Our nitwit species has never overcome its own cleverness. If we find an idea or symbol or image that appears to compel people, we’ll use it — and worry about the consequences later.
Equality is a powerful symbol to use. It conveys inclusiveness, and an automatic sense of group bonding. “We all agree we all should be equal, right? Now all we have to do is crush those who disagree!” It’s also a neat way to institute a witch hunt. If your neighbor doesn’t believe in equality, maybe you deserve his farm.
But those well-worn (at least here on this blog) paths give way to a more interesting question: what are the psychological consequences of equality? In other words, does it make our brains healthier, and is it a good interface to life? Here are two problems with equality as it impacts our psyches.
If we are all equal in value, then there is no way to distinguish ourselves except by our appearance. It’s like trying to make hamburgers interesting again. Put an avocado on the hippie one, arugula on the yuppie one, and a slab of ironically wholesome cheese for the hipsters. Your social rank is your burger. A bacon cheeseburger? You’re not as elite as someone with an arugula, avocado and feta burger.
Because we must assume others are equal, we cannot demand that we be measured by the content of our personalities instead of our external traits. We are interchangeable parts, not individuals who determine themselves from within. If you start asking we be judged on moral character, intellectual ability, honesty and sincerity… well that ruins equality, because we cannot look at you from a distance, see you are human, and figure you are equal. It would force us to engage with life, and that scares us.
Since we are all equal in value, and we cannot look within, external traits are how we draw attention to ourselves — and since others are doing it, we must all compete with them. In a mass of equal people, the person who figured out a unique and ironic hat stands out; this person is noticed, which advances their business, social and romantic prospects. Since there are few things not thought of before, this requires we embrace oddity and ugliness, like modern art and freak shows, and correspondingly become more “tolerant” so we can pretend we like them.
If we’re all equal and are going to get equal treatment, the reward has come before the labor. We now expect to be entitled to things and status, instead of feeling that it is a reward for our contributions. As a result, everything we do becomes backward: we assume we belong, and therefore that whatever we do is right, but then we try to justify those actions by proving to others how altruistic or moral or unique/ironic we are.
Since equality is the goal of the society, rising above equality is a socially problematic issue. So instead of striving to make ourselves better internally, or to contribute in ways that might cause conflict as all, we focus on making life more comfortable for us. This inevitably involves selfish actions like retreating to the suburbs, buying an SUV, and turning up the volume to drown out the other equal people.
If equality is the norm, an attitude emerges which finds those who want to refine themselves or improve on anything but their material circumstance to be “elitist,” and that’s a problem since most equality-based societies exist after revolutions against the elites. You don’t want to raise your head above the herd, or it might get cut off. Don’t strive, except for the material comforts we all agree (equally) are important; coincidentally, these material comforts create the most waste and use the most energy.
An interesting way to view this situation. If we could step back from our modern lives, we could see how simple it all is. There were revolutions, and we are obligated to consider them as absolute Good, in the same context religion makes Good and Evil. The revolutions aimed for equality because they wanted to overthrow hierarchies. Now you either obey the official revolutionary dogma, or you are considered an enemy of equality, and possibly destroyed.