I was down the pub last night for an impromptu chat with some mates. We started off talking feminism, moved onto equality of opportunity and then through to morality. We covered all sorts of topics in between. That’s how cool we are.
One of our conclusions was pretty interesting and I thought I would share it with you.
In talking about feminism, we obviously got to talking about it in terms of equality of opportunity. I was pretty annoyed at a video that he had been posted that day of Christina Hoff Sommers sounding off about feminism. She was straw manning the general position of most thoughtful feminists who, I would argue, are concerned with equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome. It was about women (and not men) checking their privilege:
Anyway, I don’t want to sidetrack about a video that I consider to be pretty bad (not least with some of the internal claims, such as the one on education, and that fact that she is a paid-up member of the American Enterprise Institute by whom the series is created…). Perhaps more on this in another post.
In talking about equality of opportunity, we then discussed that this was a worthy moral ideal.
Okay, if this is our starting point, where do we go?
Well, the first thing to do is work towards levelling the playing field. This is what redistribution of wealth looks to do and was the sort of thing I was talking about regarding inheritance tax. We do this with free school meals in the UK to level the playing field with nutrition for pupils from the lower socio-economic standing, as well as pupil premium funding for the same group. This is just a small example of how we try to aspire to equalising opportunities for all people, no matter their backgrounds. Then, it can be argued, success comes down to merit, and not the randomisation of the environment. I’m sure you can think of many other ways in which we do this. We talked about the Rooney Rule, and the idea that whilst you may get something that looks unfair on an individual basis to some people but, in consequentialist terms, the means justifies the ends. Eventually, the scenario as a whole is fairer.
That aside, we agreed that equality of opportunity (EOO) was a desire for fairness, and this starts with equalising the environment.
Imagine we equalise the environment for everyone (and this might be impossible to do and look very odd indeed).
Next, though, if we are truly concerned with EOO (and thus fairness), we need to look at the whole set of variables. Having theoretically sorted out the environment, we only really have the genes to look at (given that biology is the interaction of genes and environment). In reality, genes are randomly distributed in the sense that an individual can’t choose their genes. Therefore, when looking at a meritocracy, where people deserve their success from effort and ability, effort and ability are genetically determined, especially given the fact that the environment is equalised.
So you can’t really have a meritocracy. Meritocracy doesn’t make sense when seen in this kind of deterministic sense (see ideas of praiseworthiness and blameworthiness). John Rawls talked about the “natural lottery” whereby the success of certain people in any given situation is largely determined by something outside of their control: their genome. This isn’t arguably that far off in what we will be able to achieve, scientifically and theoretically.
We get to the point that, if we really are interested in striving for equality of opportunity, you have to level the playing field for all people. But, in order to completely level the playing field for all people, you have to equalise the environment and equalise the genes of all individuals.
The end result is some kind of homogeneity. If you really want to strive for moral perfection (given that EOO is at least a component of this), which is kind of natural and intuitive, then the outcome may well be less than desirable. It may be that fairness for all humans is the goal, but this fairness leads to a homogenous humanity with no diversity.
Of course, this assumes that equality of opportunity is the one and only thing we want to strive for. Fairness can be seen in different ways, perhaps. Or we could equally value knowledge. Or prosociality. Or diversity. Or any number of moral currencies.
How do we cope with these pluralistic values? We would need a hierarchy. But even with a hierarchy of pluralistic values, we can argue for an optimal mix. Some would say that each of these values are derivative and must derive down to an axiomatic one. This usually looks like the lack of pain vs pleasure (happiness) of utilitarianism: that is the power of such consequentialism. It is apparently axiomatic. Happiness appears self-evidently good.
Whatever moral value you elect, the idea is that this is how you think everyone universally should act. This pinnacle of perfection is only attainable if everyone has the capacity to do so. Prisons and rehabilitation look to correct people to a certain standard, and we try to affect environments to stop people from committing crimes because these are the variables that are easiest to control. Again, we appear to get back to some sort of ideal of equality of opportunity and we have seen where that leads.
The alternative would be, instead of at individuals and their actions in a personal sense, we look at the world as a whole. Morality, as I have argued before, is goal-oriented. This means that when we hear the apodosis to a statement, there must be a protasis. In common parlance, we often hear, “you should do X” but this is problematic because it is missing the first part, the “if” part. If you want Y (protasis), then you should do X (apodosis).
It all comes down to what goal we want (the protasis). What world do we want? What do we want all individuals to be doing? Once this has been set out, then everything else can follow.
So, I suppose the question is, if you really and truly want to strive for moral perfection across society, would it inevitably lead to homogeneity, or is imperfection and diversity a value that carries its own currency? Do we look at society as a whole, and see something diverse with any given number of characteristics, or do we look at individuals, and argue that moral ideals should be applied universally? If we look at individuals separately and morally, and if so, do we end up with homogeneity? Even if you select one moral value to top the hierarchy, does it get to a tipping point whereby striving for that becomes counterproductive as seen against other values?
Perhaps achieving 75 units of morality in fairness/EOO has collateral of -76 units of morality in diversity and some other value combined so that, even though fairness might be the value at the top of the comparative value triangle, it can be trumped by other values below it, either in combination or singularly.
What are your thoughts?