Elitism or equality: false dichotomy?

From time to time we hear people talk about equality. I think equality is a nice idea, if it is used to express the thought that every person is valuable, solely based on their existence. To say that every person is equally valuable in terms of their contributions to society, to projects, or to the universe is easily disproven. To say that each person is equal in their abilities, gifts, talents or acquired skills is absurd and not worth the time it would take to disprove. However, to say that we value each person highly, that we desire them to feel loved, welcome and important to us, this is something worthwhile.

Let’s try not to mix these things up. If/when we do, we run the risk of becoming what Kurt Vonnegut feared and described in his poignant short story, Harrison Bergeron. If you have never read it, please take a minute to do so. I think you will enjoy and appreciate it.

I don’t think it is elitist to say that one person is better at a specific skill. I also think it is completely appropriate to reward quality. Effort is important, and I would like to honor good effort as well, but perhaps in a different way.

What confuses me at times are the people who say that we should never give a special honor to people who contribute their time, efforts, and skills, and that we should never give an extra special honor to those to excel while doing so. I disagree. Merit should be rewarded with thanks and recognition. These are not the motivating forces behind the majority of people who do things well, but everyone appreciates it when their good work is recognized.

Do you have someone you would like to honor? Please do so.

8 thoughts on “Elitism or equality: false dichotomy?

  1. Lee. I think you miss the point of the post entirely. You seem to have said the almost identical thing as Matthew but in a different way.

    Where does he say that equality should not be given to everyone?
    He doesn’t he just says that people who contribute should be rewarded for there contribution and that those who contribute more and with high quality should be rewarded in kind (reward those who diligent or are highly skilled or have a rare skill to contribute.)

    Gandhi became the leader of India.
    Einstein was very well rewarded for his contribution to man kind.

    Would you expect that a worker of whatever skill be rewarded the same as you for doing nothing more than turning up to work and sitting idle while you diligently go about your work?

    Quote from post of Matthew.
    I think equality is a nice idea, if it is used to express the thought that every person is valuable, solely based on their existence.

    Quote from Post of Lee.
    Equality is giving everyone the same opportunity to contribute, without prejudging what their contribution might be.

    I think your argument comes down to semantics.

  2. Lee. I think you miss the point of the post entirely. You seem to have said the almost identical thing as Matthew but in a different way.

    Where does he say that equality should not be given to everyone?
    He doesn’t he just says that people who contribute should be rewarded for their contribution and that those who contribute more and with high quality should be rewarded in kind (reward those who are diligent or are highly skilled or have a rare skill to contribute.)

    Gandhi became the leader of India.
    Einstein was very well rewarded for his contribution to man kind.

    Would you expect that a worker of whatever skill be rewarded the same as you for doing nothing more than turning up to work and sitting idle while you diligently go about your work?

    Quote from post of Matthew.
    I think equality is a nice idea, if it is used to express the thought that every person is valuable, solely based on their existence.

    Quote from Post of Lee.
    Equality is giving everyone the same opportunity to contribute, without prejudging what their contribution might be.

    I think your argument comes down to semantics.

  3. Sorry for the double post. Thought I’d previewed but must have posted. Ah well managed to edit a spelling mistake anyway.

  4. Thank you, Lee. I appreciate your insights. You mention things I had not considered in my initial post.

    I’m starting to wonder if there is a need to adjust the usage of the word equality to imply very specifically the equality of opportunity that you mention in your last sentence. That is something I can stand behind completely.

    Great comment! Thanks again.

  5. ayenack: no stress about the double post, it happens.

    You make a good point as well. I was thinking the same basic thing as Lee, but he said it much more eloquently and clearly.

    This is why writers need good editors. 🙂

  6. I just read the story linked to in the post. I should have read it earlier.
    There are two thing that stood out for me in the story.

    1. Humour.
    2. That every single person should have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

    If I were one of the musicians I would not put the handicap back on.

  7. "Do you have someone you would like to honor? Please do so."

    I’d like to honor the ghost of Bill Hicks.

    "back and to the left"
    "back and to the left"
    "back and to the left"

    may his reincarnation be heard soon!

  8. I think you’ve missed the point entirely here. Equality doesn’t mean that everyone is "equally valuable, based on their existence". That’s called respect for life. Nor does it mean that everyone is "equal in their abilities, gifts, talents, or acquired skills". But that’s closer.

    Taking equality in terms of non-elitism in projects, we need to respect everyone for their own perspectives, knowledge, and life experience, and not treat any particular person’s abilities as special (or "more special") because they happen to give something you expect or want.

    It’s about recognising the diversity of life, and realising that everyone — even the most unlikely people — can have unique contributions you never expected. It’s about recognising that those contributions, while they might be rarer and less directly required, are all the more valuable precisely because they *are* so rare and outside of what’s normally expected.

    Let’s take physics, for instance… what accomplished physicist would have imagined that a lowly patent clerk, who was hated by his teachers could watch a train and come up with new theories on space time and change the course of physics? Einstein was just that person.

    Let’s take politics and civil rights. Who would have imagined that a lowly lawyer working in south africa could have returned to india and encouraged an empire to leave such a vast and rich subcontinent? Gandhi did that.

    Hell. Let’s take Free Software. I won’t even go into why these people are unexpected contributors. I’ll just mention: RMS, Linus Torvalds… so many others. Perhaps more in our area of interest than in any other actually, because of the unique levelling power that the ‘net and email brings to people.

    No, it’s not wrong to say that any person is better at a particular skill than another. However, it’s VERY wrong to assume that will continue to apply to new people, new situations, or even old people in new moments.

    Equality is giving everyone the same opportunity to contribute, without prejudging what their contribution might be.

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