Equality. Together. All

first_img“Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.”  That is the theme for International Day of Peace 2017, which will be celebrated on Thursday, September 21. Equality is a necessary condition for sustained peace, for in its absence and the lack of effort to redress inequalities, resentment festers and conflicts flourish.  But what is equality? Here we reiterate our thoughts on the issue:The norm of equality has become the mantra of the age. But in Guyana it has become a very complex issue, which has to be demarcated very carefully so that it can be inculcated and achieved. Even in economic terms, as Thomas Piketty has shown, most of the world has moved further away from this goal and we must ask ourselves why. There are numerous reasons for this condition, but one important one is that “equality” is one of those laudatory words, which are constantly invoked even though its users are not clear as to what it means.Now almost everyone will agree with the statement: we are all equally human, but what does that mean? Isn’t it a tautology? We are not equally tall, strong, intelligent or beautiful, so whither equality? For the term to have any content, we have to choose any area of endeavour or personal attribute or of treatment and then discuss whether or not we are all equal in terms of the identified criteria. Two things or persons can be said to be equal, only with some specific property that we have identified. Equality, from this perspective, has therefore to be contingent on the context or criteria wherein we speak: equality is a triadic relationship. We may talk about three types of equality – those pertaining to personal characteristics, to treatment and to distribution. The last two categories are relevant to politics.There are some theories of equality that are purely formal – they specify no substantive content – simply a formula or policy. For example when Aristotle stipulated that equals were to be treated equally and unequals unequally, there were no description as to what constituted “equals”. As such, once the rule was followed – for example that only Greek men were “equal” – one could claim there was equality. Statements such as “equality before the law” also fall under this category: no questions arise as to what was the content of the law.  Formal equality only demands consistency.It is generally accepted that in any society some inequalities will be morally permissible. Differences in ethnicity, interests, aptitudes, intelligence, and conception of the good are some that seem to have general approval. In Guyana, these are questions that have to be debated and agreed on. Normally the rewards or punishment from one’s efforts (desserts) are also seen as permissible even if not equally distributed. Once those that are not defensible have been identified, then the state/society has to decide what to do about them. Items identified from the latter category at some time or place have been political power, opportunity for scarce resources, welfare or social position, social position/class, economic resources, welfare etc. In general, some stress political equality while others focus on economic equality: Conservatives and Libertarians balk at increased governmental intervention while Socialists/Marxists/ liberals expect the state to intervene to mitigate inequalities. In Guyana, questions of the equality of social status, and political and economic parity are intensely contested between the ethnic groups in the society.As we indicated, we can only have substantive equality when there is a specific criterion identified by which policies can be assessed. For instance, in terms of “equal treatment” or opportunity, there can be formal equality if the law states that offices are open to anyone who is qualified.  In this instance, one is being told that all existent inequalities of talent, birth or station etc. are morally permissible. Substantively, this may not have any effect on the concrete circumstances since there is no stipulation that all applicants should have equal life chances. The question would be for society or the state to decide whether the still surviving inequalities are, or are not, morally permissible. If the latter is decided on, then there may be affirmative action programs or other compensating policies initiated.In Guyana, where there have been historically determined structural conditions that undergird some inequalities there may be the need for affirmative action programs to rectify these imbalances.last_img read more

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