On Equality

What is equality as it applies to people? There are different types. One type of equality is equality in identity where two items are said to be equal only if they are identical. Such a form of equality, when applied to humans, would mean that everyone looks exactly alike, has the same strengths, abilities, and weaknesses. There’s not even room for gender. It is really quite boring and obviously not the case. Humans embody variety. As such, they cannot be considered identically equal.

Another form of equality is equality in treatment. This is basically an exhortation on how humans relate to one another. Basically, they should treat everyone the same. This is a more interesting definition of equality. It can apply to one-on-one relationships, in which it morphs into the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is essentially a religious maxim. It requires a conscious and deliberate decision of the individual; and it is not a government thing. In fact, it would be bad for the government to try to impose a religious maxim like the Golden Rule on its population; such would violate the first amendment.

The next form of equality to be discussed concerns how the government treats different individuals of its population. In this case, we have Equality Before the Law. The rich man is treated the same as the poor man (the Founders believed in this). According to this approach, if you take 20% of the income of a rich man for taxes, you should do the same for the poor. We don’t do this anymore, having opted for a more progressive tax structure. There is more to this, of course, than money. For example, legal penalties. If the penalty for murder is a life sentence, it should not matter if the murderer is rich or poor, black or white, male or female, or what-have-you. Lately, our society seems to be more concerned with equality as it applies to economics. The terms income equality and income inequality are tossed about. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, related to income equality is the Equality of Economic Opportunity. This is an ideal that can’t be realized. Life is too full of chance and strange occurrences for this to occur. Rich parents implies better opportunities. Medical mishap implies poorer opportunities. Etc…. I think equality of economic opportunity is a goal worth striving for, but one should never make the mistake of thinking you will ever be able to achieve this and thereby sacrifice rights and freedoms in your pursuit.

Lastly, is the Equality of Economic Equality (that’s kind of repetitive, isn’t it?). In this case, everyone’s income is controlled by the government and is precisely the same. This is a species of socialism (or maybe communism) which has been tried in the past (and currently) usually with disastrous results. In a world of individuals, needs and wants vary. One man might be fine with $1000 a month, another might require $10,000. Variety is necessary for a healthy society. I’m not a fan of governments controlling incomes, for a number of reasons.

Anyway, those are my brief thoughts on the various species of equality.

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Invisible Theft

I had a thought. I’m not really sure which category I should place this post in, but as I don’t have an “Economics” category, I’m stuck putting it in my “Politics” category. Basically, I want to say that, for the most part, I am a capitalist. Capitalism has its faults and weaknesses, but I believe it has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system out there. Is it perfect? No. But I think it is the best economic system our species has developed to date.

That said, I think it is worthwhile to point out … limitations or errors or weaknesses inherent in the system. Back in college I had a friend who was a dedicated socialist. One day, we were just talking and he said something like, “Locke gives you the ‘Labor Theory of Value’ and he takes it away, just like that. And I can show you where, too.” That’s when the light bulb went off for me. As a philosophy major I never studied economics, so the term ‘value’ had a different meaning for me. But after a moment’s reflection, it became apparent to me that my friend wasn’t referring to anyone’s hierarchy of goods or anything like that; instead, he was focused on money. Basically, he was saying that money is backed-up by labor. Money is labor, and labor is money. Or so my friend might say. I don’t think I necessarily agree with that in its entirety for a number of reasons, but it is worth reflecting on at least for a few moments. I call it the socialist point.

Basically (remember: I am not an economist, so I could be flubbing this point entirely), the socialist believes that the real currency that runs our economy is labor. The money you are paid for when you work is meant to compensate you for that labor. Hence, money represents labor. And that does seem to have some merit. After all, it would be exceptionally difficult for the economy to run without any labor. Without labor, nothing is done, and ultimately, everyone starves.

