The Man of Equality

In the Absence of Rational Morality, Material Worth Displaces the Moral

Having suffered a massive philosophical collapse, modern Western society scavenges the remains of that great temple, seizing every shiny fragment it can get its hands on without understanding its history or its purpose. Their latest finding seems to be the idea of equality, the value of which their instinct can sense long before their brain can process the concept. They do not know the context in which equality matters, nor in which context it even makes sense, but they can smell its usefulness, can feel its power. Mindlessly they turn their little finding into an idol of an absolute good, placing it atop a high pedestal, away from prying hands and eyes, for this idea, this little tool of power, is too sacred a thing to be brought forward for closer inspection, too useful to be questioned.

When man lacks a rational framework of moral values, his ability to judge society – and therefore, discern, evaluate, and act – is severely crippled. How does one tell good work from ill, good person from bad? He begins to look for other symbols of power, clues that might separate works and people. He finds such things in wealth, influence, fame, and begins to use these as the barometer of his life, looking to increase a set of scales he deems important to success and to a life well lived. Such a man might see a wealthy individual as being better than a poor one, a powerful, famous entrepreneur as being better than a low wage factory worker. They won’t admit this directly – not because of a conscience that disagrees, but because lacking a conscious value system they cannot formulate their position explicitly. What passes judgement is their instinct, not their reason.

Here is where our new friend Equality comes into play. Failing to amass wealth, influence, power, fame and other such transient, material possessions, they discover a weapon they can point against those that have. It is not good to be too wealthy, they say. It is not good to be too powerful. Success, they explain, comes from “privilege”, and so isn’t really success, but luck, and it’s not very good at all that the lucky should have more than the rest. Stamping out inequality, they say, is our most pressing concern, and those that are at the top should feel ashamed if they’re not doing their best to give away their accidental wealth. But even if they are giving out their wealth, the Man of Equality doesn’t feel quite right and demands that they feel humility before others – this is natural given that his barometer makes him feel inferior to a wealthy man. Even if the wealthy give away most of their possessions, the metric of choice maintaining the sense of inferiority remains, and will remain until they give up everything.

The Man of Equality does not know how to judge moral worth. He does not know how a weak man could be more magnanimous than the strong. He does not know how a poor man could be more noble than the rich. He cannot see the value of a strong will or the worth of a moral act. Without a conscious moral framework he is left to his instinct, and his instinct drives him to animalism, judging people with the brain of a bird that evaluates others by the color of their feathers rather than the mind of man that values reason and moral fortitude. Without the capacity to judge men on their moral worth, the Man of Equality judges them on their material. Instead of focusing on building a philosophical framework on which life and society could prosper, he focuses on physical possessions that separate him from others, wishing to close that gap with his makeshift ideology.

The Man of Equality will never be happy because his position is based on a ratio between his wealth and the wealth of others. The poor of the 21st century live like the kings of centuries past, and yet the presence of those even richer makes many unhappy, and indeed, the presence of the exceedingly rich over the modestly rich makes the modestly rich just as unhappy. Today’s West is not the time of plagues, wars, slavery and famine. We are not conscripted into a brutal war machine, not thrown into bloody trenches to suffer and die for the ambitions of an overzealous monarch. We don’t live at a time when we would have to fear a rival city state decide to take our home – men to be massacred, women and children enslaved. We don’t have to live in fear of myriad diseases that would have previously resulted in painful deaths, or amputations without anesthetic.

The man of the West has access to electricity to keep him warm and provide him with light at night; refrigerators and fridges to keep his food preserved in good condition for weeks or even months; clean water pumped right through to his tap he can use to drink and wash himself; cars, buses, trains and planes for travel around the city, country or even the world; modern medicine that turns previously fatal diseases into minor inconveniences; an emergency and police service that keeps his streets and his home safe; and, among many other things, access to the sum of word’s knowledge from the comfort of his home or local library. And yet, in the mind of the Man of Equality, all of the benefits that great inventions and democratic society provide us become relative not to what we had before but to what some others have now. It’s not the advantages that his current position gives him that makes The Man of Equality happy, but the relation of his position to that of others.

Further Reading

Proust wrote that the true voyage of discovery is not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to behold a hundred universes that each of them beholds. Thus, in the words of Ruskin, what good books give us is not mere knowledge, but sight.

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