Freedom vs. Equality? Both are good. Some people value freedom over equality. Others value equality over freedom. Which is right? I argue they are subjective values. There is no right answer to the question, which is better? But we need to look a little deeper. Let’s say you prefer equality over freedom. OK….let’s accept that. Let me agree with you for a minute. Let me embrace your value of equality and figure out how to get it in the real world.
But first of all, what is it? What is equality? Equality is pretty vague. Usually people mean economic equality, when they say equality. Let’s stick with that one, for now. Trace that back, it is rooted in the idea that everyone has enough. Since all humans face basic challenges in evolution, of staying safe, staying alive, this required food, shelter, physical safety. The modern life is these things, plus a bit more. Happiness researchers have found that generally speaking, once modern people have about a middle class American life….house, car, groceries, etc…people are about as happy as they get. Adding more money doesn’t increase human happiness. So it’s about reaching the point, no one is insecure of a roof over their head, food in the fridge, transportation…basic things. That’s my idea of equality. Pretty simple.
However, how do we achieve this sort of equality….of everyone getting enough? No one going hungry, etc.?The problem is a matter of causation. What causes things? People assume that if you value freedom, you get more freedom. And that if you value equality, you get more equality. But is that true? Of course not. Here’s why:
Communists put a premium on “equality”. Then they designed an economic system, based on that notion that things should be “equal” between people. Their system emphasized equality. There was no private ownership of business, no private farms, no private factories. There was no profit incentive. Everyone was “equal”…Well, as everyone knows, that turned into a big shit festival and didn’t work. It took the Russians 100 Million corpses to figure out, that didn’t work. It didn’t produce “enough” for everyone.
It didn’t promote equality in the sense that it didn’t produce a system that gave everyone the basic things in life. Humans need incentives, we like to compete, be top dog, get rewarded. Without that, we are dog-fucks, many of us. This leads to a situation where not much gets done, not much gets improved. There was a joke in the old Soviet Union. “They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work”
Americans put a premium on “freedom”, instead of “equality”. Along with that value, we constructed a series of economic and banking laws, that created capitalism….which did not emphasize “equality” in it’s originating principles. It emphasized freedom, competition, winners and losers, owning a business, profits, getting rich if you could, using legal mechanisms like corporations etc. And how did that work? Spectacularly well. Though far from perfect, it produced much much more of what people wanted in basic things, than did communism…..paradoxically, by emphasizing freedom, we produced much more “equality” than did communism, which emphasized “equality” as it’s main philosophical goal.
This doesn’t mean I reject equality as a principle. Far from it. I embrace it. I don’t even think freedom is necessarily better than equality as a principle. Support whatever principle you like. So people can prioritize freedom, or they can prioritize equality. There is no saying which is better.
But if you look closely, just believing in “freedom” or “equality” does not, in of itself, create prosperity, does not produce the value you prize…..and that is what people need to understand, in discussing principles.: That things don’t necessarily work directly. Prioritizing equality as a principle does not necessarily produce equality as an outcome. It’s a wonderful goal, equality, I believe in it. But I don’t believe it is produced directly, by believing in it. Paradoxically, it turns out that real world evidence shows that: To achieve “equality”, meaning lots for everyone, the best way to go about getting that goal, is to support freedom and capitalism.
So, no one has to give up their top values. If you believe in equality above freedom, that’s fine with me. You just have to prove to me how you will go about achieving equality. Start by defining it. Once you define it, devise a system for achieving it, then tell me exactly how that would work, to achieve your desired outcome: equality. Then test it in the real world to show to me, prove to me, that it will work in the way you say it will work…..to produce equality. Then listen to my criticisms of your ideas, as I will listen to your criticisms of my ideas. What is good for the goose, is good for the gander….
So far, the best way to produce “equality” as I defined it, is to support capitalism.
All I know is, things are not often produced in a direct way. Things are often subtle or complex, in how they work to achieve an end. Just saying “I believe in equality” does not produce equality. In fact, in a badly designed system like communism, believing in equality can produce genocide, not equality. That’s exactly what happened in the old U.S.S.R.
