Thursday 13 June 2019

“Like and equal are not the same thing at all.” Actually, they Are the same - and that's the problem...

“Like and equal are not the same thing at all.” ― Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1961).

I've just finished reading (i.e. listening-to-the-audiobook-of) A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle; which is a US classic of children's fantasy, but which I never really heard of until fairly recently.

It is certainly a worthwhile book, with several very effective and enjoyable parts - although I found that, overall; it lost narrative pull as the book went on (it seemed to have too much explanatory exposition), it did not end fully-satisfyingly; and therefore I would not (at first reading) regard it as first-rate (not - for me - in the same class as The Hobbit, Narnia, Wind in the Willows etc.).

But an aspect that I much liked was the explicitly Christian and mystical element to the book; its presentation of Life as a spiritual conflict, its making of a loving (esoteric and eccentric) family into the main agent for Good.

However, the title phase “Like and equal are not the same thing at all.” jumped-out at me as a false statement, and representative of a belief that has (over the past fifty-plus years) been very wholly destructive of The West.

Perhaps naturally, this became one of the best known, most quoted, phrases from the novel.

For totalitarians, communists, socialists and nowadays the politically correct and Social justice Warriors; for things to be Equal' they must be The Same; so - since we (supposedly) favour Equality - then society must become homogeneous, which means totalitarian (since sameness requires an all powerful authority to enforce it).

'Eqaulity has been, for serious Christians, a Trojan Horse; a smuggled-in deception, later deployed to attack (and substantially destroy) the citadel of the faith - indeed equality has replaced Christianity in the mainstream churches. 

Wrinkle in Time (in characteristically modern, particularly American, fashion) tries to oppose this by drawing a distinction between 'eqality' which is good (e.g. because the US declaration of independence, quoted prominently and approvingly in the novel, says "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."); and on the other hand likeness, alikeness, sameness - which are bad.

But we should recognise that all attempts to distinguish an ethic of equality from sameness will fail; do fail, have failed. 

So, the result is that all attempts systematically to promote equality, as an over-arching ethic, end-up by promoting sameness, and justifying totalitarianism - which is intriniscally evil.

If enforced sameness is an evil, then so is equality. 


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

You're right, of course. This is particularly obvious when it comes to gender. Any assertion that men and women are at all different or should have different roles is immediately understood by goodthinkers to be an offense against "equality."

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - What has been particularly harmful is the fixed state of confusion on this issue.

Precisely because we are all supposed to be dedicated to equality, yet simultaneously try to claim that equality is not sameness - we get the (evil) mainstream combination of enforced inverted difference, being done in the name of equality.

For example, for the legal system to treat men and women, or different races, The Same would be regarded as to be in severe violation of equality. Yet to claim sexes and races are different, and therefore ought to be treated differently, is also in violation of equality. And so on.

As I have said before, I think the ultimate root of this kind of confusion is the metaphysical assumption that the ultimate bottom line in Life are categorical and absolute abstractions, such as equality (or justice, more generally); that morality (or science) is ultimately about laws etc.

Christianity has also been caught up in this - with its definitions of the abstract properties of deity etc, regarded as ultimate.

While these are useful shorthand - and inevitable when talking generally about general matters; when taken as absolutes that dictate the specifics, they seem to create a state of permanent and self-perpetuating mental chaos.

David Smith said...

I can't say that I understand the context of the quote from L'Engle, but my first reaction to the quote is, "Yes, 3 is like 5 in that they are both odd numbers, but 3 isn't equal to, or exactly the same, as 5 at all."

I'm sure that I'm missing something.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David S - I think the meaning comes in the post - as claimed in the declaration of independence; political equality is said to be a good, everbody behaving alike (as in an ideal totaliatrian state) is not good.

Ann K. said...

If being equal means being just the same or alike (and thus fungible), then the sports arena is the perfect proving ground. Alas, the women losers so far do nothing but complain that the men inevitably win.

Bruce Charlton said...

Comment from Lucinda:

"I think the root of the problem is in sibling rivalry. I think the best answer to differences is well expressed in “The Horse and his Boy” when Aslan speaks to the characters and deals with them individually. “I tell no one any story but his own.”

"But within families, the temptation is to tell children they are equally loved even though they are not the same. But as you point out, people don’t really grasp it practically. Whether or not it is true in some way, it doesn’t work in helping people adjust to the real situation, which is more like a story of love between a parent and a child, as opposed to figuring out how to divide resources.

"Anyway, I guess it’s all part of growing up, which is a serious problem in a time of population infantilization. "

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - Yes, I think that is probably the root of what is being said. And of the confusion. Because the child sees love in a quantitative way (perhaps linked to a quantifiable resource being provided), whereas the parent loves all the children, and each differently, so that quantity doesn't make any sense.

This works because love is qualitative - someone is loved, or not loved.

But no two loves are the same. However introducing 'equality' only serves to confuse matters! 'Equality' tries to systematise and scale-upwards, for the use of The State, something which is actually restricted to family (including the divine family) and close personal friends.

Epimetheus said...

One of the positive connotations of Equality - the reason modern people can't bring themselves to contradict it - is the equivocation of Equality with justice and kindness. Ie. Equality means we don't arbitrarily and unjustly treat some people worse than others.

If you say to a modern person that you don't believe in Equality,that is taken to mean you don't believe in treating people kindly and justly.

As you say, though - and it's produced a seismic shift in my daily consciousness - reality is ultimately alive, conscious, and suffused with purpose and love. Abstractions are training-wheels.

Kirstie said...

Dear Bruce,

I thank you for always trying to elucidate truths as you experience and see them. It would be impossible for you to understand yourself without a student. That is a truth, that God has entrusted to you. And one I am eternally grateful for. You have been and will continue to be a trusted source. I may not have anything substantial to add to this blog but by the act of recognising you, it is already done.