The scent of socialism and tripe-hound of equality

thumb-john-locke-quotes-2-9853It may be that I am becoming a tripe-hound, an academic variant of the Victor Meldrew TV character, who screeched, ‘I simply can’t believe it’, at the sight of anything which offended his aging sensibilities. Or maybe I was born a tripe-hound, and my facilities are maturing, but it is definitely the scent of socialism that does it. My latest tripe alert was a Facebook post picturing an august John Locke, and one of his famous quotes, taken from his most famous work of political philosophy, ‘ The Two Treatises of Civil Government’ (Hollis ed.) 1689 – and I agree with part of it, but that must wait till last.

‘…all mankind…being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions’

Now this quote is rather tightly edited here, but it gets the gist of the original sentence, which also strikes me as expanded proto-socialist codswallop. My question, querulous, or posed in tones of glacial calm, is, ‘equal in what way?’

It is obvious to me that once we ask the question, then we see that no one is exactly ‘equal’, and most people are generally very unequal. But to make a sensible discussion we need to know ‘equal in what way – height, weight, shoe size, IQ, importance…?’ The bald word ‘equal’ does not mean anything, it is just a mathematical symbol waiting to be used, and if it is only 2 + 2 = 4 then no one will turn a hair. But if it is A = B then we will need to know what the symbols A and B refer to before we get anywhere. Just calling people ‘equal’ is an attractive invitation for everyone to simply drop their favourite prejudice into the thought, and give the A and the B their own private meaning. We are all then in happy fake agreement until actual minds engage with actual meanings. I do not want to be naive – perhaps nearly everybody really knows this, and they all avoid genuine thought processes most of the time as they enjoy secretly hugging themselves inside with their own shortcut, quick-and-dirty self-congratulatory secrets. After all, real thought is hard work and may change our minds by logical force majeure as we grapple with actuality. 

In case it helps, I have coined a term for this genus of errant thinking – the Adjectival Heresy – with the ‘human equality’ adjectival heresy being  a prime species of the family. It is quite an easy trap to fall into, and with the best of intentions: take any friendly-sounding adjective, ‘equal’ or ‘social’ or ‘human’ will do nicely, then tack on a noun to qualify: equal rights, equal opportunities, social justice, human rights, etc, they spool off the lazy mind with frightening ease – and a fertile pick-and-mix of vagueness and ambiguity results.

Now for everyone to just be ‘equal’ we would all genuinely have to be the same in every way, that is what plain equality means, if the term is to be taken seriously.  We would be like the clone army in Star Wars, or bacteria, or identical twins – nature and art have supplied enough examples. But nature (or Nature, Fate, or God, as you will), has decreed that some people are more intelligent than others and can be software engineers, or scientists, or even philosophers. Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sir Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein, C. S. Lewis, and Socrates, Plato’s mentor, come to mind as being among the pantheon of the more intelligent high achievers. We are unequal in sporting athleticism, you can compose your own list of favourite stars for this. If we were all equally good at sports there would be no professional sport – anyone watching would say, ‘I can do just as well, and my friend who practices more is better’.  And to start on equality of good looks would be pushing the point too far, unless there are still those reading who believe in John Locke’s mystical notion of ‘all mankind’ being equal without qualification. (Of course, to retrace slightly, nature does provide us with occasional genuine ‘identical’ twins, but I think that the normal reaction to them when side-by-side is to immediately hunt for small differences, to able to tell them apart.) This disparity of abilities was noted long ago in the earliest days of philosophy, with Socrates noting that when it comes to really important decisions on health and medicine, our friends might have lots of well-meant advice on our problem, but sensible folk prefer the best doctor available.

It is easy to see why meddlesome socialists like the equality heresy – it gives patronising power brokers a simple plan (and not all of them are politicians, there are plenty of bureaucrats and assorted quacks peddling this market), and an endless mandate to take power, take all the money, and share everything fairly, as they like to see it. And they will naturally always enjoy the fruits of their superior top-dog position, one way or another. Of course patrons must have their patronised groups to play to, politicians can often buy decisive votes from the downtrodden masses, a downtrodden gender, a downtrodden race, community X, Y, Z…the litany is simply endless. But eventually, as the sagacious Lady Thatcher once observed, they all ‘run out of other peoples’ money’. Those in the richer half who were sick of being fleeced, and the supposed underclass who saw that levelling down to equality of poverty was what socialism brought them in the UK of the 1970s, eventually voted her in, and the equality heresy abated awhile, but alas not for long enough to kill it.

