Equality’s Enigma


There are problems with equality. Not in the sense that it should not be something we aspire to but in the way people interpet it to mean different things. Whilst some political ideologies such as conservatism accept the natural hierarchical nature of society, others seek to promote equality simply because it is more ‘fair’. I think that is the right approach but even in this, there are differences. One of the greatest distinctions is between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.

Equality of opportunity is what the world appears to currently promote. You can see it in campaigns run by companies to have ethnic minorities in the workplace or by governments who pass anti-discrimination laws and other initiatives aimed at increasing ‘equality.’ However, here lies the problem with equality of opportunity. It is extremely difficult to implement properly without great funding as the task is enormous. You may set laws for companies to have a certain amount of employees from an ethnic minority background but what if there is no one from these minorities applying for a position since they couldn’t afford to go to university? What if they are lacking any experience because no one is willing to give them a basic job?

The arguement is that equality of opportunity is fanciful. The fact is for it to be possible, every person would have to start life off in the same way. Obviously, that is impossible as the rich would be able to provide their children with higher quality things than the poor. Whilst the working class child has to play on the streets every day after school, the middle or upper class child attends a private school where extra-curricular activities are offered in great number and then, when the child comes home, they have a private tutor waiting for them.

This does not mean that the middle or upper class child is spoilt, it merely shows the vast differences in the nurturing of children between those who have money and those who don’t. So right from the beginning, equality of opportunity does not exist. It is almost as if the divide is so great that it can be likened to the ‘separate but equal’ mantra spouted by the racist governments prior to the civil rights movement in America. Every child in the UK or other such countries has access to education but it is evident that the level of education they each receive depends on how much money their parents have. This pattern can be seen throughout a person’s development. For example, teenagers need work experience to build up their CV but what if they can’t afford to take leave from their normal part-time job just to conduct unpaid work experience?

Therefore, for equality of opportunity to exist, people would have to start the race of life from the same point, right from the beginning. Is this even possible? What measures can be introduced to go about achieving this? Or is equality of outcome something we should aspire for instead?

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36 thoughts on “Equality’s Enigma

  1. I think that since money appears to be the thing that makes the world go round, i.e a solid, integral fact of life, realistically speaking, I think the aspiring for successful outcomes for all would be a way forward. Solely due to the fact that with wealth, comes an often wider foundation in terms of education, because of the opportunities it brings. Nonetheless, I think that everyone should have the chance to try pursuing their individual interests, with good morals and work ethics, and support etc.

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  2. The UK still has quite a large class difference. I come from what would be considered the working class and I went to a school that selected you because of grades not money. Maybe grammar schools like this might help the poor get a leg up and be educated along with the rich kids.

    I got a lot of stick from the rich kids about my accent and stuff but I was on the same level as them in terms of education.

    I think there’s more of a class divide than a race divide in the UK and I don’t know how to fix it!

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    • True. One MP even admitted it when she said she went to watch a play and saw only people like herself: Middle class.

      It is an incredibly difficult thing to tackle but things like private schools or increasing the cost of education and health certainly will not help.

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  3. One size does not fit all, but in the UK we think it does. If we talk of equality then obviously it is lacking, but to suggest one persons definition matches or applies to another persons, well, we’d all be way off the mark. We all have and face inequalities, but it does not necessarily mean these will be detrimental to us. I’d say it is more bigotry, ignorance, old boys clubs, small minds, nepotism, stagnancy and so to blame – there are more problems than merely equality to face in making employment, education (et al) a level playing field. We are after all, all different!

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    • True but then perhaps equality can be taken to mean this as well. So equality not only in money but in the way we are treated in order to give us all ‘equal’ chances. Hence the constant debates about positive discrimination.

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      • Thanks for your response, I understand the points you have raised, and am aware equality does not only include money, or background or status. However, these points are significant factors relating to equality or lack of equality. ‘Equal’ chances are derived from equality of ideals and ideas about people, and life and so on, so therefore the biggest form of inequality, for me, stems from not what you know, but rather who you know in life to help propel you. This is the inequality of status and of chance; money and background is what matters to make you equal. Money, status, background and connections are all reasons for why we are treated as we are treated. Another point to make is about ‘positive discrimination’, which is almost like a ‘pity’ equality. Look at all female quotas (adopted in political elections and so on), which didn’t last and weren’t sustainable. These were actually a form of discrimination – positive, well for me that is debatable!

