Egalitarianism


Introduction

 

The developments since the beginning of industrial revolution have not only been fast but also profound. From philosophy to economics and from society to politics everything has undergone massive transformation. This period has also witnessed a keen ideological debate. Not only the two major economic ideologies namely Capitalism and Socialism have been at loggerheads with each other but also there has been a permanent tussle between the new ideologies and the traditional ideologies. The new forces of economics introduced the concept of egalitarianism which primarily meant political and social equality of all human beings but had wider implications. In some ways these have been extra ordinarily rewarding for mankind but it has also proved disastrous in many ways. 

 

Egalitarianism

 

The definition of egalitarianism according to the oxford dictionaries is "Believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines egalitarianism as "a trend of thought in political philosophy. An egalitarian favors equality of some sort: People should get the same, or be treated the same, or be treated as equals, in some respect." Egalitarianism is then the doctrine of equality of all in different contexts under consideration. These context may be law, justice, opportunities, gender, morals etc. John Locke holds that everyone at all times and places has equal natural moral rights that all of us ought always to respect (Locke 1690). Also according to Walzer "Democratic egalitarianism becomes a requirement of justice in modern societies, because this egalitarianism is an underlying important element of people's shared values and cultural understandings (Walzer 1983)." This shows that during different times in the human history the egalitarian approach has been utilized to defend the equality of all in the contested fields. This in the course of time has helped the human civilization to grow from slavery to universal human suffrage. It has established equality of all before the law. Equal opportunities to all the section of the society weather high or low has been made more possible. Equality to life, one of the fundamental requirements of a developed society has been universally established. Even after considering all the benefits of this doctrine we have found that there has actually been a rise in economic disparity. More and more wealth has come under the control of lesser and lesser people. Few of the human rights that have been reserved for certain sections of the society are proving to have bad impact on the society. Problems regarding health have actually increased even when the standard of living of the people has risen. We will take in consideration various impacts of the egalitarian approach-good and bad over the society and will try to find out the reasons behind it. We will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the approach of egalitarianism in the light of the new economic and political systems. 

 

Capitalism vs Marxism on Egalitarianism 

 

Both the capitalist as well as the marxist system of economy has failed to generate equality in the society and on the other hand have aggravated disparity among various classes of people. The founders of these systems Adam Smith and Karl Marx had deviced their philosophies solely for the purpose of eradicating these inequalities in the society. Smith advocated the principle free hand that results in the formation of free market economy. He argued that in this free nature of market there will be complete competition that will lead to the diffusion of economic power throughout the economy. Whereas Marx was a propounder of no private property. He believed that due to the existence of the private ownership of property, men act selfishly for their self advantage. He believed that if there will be no private property, there will be an egalitarian distribution of the resources within the economy which will lead to reduction and further complete eradication of disparity. Smith's magnum opus the Wealth of Nations was his fight against the then existing system of mercantilism. But without realizing he himself helped establishing it's substitute. The aftermath of his capitalist revolution helped establish a new class of economic exploiters called the capitalists and turned the forms of governments into corporatocracy. The byproducts of his revolution were the new aristocrats of the money market called the capitalists. It was only till the time of the great depression that the capitalist nations realized that the form of government and economy capitalism created was far from being perfect. Similarly Marx's whole revolution was against the Smith's capitalists. Marx once wrote of the Paris Commune (in The Civil War in France): “They have no ideals to realize, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant. In full consciousness of their historic mission, and with the heroic resolve to act up to it, the working class can afford to smile at the coarse invective of the gentlemen’s gentlemen with the pen and inkhorn, and at the didactic patronage of well-wishing bourgeoisdoctrinaires, pouring forth their ignorant platitudes and sectarian crotchets in the oracular tone of scientific infallibility.” And yet his revolution helped to produce the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Lenin who established the absolute dictatorship. What was his communist movement turned out to be nationalistic movement for the above mentioned people. Both Smith and Marx established their doctrines with the sole purpose of establishing equality in the society. And yet these were the last things that were achieved.

 

Although Smith theoretically propounded egalitarian approach and yet it was never emphasized. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which Smith himself saw as his more important book, Smith asks, in effect, "How do we recognize something as being a moral sentiment." In a nutshell, his answer is that we ask ourselves how an "impartial observer" would see it. That terrifying impartial observer constrains ourselves. As Smith put it, "If we saw ourselves in the light in which others see us, ... a reformation would generally be unavoidable." Smith had also written against the contemporary fashion of trade. In his own words he said that "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." He was clearly stating the disadvantages of the control of trade in advantage of the traders and not of the consumers. Yet his system of economy turned into chronic capitalism. Alexander Stille in his article "The Paradox of the New Elite" writes; "in economic terms, the United States has gone from being a comparatively egalitarian society to one of the most unequal democracies in the world." The foremost example of a capitalist nation is itself not free of its vices. Professor Becker, a celebrated free-market conservative, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation (and first book, “The Economics of Discrimination”) to demonstrate that racial discrimination was economically inefficient. The american capitalists must have realized this and thought that the exclusion various groups was not profitable for them and decided to exploit them by giving them some rights.

