adult point of view it looks as if there is something very valuable in being a parent.’

He concedes parenting might not be for everyone and for some it can go badly wrong, but in general it is an irreplaceable relationship.

‘Parenting a child makes for what we call a distinctive and special contribution to the flourishing and wellbeing of adults.’

It seems that from both the child’s and adult’s point of view there is something to be said about living in a family way. This doesn’t exactly parry the criticism that families exacerbate social inequality.

Here comes the “but” however.  And it leads to the very same place it always does:

Swift and Brighouse needed to sort out those activities that contribute to unnecessary inequality from those that don’t.

‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.

The test they devised was based on what they term ‘familial relationship goods’; those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.

Got that?  In case you missed it they said “what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children.”  Control in the name of “equality” as defined by … who?

My next question was “who is ‘we'” and by what right do ‘we’ pretend to have the power to allow or disallow activities that parents determine might help their children and are within their power to give them?  Certainly not me?  You?  Who?

I think we all know.

Now we arrive at “equality” crap.  Equality has somehow become the standard by which you must live your life.  In the US, equality has always meant equality of opportunity, equality before the law, etc.  The leftist view has always been “equality of outcome” and has spawned such monstrosities as socialism and communism in its name.  Where these two are headed is toward the latter.  And how do that do that? By the fact that they’re interested in restricting parents in what they can do for their children so the outcome is more likely to be “equal”.

For Swift, there’s one particular choice that fails the test.

‘Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,’ he says. ‘It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.’

We’ve now pretty arbitrarily defined “familial relationship good” and we’ve decided that certain things don’t really contribute that to which we’ve now restricted parents – producing familial relationship goods.  And while research points to bedtime stories as being much more of an advantage to those who get them than private schooling, the intimacy of such a “product” and the trouble enforcing their ban (and its unpopularity) see them wave it off … for now.

‘The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t—the difference in their life chances—is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,’ he says.

This devilish twist of evidence surely leads to a further conclusion—that perhaps in the interests of levelling the playing field, bedtime stories should also be restricted. In Swift’s mind this is where the evaluation of familial relationship goods goes up a notch.

‘You have to allow parents to engage in bedtime stories activities, in fact we encourage them because those are the kinds of interactions between parents and children that do indeed foster and produce these [desired] familial relationship goods.’

But, as they finally admit,  it isn’t really just about fostering and producing familial relationship goods so much as “leveling the playing field”.  So out of necessity, the family goods list must be short and universal, or they’re a “no-go”. They just can’t seem to find a way to make the family unit regressive enough to go after it, so they’re reduced to going after things that may provide an advantage to some children over others – like private schools.

Now these two have taken a ration of grief based on click bait headlines which have claimed they’re for the abolition of the family.  Well, they’re not, really.  But they are for “leveling the playing field” – i.e. that is the goal of this exercise.  So they’re not at all above finding ways to restrict families who might be able to provide activities and events that they feel (see the arbitrariness creeping in) provide advantages to their children that others don’t enjoy.

It’s certainly not a stretch to believe they’d be fine with doing away with family vacations – after all, not all children can afford to go on vacations and the advantages they would provide to those who can would lead to “inequality”.  And besides, they’re not necessary to produce “these desired familial relationship goods”, are they?  Special summer camps?  Yeah, no, sorry.  A voice coach?  Really? You have to ask?

You get the point.  Everyone hates the word “elite” so load your discussion with those type trigger words.  Imply that you don’t want to hurt the family, but you do want the “children” to have equal opportunity.  And ease them into these restrictions you propose with one that is viscerally easy for the vast majority who don’t have children who attend “elite” private schools.  A little class warfare always helps.

Folks, this isn’t “philosophy”, this is socialist snake oil in a new package.  Once you’ve seen it, you never forget what it is regardless of how they dress it up or pitch it.



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18 Responses to Equality: the wrong perspective

  • Back, shortly after the dinosaurs disappeared, I went to a small “private” parochial school where the faculty was more like family than what kids get now.
    It had some of the best academic scores in the system because it was fun to learn, and the students were challenged with topics, now absent from most schools, like British literature.
    Rates of students going on to college was in the 90%+ range with some years at 100%.

  • I read the original stuff you’re discussing and walked away thinking – either this sfb doesn’t have kids, and never plans to have them, or this sfb plans on his kids getting all those advantages he’s prepared to deprive others of.

    Nice way to build the next version of the ruling class.

    After all, if they can’t read and write, well they’ll just have to look to their betters to take care of them.
    We can always teach them to farm and smith eh, no need to read or write for that.

    “Raise the portcullis Wentworth – I see Sir Gilbert returns from his hunting and my eyes tell me some of us shall feast on elk this night.
    Not you of course.”

  • On a further note – you’d think he’d stop publishing and doing studies and all, I’m sure someone, as Obama observed, did everything for him and he didn’t do anything himself and clearly it’s just not fair that he should be where he is today.

    Consequently to achieve the equality he desires for everyone for himself he should either give up his worldly goods (to me) and follow me.
    Or failing that, give his stuff to the poor and hie himself out to the moor and find a nice cave where he can do penance for the rest of his life for all that advantage he was given by his parents in his youth.

