Category Archives: L.C.U.E.

The problem with equality.

“Equality” is the watchword of liberals and other milder right-wing groups. I have written about equality of outcomes before. It is an extremely unpopular concept, and not what most people mean by “equality.” Therefore it is probably not a good idea to use equality for that sort of thing.

It is therefore important to distinguish carefully between equality, equity (or fairness), and liberation. There is a somewhat famous image showing three children, of different heights, trying to look at a baseball game, but are blocked by a fence. Equality is portrayed as giving them all equal sized boxes, meaning that only the taller children can see the game. Equity is portrayed as giving everyone enough boxes so they can see. And liberation means taking down the fence.

The analogy with ethical issues and political issues, I think, is obvious. For instance, gender equality means giving men and women the same opportunities to safety, employment, and so on, without taking into account the different ways in which men and women are treated by society and our institutions (in short, liberal feminism). Gender equity means giving men and women the means to have equal outcomes regardless of their gender (e.g. equal wages for equal work, wages for housework, socializing men to be less aggressive). And gender liberation means abolishing gender (radical feminism).

Equality, therefore, is a trap in the same way that liberal feminism is a trap regarding gender issues: its ultimate aim is to justify hierarchies while pretending to alleviate their negative effects. Economic equality measures, from higher minimum wage to universal income, are better than no measures, but they ultimately serve the role, as they always have, of propping up the capitalist order. All welfare systems have served this role. They have always been a result of the tension between the lower classes (working class, students, the poor) and the interests of the elite, for as long as there’s been class warfare.

The main goal of any (social) hierarchy is to perpetuate its own existence, because of the people whose livelihood and/or social status depend on the hierarchy and the beliefs which the hierarchy has propagated to support itself. Equality rhetoric is perfect for this, because it preserves the hierarchy while using equality as a perceived reward. Equality measures within a hierarchy does not really affect the inequalities of power between the superiors and inferiors in a hierarchy. The only way to end inequalities within a hierarchy is to eliminate that hierarchy, liberation, because superiors and inferiors are an inherent part of any hierarchy.

There are two major kinds of hierarchies, institutions and systemic prejudice, and so there are two different ways in which this can be expressed. Equality within institutions usually means that the rules apply equally to everyone (leading to the famous maxim that both poor and rich people are prevented by the law from sleeping under bridges). In theory, everyone has a chance of gaining status and power, but this does not refute the existence of that power. For instance, having more women be CEOs or scientists does not refute the existence of the corporate or scientific hierarchies. On the contrary, it props them up as valid, in much the same way that most religions seek validation by making their own charities.

Hierarchies are the core problem, not lack of mobility within them. Hierarchies are bad because their very structure assumes that some people’s values or desires are more important than other people’s (omitting values which seek to harm other people, which should already be dealt with by society at large). Once you have a structure with superior and inferior strata, the values of that superior stratum inevitably diverge from that of the rest.

People are aware that our ethical viewpoints dictate our views about power. However, the distribution of power also influences our ethical viewpoints. Of course, people who have power can, to some extent, influence or dictate what we’re supposed to accept as right or wrong. A structure which gives some people the right to order around other people will necessarily lead to some level of undermining of our moral sense. Militaries and cults are more extreme examples of this, but it takes place in all hierarchies. Inherent to the existence of hierarchies is the denial of moral autonomy and the manipulation of people’s values for a “higher good” (usually the good of the leaders of the hierarchy, or the hierarchy itself).

But another point is that the distribution of power dictates the possibilities of ethical behavior we can perform. The more money we have, the more influence we have, the more authority we have, the more we’re able to bring about better or worse outcomes for others. A multi-millionaire can contribute effectively to benevolent charities, or start their own, while a poor person cannot do the same. Influential figures can leverage their influence by getting people to help a certain person or a certain situation, while others cannot.

This is another way in which hierarchical status can influence the importance given to one person’s values. When we hear about rich or influential people and their impact on the world through charities or advocacy, we applaud their values and see them as being important moral agents. But that is really the result of hierarchies, a construct, which does not reflect real moral worth.

The Authoritarian Paradox.

I have previously written about the humbug of “maternal love.” However, I did not examine the larger problem of the belief that love can co-exist with authority.

My basic premise is that love and control are opposites, that in order to control someone one cannot love them or vice-versa. So the issue then becomes, how can one claim to love a person which is under their total control?

Obviously we can lie to ourselves. We can pretend to love that person, or we can be indoctrinated so much that we think we love that person. There’s also plenty of reasons why people would simply lie. It is in the interest of any politician to claim that they care about their constituents, for example.

