The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Against Radical Egalitarianism

Posted on | August 30, 2011 | 4 Comments

A friend responded to my earlier post about the so-called “gender gap” with an e-mail pointing out several other statistical problems in that feminist argument. Replying to my friend’s e-mail, I found myself elaborating an argument that eventually reached nearly 1,200 words. Because it explains a lot of the fundamental principles involved in my political orientation, I thought I’d share the e-mail with readers:

Good points all, Adrienne. The real key here is understanding that the “gap” is about average differences between groups of people. This involves a sort of social-science artifact that, when reported sloppily (as is too often the case), creates illusions of widespread unfair discrimination.
It’s like aggregated test scores as a measure of school performance. We are often led to think that if School A reports that its 5th-graders average 93 on the standardized test while School B’s 5th-graders score 83 on average, then School A is “better” than School B. Yet you can come back and check test scores five years later and find that, while neither the personnel nor the curricula have undergone any significant change at either school, School B’s average will have increased to 89 while School A has declined to 87.
What happened? Well, a low-income apartment complex was built in the School A district, while a new upscale development of McMansions was built in School B’s district. So what was previously the clearly “better” school now has a larger number of 5th-graders from a lower socioeconomic background (and standardized test scores tend to reflect such factors), while the previously inferior school now has a few more 5th-graders from privileged backgrounds.
This kind of statistical perception problem occurs whenever we aggregate people into categorical groups — sex, race, whatever — and then make the differences between group averages the basis for a policy aimed at bringing about equality between these groups. But such policies almost never achieve their stated goals, and in the process usually have harmful unintended consequences, not the least of which is the fostering of unnecessary resentments between members of the groups which become playthings in these social enginering experiments.
Whether the tools used in social engineering are soft (e.g., a lot of P.R. hype about “diversity”) or hard (lawsuits and quotas), these schemes fail to acknowledge the many millions of individual choices involved in the large group statistics being measured. Nor do the social engineers seem willing to acknowledge that such group differences, so long as they are based on free choices, can actually be beneficial to individuals and to the larger society.
For a slightly more than hypothetical example, suppose that we discover that Chinese-American students demonstrate (as a group) a greater-than-average interest and proficiency in mathematics and science, while Appalachian whites show greater interest and proficiency in auto repair and rifle marksmanship. This difference could benefit society if, noticing an influx of Chinese immigrants into a certain community, the school board added extra classes in math and science, thus to develop to the highest potential the demonstrated ethnic pattern, while military recruiters seeking combat infantrymen or tank mechanics concentrated their efforts in eastern Kentucky, western North Carolina, etc. However, if you take the view of the egalitarian social engineers, you would expend a lot of money and effort trying to teach Chinese-Americans remedial marksmanship or require quotas for them in high school auto shop classes, meanwhile instituting similar initiatives in Appalachia to create more hillbilly mathematicians and scientists.
But the question no one ever seems to ask about this is … WHY?
Must every occupational endeavor be equally diverse? If there is a “shortage” of Irish engineers or Filipino ballerinas according to some statistical measure, and yet there is no demonstrable evidence of active discrimination, why do we consider such situations as requiring intervention?
What has happened, I would suggest, is two things:

  1. The institutionalization of bureaucratic prejudice — Government officials and academics work in office environments where the process of hiring and promotion often involves the acquisition of specific qualifying credentials. And viewing people in terms of groups is typical in large organizations where bureaucrats are most numerous. Such people naturally see differences in economic or vocational outcomes as reflecting “gaps” between groups in terms of credentials, and may be prone think that a mere redistribution of credentials can remedy group differences. Ordinary people, who live and work outside bureaucratic environments, are often baffled by these attitudes.
  2. An attempt to “carry on the civil rights legacy”— For the past half-century, liberals have pronounced the crusade for “civil rights” (the scare-quotes necessitated by the special meaning that liberals impute to that phrase) as the highest and most honorable calling. Decades after the most blatant forms of discrimination have been prohibited by law and culturally discouraged by social stigma against racism and sexism, the pursuit of that “legacy” requires the advocates of radical equalitarianism (which is what liberals mean by the term “civil rights”) to become ever more vigilant in seeking forms of discrimination in need of their crusading intervention. It may appear to such fanatics that any statistical difference between any two groups is somehow evidence of discrimination, caused by subtle prejudices noticed only by enlightened and sensitive people like themselves.

This is why accusations of “racism” (“sexism,” “homophobia,” etc.) are slung around so haphazardly by liberals nowadays. Only by the continuing need for equality-oriented interventions can they justify their own particular politics, and they must therefore create demonized bogeymen — villainous racists and sexists who can be blamed for the unfairness of inequality — as objects to rally support to their cause.
It is not difficult to demonstrate that the radical-egalitarian mentality is harmful as a general policy principle (e.g., the role of the Community Reinvestment Act in causing the mortgage crisis), but in the day-to-day political discourse, there is a tendency to address controversies in terms of details specific to each case. That is to say, when someone claims that gays are being victimized by some sort of discriminatory policy, we tend to argue that case in a very direct and specific way. But the problem in arguing that way is that it doesn’t cause people to examine the larger egalitarian fallacy that is fundamental to all such controversies. It is only because people have been indoctrinated to believe that inequality is a synonym for injustice that liberals are able to turn such controversies into moral dramas in which conservatives can be demonized as hateful bigots.
We would do better, I say, to use such controversies as opportunities to teach people — borrowing and adapting a liberal bumper-sticker slogan — to QUESTION EQUALITY.
That is to say, people must be encouraged to wonder why our government has such a presumed interest in eradicating every statistical difference between groups, however those groups are defined. It is no part of any constitutional authority, nor of any genuine social benefit, to turn us all into atomized and anonymous units, utterly indistinguishable by any measurable difference. And yet this would be the ultimate effect (if it is not indeed the secret goal) of policies proposed by those who constantly scream “discrimination” wherever any inequality is observed.
An old friend of mine once described such people as advocating “diversity through homogenization,” and there is a disturbing truth to that description. So long as people are different, they cannot be absolutely equal in any real sense, and therefore the crusade for “equality” becomes a war against individuality. Conservatives ought to realize what side of that war they’re on.

— Robert Stacy McCain

(Some minor typographical errors in the original have been corrected.) Many of the ideas expressed in that e-mail were developed from reading various books, including Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed and The Quest for Cosmic Justice, as well as Friedrich Hayek’s work, including The Mirage of Social Justice.

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What You Can Do
If you agree with the logic of the foregoing argument, why don’t you copy it in an e-mail and send it to your Republican representative, senator, governor or state GOP chairman? You can also e-mail it to your favorite local or national talk radio host, or Republican presidential candidates. Also, by using the “share” button at the bottom of the post, you can share it via Twitter or post it to Facebook. Thanks in advance for your help in spreading the word. — RSM


4 Responses to “Against Radical Egalitarianism”

  1. Anonymous
    August 30th, 2011 @ 9:50 pm


    Inequality does not equal injustice, unilaterally. It is, at best, a possible symptom. 

  2. Tyrone
    August 30th, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

    Odd that the same people who are so avid to ensure that every occupational endeavor be equally diverse seem to have no problem at all with a lack of equal diversity in professional sports…

  3. Anonymous
    August 30th, 2011 @ 11:37 pm

    “Free men are not equal and equal men are not free.” – Jerry Pournelle

  4. Anonymous
    August 31st, 2011 @ 12:45 pm