 

Describing the impact of the forces of economics and their ideology of economic fundamentalism on the diverse affairs of the world in different fields, Dr. Javed Jamil in his book "The Killer Sex" says;

 

"The think-tank of the world of economic fundamentalism has taken innumerable steps to strengthen their hold. They have sacrificed the goddess of justice before the eyes of the Statue of Liberty. They have transformed through political maneuvers the state into their estate. They have incessantly and relentlessly been trying to organize a grand farewell for religion. They have captivated the people’s imagination through the media. They have got the attire of society redesigned so that it looks gorgeous and inviting to their eyes. They have industrialized sex, in which they have discovered the hen that always lays golden eggs. They have relocated the entire educational set-up on the Wall Street. They have monopolized the tree of economy whose fruits and shadows are only theirs; others can only admire its beauty from a safe distance. They have taken science and technology as their mistresses who are always keen to offer their glorious best to them. They have nipped all the challenges in the buds by masterminding popular movements. They have lynched the ‘civilization’, which has been given a new incarnation; and now Bohemians are called civilized. Last but not the least, they have been busy colonizing the good earth in the name of globalization." 

 

In short the existent new systems of economies has proved to create even more disparity in terms of the new kind of slavery. This is the slavery to money and the people who control the money. However this kind of slavery is not that evident on the surface as compared to its older definitions but it sure shows its effects.

 

Idealism vs Egalitarianism 

 

The first name that strikes my mind when i speak about idealistic society is Sir Thomas More. More in his famous book "Utopia" tries to define his version of the perfect society. He says; 

 

"There are in Utopia fifty-four towns, all on the same plan, except that one is the capital. All the streets are twenty feet broad, and all the private houses are exactly alike, with one door onto the street and one onto the garden. There are no locks on the doors, and everyone may enter any house. The roofs are flat. Every tenth year people change houses—apparently to prevent any feeling of ownership. In the country, there are farms, each containing not fewer than forty persons, including two bondmen; each farm is under the rule of a master and mistress, who are old and wise. The chickens are not hatched by hens, but in incubators (which did not exist in More's time). All are dressed alike, except that there is a difference between the dress of men and women, and of married and unmarried. The fashions never change, and no difference is made between summer and winter clothing. At work, leather or skins are worn; a suit will last seven years. When they stop work, they throw a woollen cloak over their working clothes. All these cloaks are alike, and are the natural colour of wool. “Each family makes its own clothes. 

 

Everybody—men and women alike—works six hours a day, three before dinner and three after. All go to bed at eight, and sleep eight hours. In the early morning there are lectures, to which multitudes go, although they are not compulsory. After supper an hour is devoted to play. Six hours' work is enough, because there are no idlers and there is no useless work; with us, it is said, women, priests, rich people, servants, and beggars, mostly do nothing useful, and owing to the existence of the rich much labour is spent in producing unnecessary luxuries; all this is avoided in Utopia. Sometimes it is found that there is a surplus, and the magistrates proclaim a shorter working day for a time.”

 

Excerpt From: Bertrand, Russell. “History of Western Philosophy.” 

 

The above paragraph vividly depicts the idealist form of society and its features. Its most common criticism is that this kind of utopian world is impossible to form. But I believe that if the state tries to form a social and economical order on the utopian ideal it will yield results that will be far better then the ones existent now. 

 

Idealism related to the supremacy of ideals in the face of comforts and entertainment. Idealism had several sources of inspiration including religion and other traditional philosophical ideals. Egalitarianism was primarily an answer by the newly emerging forces of economics against idealism. These forces which had big ideas of economic globalization felt that the real ideology is in the concept of social and economic equality. But in truth they had started feeling that the old concepts of morality will be a hurdle in their march towards economic glory. They tried to prove that idealism is utopianism which is impossible to achieve. It is therefore better to develop a practical concept of idealism where individuals had the right to chose what is right or wrong. The system will not bind anyone to any specific course of action but will allow them to chose their own destination. If they want to avoid certain practices it is their choice. If they chose the other way they alone will be responsible for whatever happens to them. 