But the most fundamental form of this disconnect lies in the relation between parent and child. When we are children, we are told again and again that our parents love us the most in the entire world, that we should love our parents and that there is no more glorious form of love than that between a parent and a child. On the other hand, our parents constantly tell us what to do and order our lives around their needs and wishes.

I think this is a fundamental problem. We were all raised to believe that our parents are the epitome of love, and therefore we associate pure love with obedience and control. The effect is magnified when one has abusive parents, but even when parents are not abusive, they are still “in control.”

The child is learning that these methods of control, domination and manipulation are expressions of love. Just as the child cannot doubt his parents’ “good intentions,” it is intolerable to think that his parents might not love him since he depends on them for survival. That is, and despite most parents’ inability to appreciate the cruelty involved, the child is learning that cruelty is love. In those cases where parents inflict physical violence on a child (spanking, slapping and all other forms of physical abuse are never “okay”), and such violence remains distressingly common, the child is learning that violence is love. (Please note: one adult version of these beliefs is that bombing will bring the victims “freedom.”)

I’ve culled the quotes in this entry from an entry on Arthur Silber’s blog (Once Upon a Time). If you don’t already read his blog, I highly recommend it. There is probably not a better writer on the blogosphere today, and yet he is almost completely unknown. It’s absolutely unbelievable.

Anyway, I have been talking a lot about the deleterious effect of the parenting hierarchy on children growing up, but this has to be by far the worse mechanism operating here. It is profoundly insidious because none can live without love and one’s parents are its necessary source, at least during early childhood. Therefore the child has no choice but to accept the equation of love with control. This is an extremely strong mold which stays with us for the rest of our lives.

Given this, there’s no reason to wonder why hierarchies have such a strong hold on people’s lives, especially in restimulation, and why people will cling so easily to authoritarian figures, including God. We’re all programmed to equate love with control, and in many cases verbal or physical abuse.

I mentioned God for a reason. Fundamentalist Christians hold on to clearly immoral doctrines despite their blatant immorality. For example, it’s very hard to convince them that slavery is wrong, because God supports slavery in the Bible. And yet they can turn around and profess that God is the source of all love (as stated in 1 John 4:7-8).

Of course, the theory that God is a substitute father is a very old one, and I don’t claim any novelty there. The concept of the substitute father figure and mother figure has become part of our popular culture. But people have been very reluctant, and for good reason, to discuss the reason why such things exist, or if they do they dismiss it with rationalizations like “well, if you have an absent father, you need a father-figure in your life.”

But the people who cling the most to authority typically have abusive parents, not absent parents. I don’t claim to have a scientific study to back this up, but from what I’ve read about the most extreme examples, such as top Nazi officials, cult followers, the most extreme fundamentalist Christians, and so on, leads me to think in that direction. Part of that is an unconscious desire to reenact the unresolved abuse onto convenient “enemies.”

God, the dictator or the cult leader are obvious father substitutes, but any form of authority can serve as a father substitute. The State can be a father substitute, with the law code as its moral authority. So can a corporation, an ideology, or any other group which has official or unofficial authorities and some system of moral authority (i.e. some way by which good and evil are established for the group).

Even though we are indoctrinated to believe both of its components, the paradox is too obvious to be simply ignored, especially in cases where it is clear that the authority concerned does not love you or care for you in any way.

Extremely abusive parents are the most obvious example. We observe that in those cases, children are told that they must still love their parents by virtue of them being your parents, and that the parents cannot be blamed. In fact we have an entire industry (Freudian psychotherapy) devoted to whitewashing parents’ crimes and blaming children for their own sexual abuse, physical and verbal abuse, and so on. In general, people who don’t love their parents are seen as abnormal and hating one’s parents is considered intrinsically wrong.

So there is this concept that love is incompatible with harm, but never obedience. Obedience cannot in any way be wrong, unless of course it is obedience to “bad people,” but that’s not a result of obedience itself being wrong.

Now take a completely different example, statism. Most people are very well aware that the government does not have their best interests in mind, in fact that governments do not function on the basis of general interest, and that politicians are corrupt. And yet most people also support the government in its concrete actions and shout down anyone who speaks consistently with the premises I’ve just listed.

Again, we see similar responses to the ones uses against children: we are told that it’s really the victim’s fault and that anyone who was insulted, abused, violated or killed by the government in the exercise of its functions must have deserved it. We are told that one must obey the laws even if those laws are wrong, simply because they are the law (as we must love and obey our parents simply because they are our parents). I have already discussed the response specifically as regards to war.

