How the “good” kind of equality leads to mass murder

October 8, 2012 § 20 Comments

In this post I am going to talk about the “equality” that Christians refer to when we say things like “all people have equal dignity”.

I am not talking about the political concept of “equal rights.”  “Equal rights” is much more obviously problematic, because a “right” is an exclusive discriminating authority while the “equal” part demands that, in the name of freedom, we don’t authoritatively discriminate.  This forms the incoherent foundation of the political philosophy of liberalism, which is the political philosophy to which all respectable modern people are loyal, and to which respectable people pay tribute in civic ritual.  This is the sort of equality that leads to dehumanizing certain kinds of people as a prelude to rights-based mass murder like abortion and euthanasia, and to other rights-based atrocities like the medical cannibalization we call “embryonic stem cell research.”  It also leads people to mutilate their bodies and engage in in-your-face sodomy as a way of expressing their freedom and autonomy.  The fact that this sort of equality can be interpreted as vacuous to neuter its incoherence doesn’t really help, as a practical matter.  People like their core ideas to have consequences, so any interpretation of “equal rights” as a mere token without these consequences is inherently unstable when situated in an actual reality, even though it may be benign and vestigial in theory.

That’s not what I’m talking about.

When Christians use the term “equal dignity” we aren’t referring to politics, or to temporal authority or status relationships.   “Equal dignity” is a token that is intended to represent the fact that human beings have – every human being has – intrinsic value and moral inviolability qua human being.  As a practical moral consequence there are things we should and should not do to/for any and every human being.  As a deontological matter each and every human being belongs to God, not to us, and must never be treated as mere objects or as nothing but a means to our own ends.  Moral judgement as pertains to acts are our duty to make; moral judgement of the final destination of souls is beyond our ken (for which I, personally, am deeply thankful).

This is a crucial truth about Man, and we could use any invented token as a convenient representation of that truth.  “Equal dignity” happens to be, in my view, a particularly unfortunate choice of token.

The reason “equal dignity” is an unfortunate token is because it carries with it an implication of commensurability, when in fact the objects to which it applies – persons – are incommensurable.  Equal numbers are commensurable.  Equal numbers of apples are commensurable.  Equal numbers of dollars or man hours are commensurable.  Equal numbers of anything at all are commensurable: this commensurability is indeed the very point of the term “equal”.  Yet incommensurability is a core element of the truth that the underlying concept of “equal dignity” represents.  The question “which of your children do you love most” doesn’t really have an answer, because love is not a quantitative concept.  In a twist of Screwtapian linguistic irony Christians have selected a  modern, utilitarian, quantitative term to represent a concept which rejects modern, utilitarian, quantitative anthropology.

I wonder if supposed moral dilemmas like the trolley problem, with their tendency to beg the question of utilitarianism, would carry as much force with Christians if we weren’t using inherently utilitarian terms of commensurability like “equality”.   I wonder how much less appeal the numbers games people play with the casualties of the Hiroshima massacre and WWII would have if we adopted non-utilitarian language.  I wonder if modern people could even come to understand non-utilitarian language, as embedded as the assumptions of materialist utilitarianism have become in our collective psyche.

When it comes to question-begging utilitarian language, modernity has no equal.

§ 20 Responses to How the “good” kind of equality leads to mass murder

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