You may remember that line at the end of ‘Animal Farm’ : ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’.
Well, I was listening yesterday to a discussion programme on the radio, in which someone was saying how splendid it was to have a Minister with responsibility for ‘Equality’; one of whose responsibilities, apparently, will be to ‘protect’ people from various forms of bullying.
Now : so far, so good – I’m all in favour of protecting people from being bullied (I was, myself, once or twice at school); and I have no problem with ‘equality’ as an ideal.
However; as the discussion developed, it became apparent that what the speaker meant by ‘equality’ and what I understand by that word are two very different things – she was adopting the modern position on this subject, namely that of explicitly protecting the rights of certain groups and interests : and it led me to reflect on what is clearly a (potentially, at least) very divisive issue.
To me, equality means that anyone, regardless or their age, sex, race, religion, sexuality, political opinions, or any other characteristic should be entitled to equal treatment in every area of life except where those specific things may properly be relevant. In other words, irrelevant factors are irrelevant, and should not be considered – but that doesn’t mean that relevant ones shouldn’t be.
Let me give you an example. If you apply for a job as a bus driver, your age, sex, hair colour, religion, etc clearly don’t matter : so considering them is clearly unfair, and discriminatory. Whether you can drive a bus, on the other hand, is clearly something which it is entirely proper for the people making the selection to consider.
Similarly, to extend the logic a bit further, the fact that you suffer from flat feet, or sinusitis, is equally irrelevant, because they don’t interfere with your ability to drive a bus; but the fact that you suffer from epilepsy wouldn’t be irrelevant, because that could affect the safety of your passengers.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be how it’s viewed, nowadays.
My understanding is that if, for example, you’re a gay organisation, you could refuse to employ someone who is a practicing Catholic, on the grounds that their attitude is ‘homophobic’ : but a Catholic charity apparently can’t refuse to employ someone who is a practicing homosexual on the grounds that such conduct is contrary to the teaching of the Church – because steps must be actively taken to ensure that the ‘equality’ of homosexuals is protected . . . although the ‘equality’ of Catholics is apparently unimportant.
This is, ultimately, nonsense.
Equality might mean quite reasonably mean that everyone is, in every circumstance, treated the same : but as I have said, that is probably not appropriate in all circumstances. Absolute fairness of treatment, however, is; and is clearly possible – but it is obvious that today fairness is no longer seen as relevant : ‘equality’ is no longer about a lack of discrimination, but rather about a positive discrimination in favour of certain groups and interests . . . which isn’t quite the same thing at all.