If cornered, the statist may start using might makes right rhetoric, which is merely another way of admitting defeat (since “might” has nothing to do with ethics). But it “proves” that control is ultimately “good” (right). This of course is always the desired conclusion.

Those people who are committed to the right wing of the political spectrum, which includes both liberals and conservatives, are on board with the belief that control over others is caring for others. They just fight over what kind of control is best, just like parents may disagree on whether beating a child with a rod, spanking, or constant guilt is the best way to raise a child (hint: none of these are things adult human beings should do to children human beings).

Another way to stop people from thinking further about the paradox is to distract them with a game. Democracy is a particularly elegant example of this strategy: fool people into thinking they may have some chance of choosing the kind of control which will be used in the future, and you’ve basically destroyed any kind of resistance. Resistance will from that point forward only arise if the system fails to fool people or if enough people are dispossessed by the system, which in a well-functioning democracy should not happen.

A successful democracy suppresses dissent while giving people no more power than they had previously. This has always been the purpose of democracy and it has for the most part been very successful. The same general sort of strategy is used in corporate capitalism and even parenting (the rationale that “once you have children, then you can raise them however you want,” that is to say, you can abuse them as we’ve abused you, which is not power but rather psychological compulsion).

One category of people who are used to rationalizing and twisting the union of control and love are BDSM practitioners. The main rationalization they give to the paradox is that the sub is the one who’s “really in control.” Again this is the same “you’re really in control” rhetoric, so no surprises there. In essence, the BDSM “contract” and other “safety” measures are time-wasting distractions from the naked fact of control (dominance and submission).

There is no more reason to believe BDSM practitioners on this subject than we should believe politicians who tell us democracy means “the people” have all the power. But not only is the argument factually false, but it is also a red herring; even if power was actually in the hands of some other people, that would not make their form of domination any better than the one we have now. Because in the case of politics, a true monopoloid “rule of the people” would merely be a more direct war of all against all (instead of the class war we have today).

Unlike adults, children have the disadvantage of being utterly depending on their parents, therefore children have to learn to anticipate their parents’ feelings and to put them ahead of their own. The child learns to internalize parental manipulation, a blueprint for school and the workplace, where rules and mores must be internalized so the person can conform and be “successful.” The child’s, and the adult’s, feelings are “childish” and “individualistic.”

[The mother] tells the young boy that he did a “bad thing,” and that he did so knowing that it was a “bad thing.” The mother also tells the boy that she “was very disappointed,” and that she “really didn’t like what he did.” In this way, the mother demands that the child behave in a certain way because of the parent’s own needs and feelings. Those needs and feelings have nothing to do with the reality of the child’s experience, just as they have nothing to do with the facts concerning the dangers of a very wet bathroom. In effect, the mother is demanding that the young child behave “properly” so that the mother herself will not be made unhappy. And the source of the unhappiness will be the child himself.

Because most adults have internalized these methods of control and manipulation — and, which is far worse, because they view such methods as right — the reality of the effects of such parental domination are largely inaccessible to them. For the child, the threat of the withdrawal of the parent’s love is profoundly threatening. Although he may not be able to explain it explicitly (in the case of a very young child), the child is fully aware that he depends on the parent for survival and for life itself. If he makes his mother too unhappy, and if his mother therefore no longer loves him, what will happen to him? Like most children, he will do anything to make his mother happy. He will obey. Because the child senses that his life depends on his parents, he must believe something more. It would be intolerable to the child to believe that his parents intend to harm him and, in fact, most parents have rendered themselves unable to appreciate the harm they are inflicting. So the child must believe in his parents’ goodness, and in their “good intentions.”

A lot more can be said about the insanity of parenting. But I also wanted to broach another paradox. It is said that one should be proud of one’s culture, one’s country or one’s religion. But this is a bizarre statement because it implies that one must both be proud and be obedient. How can one be proud and at the same time be subservient to someone else?

Perhaps I am odd in thinking this, but it seems to me that pride is something you get from doing something yourself. I suppose one could be proud of something one gets others to do, as well (although I would argue that such pride is misguided). But how can one be proud of something one did for someone else? No one’s proud of the fact that they work for someone else’s benefit.

On gender specifically, how can masculinity be reconciled with obedience? I ask this because masculinity is often associated with independence and individuality. I personally do not think these qualities should be associated with any gender. But our current concept of masculinity is associated both with independence and with obedience, and I can’t see how these two can be logically reconciled.

