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When Fighting For Equality Is Counterproductive

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Have you ever met someone who is just inherently better at something than you? No matter how hard you practice, you just can’t reach their level. They’re still better. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that we all have to learn at some point, but I worry that some people are trying to put that lesson off while others are trying to outright subvert it.

In general, the intent is noble. The world is full of horrendous inequality. There’s wealth inequality, gender inequality, and even inequality in representation within superhero comics. While we have done a lot in the century to reduce inequality, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

For the most part, people support those efforts. You won’t find many people who aren’t enjoying a fat inheritance that will say outright they want less equality. Segregation, rigid caste systems, and the dehumanization of minorities is largely frowned upon for reasons I hope I don’t have to recount.

Seeking a more equal and just world is a perfectly respectable endeavor. For the most part, I support those efforts. I believe we should work towards a more egalitarian society where the rights and dignity of individuals are protected and respected. Even though we have laws in place, as well as principles espoused at an international level, we could do a better job at enforcing them.

With all that said, there’s still one burning question that I feel is worth answering. It relates directly to the first question I asked earlier and the harsh lesson it teaches us.

How much equality is actually possible?

It’s one of those questions that’s impossible to answer, but evokes many heated debates, regardless of politics or affiliation. Whether it’s economic issues or gender issues, these debates often devolve into one side calling the other a fascist or a bully. Every now and then, there’s some meaningful discourse and even a few novel ideas. In the era of outrage culture, though, this seems to be getting increasingly rare.

We’re at a point where even the slightest hint of inequality is deemed untenable.

Are there too few female superheroes in comic books? That’s not equal!

Are there too few people of color being cast in major move roles? That’s not equal!

Are there too few minorities in Forbes list of 100 richest people? That’s not equal!

Are there too few women in fields of science, medicine, and technology? That’s not equal!

Are there too few dating options for people who are disabled or obese? That’s not equal!

Are there too many beautiful women who only hook up with assholes? That’s not equal!

Are there too many handsome men who only date supermodels? That’s not equal!

I could list dozens of other situations that are grossly unequal. I purposefully omitted big ones like the gender wage gap and racial disparity in criminal arrests because these are cases that best highlight the logistics of promoting equality versus the ideals surrounding equality.

By law, it’s illegal to pay someone less because of their gender and has been since 1963. The courts have also historically ruled that it’s illegal to selectively enforce laws on the basis of race. These precedents are decades old and on the books for any lawyer to enforce. Why is there still so much inequality?

There are many reasons for that and I’m not smart enough to make sense of all of them. However, I think the mechanisms that continue to drive inequality can be best summed up by a terrible Jennifer Aniston movie from 2006 called “The Break-Up.” Yes, I know that sounds ridiculously random. I promise there’s a reason behind it and it relates to the underlying concept of equality.

In that movie, a couple is going through some nasty conflicts that are only mildly amusing at best. However, the most revealing quote from the movie, which also happens to be most relevant to this topic, is when Jennifer Aniston’s character tells her significant other this.

“I want you to WANT to do the dishes.”

It is, without question, an absurd statement that makes an unreasonable demand on someone she claims to love. It nicely sums up the entire conflict of the movie and effectively spoils the ending. These two are not in a functional relationship. In fact, if they had actually stayed together at the end, it would have been unhealthy for both of them.

That’s not because the relationship was unequal. It’s because both Jennifer Aniston’s character and Vince Vaughn’s character had very different ideas of what was “fair.” I put fair in quotes because it was an empty concept in this context. They didn’t just want equality in terms of roles, responsibilities, and privileges. They wanted equality of outcome and consequences.

That’s not just an unreasonable expectation. It’s a catalyst for outrage. It’s one thing to fight for legal equal protection, but fighting for equal outcomes and consequences is a losing battle. You’re better off trying to divert Niagara Falls by spitting at it. On top of that, it sets people up for disappointment and outrage.

The all-female remake of “Ghostbusters” was never going to make as much money or be as beloved as the original.

The push for less sexy video game characters was never going to improve gender relations in the gaming community.

Attempts to replace Iron Man with a 15-year-old black girl from Chicago was never going last for very long.

All these outcomes were fairly predictable, but still generated incredible outrage with people crying discrimination, racism, sexism, and every other kind of insult in keeping with Godwin’s Law. As a result, those still fighting for what they see as “fair” have to step up their game and push harder. That often means becoming more extreme in rhetoric, emotions, and tactics.

Since things like reality, facts, and basic human nature often get lost in extremes, it makes sense that we have such radical segments of the political and social spectrum. I believe most of them genuinely believe they’re fighting for greater equality and greater fairness, as they see it. A few are probably just genuine assholes looking for excuses to be bigger assholes, but they’re the minority.

To some extent, I can appreciate the intent and effort of those fighting for more equality. The world is still imperfect and humanity, as a whole, is exceedingly imperfect. Our collective history is riddled with injustices and atrocities of staggering proportions. We should strive to be better, as individuals and as a civilization. A part of that effort pursuing a society of equal rights, privileges, and responsibilities.

At the same time, some levels of inequality are unavoidable. Sometimes, it’s due to simple demographics. Sometimes, it’s due to the basic laws of biodiversity or sexual dimorphism. Sometimes, there are individuals that are just inherently better at you than something. I could practice basketball every hour of every day for the rest of my life. I’ll still never be as good as LeBron James.

That kind of equality is just not possible in the real world. Until we all become shape-shifting cyborgs, we can only be equal to a certain extent. Many sincere people disagree on where that extent is and where it should apply.