Things are subtle and often counter-intuitive and complex, in how they work. It’s fine to have principles, but don’t be confused into thinking that reality necessarily will work, will operate, in according to your preferred principles. To think so is dishonest, for the evidence says that is not always the case. In the face of evidence, it is arrogant and dishonest to believe that the world will always produce the principle you believe in, just by the sheer act of you believing in it.
That is not to say you should abandon your principles. Not at all. There is much truth, much good in them. Just keep checking to see if they are achieving the result you want. For the purpose of my remarks, do believe in equality? Me too…
Since capitalism has been so far, the best system for producing equality, as I define it, then since I support equality….meaning everyone getting enough, I must morally support capitalism, since it is the system, built on freedom and other things, that produced the effect I desire: equality….everyone getting enough. It’s the moral thing to do, it’s the morally principled thing to do. Since capitalism is the most effective system we have devised so far, for taking care of human needs, for promoting equality as I defined it, then capitalism is the most moral system we have so far.
And as TFM points out in this video, the trad-cucks and conservatives do the same thing the progressives do: they hold onto principles, even when they don’t work. So this problem of not seeing this clearly, it is not only a problem of the left. It is equally a problem of the right.
The fact is, ideology….left or right….is a theory about the world. Nothing more than a model of the world. It’s a model with a built in bias or goal. It is not reality itself. Same with principles: they are guesses about the nature of reality, and how to successfully operate within reality…..not reality itself. Principles are not nature itself, not part of nature….they are short hand theories about how nature works. Ideology….left or right…is like that too: Not part of nature. …just a theory about how to operate successfully in nature. Communism is not part of nature. Progressive beliefs are not a part of nature, not embedded into the laws of physics. Similarly capitalism is not a part of nature, not embedded into the laws of nature. Both are models about reality….human reality, economic reality…and how to organize it, for desired outcomes. So whether you are left or right, don’t confuse your beliefs, with the real world. The best way to test your beliefs is to honestly see how they work in the real world. I support capitalism, but I’d abandon it in a heartbeat, if I found a better system. I’d abandon my principles if they could be shown to be false, for my prime principle is truth.
TFM mentioned moral structures. As far as moral structures about the world, I would guess that we as humans evolved with different tendencies. I think both men and women have parts of themselves that are typically male, parts that are typically more female. Men tend to have more male tendencies, with fewer female ones. Same with females. And freedom is more generally a male characteristic in emphasis. Equality is more a female characteristic. A need for equality and taking care of everyone’s needs, that is evident in men as well, not just women….. but political patterns show that females in all countries tend to vote more often for political parties that emphasize equality, more often than political parties that don’t. This political pattern shows up likely because we are a sexually dimorphic species: females are smaller, more vulnerable and often have offspring. So they evolved to care for that offspring and are more physically dependent, economically dependent, than are men in general…females in evolution were in charge of making sure everyone got enough…more so than men, since they cared for the very young, most often. All humans, both male and female, developed what are called “maternal instincts” to care for the very young, so a lot of men believe in equality as well. However the overall pattern of equality as a prominent human tendency shows up statistically more often in the female population, than the male population of humans. So this tells me there are sexual dimorphic evolutionary roots to political beliefs. That’s why men as a group tend to vote more conservative and libertarian….which emphasize freedom more, while women tend to vote more for collectivist parties that emphasize “equality”….which really means, just taking care of everyone’s needs.
So, if you have morals about taking care of human needs, if you believe in equality, for heaven’s sake, don’t abandon that morality. Embrace it even more strongly.
The thing for everyone to recognize is that it turns out, counter-intuitively, that the best way to take care of human needs is to support an economic system that emphasizes generally male principles….freedom….over female principles….equality. If some day, a new and better economic system arises, with equality as the organizing principle at it’s center, if such a system arises and works and looks after everyone, that’s fine, I’ll accept it, upon evidence. But for now, since I support equality…..meaning taking care of everyone’s needs….I support capitalism. It’s the caring, compassionate system.