Equality is a wonderful thing. Everyone agrees. Every little kid born in the US should be able to aspire to becoming president or the head of a company. Every little kid born in Europe should be able to aspire to becoming a head of its country in the US.
I think this ties in with the monkey brain (but not, mind you, the Monkey brain. I make no representations about the functioning of Dr. Monkey’s brains, which apparently involves sharks and gratuitous danger, sometimes underwater danger with sharks.) because when you had small bands of hominids or hominins or other things started with hom that were ancestral to us, equality was a good thing — at least once you got past the “big man/head of tribe.” — if Ogg was eating all the fat off the mammoth carcass, and leaving Mogg to chew the little bits of sinew off the bone, Mogg would either die or bean Ogg with a mammoth bone, thereby starting trouble in the band and weakening it.
Okay, that’ half-assed (more like quarter assed) speculation. But the one thing that’s true is that there seems to be a category for “fair” in our brains. Dr. Monkey who should know — because he’s a biologist and for the unitiated Dr. Monkey is my friend, Dave Freer — says that even chimps try to establish “fair.”
We all like to see fair play. We all get incensed when the game is rigged in someone’s favor. And Americans have a mile-wide love for the underdog.
But let’s talk sense, shall we?
Life isn’t fair. I was going to say the only place life is fair is kindergarten, then I thought about kindergarten. Yeah. Try for instance, judging a dispute between a grubby, overlarge boy and a cute, perfectly coiffed and dressed little girl. Who do you think the teacher will think was being the bully?
Right. There ain’t no justice. Pretty much never.
Take my kids: because Dan and I started off on our own, with minimal to no help from either family, and because both of us struck out into fields where we had no friends, no family, no acquaintances and frankly didn’t even know how the game was played (particularly in my case, since I changed countries, languages and cultures) our progress has been difficult and hand over hand, and sometimes by the edge of bleeding fingernails.
Our progress would have been infinitely faster, given the same ability and level of effort if Dan had taken good care to be born to a family with contacts in his field, or I’d had the good sense to be born to even a minor science fiction writer. If I’d been born to Robert A. Heinlein, it would have been an instant move to the front of the class (or heck, even if the spheres had aligned and Robert and Ginny had decided they needed a Portuguese exchange student back in 80-81.)
So? Life isn’t fair.
But more importantly, it is impossible to make it so.
A lot of our government’s more insane interference into realms in which it frankly has no business is in the realm of trying to make things fair, trying to level the playing field, and in general blundering about like a bull in a China shop.
Right now you’re about to tell me that affirmative action has done a lot of good. Has it? Has it really?
Because from where I stand, what affirmative action has done is erase the idea of a meritocracy. It has forced employers and universities to take an interest in things other than “can you do the job I want to hire you for, and can we come to a mutually agreeable agreement?”
Sure, you’ll tell me, but it was necessary to overcome institutional racism and–
And we should talk about what caused that institutional racism, which was a series of laws designed to keep the two races apart and the black race subordinate. These didn’t arise spontaneously from the way people behaved, no. It was laws created to make it happen. There were people — black and white — who’d have acted quite differently, long before the civil rights struggle. (Note to pussy-hatters, the civil rights struggle was about removing unjust laws, not about screaming you’re discriminated against because …cheese. Not about claiming a patriarchy where none exists. Note to the clueless, for what a patriarchy really means, go study Saudi Arabia or Iran. I know what your Marxist professor told you, but no, covering women in sofa slip covers is NOT a mark of respect, unless getting whipped by the morality police is also a mark of respect, and if you, unspanked child that you are, really need to be whipped, there are bespoke clubs, that don’t involve enslaving your whole country. Get your head out of your rectal cavity and start thinking.)
Anyway, the government swung from one side to the other, and suddenly its purpose was to make the races (and sexes) equal. This is laudable, I suppose, at least by comparison to keeping 14% of the population subjugated.
Except that instituting — or even promoting — equality via the federal government is akin to performing brain surgery on the kitchen table with a wooden spoon. The intent might be laudable, or even life-saving, but the patient is going to die.
The patient — our public life, our culture, our industry — is not dead — yet — but it’s limping badly.
This lurch for establishing equality by fiat, and from above, has created a culture that no longer believes in meritocracy. You’re seeing the end result of it in science fiction “powers” being more interested in the color of the author’s skin and what’s between the author’s legs or where the author puts what’s between the author’s legs than in the written story. Now imagine that where it’s more important, like… managing companies, and you’ll start seeing the shape of the problem.
