Equal Opportunities, Not Equal Outcomes

Life is an existential card game. The random shuffling of genes and circumstance determine which cards you are dealt with. Perhaps you get a lucky first hand – good looks, good health, inherited wealth. Perhaps you start out disadvantaged. Nonetheless, this does not mean you have lost the game; you may be able to compensate with tact, bluff, or subsequent luck. We don’t choose the cards we draw, but we do choose how we play.

Inequality is intrinsic to human existence. This is true even for hunter-gatherer societies, which are known for their supposedly ‘egalitarian’ ways. Material capital cannot be hoarded due to hunter-gatherers’ nomadic existence and lack of storage. Resources are shared between the group, ensured by the punishment of selfishness and free-riding. However, biological and social variation is unavoidable. Differences in attractiveness or hunting ability contribute to embodied capital; status and interactions determine relational capital. Even in societies where economic disparities are constrained, inequality is inevitable.

In the modern West, we have attempted to smite inequality with affirmative action. Quotas might be implemented to ensure equal sex ratios in the workplace. Universities might require specific proportions of students from minority groups. Special awards might be given based on ethnic affiliation. Unfortunately, these forms of affirmative action do not correct fundamental inequalities. Rather, they retrospectively bandaid a deeper problem. ‘Equal outcomes’ are – fallaciously – thought to reflect ‘equal opportunities’. It is thought that, if the numbers are proportionate, the problem of inequality is fixed. This is the wrong way around.

I implore you to consider the solution from a different angle. We should not enforce equal outcomes, as this merely covers up a problem after the fact. Yes, the playing field should be levelled for those disadvantaged through circumstance or upbringing. Efforts and funding should be redirected to provide the option for tutoring or sponsorship. Pursuing equality should be about fighting for the individual’s ability to compete in a meritocracy. It is not about perfect statistics of representation; it is about choice.

One Comment:

  1. Brilliant article!

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