I also have a deeply personal objection to the equality heresy, which I find offensive, as I do not see why anyone else should be limited by my faults, failings, and weaknesses. For instance, I have never known anyone admire my sporting prowess, much the reverse in fact. Why would anyone want to be equal to me in this respect, and why would I want to limit them? And to bring it down to an even more specific case, I have never much wanted to be equal to a boxer in physique as I know full well the rigour of the training and the unpleasantness of being punched on the jaw. Now it is at this point that the equality peddlers all go silent or change the subject, as this is not at all what they meant or where they wanted the logic to lead to. I suppose I could theoretically be levelled up a little, it would take a lot of training for little benefit, but it is far easier to level all the talented fighters down to my level by feeding them poorly and stopping them from training and practicing, thus achieving for me a sporting social equality of sorts. Socialists, who are very keen on the equality game, will all be embarrassed at the exposure of their con by this – their modus operandi is for the underclass to be always envious of the upper class – but obviously it is pointless and unrealistic  when we come to practicalities. An entertaining offshoot of the socialist politics of envy is heard when the wealth of top sportsmen in some sport is discussed (by anyone, socialist or not), usually with the opening question, ‘How on earth can anyone be worth that much per game?’. The socialist has no sensible consistent answer, other than they should be ‘equal’ in pay even if not in talent and earning power. Only the grim miseries of Cuba, Red China, North Korea, and the USSR give full testament to truly trying to level everyone down in this manner. The final blow to their poor thinking is the counter-question: ‘what should they be paid?’ They cannot say, any limit they suggest will be arbitrary, but the free market can show us by simply allowing the best to rise to the top and cut what deals they can. The USSR and all the rest, try as they did, had no way of second-guessing the free market and putting a fair value on their athletes, ballet dancers, writers and scientists, which is why so many defected when they could, for fame, fortune, and freedom.

I can hear all the diehard socialistas and their clientele falling back, muttering ‘we don’t mean that,  we just want things shared more fairly’. But what things? Farmers, factory workers, and financiers make wealth – why should anyone else just take it and share it out, least of all the government? We have different talents, we have different motivation. Some will persist in working hard and growing more food or making more factory goods than the average, and much more than the lazy. Why should they not benefit from their hard work? The socialista with his envious clientele has no answer.

Once we have accepted the Adjectival Heresy as a genus, and the ‘equality’ trap as a prominent species, we can quickly deal with the rest of the venerable Locke’s quote. He also says that we are all ‘independent’. This it seems to me is almost as hopeless an error. Hopefully we are all not independent: to quote the poet John Donne (1571-1631), whom Locke could have read with the greatest benefit, ‘No man is an island’. Babies are entirely dependent on their parents, children less so, teenagers less, adults who have left home and are earning their way in the world least. But of course we all still depend on each other all the time, and the fact that we are specialised and not equal makes this very fruitful. I do not farm to grow all my food, work in a factory to make my laptop computer or washing machine, or work in finance to provide my own banking, insurance, investment portfolio, and pensions systems. I might write about them, but I am glad I do not have to turn my hand or wits to all of them, and I suppose that those who do will not want to write about the Adjectival Heresy or splice the mainbrace of equality, as I see far too little written on this matter, which is why I do so here. I do however hope that some of them want to read about it, as that makes me useful to them.

Finally, the part of Locke I agree with, his ideal ‘…no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions’. Now this is only a negative virtue, ‘Do not do what you do not want done to you’, but it is the Golden Rule of Christian virtue if we see that the positive expression of this thought ‘Do as you would be done by’, is in the same spirit. (‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Mark 12v31). If I not only refrain from cheating a poorer person, but voluntarily give in an act of charity and make a poorer person more equal in some way, then I agree with that, and so would Locke. So, hopefully, would most socialists, although some of the more hard-boiled are sometimes heard to mutter darkly about ‘human rights’ at this point, which just means that they want the government to tax me and they hand the money over to whomever they like to patronise with my money rather than wait for my goodness to move me. The full explication of this Natural Law approach is found in ‘The Abolition of Man’ by C. S. Lewis, a small but powerful work, and explained in a remarkably multicultural manner. He argues for what I believe in, which is Right and Wrong, not human rights.

Michael J. R. Jose

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