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.
As we monitor the news each day and wonder if indeed our country is in decline, and we worry about her future, it’s often helpful to step back a moment and gain a little perspective. This wonderful post from Karol at AlarmingNews gives us that on a day at least I need it. In its entirety (minus a short into):
In 1977, the year I was born and the year my father, his mother, his aunt and many other Jews left the Soviet Union (my mother and I left in 1978), the Soviet propaganda machine began circulating a rumor. It went, roughly: life in America is so terrible that the old people eat cat food.
People didn’t quite get it: they have food specifically made for cats in America? What a country!
A lot of things about America remained beyond their comprehension.
A week after my father arrived in New York, he and a friend were walking around Manhattan in pure wonder. They got to midtown and stood in front of Bloomingdale’s watching well-dressed people come in and out. They discussed it amongst themselves that they would obviously have to show evidence that they had money, or proof of income, or some other paperwork to get inside. Surely this store for the wealthy wouldn’t just let them in. They watched and watched but didn’t see people getting stopped. They walked slowly through the doors and found no one gave them a second look.
There’s a feeling in America today that there isn’t equality until any of us can walk into Bloomingdale’s and buy whatever we want. The two men standing there in 1977 weren’t thinking that it was unfair they couldn’t wear the same clothes as the beautiful people around them, they were just grateful for the opportunity to try. They had left a place where that opportunity simply didn’t exist. You were born poor and you would die poor–everyone would. You could gain influence in your life and that might get you small victories–instead of being assigned to practice your profession in Siberia you might get lucky and get sent to a capital city. Perhaps you, your wife, your child, your parents and other relatives could have your own apartment, one you wouldn’t have to share with another family. Those were your wins.
It’s hard for Americans, even the ones who see America’s greatness and love this country for it, to understand the lack of opportunity that my family left. As Communism retreats into the rear-view mirror of history it’s easy to gloss over the everyday ways that Communism is meant to crush the individual and make everyone equal–equally poor, equally scared, equally hopeless.
If you’ve always lived in a country where companies make food specifically for cats then you’ve known an abundance that my family couldn’t even begin to imagine while they waited to be free. They wanted to say and do whatever they wanted, to live freely, to be allowed to earn as much money as they could, to keep their family safe from murderous ideologies and monster rulers. They just wanted the chance. Success isn’t guaranteed to anyone, and they knew this, but only if you come from a land of opportunity do you ever imagine that it’s even possible.
This year marks 34 years that I’ve lived in America. Even in the toughest times, in its darkest days, the times where we all might feel pessimistic about our collective future, we’re all so blessed to be here. On each July 20th I remember exactly how blessed.
Oh, and by the way, yes there is something to be pointed out here, something I don’t want to see here and am afraid is in process: “…meant to crush the individual and make everyone equal–equally poor, equally scared, equally hopeless.”
That’s what we have to avoid. Equality is about opportunity, not outcome in a free country. In a tyrannical country, its about outcome – and it does indeed “crush” the individual and guarantee a form of equality none of us really want.
I want this place to always be the place that those two men saw in 1977. A place of wonder and freedom. A place where they had the opportunity to change their lives without government somehow smothering it or getting in the way.
We have it so bad here. Income inequality, unfairness, the rich, the 1%. Occupy whatever, etc.
Reality again intrudes (from the Economist) to kick that meme right where it deserves to be kicked:
[T]he OECD … has created the "Better-Life" index. Now in its second year, the index uses 24 variables (which include both hard data and survey data) across 11 sectors to create a measure of welfare for 34 of its member countries, plus Brazil and Russia.
The Economist has grouped these 11 sectors into four broader categories. America excels most in money and jobs, Switzerland in health and education. This year the OECD has adjusted the index for equality to give an estimate for the top and bottom 20% of each country’s population. America scores particularly poorly on this account, with the bottom 20% having an index score some 25% below that of the top 20%.
And a handy chart to go with it:
Yup, life sucks in the US. We need more fairness. We’re just not keeping up. We’re the worst.
Well, except for all the others (save Australia).