However, there’s a real danger in trying to achieve the impossible and getting upset whenever it’s not achieved. It doesn’t just suck up energy, ideas, and resources from other meaningful endeavors. It fosters hostility towards others and their ideas. In the same way Jennifer Aniston’s character couldn’t make her boyfriend want to do the dishes, we can’t make someone else want our idea of equality.

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Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. And The TRUE Meaning Of Equality

Usually on a holiday, be it a major one that kids celebrate because it means no school or a more contrived one meant to sell greeting cards, I go out of my way to acknowledge it on this blog. I even try to channel the spirit of the holiday, if only to make the day feel like more than just something people mark on a calendar.

With today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, though, I feel compelled to do more than just acknowledge it or the spirit behind it. In fact, I feel as though the spirit of this holiday is more critical now in 2018 than it has been in year’s past. When I look at the world today and all the ongoing conflicts unfolding before my eyes, I believe that the message and spirit of Dr. King is more relevant than ever.

Most people know who Martin Luther King Jr. is and why he’s such a prominent figure in modern history. He has a holiday named after him for a very good reason. He was both a leader and an icon of a very volatile time in American history. He was also a strong man of faith, one who actually took the non-violent teachings of Jesus Christ to heart. That’s an increasingly radical concept these days.

What Dr. King accomplished was remarkable, especially in the face of so much heated opposition. However, it’s how he accomplished it that really sets him apart and makes him worthy of celebrating. Like I said before, he believed in non-violence and he took them very seriously.

According to the King Center, Martin Luther King Jr. had a very specific way of utilizing non-violence to achieve the goals he sought. In his book, “Stride Towards Freedom,” he organized them into six principles.

  • Principle #1: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  • Principle #2: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
  • Principle #3: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
  • Principle #4: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
  • Principle #5: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
  • Principle #6: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

Take a moment, if you can, to appreciate the sheer heart and idealism espoused in these principles. Remember, Dr. King fought against some of the most extreme racism anyone can imagine. Take the most offensive, vile messages you’ve seen on social media or 4chan. Then, create a society around them and give it political power. That’s what Dr. King was up against.

However, he didn’t seek to defeat that racism through the kind of outrage, protests, and meme wars that seem to dominate the overall rhetoric today. He took these principles of non-violence and employed them. He did this, despite often being threatened with violence.

He still stuck to those principles, though. He believed that his message would transcend the violence. The fact that he now has a holiday named after him and is one of the most celebrated figures in modern history proves that his beliefs were vindicated.

What stood out with these principles and how Dr. King practiced them literally showed the power of these beliefs. Rather than pick fights with racists, he sought understanding. Rather than voice outrage, he chose to voice love. This is readily apparent in his famous “I have a dream” speech that still resonates to this day. Even in 2018, it still gives people chills for all the right reasons.

Read or listen to that speech and then contrast that with how people today are trying to fight racism, sexism, and bigotry. Think about the misguided movements from both sides of the political spectrum that operated under very different principles. Then, look at the results or lack thereof.

This is where the power of Dr. King’s principles really shows. It also reveals just how much we’ve forgotten or negated what it means to seek equality or combat bigotry. It’s articulated in the second and the fifth principle of non-violence. He sought understanding and love over retribution and hate.

This matters today because society today is more and more driven by a toxic mix of outrage culture and attention-driven economics. We’re seeing this in increasingly petty arguments within feminism, racial politics, and political groups. These days, it’s become less about actual progress and more about winning debates.

As a result, our entire understanding of justice and equality has become twisted. It’s no longer a matter of pursuing the equal treatment under the law that Martin Luther King Jr. fought and eventually died for. It’s about fighting and hating the real and perceived source of that inequality.

We see it among both feminists and men’s rights activists who seek to demonize one another rather than promote gender equality.

We see it among racial and ethnic groups who seek to elevate themselves at the direct cost of another.

We see it among religious groups, sometimes within the same religion, who seek to dominate rather than cooperate.

These are antithetical to the message that Dr. King espoused. In his preaching and protests, he didn’t demand that one group be elevated over the other. He didn’t demand that oppressors suffer the same indignity as the oppressed to balance the scales of justice. He understood, probably better than anyone alive today, that fighting injustice with injustice still leaves us with the same amount of injustice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It’s not always the kind of obvious legal injustice that was so prevalent in Dr. King’s time. Today, injustice takes many forms. There are those who seek to actively punish those for daring to express thoughts that counter a popular movement that claims to seek justice. There are those who seek to shame others for not being affiliated with a movement or not going far enough.

We’re getting into dangerous levels of tribalism in that it’s becoming less about pursuing justice and more about being part of a shared agenda. Thanks to the internet, that’s becoming distressingly easy and the broader ideals of Dr. King’s principles seem to get lost under the weight of all the outrage.

In his tireless efforts, Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equality of treatment. He didn’t seek to elevate one group over the other, exchanging one form of oppression for another. He didn’t seek to destroy his opponents. He sought to make them friends and allies. He fought their hatred with love and their ignorance with wisdom. It wasn’t about winning a debate. It was about actually pursuing the spirit of equality.

That, more than anything, is the message we should heed in 2018. Pursuing equality doesn’t mean subduing opponents. It means standing with them on the same level, embracing what us similar and unique. We can never share the same outcomes in life, but we can share in the struggles.

In the end, pursuing equality requires a great deal of humility, as well as a genuine faith that people will embrace justice if you give them a chance. We’re giving ourselves fewer and fewer chances these days. In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and everything he stood for, we would all be wise to give ourselves those changes moving forward.

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