Once you make that connection, the socialist’s problem with capitalism should be easy to recognize. Pick the CEO of any major company. He is paid far, far more than any person in the lower ranks; yet, if you remove the labor from the company, the company ceases to exist: It cannot exist without labor. The socialist says that the company produces only what its labor force produces. Hence, its labor force is responsible for all of the company’s profit. Yet, it is the CEO who reaps the greatest reward.

How is that possible? The simple answer is that the CEO has power. The rank-and-file do not. The CEO benefits from a better strategic position in the company than does the average laborer. As a result, he can fire laborers who complain and there is little the laborers can do about it. So, the CEO—who seeks his own self-interest first—earns a big salary because the laborers produce a valuable product that earns a substantial amount of money. From that money, the salary of the CEO and the laborers is taken, and excess profit is put back into the company or maybe paid out to shareholders (who contribute nothing to the actual product of the company—their only value is that they provide monetary fertilizer to fuel company growth from time to time). The socialist is basically saying that the laborers are directly responsible for the profit the company makes, and yet, they never see a dime of it. Their labor has been stolen to produce it. Since, labor does not constitute a visible thing, such a theft is an invisible one. The labor/money taken from the worker is never seen.

So, the socialist feels fully justified in using the government to “steal” the money back from the wealthy.

I’m not sure I wrote that clearly enough, but I think it encapsulates a critical component of socialist thinking. For myself, I think socialists win a point, but not the argument. There are a number of counter-points to be made, none of which I have space for. Things like money shouldn’t represent labor, but rather accomplishment (I think—and only in a macro-economic sense). Intelligent decision making should be rewarded. Freedom should be promoted. And individual choices have consequences. And I’m sure there are many, many more, but, like I said, I don’t have space for them all.

How Do You Get To Heaven? By Your Own Actions or By The Will of God

How does one get to Heaven? Can your actions influence such an event? Or is the end result totally dependent upon the “Will of God.” I’ve read numerous times in numerous Christian books that it is not our actions that get us to Heaven. Only the “Will of God” will land us in the eternal realms of paradise. And that has always been a sticking point for me. I have a number of difficulties with traditional Christianity, but this is one of the bigger ones. It is almost like what we do in life doesn’t matter, according to traditional Christianity.

I remember hearing once (I think it was on EWTN) that living a good life was a necessary condition for entrance into Heaven, but not a sufficient one. Necessary and sufficient: those are the key words, philosophically speaking. Fortunately, I studied philosophy and mathematics in college, both of which used the terms “necessary and sufficient” as they are used here. And I thought it would be pretty simple to explain, but I just spent thirty minutes trying to explain it here on my blog and wound up deleting everything to spare you the confusion. Dear Lord, I hate brain rot.

Anyhoo, back to Heaven. Upon reflection, I don’t think the issue about Heaven is really a big deal. Will you get to Heaven, if you live a good life? I’m inclined to think the answer to that question is “Yes, you will.” Yet, does God have the final say? Again, I’m inclined to think that yes, He does. The way I see it, it’s up to God to decide who gets to Heaven and who doesn’t. However, the reasons God uses to determine this involves how you lived your life. I suppose it’s possible for someone to live a good life and have God decide not to let them in, but if that happens, I’m sure God has a pretty good reason, although what it may be is far beyond me.

Cultures are Not Equal

What is a culture? A collection of beliefs, rituals, institutions, and more that define a people’s character. That’s my answer. And I think it’s reasonably accurate. It is an obvious fact that different people have different cultures. The modern Left has embraced the notion of cultural relativism and posits the notion that all cultures are equal. The culture of the United States, which for many years incorporated the notion of exceptionalism, is no better or worse than the culture of communist China. That’s what they say. And I completely disagree.

And it’s relatively easy to show I’m right. First, just open the door to all cultures of all times and places. Then start making comparisons. Some things are sure to stick out quite profoundly and settle the question.

For example, human sacrifice has existed in the past. All those cultures that practiced human sacrifice are inferior to those that did not. I win. End of story.

