Deep Equality vs Surface Equality

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Liam Kavanagh:

“I argue that, behind much of our social dysfunction and culture wars, there is a subtle but deep confusion between two senses of equality: the equally sacred nature of all human lives that our wisdom traditions strive to appreciate (which I call deep equality), and on the other the systemic equalisation of opportunities, rights, and outcomes (surface equality). In the first part of this essay, I explore these two senses of equality, and show how they’ve become joined through a powerful narrative that views the West as respecting and protecting the natural sacredness of humans with the aid of rules. In the second, I will discuss how this narrative has sometimes started to ring false, and why this crisis in narrative shows that we must constantly grapple with the tension between ego and pride on one hand, and our sense of deep equality, on the other (as our wisdom traditions always counseled). In the third section, I explore how our current culture war conversations evolve out of a deep contradiction: pursuing morality within societies that see the merits of people – their capacity to achieve – as the measure of their value and thus abandon the truth of deep equality.

Specifically, our meritocracies aim to give all citizens an equal chance to be measured as greater in status through their efforts, which is very different than respecting equal sacredness, but cannot summon the capacity to deliver on this promise. Culture war tactics labelled as PC and identity politics arise as impulses to fix this system’s shortcomings, but mostly accept its assumptions, and so miss a chance to restore appreciation of human life. I explore what wisdom traditions say about how greater appreciation of deep equality can be achieved within secular culture, asserting that if this is impossible then secularity, as well, may need some serious reexamination.”