Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.

Barry Goldwater



At 4:07 AM, Blogger Al Dimond said...

This quote brings me back to my anthropology class... at the beginning of the class we talked about what I might call two axes of equality.

The first we referred to as "equality" IIRC and had to do with making judgements of the value of other people and beliefs. The equality position states that the people are equal in value to you, and the inequality position states that the people are different in value.

The second axis was "sameness" I think (the wording is totally awkward, maybe I don't remember it correctly). The sameness position states that the other is essentially the same as you, while the difference position states that the other may be fundamentally different.

Early European explorers of the Americas, when encountering people there, would hammer the two-dimensional system flat. If these people they encountered were understood to be equal, they took them to be also the same, and tried, with great difficulty, to impose a European society and set of values upon them; this is to me the latter part of the Goldwater quote. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If they were understood as different, they were then taken to be of lesser value and killed.

Between those two positions nobody suggested that the people might be equal and yet different. Which is one way to understand the concept of cultural relitivism, or as I read it the former type of equality in the Goldwater quote.

The fourth position (a square must have four corners... though it's inappropriate to place all attention on the corners, as it tends to polarize people and magnify differences in unhelpful ways...) is the unfortunate one where a group of others is seen as the same but unequal. Where people's motivations cannot be understood within their true context but those people are judged unworthy or bad anyway. This understanding of others can lead to atrocities and is often used to manipulate groups.

(Of course, the quotation is much more brief and elegant than this rant...)

At 5:56 AM, Blogger Mr. Engineering Johnson said...

*clap* *clap* *clap*

Wonderfully insightful Al! I can't find fault with anything you said here. The fact that people attempt to make equality mean sameness (or at least link the two) causes me considerable frustration.

Of course, when you realize the difference between the two it makes interaction a bit more challenging. Someone who not the same may be equal as a person, but inferior in some ways and superior in others. (i.e. I bet I can play the violin better than tiger woods, but I probably couldn't hit a golf ball to save my soul. We are both people, with the same basic rights, and yet on some level we are both inferior and superior)

I suppose the heart of the matter is that we should ackowledge other individuals as equals, but not attempt to enforce equality or sameness.


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