To obey and surrender one’s moral compass to an authority is a fundamental betrayal of the self. It should not just be incompatible with being a man, it should be incompatible with being human. Know that when you play the Conspiracy games and become a cheerleader for an army, a country, a religion, or any other in-group, you are making yourself less human.

Egalitarianism, and the misuse thereof…


Above: equality of opportunities in one lesson.

What mainly distinguishes Anarchists from other political factions is a fierce commitment to egalitarianism. I state that this is my primary political commitment, but I haven’t really defined what that means and implies, so it behooves me to be more specific.

To me, egalitarianism is the commitment to operating under the principle that all human beings have equal rights, are equally important, are equally entitled to their own values, receive an equal part of society’s production. Egalitarianism is radically anti-hierarchical and aims for a world where human creativity and human values, not money or power (which entail the suppression of creativity and native values), is the driving force, where cooperation, not competition, is the normal way for people to interact.

One popular conception of equality is equality of opportunities, which I’ve already argued is a liberal conceit. So one must be careful not to confuse the two. Equal opportunities is no more egalitarian than an equal “right” to punch people in the face (for one thing, some people are stronger than others); the role of such “equality” is merely to reproduce and justify pre-existing power inequalities.

The same is true of “equality under the law.” It would be a nice thing to have (and if we did indeed have it, it would eliminate much of the crimes of government), but to ask everyone to submit to laws written for the benefit of the rich is not egalitarian by a long shot.

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
Anatole France

A similar form of equality is that preached by liberal feminists, who believe that women’s issues can be solved by giving men and women the same wages and giving them the same rights. But, while this would make women in general better off, it would not solve the issue of pre-existing power inequalities between men and women. It would rather create a more beneficent Patriarchy.

Another is that of “equal representation for all religions.” First of all, it omits who gets to decide what is an allowable religion and what is not. Secondly, in practice, it’s impossible to give time or space representation to all religions, so a selective process will be made. Finally, it excludes those who are opposed to religion for ethical reasons.

A prerequisite of any egalitarian society or process is that of equal power between individuals. This is why Anarchist organizations that are serious about not reproducing hierarchies make it their number one priority to give everyone an equal part in the decision-making process.

I think part of the problem is that people have an incomplete or skewed perspective on “power.” We see this, for example, in the use of the term “empowering,” which usually refers to things which really have nothing to do with power. On the trivial extreme, we are all aware of the silly things about fashion or consumption that are supposed to “empower” women. But even beyond that extreme, we find a lot of beliefs that anything that makes you feel “more in control of your own life” is “empowering.”

Power, most simply defined, is the ability to change other people’s minds. The objective, of course, is to get them to further your own values. J.K. Galbraith, in The Anatomy of Power, lists three kinds of power: condign (use of force), compensatory (use of material rewards) and conditioned (use of indoctrination and, obviously, conditioning). Of course there are forces that oppose this power, which we collectively call counterpower.

The individual’s power depends on the ability to change one’s surroundings (physical, social, relational, etc) in accordance with some values one holds. This can be done based on one’s own values or on the basis of some institution’s values (the latter being a result of any of the forms of power I listed).

The individual’s power is intimately linked to power and counterpower in society. The more power any institution has, the less personal power the individual can claim for emself unless one follows the values of that institution, and the reverse is also true. Again, this is also true of counterpower: if your values are concordant with any given counter-culture, then you will have more power to that extent.

So being actually empowered inevitably has a social component, and so does being powerless. The woman who wears high heels and makeup to appear more desirable is made more powerless because she acts to conform to the male gaze, which is a social phenomenon, not to her own desires (you can’t actually be “empowered by your sexuality” if it’s the sexuality everyone wants you to have, even if it makes you feel good). People who refuse to have children and join us with antinatalists or other childless people for support are made more powerful because they are able to fight off institutional values in favor of their own.

The upshot of all this is that whether people believe they are in a society of equal power or not will dictate whether they have a correct view of egalitarianism. The trouble with the liberal view is that it is self-contradictory. If we did live in a society of equal power, then there would be no need to discuss “equality of opportunities” (because people could give themselves whatever opportunities they want), “equality under the law” (because people would decide for themselves what rules they want to enforce), “gender equality” (because there would be no gender, as gender is a hierarchy) or “religious representation” (because religion would be personal and there’d be little desire for “representation”).

Which brings us to the greatest equality boondoggle of all, the one that has most people totally conditioned, democracy. We are indoctrinated to believe that the fact that we all have a vote means that we are politically equal and that we have control (power) over government. This is, of course, a Big Lie.

