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Equality as unilateral action



A moral proof struck me as I was running a block, a thought that no doubt others have had many times before me and rejected, maybe even Nietzsche, whose perspectivism it derives from. It goes like this:
Equivalence and equality are not absolute values. They behave like Marcel Duchamp’s concept of art, they are statements that acquire a personal force by being articulated by someone about the relationship they have with their environment. A statement institutes a relation: art is that which I call art. To say that something is a work of art is not in itself a value judgment, it is an ontological statement. Things are thus. For such a statement to gain value I need to go further and call some work of art either good or bad. Equality works in a similar way. Equality or indeed its opposite, inequality institutes a relation as soon as it is brought into the picture. It sets a standard by which an action can be measured, nothing more. To institute equality on a relation in some concrete instance gives it value. After all actions flow from it, which can be seen as good or bad from the perspective we impose upon the situation.

If one says that “all people are equal”, then the onus is on the person saying this to show how this is the case in his actions. His actions should confirm the statement and give it value. Equality certainly does not exist before it is discovered as a possible condition for a relation. Equality comes into being by thinking of ways of instituting it with regard to concrete situations. The world abounds in seemingly unequal relations and evolutionary compensations for apparent inequalities. Equality as a position about the relationship between people needs to be made persuasive, needs to be argued through.

Equality is not subjective or objective but it does characterize the relationship between a body and its environment unilaterally. If I say: all people are created equal, it is not a statement I can prove to be the case. All I can do is claim my responsibility in the world where I consider this to be the case and make it be the case in my actions. The statement all people are equal, or created equal is an imperative ontological statement, an order for the world to be so. The statement, a dispositive, requires me to act in a certain way to confirm it. Equality is thus the product of a personally held and unilateral perspective on the relationship between me and my environment in which there are others like me. It is not subjective, because, although it is personal and can be rejected, it is a perspective which can be shared by anyone. It transcends my self even though I hold it as a personal treasure of my being in the world. All people are able to hold this perspective. That would not make it less personal or more objective. It would merely mean that people choose to define their relationship with their environment in a certain way and that one person choosing such a perspective does not necessarily affect the chances of another to do so.

Just as it is impossible to have a complete and omniscient perspective, a perspective of all perspectives, so it is impossible not to have equivalence and equality when one takes the trouble to investigate each and every perspective and relate them to each other. This process of investigation will not yield a single perspective, but will in fact yield a zero value in every possible perspective. The sum of all perspectives leads to complete chaos, which is a form of negative equality by default: each inequality cancelling the other out. That is the equality of nature. All things are equally unequal. Were all existentially held perspectives agreed about the equality of man, the problem would not exist and also cancel itself out. Action would confirm the equality of man as a matter of course. The problem wouldn’t arise.

When people differ in their opinion regarding equality nothing happens. After all holding a view does not necessarily lead to a particular action so that the equality of people would be assured even if people hold different opinions with regard to equality. Things become problematic when people decide to impose the laws of action they themselves derive from a view about the equality of man on other men, when they hold a perspective other than that of equality or fairness, and use that perspective to justify actions to articulate inequality, make inequality felt in the distribution of goods, or indeed punishment meted out on those who simply hold another view.

If you see your convictions as a unilateral pledge, there is no problem of conscience and no problem of inequality. Only when those who want to impose their perspective on others does a problem arise, not in the truth or cogency of the perspective but in the consequences flowing from action justified by it.
The actions of inequality through racism, through the class struggle, are actions of people claiming inequality. But their claim is not without the paradox of nature. By imposing inequality on all, they are treating all equally. This equality of the unequal is what we find in nature: we are all delivered unto the whims of natural selection and the battering forces of nature, but we all emerge as unique products of that process. Even kings die and suffer disease. To impose laws of action on the basis of this naturalism is not more natural than any other existential decision to do this or that on the basis of some conviction. It is merely to give in to the product you are through the forces of circumstance and natural selection. But this “moral naturalism” (I use the word with a different meaning to what naturalism is usually claimed to mean in philosophy) cannot lay claim to any higher truth or moral superiority. To behave like a monkey because one is a monkey is no more of a justification of that behaviour than murdering is for a murderer. Murder is wrong, even for murderers. Behaving like a monkey may be acceptable, it may be tolerated, but it is not justified. We could justify trying to change the behaviour of monkeys. Just as we justify trying to change the behaviour of children by investing a lot in their upbringing.

To say that all people are equal, not in their inequality, but in their quality as human beings, is as such an attempt to overcome nature and institute civilisation as a nature 2.0: a second nature. To say that all people are equal is a pledge we give ourselves, unilaterally, and make true in our action. We make this pledge in trying to overcome the horrible and make a non-horrible way of being part of our nature.



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