To go further, cultures that practice suicide bombing are inferior to those that do not. Cultures that gather undesirables of any sort and put them in a gas chamber are inferior to those that do not. Etc….

Is any culture perfect? No. But some are better than others. It is probably impossible to do an exhaustive comparison between any two cultures, at least for the average individual. But we can make some general points and even some more specific points. I know it may come as a surprise to some people on the Left, but the culture of Nazi Germany was inferior to the culture of the U.S.A. in the 1940’s or today. We have our faults, but we also have our virtues. And it seems lately that the Left has made a habit of overlooking our virtues. What virtues? How about: 1) Consent of the governed; 2) Freedom of expression, religion, and press; and 3) Tolerance of dissidents.  There are more, of course (see the Bill of Rights), but those are probably some of the most important. If you compare us to perfection, we will always fall short. But if you compare us to what else is out there, I think we will hold up well (unless you are talking about pop culture and the over-sexualization of our society—like I said we have our faults).

Cultures change and evolve through time. Perhaps in the future we will change to a better culture; or, perhaps we will slide down the scale and become worse. The point is just to not throw out the scale. We are competing with other nations in terms of culture. It is worth remembering that.

What are some bad cultural influences? Much like virtues, these are large in number and will likely vary from individual to individual. For myself, I’d say: abortion, celebration of sexual barbarism (also known as male adolescence—I know I’ve been there), practice of racism, atheism (or lack of awe), paintings by left-handed artists, and denial of simple mathematical truths. Also, (and this is a big one … perhaps the biggest one) denial of the existence of truth. (And yes, the left-handed artists crack is a joke.)

Have a nice day!

Precedence and the Limits of Human Knowledge

It is commonly said (here in the U.S.A.) that “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.” To which I say, “Hah, I disagree and I will prove you wrong.” Once upon a time, the Law was limited to pretty much the Constitution and whatever ordinances and statutes the States might dream up. Then along came Darwin and evolution, and the character of U.S. Law began to change. We introduced the notion of precedence, where decisions of prior judges in prior cases could be used to decide future cases. American Law was seen as an evolving, growing body of knowledge.

I may have made this point before in another post but I will repeat it here again because it is so important: the number of laws in the United States has now exceeded the mental capacity of its citizens to retain them. Isn’t that a problem? The U.S. Tax Code is at least 70,000 pages long. It’s filled with all sorts of loop holes and exceptions so that big corporations can save money by employing reams of tax attorneys and accountants. However, this, unfortunately, leaves the average taxpayer in the dust. We have to hire our own tax accountants to wend their way through the tax code on our behalf to make sure we only pay the taxes we have to and no more. But the tax code is just one part of the U.S. Law. Congress passes (I think) a couple hundred laws a year and the various departments responsible for regulation pass thousands of regulations every year. Clearly, no single human being has the mental capacity to keep up with all these laws. As a result, anyone could be breaking any number of laws at any time without realizing it. And you are going to tell me, “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse?”

I have never studied Law, and I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect the same problem is happening in the legal code due to precedence. We just can’t let old decisions remain old decisions. Future lawyers quote old decisions all the time, but I suspect it is getting more and more difficult for these lawyers to remain abreast of all the decisions that have been made in the law courts. When will we realize that we need a new paradigm?

How do we fix the problem?

Well, we could probably start by passing a law saying that for every law passed, two laws must be repealed. And the same goes for regulations. As for the courts, I’m kind of partial to the notion that every case settled in court should be done so without recourse to prior cases. Get rid of precedence entirely. I trust the judgment of twelve individuals unhindered by excessive precedence; they should be able to make a fair decision and we won’t have to gum up the works with all the excessive laws. At least, that’s my theory: get rid of precedence and let the juries do what they were supposed to do.

It might work. It’s a radical change; so, perhaps we should try it in just one county of one state for a while before adopting it, but I’m confident it will work (actually, after rereading this, I’m no longer quite so sure). Eventually, we won’t have any choice in the matter, because something is going to give: we simply have far too many laws. And that will not do.