 

From the above writing on egalitarianism it has already been shown that the forces of politics and economics has failed to establish an egalitarian society. They have even failed to defend their own answer to idealism.

 

Freedom of Choice and Human Rights 

 

The present day order fulfills its agenda in the name of human rights and the freedom of choice. But at the same time they fail to define that good and between them. Actually it would be wrong on my part to say that they fail to define. But it is more appropriate to say that they do not want to define the good and the bad. They say that man is rational by nature and he will choose what is best suited for his needs. Dr Javed Jamil shows the role of media in helping these forces in his book "The Devil of Economic Fundamentalism" as follows; 

 

"To justify and perpetuate its style of functioning, the media has discovered the “freedom of expression” that has lately assumed notorious proportions. To traduce anybody, to malign religions and religious figures, to describe and exaggerate the most private areas of the life of any celebrity, to portray or publish anyone in the nude, to film the lewdest forms of sexual relations and to engage in disinformation for the furtherance of the desired objectives--all these have become great symbols of freedom of expression for them. Liberty has turned into liberating and license to express has resulted in licentiousness. Any attempt to censor or curb such vagrancy attracts virulent condemnation by the media all over the world. Those who advocate some control on expression are booed down as the enemies of freedom, civilization and development. To give further credence to its licentiousness, the media has used the “right to know” as an instrument to defend itself." 

 

The above excerpt shows that what the forces that control the present order say is the freedom of choice is actually the choice imparted by the media. Man has been so much captivated by its glamour that he stops caring whether the choice is good for him or not. He sees his favorite celebrity taking drugs in a movie and greatly influenced by him, he makes his choice of trying the drug. He then tries to enjoy it as his favorite celebrity in the movie did and in no time without even realizing it, he becomes addicted to it. Similarly homosexuality has been given the rights in the constitution of various countries. Dr. Jamil in his book "Muslims Most Civilized and Yet Not Enough" on homosexuality says; 

 

"The attempt to legalize Homosexuality is nothing but the continuation of the same series of worldwide strategies of “development” in which every human susceptibility is first given a legal and social sanction, then it is glorified in the media as a victory of “Freedom of Choice” and “Human Rights” and then with all the obstacles removed it is commercialized at huge level. It is needless to say that the rise in the demand of legalizing homosexuality in the world has intensified with the rising fortunes of gay market. It is already a big market in western countries. The truth is that Sex market as a whole is the largest growing market, and gay market is the largest growing sex market." 

 

A report entitled, “Gay-Friendly Vancouver as a Billion Dollar Industry”, which appeared before 2010 Olympics, says:

 

“At present, Vancouver is hyping the 2010 Olympics above all. The pride of a city has turned into its most lucrative business. Now the tourism industry has found a new market, which has always existed but its potential as a distinct market was not realized: the “gay market,” According to Canada.com, gay tourism in Vancouver has been a lucrative and loyal sector within recent years. Gay tourism in the U.S. alone is estimated to be $55 billion annually (Constanineau, 2007). A survey conducted by San Francisco-based Community Marketing Inc, ranked Vancouver as the fourth most popular gay destination outside of the U.S., ranking Montreal and Toronto fifth and sixth respectively, which shows how well Canada’s gay tourism industry is doing overall (Constanineau, 2007). Constanineau also says that tourism Vancouver uses media to draw in a lot of its gay market from U.S. locations such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. One of the possible reasons suggested for Vancouver’s gay tourism industry is due to the fact that BC legalized same-sex marriage in July of 2003.” 

 

It is clear that the human rights that are being given to the homosexuals is part of the bigger plan of the economic forces to earn profits from human weaknesses. This institutionalization and commercialization of homosexuality has resulted in the increase in the trend of straight men trying homosexuality. This has resulted in the increase in the percentage of homosexuals which is only going to increase further in future. But these economic forces and the media at the same time do not expose man to the side effects of homosexuality, how it is the biggest source of aids and how it is ruining millions of life throughout the globe. Same is the case with the problem of smoking, alcohol, drugs, pornography, prostitution. A woman who sits back home and takes care of her children is today tagged as unemployed and unproductive and at the same time the prostitutes are being labeled as sex workers. All being the part of the greater plan of exploiting the human weaknesses to their benefits in the name of an egalitarian society. 

 

Although the freedom of choice and human rights have helped the society in numerous ways but at the same time due to the lack of fundamental prohibitions in the working of the state there has been even greater misuse of these powerful tools. 

