Below is the second part of a four-part guest essay by Richard Cocks about Social Justice. Previously: Part 1
Social Justice: An Analysis
by Richard Cocks
Tough love vs. mother love
It would be a strange world in which absolute equality reigned. There would be no one to admire. To develop and get better in any regard; financially, musically, or athletically, would be impossible. Everyone would be exactly the same. It would be the least diverse world possible; a static, boring hellhole.
Thomas Sowell points out that even the same person is not equal to himself at different stages in his life. An older child will be bigger, stronger, smarter and more capable than the younger version of himself. This is natural and inevitable. Workers are likely to be more productive and become more capable over time. Teenagers frequently start out at the minimum wage while most millionaires are over sixty. Very few people start on minimum wage and remain there as older adults. As more experience and seniority are accumulated there is the likelihood of promotions spanning decades. For this reason the same individual is likely to occupy multiple economic groups over a lifetime. And when people retire their income is likely to decrease.
Age differences between individuals, or the median age of ethnic groups, would alone be enough to generate economic inequalities. The median age of American Jews is 52 while the median age of Hispanics is 40 and partly for that reason, Jews are on average better off than Hispanics as groups.
In America, most millionaires and billionaires have not inherited their wealth but have earned it. The titans of the tech industry, for instance, are nearly all self-made men.
This obsession with leveling differences between people can be linked to the love a mother has for all her children — an unconditional love looking out for the lost lamb. Agape is the Greek name for compassionate love, and it is focused on acceptance and non-differentiation.
Eros is a more masculine-style tough-love aimed at looking out for the welfare of people by encouraging them to develop and get better; to promote hard work, discipline and sacrificing present pleasure for future gain. In principle anyone at all, no matter his talents and starting position, can get better. To truly care about someone is to wish him to improve.
In metaphysical or religious terms, in the realm of the Absolute there are no distinctions, all is one. Everything is equally divine and good: Agape. In the realm of the Relative, distinctions exist and the possibility of things being better or worse relative to other things or relative to themselves at different points in time comes into being: Eros.
Ken Wilber in A Brief History of Everything argues that real non-pathological love is a combination of Eros and Agape. The push to grow and develop combined with an acceptance of someone just as he is. Unfortunately, there is a tendency in popular culture at the moment to regard masculinity, and thus masculine virtues, as “toxic.” Thus, Eros-derived achievement and success is looked upon as suspicious and a reason for others to feel resentful.
“Social justice” is the pathological promotion of Agape with no Eros attached. Superiority, and thus development, is then regarded as a sin.
Kindness and Charity
The idea of social justice is not a harmless mistake. The claim that all people who are less successful in a given economic system are the victims of discrimination and injustice divides the world into victims and victimizers; the oppressed and the oppressors. It is imagined that if it were not for these evil people, all people and groups would be at the same economic and social level. This kind of thinking has its modern roots in Marxism which divided the world into two groups; the bourgeoisie (capitalists) and the proletariat (workers). The exploiters were to be murdered and the exploited freed.
Marxism posits a cause for the proletariat’s suffering: they are being actively suppressed and kept down. This imagines the proletariat have all the ingredients for tremendous happiness and success but their fantastic potential is prevented from being actualized by nefarious others. In this way of thinking, it is not prosperity that needs to be explained, which is imagined to be the default and natural situation of man, but penury. Any failure to achieve economic wellbeing then must not be the fault of the individual but that of some external force, in exactly the same way the National Socialists claimed the Jews diabolically pulled the strings of international commerce.
Sowell argues that relative poverty and a hardscrabble existence have characterized humanity for most of its history. Prosperity is the anomaly, not the default condition. It is that which needs explaining. Japan studied the success of the Scots and English when they realized they were falling behind technologically, while the Scots copied the English to lift their own performance.
Failure is always easier than hard work and changing cultural attitudes. The majority of countries simply resent their higher performing minorities and seek to suppress them; for example, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia with regard to their ethnic Chinese minorities and Fiji against its ethnic Indians.
