Rethinking the meaning of equality

James Lacefield, Opinion Editor

Oppressed and marginalized peoples, as well as those who would like to believe they are oppressed, have turned to the government to enforce equality on their behalf. There are instances in which government intervention is necessary. The victim of a murder, for instance, can not publicly hold their accuser accountable, so in cases of crime it is reasonable for the government to intervene and condemn the perpetrator. In other instances, it may be necessary to utilize the courts when an individual, organization, corporation, or the government itself takes advantage of their position of power by victimizing those around them and perverting the idea of equality. This concept is outlined in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law, so that no individual may be denied the right to seek the condemnation of an assault made against themselves.

However, societal inequality, which often falls without the realm of law, is a different subject entirely. While criminal and civil suits generally handle events of the past in order to find a settlement which adequately repays some previous harm done against the plaintiff, many believe that societal inequalities exist that are harmful to the future, and call for government interventions to prevent or even provide reparations for these inequities. Modern culture has begun to embrace the idea of equality as a right in all matters, criminal, civil, and social, and that when this right is usurped, it is the duty of the government to intervene.

This is simply not the case. Societal equality is not, nor has it ever been, a right. It is something which must be earned by each individual for themselves. Just look to the Declaration of Independence, and therein you will see the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Of all the truths about human existence which are enumerated in the Declaration, the Founders put equality first. Why, then, if equality is such a universal human truth, did the American Colonies ever have to engage in a bloody revolutionary war against the British Empire to prove as much?

Even in the free world, basic inequities permeate every aspect of society. The Declaration itself, even the very quote I pulled from it, has come under scrutiny for being an inherently unequal document, as the phraseology “all men” marginalizes women, and the absence of any group other than white landowners from the signers of the Declaration ostracizes all other races and classes, making the oldest documentation of the American ideal of equality entirely inequitable.  

We can learn one thing from the Founders, however, and it is that individuals must stand up for themselves when they are being treated unequally. They must prove in the face of adversity that they are equal to the challenge of making it in this world. Equality is something we strive for, not something we are handed.

Of course, no individual can be expected to stand up against the machine of modern society, which is where grassroots organizations, local communities, and families come into the picture. These institutions can help to amplify the voice of one by adding the voice of many, and prove the equality of their constituent individuals.

It is when these groups outgrow themselves that we see the problems of hatred, discontent, mudslinging, and even violence. Groups will seek governmental recognition, and when one group achieves this, it immediately turns on what it now views as inferior groups, while the unrecognized groups lash out for not achieving such recognition; (the writers of the Declaration are not free of this trend). This entire process makes a mockery of equality except in one sense; that it calls for the equitable slaughter of everyone who has strived to make themselves better, and the equal distribution of destruction in society.

Take, for example, a song by the both musically and politically genius band, Rush, “The Trees,” which closes with the line “And the trees are all kept equal by hatchet, axe, and saw.” When the mission of equality becomes organized to the point of political efficacy, the only possible outcome is that everyone will be equally cut down to the lowest common denominator, rather than building everyone up to the highest level of achievement. 

Equality in society originates with the individual, not with the law, which means we will have to take the road less traveled and reach out to our neighbors. Let the government deal with the law of yesterday as it always has, and get to work building a better community for tomorrow.