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      • Definitely! Connections play a big role even though they’re not ‘supposed to.’ I once read of a successful businessman who I think was also part of a government committee who said parents should let their children find their own jobs to teach them about life instead of linking them with their own connections. However, he had given a job to his own daughter!

        Ahah so you don’t agree with positive discrimination. Hmm the jury is still out for me on this issue as in some cases it appears good but not in others.

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      • Haha, that sounds about right! Isn’t that typical – what a hypocrite! The whole situation makes me despair actually, it is a dangerous attitude because it makes the country stagnant. It is almost as though to be employed within certain work sectors you have to suffer from cloned genes syndrome! I mean, it is same old type of person, and, actually the same old pool of genes working in certain positions, places and so on (for ever and always). I ask; how can anything change when it is the same type of people always gaining power? They have too much to lose to change a thing, obviously! You know what, I really feel nothing has changed; might as well still be like it was centuries ago when only the landed gentry had suffrage, as they are the ones only still in charge!

        Oh, positive discrimination; I see how it could be deemed OK in some circs, but positive discrimination, per se is an oxymoron. If we need such things then obviously discrimination, and the reasons for it have not been addressed or fixed. Well, that is just my humble opinion anyway!!!

        Thanks for allowing my ramble!!
        Bex

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      • Certainly, power is hereditary in most cases as you very rarely see an outsider breaking in to the clique.

        True but then again, if say universities for some reason did not have a mixed ethnicity student makeup then something should be done. It could be argued that any measure however, would be ‘positive’ discrimination’ as it is allowing other minorities a chance at the ‘expense’ of the majority. Of course, positive discrimination is more of a race issue rather than a financial one in most cases.

        Haha anytime! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. We all do start from the same place, called being born. It’s what we individually do with our talents, personality, gifts, etc. that determines how we succeed. We make choices and the results are determined by us. No one had graduated from college in my family,. I paid (and borrowed) my way through college. Praise God, I did it! Forty-three years later, I’ve taught, challenged, and inspired many thousands of students to succeed in the way I did. Now, I hope to be inspiring others to succeed. Born equal? Yes! Make ourselves unequal to succeed? Absolutely!

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    • True, we are definitely all born equal as human beings. We have that foundational equality but we are certainly not all treated equally despite the fact we should be. The struggles we go through depend on our circumstances and whether we can utilise our talents. Annoyingly in today’s world, alot of that depends on money but it also depends on how we are seen by others, whether we face discrimination or not.
      It is clear that some people have to rise above the circumstances they find themselves in and although they succeed (like yourself! :D) there are many others who have not been able to ‘beat the system.’
      Awesome!

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  5. Unfortunately, the hierarchical nature if human sociality is, in fact, a standard feature. That’s not conservatism, simply my understanding of human behavioral ecology.

    I do, however appreciate your commentary on the nature of imterpretation and the grievous shortfalls between the intent if equality of opportunity and its actual implementation. One of the examples offered, that if unpaid work experience doesn’t quite ring true for me–it isn’t a function of such equality efforts where I live (though unpaid internships are available.). Are some of the possible differences between what you spoke of and my particular experience simply the result of different countries/systems?

    I wanted to make other comments, but I feel as if I’ve written too much already. Well-written and thought provoking piece. Thank you for sharing.

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    • True but whilst other ideologies attempt to change it or even suggest human nature is more plastic and can be changed, conservatism tends to accept it as a normal thing that is also desireable.

      Hmm unpaid work experience isn’t an equality effort as such, it’s the fact that there isn’t equality in this either. So poorer students may not have the ability or freedom to take on these placements or the businesses in their local area are not ones which will ‘stand out’ on their CV.

      Yes they probably are as the nature of inequality certainly differs according to countries. Where in one the rich/poor divide may be small, in others it is amazingly huge.

      Haha no problemo you should have! ๐Ÿ™‚
      Thank you! ๐Ÿ˜€

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    • Ahah that I guess is a much larger problem. I guess it would mean that all people have the same chance of getting the few jobs there are and not that certain sections of society are able to just nab them all!

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      • what good is so called equal opportunity when there are not enough jobs? if there aren’t enough jobs folks will naturally do whatever they have to do to get a job to survive, regardless. you can’t have equality of opportunity if there aren’t enough jobs, that is the larger point. the real question is why aren’t there enough jobs, that is what the political system has to concentrate on first, not so called equality of opportunity.