Economics is also not a zero-sum game. The standard of living of rich countries is high for everyone relative to poor countries. If wealth were attained by stealing it from the poor, the more wealth a country had, the poorer the masses would be. This is not the case.
Members of modern democracies tend to be fairly good at recognizing scapegoating when the targets are at the lower end of the success spectrum, such as the poor and the handicapped. However they tend to fail dismally to perceive scapegoating when the victim belongs to the higher-ups. Scapegoating the king or the chief is historically very common. The powerful person is already singled out by his office, and since he occupies a position of authority, he can be blamed when things have gone wrong. The individual can never succeed against the mob, so this person is as vulnerable as anyone else. When SJWs target the 1% this is classic scapegoating — the 99% against the 1%.
If SJWs want to benefit the world they might instead work to promote love and kindness, and they can do this by giving up hatred and scapegoating and actually being loving and kind themselves. This will rarely involve angry mobs of people “protesting.” They can be charitable to widows and orphans, and they can identify behaviors and attitudes that contribute to economic and social success by recommending copying the more successful individuals and groups.
Moral and cultural relativism were invented to promote tolerance instead of ranking one moral perspective or culture as better than another. But if all moral perspectives and cultural practices are as good as another, then there is in fact no right or wrong, good or evil. Relativism is thus a swift path to moral nihilism, which is conceptually incapable of identifying evil, let alone fighting it. Instead of introducing nonsensical and harmful metaphysical lies, the goals of the relativist and the SJW could be achieved by claiming that love and kindness are positively good and moral things. No bizarre self-contradictory counterfactual rearrangement of reality is necessary.
Hierarchies and equality
Jordan Peterson comments that dominance hierarchies have existed at least since lobsters evolved 350 million years ago, and thus can be regarded as natural rather than cultural. The top male lobster gets the best territory and the female lobsters rush to mate with him. Human women, unlike chimpanzees, are highly selective in their mating choices and they too choose men at the same level or higher than themselves in social status. Sexual selection by women is brutal, and seems to have contributed to the growth of the enormous human brain. If men are unsuccessful in one dominance hierarchy they can try to invent a new one. If a man is no good at carpentry, perhaps he can be the best poet. The truly successful man can be regarded as someone who competes well across all dominance hierarchies. Women largely leave men to make up the rules of these games and then select from the winners if they, too, are high-status.
Even extreme egalitarians will divide people into better and worse — at the very least, those who oppose hierarchy being considered morally superior to those who embrace hierarchy. Thus, those supposedly opposed to hierarchy simply introduce new hierarchies of their own devising with themselves at the top of the pecking order and the “deplorables” at the bottom.
A writer for Slate magazine, critical of Peterson on the topic of hierarchies, comments: “If we instead chose to believe that all humans are unique and equal — and we have the power to make society fairer—this will change our brains too.” Humans are unique, but not equal in almost any regard at all. Choosing to believe a lie does not make that lie any truer. People have their positions in social hierarchies, and they know it. Try speaking at a social gathering and see how attentively and respectfully people listen or fail to listen and how frequently someone is ignored or talked over. On one occasion, a female professor simply spoke over the top of me every time I attempted to speak while members of the department were dining with a visiting speaker, to the point that the men I was trying to talk to became visibly embarrassed about the situation. This indicated a particular insecurity on the part of the professor and an apparent need to signal dominance.
The Slate writer clearly links the notion that “all humans are equal” with the power to make society fairer. It is here that the contradiction at the core of “social” justice is most clearly exposed. “Fairness” cannot be based on “all humans are equal,” because they are not. Saying something does not make it so. Things do not go well when people get confused about reality. If this fantasy actually “changed our brains,” then disaster would follow.
