All men are not created unequal

November 14, 2012 § 5 Comments

I’ve written plenty of polemics over the years against various problematic notions of political freedom and equality. Lets suppose that you are one of the five people who think there may be something to my ravings.

It is important to pause for a moment and consider the reactionary process before leaping in with both feet. Generally speaking, when an ideological paradigm (sorry for using the “p” word) breaks, the response is reactionary. One problem with reactionary responses to revealed untruth is that they tend to involve the same mistakes that were a problem to begin with.

For example postmodernism is a reactionary response against positivist modernity. A postmodern is basically a modern rationalist who has realized that logical completeness is impossible: that, very loosely speaking, modern math and science are incapable of answering all questions, or even of answering the most important questions. His reactionary response is to discount objective truth itself: he replaces one irrationality with an even more irrational one. Proph deploys the useful term “configural antimodernism” to refer to this kind of selective and ultimately self-defeating reaction against the pretty lies of modernity.

I could multiply examples; but the key here is that when pretty lies are exposed it is important not to replace them with other pretty lies. This brings us to the point.

Equality is a pretty lie because it pretends to assert commensurability with respect to incommensurable things. When we give up on the idea of equality though it is tempting to replace it with the idea of inequality. This is a mistake. Like its yin equality, the yang inequality carries with it a connotation of commensurability: two things which are unequal are quantitatively comparable along some axis, and one is greater than the other along that axis. So to conclude that (in a comparison of incommensurables) inequality is the case from the fact that equality is false is to make the same mistake that got us here in the first place.

§ 5 Responses to All men are not created unequal

  • Proph says:

    Careful! “Configural,” not “configurable.”

    Looking back at my old blog, I realized I never actually employed the “configural” distinction — I only identified weak, strong, and strict (corresponding successively to “modernity sucks but let’s get over it,” “modernity is an intellectual error,” and “modernity is the Devil’s anus”). The terms were borrowed from the psychometric measurement invariance literature I was reading at the time.

  • Zippy says:

    Fixed it. No idea if the auto-correct fail was in my head or in the machine. :-)

  • Hmmm:

    He’s got ye dead to rights: things incommensurable are not completely incomparable. They’re just not orderable.

  • Zippy says:

    I agree that incommensurable doesn’t mean incomparable in every respect. However, when I say that ten pennies is unequal to five pennies and one rose is incommensurable to one poem I clearly mean different things by “unequal” and “incommensurable”. Assigning the label “inequality” to both concepts is an obvious equivocation. Some differences are qualitative and others are quantitative. Non-quantitative differences might pose a problem for some philosophical naturalists I suppose, but it doesn’t follow that I should take quantitative reductionism seriously.

  • […] about reality than we are willing to let on. ┬áIt is important not to throw up our hands in a postmodern adolescent fit and proclaim that there is no truth; but it is also important to acknowledge the limits of our […]

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