Cultivating the Myth of Human Equality
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 22 Aug 2016
Ignoring Complicity in the Contradictions Thereby Engendered
22 Aug 2016 – A brief discussion thread on the theme, initiated by Martin Willett (The Myth of Human Equality, YouTube, 25 Nov 2014), starts with the statement: Everybody knows that we are all equal… right? No. It isn’t self evident and the evidence to back it up is scarce indeed. There is no good reason to expect equality.
As the focus of many studies and commentaries, authoritative and otherwise, the distinctive approach here is rather to highlight the variety of ways in which the manifestations of human inequality are poorly recognized — and may even be unthinkingly celebrated. Conventionally the tendency is to deplore gross inequality and “gaps” — poverty, injustice, income disparities — effectively viewed from a distance calling for little direct engagement. The concern here is with forms of human inequality in which all are complicit in some respect.
At the time of writing the issue is exemplified by the 2016 Olympic Games and its worldwide media coverage. The focus of the games has traditionally been on those who win medals. There is very little concern for those who do not — effectively framed as losers — or for those who are variously excluded from participation. As such the games can be considered a remarkable metaphor for the contradictions associated with collective appreciation of human equality. They can be understood as an unthinking celebration of inequality, paradoxically reframed as the honourable quest to be “first among equals” (primus inter pares).
The rules governing the organization of the games usefully frame those who are variously excluded — unmentionably. A striking example is offered in the case of height and weight in that whilst there is provision for various categories of weight in combat sports (such as boxing), there is no provision for various categories of height in ball games (such as basketball). Whilst some consideration may be accorded the younger generation in some sports, typically none is accorded to the older generations. Matters of gender are especially complex, given the distinctions made and the polemics associated with emerging transgender issues.
Even more intriguing are questions of competence, whether framed by inexperience (despite willingness and dedication) — as with “Eddie the Eagle” — or physical handicap (questionably reallocated to the Paralympic Games). If such is the much acclaimed “spirit of the games”, why not have sets of games for those variously challenged otherwise — for the otherwise unequal?
The question of principle is strikingly defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that: all men are born free and equal in rights and dignity. The International Olympic Committee has consultative status with the UN. It is a curious irony that the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council are especially attentive to their medal rankings at the Olympic Games.
Whilst such rankings are widely publicized, virtually no attention is devoted to the number of “losers” engendered by the Olympic Games — with the strangely significant exception of reference to “bad losers” (Rio Olympics 2016: athletes who have failed to accept their losses, BBC News, 18 August 2016). More generally this highlights the issue of the “left behind” or effecitvely “remaindered”, as discussed separately (Reintegration of a Remaindered World, 2011). The United Nations is attentive to these otherwise — framed through the abstractions of various statistical indicators of human development.
In the quest for extreme inequality and “above average” performance however, the competitive spirit of the games clearly offers further metaphors through the illegality it currently engenders in systematic doping of competitors in order to avoid losing, and through the protests of those who do not accept their loss. Equivalent pressures are evident in society world wide where the protests may be more “unreasonable” and far more violent.
The concern here is with the “wall” of media superlatives and puffery which obscures the existence of the multitude of losers — whilst intensively celebrating the winners. The process can be understood as a celebration of inequality, widely engendered such as to obscure those considered undeserving of recognition and attention. However as a gap, this calls into question where and how equality is to be effectively celebrated — rather than inequality.
At the time of writing, the argument can be made otherwise with the popular appeal of the promise of one US presidential nominee to “make America great again”. How is the desperate need to “be number one” to be related to whatever is implied by human equality? As one instance of promotional superlatives, together with claims that America is already “the greatest” (superpower), does this exemplify the marketing of every kind of consumer product — presumably to the exclusion of products made by competitors and in other countries?
Should the myth of human equality be considered a probable candidate for the “Big Lie” of this period of human history, as discussed separately (Existential Challenge of Detecting Today’s Big Lie, 2016)? Or, as a myth, should it be understood otherwise, as variously implied (Joseph Campbell with Bill Myers, The Power of Myth, 1988; Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth, 2005)?
Such possibilities aside, there is a strange perversity to the sophisticated arguments for human equality in discourse with those experiencing shocking degrees of inequality in their daily lives. This is an exemplification of hypocritical doublespeak (Enabling Suffering through Doublespeak and Doublethink, 2013).
Where might understandings of identity of requisite subtletly be found? How might human (in)equality be evaluated in such terms?
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