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      • Definitely! The jobs have to be created first and then equality of opportunity comes. It is essential though that equal opportunities exist once the jobs are created. I guess the difficulty is that as it is near impossible to fix the job shortage, equality of opportunity cannot be ignored until the economy is fixed.

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      • it is not impossible to fix the job shortage. equality of opportunity is merely used as a way to avoid creating enough jobs for all, a way to divide and conquer. it is the policies of exporting jobs, military adventurism, wall street manipulations, lack of a sound energy policy, the war on drugs, etc, we could easily fix the economy. equality of opportunity has always been used as a way to keep the power structure the way it is, to keep unemployment high and wages low. but if people keep falling for it, then not much will change. there will not be enough jobs, and there will not be equality of opportunity. there will never be equality of opportunity without enough jobs. I worked when unemployment was practically unheard of – that is where you get equality of opportunity. if there are 5 people for one job, it is impossible to have equality of opportunity.

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      • Equality of opportunity in terms of jobs is the dependent variable. The independent variable is the number of jobs. If there are five people for every job equality of opportunity is meaningless. We should aspire to creating a sustainable economy that focuses on labor and not just capital. There is a tremendous imbalance. It would b easy enough to create policies to create enough jobs in the US, then we could easily solve any problems with opportunity. Equality before the law, for education, etc are a given, but that won’t change the job picture. When people talk of equality of opportunity they usually are referring to the economy. What good is perfect equality of opportunity if millions are unemployed? That is the point. Jobs first, opportunity second. What about the equality of opportunity for the unemployed? Who determines who will be unemployed? Who determines that you should be employed and someone else should be homeless? What does equality of opportunity even mean in that situation?

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      • I entirely agree with the fact that equality with no jobs is meaningless as it would just mean people are all equally poor!

        However in terms of actual jobs, I think equality of opportunity goes further back as it would mean ensuring everyone across all classes, race or sex are able to achieve the same career they all desire with more or less the same effort. So if a person wants to be lawyer, he or she should be able to even if they are poor. If a person wants to be an actor, there should not be anything hindering their chance of success more than the next person who may be different in terms of race, sex or class.

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      • yes we settled that in the 60s when unemployment was about 2-3%, there were jobs everywhere. but here we are 50 yrs later, more people are poor, more people in prison, more pollution, more wars, greater income disparity, more people out of work, etc. so equality of opportunity was not the magic bullet. because first you have to guarantee jobs for everyone, you have to base an economy on labor not just capital. you have to include the environment, not just profit. you have to end this notion that the US was put on this earth to tell the rest of the world what it should do and what it shouldn’t do, i.e. you have to stop these endless wars. without that equality of opportunity will not change much for 10s of millions of people.

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  6. You’re defining opportunity by outcomes. That’s not the idea. Ensuring that people have equal opportunity access to the basics in society is not about controlling the level of success they enjoy. It’s about making sure they’re not trapped at the level that started at. And that can most certainly be done. It can’t be done overnight, but it can be done.

    After all, just a few centuries ago, the King was the only one entitled to anything, and he could bequeath whatever he felt like sharing to whomever he chose. Most people weren’t people he knew, so they were left to scrape whatever they could out of life, secure in the knowledge that it could be snatched back at any time. We’ve gone well past that in most societies. If we don’t keep working at it, we will continue to have a planet more full of resources than at any other time in history, and yet have billions suffering from hunger, disease and poverty. I believe we can do better because over the course of human history, we have. It’s not about whether it should be done, or can be done, it’s about finding the will to roll up our sleeves and do it.

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    • Well in liberalism, equality is not about outcomes but for socialists, it is. Yet, both have their problems when it comes to actually achieving their version equality.

      Definitely, those who are more fortunate have a responsibility to others who aren’t but as we all know, sometimes greed really does get in the way of progress.

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      • I figured from what you wrote and the comments below that it was hardly likely you were discussing a socialist viewpoint ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I agree. Greed does get in the way a lot more now.

        And I do wish people realised that they don’t get rich or stay rich on their own. Society aids you by helping to educate you, by buying what you sell, and providing everything from roads to transport your goods on, to the workers you need to run your business. So yes, a sense of responsibility to the less fortunate and giving back to the society in some way is the least you could do.

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      • Haha well I actually am not entirely sure which view is best or should be argued.

        Definitely, give back to your community. Sadly, the only time I see this slogan is on community centres in poor areas, not on the windscreens of Bentleys!

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