    • Swift…an ironic name for this kind of puke…is Australian, I believe.

      He’s really quite torn about his research. He doesn’t know whether to spit or go blind.

      On the one hand, he’d really like ban bedtime stories. On the other, even he knows that would be going a bit too far. But he’s not sure….

      Making all parents read bedtime stories…in full view of their TeleScreens to assure conformity…seems like a much more amenable solution.

      It takes a village…and a Big Brother…you know.

  • On the collectivist continuum, this guy is past socialist. He’s (small-c) communist.

    It’s bad enough when someone considers children the property of the state instead of wards of their parents. But to wish them deprived to the point that they all suffer in equal misery – that’s moral depravity on a level of the apparatchiks of the Soviet state.

    • ‘When we talk about parents’ rights, we’re talking about the person who is parenting the child. How you got to be parenting the child is another issue. One implication of our theory is that it’s not one’s biological relation that does much work in justifying your rights with respect to how the child is parented.’

      For Swift and Brighouse, our society is curiously stuck in a time warp of proprietorial rights: if you biologically produce a child you own it.

      ‘We think that although in practice it makes sense to parent your biological offspring, that is not the same as saying that in virtue of having produced the child the biological parent has the right to parent.’ [Says who? Who would make that determination, and on what predicate?]

      Then, does the child have a right to be parented by her biological parents? Swift has a ready answer.

      ‘It’s true that in the societies in which we live, biological origins do tend to form an important part of people’s identities, but that is largely a social and cultural construction. So you could imagine societies in which the parent-child relationship could go really well even without there being this biological link.’

      Note that old, out-moded idea of “parents” and “families”. Just social and cultural constructs. Like “marriage”.

      • So you could imagine societies in which the parent-child relationship could go really well even without there being this biological link.

        Yeah it would go real well with all those children torn from their biological mothers at birth. Have none of these geniuses ever been through pregnancies and been at a birth and realized what they are proposing to do to every single parent??? Just how long do they imagine such a society would last, one that flies in the face of human evolution to date??

        • The women would learn their place Doc, their role is to produce offspring for the Fatherland if they are healthy and attractive, and if not, other suitable employment can be found for them.

          After a time, we may discuss the virtue of children that are blonde haired and blue eyed, and how they are genetically superior to others.

          SNARK off

  • Here is the truth of inequality …”

    It is not the love of money that is the root of all evil,” Rev. Ike liked to tell his followers. “It’s the lack of money.”

  • This post proves my theory again that some people just need to get their a–es whipped

  • Two things.

    The Expression used to be “God, Family, Country” in that order. What a communist sees is “Rival, Rival, State”. A communist sees two rivals of obedience to the state placed above the state. They’ve done a good job of attacking the first and done a lot of damage to the second. This can be seen when Marriage among gays is promoted more vigorously than marriage in the Black Community. Who really needs it more?

    The second thing. I don’t know if its political side-stepping but how warped do you have to be to think children turn out better because they go to Disneyland. I don’t know if the real reason they turn out better, more or less higher expectations which are enforced, escapes him or is deliberately avoided.

  • I laugh at the idea of ‘leveling the playing field’ mostly due to the people that want to do it. It usually manifests itself as some sort of government program or restrictions or even better, taxation.
    I’ve been told that to ensure equal opportunity, things such as inheiritance taxes should be 100%. That way everyone starts at the same starting line which will be defined and funded by government. Yet they seem to ignore that the US federal government is absolutely atrocious when it comes to fiscal matters. I’ll ask, “Do you really want the institution that is $18 trillion in debt and largely run by cronyism and K Street leveling the playing field for you?” I almost never get an answer outside of, “Something needs to be done.” Apparently this desire to ‘do something’ doesn’t include crossing off bad ideas. Watching SJW throw money at Washington and then complain about the poor results is laughable. It is like throwing booze at drunks and hoping they sober up.

  • Take it one step further… parenting is no longer the province of biological parents but the state, in order to produce equality. But lo and behold, equality is still not achieved because those pesky genetics keep messing things up. Children of greater and lesser than average abilities are born and require expensive remedial action to lower them all to a level playing field. How can the benevolent state remedy this unequal situation? Hmmm, by selecting parents we can breed a more equal populace. The drones, ummm, clones, errr, citizens will then be gloriously unaware of the concept of diversity. Until some witches breed the kwisatch haderach that is 😉

    Ultimately we keep coming back to eugenics. The great future of the 21st century that Professor Oblivious advocates is scarily reminiscent of the great promise of the early 20th century. The only problem is the youth of today seem to be equally clueless about how to procreate without cutting into their “me” time.

    • Oh no, that would never happen! Uh….ever!
      That’s just crazy talk Herr Schicklgruber!

  • Ah, Progressives. Always the same solution: make the playing field level by killing off the the smartest and most successful.
    In short; never allow anyone to be smarter or more accomplished than the dumbest, laziest amongst them.

    • An Australian acquantaince of mine referred to that as the Tall poppy syndrome.