A technical/scientific civilization cannot possibly survive on less than competent managers, no matter how tanned they are, or whether they’re female, or whether they like to sleep with octopi.
I’m not saying all of these are incompetent. I’m saying we’re not picking them for competence. We’re picking them for “interesting side characteristics” (which btw keep multiplying) which have nothing to do with competence. Given equal competence between all populations, this method will still lead you to pick less competent person of favored characteristic x than more competent person of no particular characteristic, (don’t believe me? Model it.) and when the pool of talent is as narrow as say “technical ability combined with managerial ability” is in the human race, you’re going to get some very incompetent people in.
But beyond that, it is poisonous to the “favored group x” itself. I know. I started down that path when I first came to the US. I hung out with mostly minority people (see where apparently people identify me as Latin more than I identify myself) and it was very easy not only to make use of your “race” to get what you wanted (and this attracts a certain number of grifters, too, particularly in the US, see Dolezal or her counterpart in SF/F) but also to be really insecure about anything you got. No more joy and pride in accomplishment, as you were never sure “is that because of my skin?” And then you started seeing discrimination under every bed. Look, you knew that your skin color/country of origin/whatever mattered enough to get you a position. So even if it didn’t matter to you, it obviously mattered to other people. From that to assuming every slight, every snub, every even vaguely unpleasant interaction was the result of discrimination was a step. That road lies the “micro-aggressions” madness and the “The US is a white supremacist patriarchy” paranoia. Because every time you’re thwarted and can’t get what you want, it MUST be discrimination.
Or you can choose to assume there are racist/sexist assholes — like the time I worked for a store where I and the black girl were the only ones not given the combination to the safe, but the first questioned about missing money — but the majority of people aren’t racist/sexist assholes, and you’ll make your way the best you can with what you have, thank you very much. Then when you fail, you study what went wrong and improve your strategy. Did you fail because of discrimination? Maybe. But eventually you’ll get SO GOOD you won’t fail. And at least you’ll know you did it yourself and not be looking for racists under every bed.
The problem with the government promoting equality is this: the government doesn’t know you. The government can’t read minds. The government can’t even balance the odds between individuals.
The best the government can do is make broad ‘protected’ classes, like people of a certain skin color/ancestry, people of a certain (okay, female) gender, and people of certain orientations.
But classes aren’t people. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that whatever the relative performance of Portuguese Immigrants and Black People in the US (I don’t know. Haven’t looked it up) the Obama daughters have WAY more advantages getting where they want to go in life than my kids. Even if on paper my kids belong to a more privileged “class.”
Or take my friend Kate, an immigrant from Australia, and me. Our journey into publishededom (shut up, totally a word) has been about the same, if you take in account she started ten years after me and as the field was starting to collapse, and the rational manner of making your way up no longer existed (It’s Kate’s fault. Ask her. She does this to every field she enters. That’s why she has like 4 degrees.)
She’s blond and blue eyed. I am a certifiable mutt with an accent that doesn’t trigger “oh, how smart” among American born people. (No, seriously, they confuse Australian and British.)
Does our skin color have anything to do with success? No, see, they don’t paint-chip authors. Or at least real publishing houses don’t. We’ll leave the unreal publishing house alone. Heaven knows that they do.
HOWEVER make one or the other of us the daughter of an sf/f writer, and it would be completely different, irrespective of our particular skin color, or frankly talent.
This is the thing. What determines success for a human being might have some component of race/gender/orientation. Certainly in truly racist (vast portions of the world outside the US) or truly sexist countries (see most of the middle East, and vast portions of the Mediterranean) one or the other of those can be a huge handicap. Certainly being gay in Muslim countries can cause you to be crushed under a wall or hung from a crane, which, strangely, puts an end to your striving.
But absent extreme circumstances, is that the whole picture of a human being?
Oh, hell no. Human beings are not widgets. Let’s start with external circumstances, like affluence at birth or the relative knowledge of the field you’re entering, or even your parents’ achievements and your relationship with them: those can make huge differences between people who are externally alike.
Let’s continue with what’s inside the person, and which can be much harder to quantify/understand and into which the government FOR SURE has absolutely no insight: intelligence is probably the lowest in importance when it comes to success. Drive, personality, capacity for work and what we’ll call, for lack of a better word, charisma and the ability to create connections, count for more than raw IQ.
Once you take external and internal circumstances into account, and absent the government’s thumb on the scales, what does skin color, sex or orientation have to do with success: bloody little.
