It’s not a nice thought, it’s not a pleasant truth, but it’s a simple fact that the ideals of freedom and those of equality cannot coexist without contradiction. The easiest way to highlight this is to demonstrate that an ethical system derived from freedom is in large part the converse of a system defined by equality. There are those who would condemn me for such a statement, mostly my fellow Americans who happen to be cursed with the fundy bug. They are in the interesting position of being able to believe in a fantasy just because they want to. Reality doesn’t work that way.
Here’s the pitch. If you think freedom is important, you want to give as many people as many rights as possible. This means that different people in different circumstances are free to be different, free to act differently, free to do anything they might want to do from making a massive fortune to euthanasia. Equality, on the other hand, requires that you try to make those in “poorer” circumstances have better ones, and at the same time you reduce the desirability of the upper strata. I think everyone can agree with me on those two points, since it’s a matter of definition.
You just gave me the contradiction. Just to make this explanation a little clearer, I’ll focus strictly on economic equality for now. In order to elevate the poor in a situation of limited resources it is necessary to take from those who have an abundance. If it’s voluntary, there is nothing wrong with this in any sense. However, if the person holding the resources doesn’t want to part with them then you are forced to violate their right to freedom and property in order to have equality. And if you try to weasel out by thinking “OK, then we just have to make everyone want to help his fellow man” then you’re attempting thought control which, while brutally effective, is a huge violation of the victims’ freedom of thought. Yet, at the same time, if you allow anyone to do what they want they may choose to do self-destructive things like use drugs. This can easily reduce them to a state of poverty. At the same time, freedom allows a lucky few and a competent few to become incredibly, disgustingly, wealthy. Not exactly equal.
This applies equally well to social inequality, racial inequality, or any other type as well. In order to have an individual or group be placed in a superior position, someone else must be reduced through propaganda, laws, whatever. This next sentence will ignite a massive conflagration. Don’t worry, it will make sense soon. Unfortunately, freedom necessarily entails the freedom to be discriminatory. This is the classic free speech argument. Should people be allowed to publish hate material? In order to have equality, you must infringe on freedom. In order to have freedom, you sacrifice equality.
So I have defined the problem to satisfaction. However, I refuse to end there since by doing so I get nothing done. But I usually don’t make a distinction between critical elements like these- you could easily acknowledge the problem of freedom and equality but disagree with me over its significance and its solution. I’ll point out things like that one time and then take as given that my readers will see such things thereafter.
Anyway, on to the solution. I lied. There is no direct logical contradiction. The contradiction arises from a misrepresentation of reality in our minds. Equality necessarily causes an infringement on freedom because enforced equality requires direct and unilateral action. And just to cover my semantic bases, even if you try weaseling out with “what about unenforced equality?” then I fall on you like Neptune. So basically you’re saying you can just declare “alright everyone, we are going to be equal. Cool. We are now equal.” So basically you’re living in a fantasy world. Anyway, back on track, since enforced equality by definition directly necessitates an immediate destruction of freedom, that won’t work.
Now regarding freedom the chain of events is not so simple. Sure it’s a pretty direct line from freedom to inequality. But when is inequality truly unequal? What if truly everything was equal, so everyone got exactly the same of everything. Where’s the line between where equality is good and where equality is bad? Whenever this sort of issue occurs, it means you’re missing some fundamental point. My thoughts on the matter run in my usual your-mind-is-flawed fashion. The condition that most people refer to as “inequality” is really a condition of insufficiency. What do I mean by that? I mean that anyone who cites inequality as a reason for redistribution is really operating from a position where they don’t think they have enough of whatever is considered unequal. It’s a fact that after a certain threshold somewhere around solid “middle class”, having more money does not actually make you happier. But if you’re poor, money means health, food, a place to stay, and a few luxuries. Freedom, on the other hand, is the power to control your own future, your own condition. No matter your circumstances you are always free to control yourself, but that doesn’t necessarily extend to your body, your world, your property, or anything else that matters to you. Freedom should always cover everything, but the argument of equality is quite alluring to many discontented people.
This idea that “more money is better” is very profitable for a capitalist society to foster because the more money you have, the more stuff you can buy. But the vendors are the ones who are really lying- buying their stuff won’t make you happy. Earning the money with which to buy their stuff won’t make you happy either- in fact it might be downright unpleasant. It is your responsibility as an individual to control yourself, your future, and the pursuit of your own happiness. Take back your freedom, and use it to make yourself equal in the important senses of enjoyment, self-actualization, and happiness. Who cares if you can’t have a private jet? You only want a private jet because society pressures you to. Disconnect and just stop wanting the jet- it’s far easier than breaking your back at the grindstone to earn something you don’t want, just so the man selling the jet makes a killing.
It is absolutely critical, however, that you treat this pursuit with utmost care. Control it yourself, and never, ever, allow someone else- even me, though I have your interests and the truth at heart- to dictate to you that poverty is a virtue. Every fucking time that’s nothing but an excuse to rob you, and then delude you into thinking you’re contented despite the fact that you’re starving while your rulers feast on food you grew that they financed with the money they stole from you. Your lord and master bending you to task out on the fief with hired whips.
Have you noticed a similarity with the capitalist example? In both cases you’re sacrificing yourself, your time, your energy, and then even your payment into the hands of those prepared to take it. The man selling the jet and the man ruling your fief are one and the same. I name them the Elites, in contrast to Plato’s Remnant. The battle between them in the world, and within each of us, is only human conflict of consequence. The conflict from which all others rise. Power and virtue. Sophists and Socrates. To them, the truth is relative and malleable. They are enlightened just enough to weave convincing lies, or to game the human system for personal gain. But they’re not enlightened enough to get past the drives that push the people they manipulate, and those are the drives they’re trying to satisfy. Though they’re great at it, it doesn’t work because their method is flawed. You can never get rid of a drive by its satisfaction. You’re just going to want more, and then you’re going to have more work to do when you have to backtrack.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t want anything- of course not. However, I am saying that you should want what you want, instead of what someone else is trying to make you want. In all probability, that equates to each person reading this to discard more or less everything that they think they currently want and really think seriously about what they need to be happy. I doubt any of you will, but you have been informed and now it’s your call. The problem of misinformation no longer applies to you- the gate is open and you have to choose: to leave, or to remain a sheep. It’s so much easier to just want what everyone else wants, to let the cheap charades of celebrities, advertisers, and politicians wash into comforting messages flush with significance. But now, on some level, you’ll know they have an ulterior motive and are carefully crafting their messages to achieve exactly that effect knowing full well that nobody will take the hard road and think for themselves. Freedom in individualism is the first step- we lost that somewhere.
I may also take flak for this, but I think it is vitally important to learn anything and everything available, especially from our mistakes. The greater the mistake, the more vitally important it is for us to learn from it. Countless times in history our fellows have imprisoned and persecuted one another, from ancient times to right now, today, from the United States. The Holocaust is the most-cited example. Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning presents a cutting history of it but more importantly it thoroughly demonstrates that the human spirit is indeed invincible when exercised. Despite the worst possible circumstances. Strength and honor.
“If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you were bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.” – Marcus Aurelius