There is always the possibility that a hierarchy can become oppressive and tyrannical, but life and thought are not possible without hierarchy. Development of any kind indicates a hierarchy. Moral development proceeds along a hierarchy of egocentric, ethnocentric, worldcentric. Schools are arranged hierarchically by grades and age groups. There are cognitive developmental structures which are mastered and transcended in order.
Education cannot exist unless there is a hierarchy of abilities. Literacy and numeracy must be rated as superior to illiteracy and innumeracy; being knowledgeable and capable must be considered superior to ignorance and incompetence.
Without social hierarchies, chaos and destruction ensue. If all are on the same level, then all are the competitors and rivals of all. Order is impossible.
The love of equality means demonizing hierarchies as “patriarchal.” In this iconoclastic environment, ten-year-olds are encouraged to pass judgment on whole civilizations and painfully acquired traditions.
In ancient Greek culture, hubris was one of the most criticized moral failings. Hubris means arrogance and over-stepping boundaries, and one of the most important boundaries was between the gods and man. Any attempt to usurp the prerogatives of the gods was harshly punished.
A modern person may feel tempted to regard this as quaint, but the twentieth century saw plenty of attempts made by fallible, weak, human beings to elevate themselves to god-like status, Mao Zedong and Stalin being among the examples. The distinction between gods and man is a good one.
In family life, the younger a child is, the more he must be subordinate to his parents. Young children are simply in no position to judge what is good for them. Two-year-olds treated as little kings are insecure, unhappy tyrants who make those around them miserable, too.
In order for classrooms to function, teachers and professors must be respected and obeyed by the students. Teachers and professors must set the rules for the classroom and decide when and if someone is to speaks; otherwise chaos reigns.
Employers are the bosses of employees, judges of courtrooms, chairmen of juries, committees, and so on. Police, in order to do their job, must be treated as having special powers beyond ordinary citizens. These necessary facts are not the evil products of the patriarchy, but necessary elements of civilization.
Radical egalitarianism tends to be hostile to all hierarchies and thus to all social structure. While it aims at peace, love and understanding, with all people being mutually supportive equals, it in fact creates conflict, instability and destruction.
Well-functioning and stable hierarchies must be moral and reasonable, otherwise they risk being overthrown. Army officers, especially in the upper ranks, far from being arrogant bullies, tend to be calm, professional and competent managers of large numbers of people. If they are not, they will likely be replaced.
Even dominant chimpanzees that are tyrannical bullies will be attacked by two or more weaker chimps and killed. To survive, the top chimp must make alliances with other males and attend to the females and their babies.
Hierarchies of Achievement
If person A is 80% as good as person B, it might be expected that he get 20% fewer rewards, but in reality, he is more likely to get none at all. The prettiest girl in the class might get 50% of the social invitations, the second prettiest only 20%, even though she is merely 5% less attractive.
Reality tends towards winner-take-all scenarios. The best house painter is inundated with job requests. One only slightly worse might get none. The silver medalist does not just get fewer cornflakes box covers than the gold medalist: she gets zero. The Biblical quotation “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him” captures the phenomenon.
Taleb comments that what was once known as the 80/20 Pareto rule is now more like the 99/1 rule. For instance, 1% of internet sites account for 99% of traffic, while fewer than 1% of authors account for 99% of book sales.
In some cases, modern technology exacerbates this tendency. When only live music existed each place would need its own musicians. People would hire the best available local musicians who competed with each other on a small scale. With the advent of recorded music, people can listen to the very best musicians in the world according to genre. Why listen to the second best orchestra if it is possible to listen to the best? Do people want to listen to Bob Dylan wannabes or Bob Dylan? Inferior musical acts are likely not to get just fewer sales than the superior, but none or a tiny trickle. The Rolling Stones play to giant sports arenas. Someone nearly as good might play to perhaps twenty people.
A tiny proportion of musicians are responsible for the huge majority of popular music sales. Just four classical composers, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, wrote nearly all the classical music played by modern orchestras, and then only a tiny fraction of the music they composed is played.