What we know is that the major political parties are in control of the rules of the democratic game, suppress their competition and decide what “choices” we can make. Furthermore, the political system is founded on the incentive of getting votes (which entails a great number of things, such as neo-liberalist pressure on third-world governments causing socialist politicians to cave in and implement free market measures), which takes hold regardless of one’s ideology. So democratic systems inevitably end up covering only a tiny portion of the spectrum of political beliefs, those that reap the most votes.

Is the end result of democracy sometimes less authoritarian? Democratic systems are more adept at using conditioned power and compensatory power than at using condign power, meaning that they’ll generally indoctrinate you and pay you rather than beat you up. This entails the occasional concession, because it is generally easier for an open democracy to bribe its victims through co-option than to kill them. Because getting the most votes is a simple optimization process which generally entails convergence (depending on the distribution of beliefs in the population), democracies inevitably converge towards party monopolies or oligarchies.

This is a great demonstration of the difference between equality and egalitarianism. Democratic equality entails hierarchies of those who control the political process and those who don’t, those who can pass laws and those who don’t, those who have the guns and those who don’t. It is a form of equality, but it is not egalitarian and therefore not something that anyone who wants an egalitarian, fair society should support.

Refuting the arguments against equality.

The arguments against egalitarian wage systems tend to be pretty vague, and there is little formal literature on the subject, with one exception which I will discuss. In general, the popular arguments people use against egalitarianism tend to fall into three categories:

1. The problem of innovation in an egalitarian society. According to this argument, people would have no incentive to innovate in an egalitarian society because they would not be rewarded adequately. As I have pointed out before, people actually get very little rewards for innovation in our capitalist systems, and there are easy ways to set up reward systems for innovation that follow egalitarian principles.

2. What I would like to call the Harrisson Bergeron Objection, as it has been used so many times that it deserves its own name. For those of you who have not read the Harrisson Bergeron story, it depicts a world where everyone is laden with artificial handicaps (such as weights around their ankles, fake scars, or noises blasted into their ears) so they would all be made equal.

It is a gruesome story which cannot fail to make an impact on the reader, which is why it is used so often to argue against equality, the argument generally being that an egalitarian economics is a slippery slope to the kind of equality portrayed in Harrisson Bergeron.

What’s missing in this argument is any sensible reason why total and complete equality logically follows from economic equality. The premise of economic equality is that every job is necessary for every other job, and that any work anyone performs is predicated on the existence of a gigantic mass of knowledge and materials acquired by others. There is no clear relation between this and making everyone equally beautiful or strong.

3. The idea that equality leads to poverty is another commonly used argument, usually peppered with explicit or implicit references to the failure of USSR-style Marxism. It is not exactly clear how a system which is responsible for forced deportations and forced famines can be considered egalitarian in any sense of the word.

Furthermore, given the fact that, in a socialist system, it would only take a few hours of work per week for a person to generate or afford all the necessities of life, I don’t think poverty is really an issue. The main criticism people have against capitalism is precisely that it misallocates resources away from those who need them and puts them in the hands of those who don’t need them and don’t deserve them. Market-based rationing and government violence/laws, as well as their synergy, are the greatest causes of poverty.

As I said, there is one formal argument presented in the literature. According to Social Class and Stratification, a compendium of essays on the debates surrounding class, race and gender issues, the “most systematic treatment” of the premise that inequality is “inevitable and positively functional” comes from an article called “Some Principles of Stratification,” by Davis and Moore, which was written in 1945. This article argues that:

Social inequality is thus an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons.

A bold claim indeed. It is backed by an argument structured in the following manner (summation in Social Class and Stratification):

1. Certain position in any society are functionally more important than others and require special skills for their performance.

2. Only a limited number of individuals in any society have the talents
which can be trained into the skills appropriate to these positions.

3. The conversion of talents into skills involves a training period
during which sacrifices of one kind or another are made by those undergoing the training.

4. In order to induce the talented persons to undergo these sacrifices
and acquire the training, their future positions must carry an inducement value in the form of differential, i.e., privileged and disproportionate access to the scarce and desired rewards which the society has to offer.

5. These scarce and desired goods consist of the rights and perquisites
attached to or built into, the positions, and can be classified into those
things which contribute to a.) sustenance and comfort, b.) humor an
diversion, c.) self-respect and ego expansion.