Douglas Levene takes a look back at what happened in Cambodia under Communist leader Pol Pot. He makes the point that although some would like to label it “genocide”, it simply doesn’t fit the definition. Cambodia is 95% Khmer and what happened was “Khmer on Khmer” violence. It wasn’t genocide:
Rather, what happened in Cambodia is what happened in the French Revolution, and in Stalin’s purges and mass collectivization campaigns, and in Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, only on a proportionately larger scale. It was mass murder in the name of equality. It wasn’t “genocide”; it was Communist utopianism carried to its logical extreme. The Khmer Rouge, who called themselves Maoists, believed that the most important social and political value was equality and that in order to create their new, classless society in which everyone was equal, it was necessary to exterminate anyone who might be smarter, or better educated, or wealthier, or more talented than anyone else. Thus, they killed the educated, the bourgeoisie, the middle classes, and the rich; movie stars, pop singers, authors, urban residents, and workers for the former government; and anyone who protested — as well as the families of all the above. Towards the end, they also killed cadres who were thought to be a political threat. Whatever their crimes were, the Khmer Rouge do not seem to have been motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious hatred.
The standard leftist cause these days is “equality”. We’re seeing it play out right here in this country today with the demonization of the rich, corporations and other capitalists entities. And while it is easy to attempt to wave away what happened in Cambodia as an extremist example carried out by a splinter Communist group, in fact Stalin’s and Mao’s purges were driven by much the same goal. All were striving for a “communist utopia” and they murdered extensively in its name. Certainly there were other reasons, such as Stalin’s paranoia, but the murder regime had already been established and was functioning when those victims were added to the collective total.
Given that, Levene wonders why the world insists then on claiming “genocide” as the reason for Cambodia’s Killing Fields:
However, I suspect that the most important reason for the usage worldwide is that many people in the international media, international agencies, and international NGOs (not to mention academia) are reluctant to face up to the crimes committed by Communism in the name of equality. To do so might call into question the weight attached by them to equality as the most important social value and undermine the multicultural faith that evil is predominantly the product of inequality, racism, ethnic hatred, or religious fanaticism. That cannot be permitted, so such crimes must be either ignored or mislabeled. And, of course, the remaining Communist regimes in the world are only too happy to cooperate in characterizing the killing fields as the products of irrational paranoia on the part of Pol Pot and his gang rather than the perfectly rational result of the quest for perfect equality.
While there certainly are examples of “evil” driven by “racism, ethnic hatred or religious fanaticism”, few match the scale of the evil perpetrated by Communist regimes. Marx called for it in his “Communist Manifesto”:
‘The violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.’
And they simply carried out his instructions:
‘What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.’
Cambodia unfortunately saw a communist group take Marx at his word:
‘The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.’ … ‘When, therefore, capital is converted into common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character.’
The Khmer Rouge attempted to impose these dicta in the quickest and most basic of ways – through murder of all those who represented the hated “bourgeoisie” in an attempt to make society “equal”. As Leven says, they carried out the “perfectly rational” pursuit of Marx’s utopia. A violent overthrow of the existing culture, the murder of those who weren’t politically and ideologically pure or were members of the bourgeoisie class and the abolition of private property in favor of common property in order to equalize society. And, of course, it yielded the horror that became Kampuchea, with its killing fields, mass graves and torture rooms.
While certainly not on the obvious scale of the Khmer Rouge, the left continues the same sort of pursuit here. Equality has become its ideological banner, and it constantly touts it as its cultural goal in the West. Stealth Marxism – not really so stealthy to those who have bothered to look.
Ironically, it is as much a religion to those who believe in it as any featuring a deity. It requires an abiding faith that at its base the Marxist principles are sound and will someday be “properly” implemented despite the numerous examples of the horror and death it has consistently brought. As much as they deride the faith of Christians and their belief in “heaven”, Marxists and Maoists and all the assorted different communists still pursue their “heaven” on earth and as a result continue to fill the mass graves its pursuit requires.
Cambodia was not genocide. Cambodia was just the timeline of Communism (and all the other Marxist “isms”) in other countries speeded up for the convenience of the self-declared proletariat.
All in the name of “equality”.