Worse, the government’s arbitrary rules have caused the not-inconsequential lunacy of having girls treated with kid gloves in primary school, which means they’re badly prepared for science in high school, where they’re also treated with kid gloves, until they hit college, where they can’t be treated with kid gloves. My younger son, in engineering, has seen all his female class mates drop out leaving what he calls “a sausage fest” which he — as a male who likes women — finds disturbing. And most of it? Bad preparation because no teacher wants to be thought too harsh to girls. Except good teaching involves being harsh and demanding. Some of my best teachers chased me all over the map, testing for smaller and smaller flaws. I’m not as conversant with race, but I’m fairly sure that kind of “discrimination by making life too easy” is going there too, combined with hiring teachers for “diverse” schools by “diversity” not competence.
By itself, on its own, government -imposed equality is enough to destroy western civilization. It can be argued to be doing that.
I am not a racist (unlike our government’s bureaucrats) and at any rate in the US it would be laughable to be a racist, given how mixed the populations are. (Quoth older son “I’m often taken for black in the US, which is only possible because US blacks are so pale.) I believe left to their own devices, the races would have equalized long ago, and done so without the resentment/self doubt/paranoia now plaguing race relations.
Oh, it would have been grossly unfair to the first generation after the racist laws were removed. Sure. There had been after all legal discrimination, and those people would have lacked the ability to reach their full potential.
But the thing is, who judges full potential? The government? HOW DO THEY KNOW? We come back to “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” WHO decides? Every time governments try to figure that out it turns out your ability is sorting caterpillars by touch and your need is 50 size 30 shoes. For the left foot. Which is what made the USSR happy and prosperous (people of Brutopia.)
The government functionaries are humans too. (Probably. Most of them. The story my friend Rebecca Lickiss wrote where the IRS was staffed by vampires is fiction. PROBABLY.) They don’t know the inside of anyone’s head.
We’re back to kindergarten. Faced with a boy who weighed a good 90 lbs in kindergarten (I wish I were joking. #1 son was always oversized) and a little blond girl who weighed 30, who would you think was bullying the other? And yet the boy had been trained not to even think of bullying anyone. And the girl was a conniving little Livia Drusilla-wannabe.
And that’s with kindergarten students, just starting on their life journey.
Or take my son’s first grade teacher who every year selected and made the life miserable of a child she judged to be “half breed.” (Took us forever to figure that out, because we don’t think of our marriage that way.) She thought she was helping, she really did. Given prejudices that she probably couldn’t see, she assumed all such children were less than normal, and she interpreted every sign (such as our son being bored out of his gourd, since he was reading YA books for teens) as a sign they were struggling with the material. And she tried to get them into special classes, to equate odds.
But she was a racist, you’ll say. Sure. though not really, as what she seemed to get exercised about was MIXED races. But insofar as she was making decisions based on race, yes, she was a racist. And yet I’m 99% sure what she was trying to do was out of good intentions. And nonetheless, she made my kid’s life a living hell (and the life of his elementary school girlfriend a living hell.)
Because the people judging what’s needed to equalize the field are humans, and humans by definition come with a whole set of assumptions and prejudices of which they’re not conscious.
It doesn’t make it any better to codify that into law, where, say Obama’s daughters are considered a down-trodden group but, say, Amanda Green’s kid who is red haired and who grew up with a single mom in middle-middle class isn’t. Or even better, Rebecca Lickiss’s sons, who grew up with the financial drain of their father fighting cancer, and now have to make their way without him, are on paper much better off than Malia and Sasha or even my kids.
Humans aren’t widgets. Widgets can be equal. In humans, even identical twins have differences.
The equality guaranteed under the constitution is not the equality of the Jacobins, which can only be enforced with the guillotine, and which, by creating paranoia and insanity ALWAYS leads to the guillotine or its equivalent. The equality in the constitution is equality under the law.
We can’t make humans equal. No one can. For those interested in leveling the play field a little, such things as scholarships for the DESERVING children of the poor or first person to go to college in a family or such SEEMS like a worthy endeavor, and if I ever win the lottery I’ll do those. Will it make everyone equal? Oh, hell no. Doubtless, circumstances being sometimes deceiving, it will help some people who don’t need it and pass over some who do. BUT that’s… well… neither here nor there, in the end. It’s at least a finer comb than “race/sex/place of origin/sexual orientation.”
But the government should get out of the business of discrimination for or against any given group. Sure, this will lead to some injustices. It will also, in the end, lead to a far more functional world, one where people can actually look past external characteristics.
The world I’d like my descendants to live in.
Also, while on that, Kim du Toit is back to blogging and in fine form.*