If posters and prints were unavailable, people would have to buy the work of local artists. Being able to reproduce art cheaply means more people will gravitate towards fewer paintings. It also means more people can see the highest quality artworks and desire them, pushing up their price. In that case, the existence of mass-produced images on TV and books actually increases the value of the relatively small number of original artworks; The Mona Lisa and The Scream being particular omnipresent examples.
Extreme inequality of achievement can be found in any area requiring creativity, including among scientists.
In the workplace, a minority of people at a job are likely to end up doing most of the work. For instance, one person’s analytical skills and writing ability will be superior to everyone else’s. This provides an incentive to keep directing work his way. Everyone competes for the attention of the person who is the best editor with the best command of English. Few will choose to forego success on the job because they feel sorry for the relatively incompetent. Embarrassing mistakes do not bode well for a career.
The winner-take-all dynamic applies over a wide range of phenomena. A small number of cities have nearly all the people and tend to keep growing, such as London, Mexico City or Auckland. A small minority of celestial entities have most of the matter. 90% of communication involves just 500 words, 50% of the population accounts for just 3% of healthcare costs, while the sickest 10% are responsible for 64%. Out of 200 baseball players in 1931, 6.5% (13) accounted for 50% of all home runs.
The good news is that countries that have large numbers of millionaires and billionaires are also the richest. This suggests that the rich do not get rich at the expense of the poor. Sowell comments that “since the United States contains several times as many billionaires as any other country, ordinary Americans would be among the most poverty-stricken people in the world if the wealth of the wealthy derives from the poverty of the poor. Conversely, billionaires are much rarer in the most poverty-stricken parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa.”
Communism has been the economic system most devoted to redistributing wealth and minimizing economic inequalities, but it tends to simply lower the standard of living markedly, create shortages and increase misery. Certainly the victims of Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot, which number in the hundreds of millions, paid a high price for the supposed worker’s paradise.
After World War Two, Germany was divided into the communist East and the democratic and free-market West. As such, it provided a fascinating experiment. Two different economic and political systems were applied to the same ethnic groups with the same cultural and historical backgrounds. The communist East ended up with a much lower standard of living, a much worse economy in general, many more restrictions on what could be done or said, a police state, and its citizens had to suffer surveillance by their fellow citizens, causing them to live in a state of fear. They were also not allowed to leave — and leave is what many of them wished to do.
The standard of living and quality of life in West Germany was far higher even for the relatively poor. Far more people, for instance, had cars. In the East, people wanting cars were put on a waiting list and waited between eleven and fifteen years for a substandard, nasty, polluting Trabant, while the party leaders under communism lived in absolute luxury with special privileges for themselves and their families, attracting to themselves justified resentment.
After all that, Walter Scheidel provides empirical evidence in The Great Leveler that inequality is unaffected by the election of right-wing or left-wing governments. This communist experiment was all for nought.
At the very least, Sowell points out that attempts to achieve economic power concentrate political power in the hands of the few who decide who gets what based on political considerations. Political inequality is increased with no net benefit to the masses.
Coming up in Part 3: Differences in achievement by sex and ethnic groups
Richard Cocks is a commentator whose work has been published by Orthosphere, Sydney Traditionalist Forum, and University Bookman.
|1||Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 61.|
|2||Ibid, p. 66.|
|4||Bearing in mind its lack of compassion and aggressive hatred for white males.|
|5||Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p. 11.|
|7||See Frans de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics.|
|9||Taleb, Antifragile, p. 305.|
|10||Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p. 8.|
|11||Ibid, p. 9|
|12||Ibid, p. 9.|
|13||Taleb, Antifragile, p. 306.|
|14||Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 179. Sowell could have picked any time period but used this date in the context of rebutting someone else’s claim.|
|15||Sowell, Economic Facts and Fallacies, Ch. 5 “Income Facts and Fallacies.”