Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Spice of Life

"In Mediocracy, equality is not about opportunities for the able...[Rather], human beings are essentially identical to one another, and reducible to simple mechanical interpretations. It follows there is no justification for unequal outcomes." - Fabian Tassano (Mediocracy, pg79)

This is the third post in QT's Fabian Tassano Week series. On Tuesday I wrote a piece comparing Tassano's and Chris Dillow's views on social class. I am flattered to find today that a new article referencing that post has been posted over at Stumbling & Mumbling this afternoon (Link).

Then, I disputed Tassano's suggestion (Mediocracy, pg10) that the presence in society of a privileged class is related to the heritability of talent and ambition. Today Chris Dillow has fleshed out the counter-arguments to this position. Overall, as I insinuated in the first post I agree with Dillow over Tassano here. The concept that the middle class as they are today are innately more talented and ambitious than the average of the population is absurd on the face of it and would require some very impressive scientific evidence (which I am confident in saying does not exist, or else surely Tassano would have cited it by now!) to back it up.

Based on experience trying to defend the ideas covered by 'Mediocracy', I would go so far as to say that this contention not only fails to help, but in fact actively damages Tassano's argument. Which is a shame, because his wider assertion regarding egalitarianism is in my opinion pertinent one!

The wider assertion is exemplified by the extract from 'Mediocracy' at the top of this post. It sounds rather out-there, but it seems to me to be the underlying assumption behind a nonsensical political idea that appears to be prominent on the Left. It can be referred to as "equality of outcome".

Chris Dillow is not arguing for equality of outcome in today's post, but rather illustrating his opposition to inequality of opportunity - pointing out such social factors as the differences in quality of education (pt1) and upbringing (pt3) experienced by 'wealthy kids' compared to 'kids from poor homes'. All fairly banal, maybe slightly skewed against genetic explanations (commenter BGC covers the other side well), but overall acknowledging that both genes and environment play a part in the development of the person. Unlike Tom Hunter:

"Everyone is born with the same intelligence, just some are dealt a bad hand in terms of opportunity..." (Times Online)

What I don't have time to do, beyond the above quote, in this post (I am sitting here in a pub function room, using the wi-fi connection, as a NO2ID social is going on behind me) is to actually vouch for the prominence of "equality of outcome" (Wiki-link) thinking in real political life. Feel free not to accept that it is an influential view - but, at the very least, be aware of it.

From a personal perspective*, from The Blank Slate (pg372-399), and just from pure done-down common sense**, it is clear to me that equality of outcome is impossible in any meaningful sense. Individuals are different. And, a significant proportion of that difference is due to their genes. And, as the title of this post alludes, that is surely a good thing.

What isn't a good thing is that only a fraction of individuals have the chance to achieve their potential. This is of course due to the lack of equality of opportunity. I consider that, in general, it is desirable to increase equality of opportunity, but crucially by raising the mean, not by pulling down the best. In the current political system, that tends not to happen. I'll explore further why that is later in the week...

*Like Tassano's Oxford Forum colleague Celia Green, I was a "gifted child".

**Not something as far as I'm aware Tassano has picked up on, but I wonder how it is that the phrase "common sense", referring in this context to 'honest observation of everyday life', became regarded as 'right-wing'.

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