by Dr. Thaddeus Williams
Imagine we could wave a Magic Equality Wand that instantly erased inequality around the world. This wand is so magical that it can bring perfect global equality without having to resort to some ever-bloating government regime to oversee and implement equal outcomes. The wand is so powerful it can even wipe away all discrimination from the planet.
We all wake up tomorrow in a discrimination free world with, say, a million dollars in our bank accounts, 4000 square foot homes with Teslas in our driveways, all the best quality name brands in our closets, and an equally wide-open horizon of options and opportunities. No oppressive ‘isms’ or broken systems stand in anyone’s way. For how long could we enjoy a vacation from having to protest inequality?
It would be more like a bathroom break than a vacation.
Since people have different priorities and make different life choices, inequalities would manifest within 5 minutes and grow larger by the day. Donna expands her real estate business. Ben sinks his million into building Ice Town. Ron buys gold and buries it in the woods. Tommy throws a lavish red carpet party, complete with six open bars, a Bengal Tiger, and a shrimp wall. Chris invests in a vegan market chain. Andy blows his on Skittles and Dave Matthews tickets, while Jean-Ralphio is livin’ large with a high end scarf collection and a RoLexus. Gryzzl employees pool their funds for more “chill” tech innovations, while the Animal Control Department relocates to Jamaica and buys a truckload of pot. Nearby Eagletonians pour their funds for caviar, a city-wide HBO subscription, and fill their gated community pools with name brand mineral water.
Soon the social scientists go to work studying inequalities. They arrange the data by gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on. Massive disparities between individuals and groups come to light. Activists take to their Gryzzl devices to protest the injustice of it all.
Notice that in this fictional world (unlike the one we live in) there is zero discrimination. Yet there are huge disparities. What these worlds share in common is that different people have different priorities and make different choices. Should we expect those different people, priorities, and choices to yield equal (or even equalish) outcomes, even in a discrimination-free world?
Two points follow from our Magic Equality Wand thought experiment.
First, we are being far too simplistic if we take discrimination as a one-size-fits all explanation of inequality. Of course, there is no Magic Equality Wand that can erase discrimination and inequality with a flick of the wrist. There is a sickening amount of discrimination and even inequality-based-on-discrimination in our fallen world. But there are also inequalities that have nothing to do with discrimination in our world. If we buy into the one-size-fits-all explanation—seeing inequality as automatic proof of discrimination—then will likely feel the world to be far more racist and sexist than it actually is, and we will likely find ourselves in many situations swinging swords against perceived injustices when we are only beating the air. The tragedy is, we will find ourselves too blurry eyed and exhausted and to recognize and stand against the many real injustices around us.
Second, notice that the different outcomes in our Magic Equality Wand scenario result from different people with different priorities making different choices. Here is an ironclad law of the universe:
*Different people with different priorities making different choices will experience different outcomes.*
Should we expect the Donnas and Rons of the world to fare equally with the Jean-Ralphios of the world? No. But here is the crucial point: The more fully committed we become to a vision of justice in which unequal outcomes are automatically assumed to be the result of injustice, our quest for a more just world will lead, indeed it must lead, to the use of power to enforce sameness. Only people who are forced to be, feel, and do alike can have any hope of reaching the sacred goal of equal or equalish outcomes. In the name of “justice” we must turn different choices into brainwashed obedience. Different priorities must be swallowed up by a grand collective ideology. And different people must be formed into an unquestioning legion of goose-stepping clones. Then and only then will we have the sameness that can forever save the world from the curse of different outcomes. As the Party slogan goes in Orwell’s 1984, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
No doubt, some think I’m being an alarmist, resorting to scare tactics. How, after all, could a noble goal like ending inequality bring on the apocalypse?
If by 'ending inequality' we mean ‘ending inequality that comes from discrimination or any other sin, then I am right there with you.
But if we don’t bother to distinguish between inequalities that come from sin and the many inequalities that don’t, then we are well on our way, not to a fictional dystopia, but to repeating the most bloody mistakes of modern history. “Equality,” after all, was a waving banner of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror in France, the Gulags of Stalin’s Russia, the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, and Mao’s so-called “Great Leap Forward.”
“Equality” was also the banner over Wilberforce’s abolition, Dr. King’s civil rights, and Desmond Tutus anti-apartheid movements. Working to free the world of some inequalities is just and good. Working to free the world of other inequalities will turn us into power-thirsty monsters who think they are angels.
Dr. Thaddeus Williams serves as Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Biola University and the author of REFLECT: Becoming Yourself by Mirroring the Greatest Person in History The above post is an excerpt from his book “21 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice” (forthcoming 2019).