 

Individualism and the Role of System

 

The seventeenth century saw an increase in individualistic role of man in the society. According to britannica individualism is " the political and social philosophy that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual." The doctrine emphasizes the importance of an individual in a society over the collective whole. This egalitarian approach which expressed equality of each individual was a product of the lassez faire philosophy where every individual was driven towards his best when pursuing his selfish desires. It advocates that the interests of an individual should come before that of the state or a group. The French aristocratic political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805– 59) described individualism in terms of a kind of moderate selfishness that disposed humans to be concerned only with their own small circle of family and friends. Richard Koch in his article "Is Individualism Good or Bad" has written; 

 

"The practical result of individualism has been the explosion of wealth that the world has seen since the eighteenth century. Before then, the great majority of people suffered malnutrition and disease, when they did not actually starve to death. Individualism has fuelled invention, the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and all the enterprise that has led to cheap necessities and fairly cheap luxuries - decent clothes, affordable housing, abundant food, and the mobility brought by bicycles, cars, trains and planes. None of this was possible before there was a cadre of highly creative inventors, engineers, entrepreneurs, and knowledge-workers, before people were allowed and encouraged to create, and allowed to keep some of the wealth that they generated." 

 

Being self reliant and not to follow the herd to create your own path is good. But following the extremes of this is really harmful. The above description of individualism describes the positive sides of the doctrine. But as we have discussed earlier that what appears to be a good side also has greater bad side of the story. We will try to discuss the demerits of individualism over collectivism and the role of system in establishing collectivism. Dr. Javed Jamil in his book "Muslims Most Civilized and Yet Not Enough" describes the impact of individualism over health system; 

 

"The above definitions clearly demonstrate the impact of the economic fundamentalism, which have been stressing the inclusion of "socially and economically productive life" without insisting the adoption of a health protective socio-economic system. Economic fundamentalism relies on the promotion of individualism and the negation of family and society. In their view it is individuals that form society rather than that society comprises individuals. Market forces advocate the importance of absolute individual freedom, and strongly resent any suggestion that the demands of society in general and the demands of family in particular must guide individual choices. It is therefore necessary to restrict the definition of health to an individualistic notion. If “social well being” is talked of, it means how an individual acts within society and not how society protects the individual. This definition is thus a passive proposition where the onus to maintain health falls on the shoulders of individuals themselves; family and society are not largely responsible to protect the health. If society comes into action, it is invariably when a particular program has the blessings of the market forces. If some hue and cry is raised by certain quarters to correct the ecology and environment, these are diplomatically tackled. Some of these demands have in fact the blessings of the big industries in order to fail the small-scale industries. And whatever the force behind these demands, environment to them just means air and water free of pollution; it has nothing to do with social practices and systems that are dangerous for health, unless they have a scope for commercial use at a larger level. We will discuss later how and why only secondary preventive measures are advocated and primary preventive measures ignored."

 

The new economic dispensation felt that the absolute rights of individuals will be in conformity with their concept of egalitarianism. They felt that this would help the business also in a big way. They felt that the system did not have any right to impose choice on individuals. The absoluteness of the rights of individuals made the system almost non existent. Individuals started dong what they liked. This helped their business and the variety of choices soon gave birth to variety of markets. With the passage of time the moral boundaries were demolished. Even dangerous choices were now welcomed. Alcohol, smoking, gambling and sex-all became big markets. This has continued to get worse every day. And now we are faced with a situation where individualism has led to disastrous consequences.

 

Individualism to a certain extent is productive. But at the same time extreme measures in it prove to be futile. The complete focus of man on individualism is the reason of most of his problems. As some of the proponents of collectivism put; “spontaneous collaboration of free men often creates things which are greater than their individual minds can ever fully comprehend." For the greater good of the society a protective system against human weaknesses needs to be established and the philosophy of individualism be constrained to private life.

 

Conclusion

 

Evolution is unfortunately not always beneficial. The industrial revolution and the ideologies enforces that it spawned went awry in many ways. Slowly but steadily the role of certain economic forces became too overwhelming to be comforting. The difference in market forces in particular were always involved in sordid machinations to monopolize wealth. They did not shy away from using human strengths, human needs and human weaknesses for their economic aggrandizement. This had disastrous consequences in the fields of health, family values and social cohesion. The economic disparity has continued to rise, alcohol, gambling and sex related diseases have become the major killers; the family system is becoming increasingly defunct with dangerous effects and women and children, exploitation of human beings in various branches of market and huge increase in crimes. If mankind is to be saved from the impending doom, morality based on the impact on health and peace has to be revived. Religion can also play an important role in strengthening human conscience and inculcating spiritual values. Economy is an important constituent of organized human existence but care has to be taken not to allow economics to become a devil.

 

  • Ali Javed is a student of Amity University and can be reached at javed.ali12123@gmail.com