6. This differential access to the basic rewards to the society has a
consequence the differentiation of the prestige and esteem which various strata acquire. This may be said, along with the rights and perquisites, to constitute institutionalized social inequality, i.e., stratification.

7. Therefore, social inequality among different strata in the amounts of scarce and desired goods, and the amounts of prestige and esteem, which they receive, is both positively functional and inevitable in any society.

Point 1 alone sinks the argument, as it depends on the premise that some jobs are more important to society than others, a premise I have already debunked in the past. All productive jobs (I say productive in order to take out of the equation parasitic activities like managing and governing) are equally important to everyone else, and no productive job could exist without all other productive jobs. No argument can bring us to the conclusion that any productive job is “more important to society” than any other job, except our personal preferences. Melvin Tumin, who addresses the argument in his essay in Social Class and Stratification, makes the very trenchant point that by definition any part of the status quo is necessary for the status quo as it exists at that time, and that therefore any such notion is tautological. And also:

[T]he judgment as to the relative in­dispensability and replaceability of a particular segment of skills in the population involves a prior judgment about the bargaining-power of that seg­ment. But this power is itself a culturally shaped consequence of the existing system of rating, rather than something inevitable in the nature of social organization. At least the contrary of this has never been demonstrated, but only assumed.

Point 2 falls prey to the same general fallacy: its assumptions are rooted in the inequality that it tries to justify. It is true that talent is not distributed equally within a population, but many other factors, such as discovering people’s talents, motivation, and education (i.e. the bringing about of those talents), are all dependent on the nature of the economic system within which that population exists.

Whether or not differential rewards and op­portunities are functional in any one generation, it is clear that if those differentials are allowed to be socially inherited by the next generation, then, the stratification system is specifically dys­functional for the discovery of talents in the next generation. In this fashion, systems of social strati­fication tend to limit the chances available to max­imize the efficiency of discovery, recruitment and training of “functionally important talent.”5

Additionally, the unequal distribution of re­wards in one generation tends to result in the un­equal distribution of motivation in the succeeding generation. Since motivation to succeed is clearly an important element in the entire process of ed­ucation, the unequal distribution of motivation tends to set limits on the possible extensions of the educational system, and hence, upon the efficient recruitment and training of the widest body of skills available in the population.6

Lastly, in this context, it may be asserted that there is some noticeable tendency for elites to re­strict further access to their privileged positions, once they have sufficient power to enforce such restrictions. This is especially true in a culture where it is possible for an elite to contrive a high demand and a proportionately higher reward for its work by restricting the numbers of the elite available to do the work. The recruitment and training of doctors in modern United States is at least partly a case in point.

I have quoted Tumin to this great extent because his arguments are logical, sharp and to the point. And because these two premises fall, the whole of the argument is untenable. There is no need to go into the rest of the premises. Tumin’s conclusion is that stratification (that is to say, economic hierarchy) limits available talent, limits the productive capacities of society, increases political power and support for the status quo, encourages hostility and distrust within society, erodes individual freedom, loyalty, and the motivation to participate in social institutions. Amen.

At any rate, the argument that people must be motivated to acquire “special skills,” and that this justifies inequality, seems to be another case of a misplaced conclusion. What I mean by “misplaced conclusion” is an argument of the form “if X then Y; therefore not-X” when the conclusion Y may be equally acceptable. For example, saying “being an atheist leads you to reject God’s laws, therefore don’t be an atheist” misses the point that rejecting God’s laws may very well be a good thing (and, of course, actually is).

Likewise, the implicit argument here seems to be “without inequality, we won’t be able to provide the motivation for people to hold jobs which require special skills, therefore we need inequality and hierarchies.” But the case could also be made, given the dramatic and profound problems with inequality and hierarchies, that we would be better off with these jobs being unfulfilled than we would be with the inequality and hierarchies.

Continuing this train of thought, we might want to ask ourselves whether the premise that these “most important positions” require such motivation to be filled that they entail systemic inequality and hierarchical concentrations of power is actually correct. Using doctors as an example, Cuba has the second highest doctor-to-patient ratio in the world despite doctors being paid 1.5 times the national mean. This is not proof, but certainly a case in point (as for the rest, Cuba’s health care policy in general is oppressive, and not a model to follow). It seems we have to constantly remind people that material wealth and status are not the only motivators that exist. The fact that they take particular importance in our capitalist systems is more of a statement about capitalism than it is a statement about human beings.

I think this part of the argument really hinges on the premise that gaining these special skills requires sacrifice. One can very easily conceive of an economic system where this is not the case. In fact, for many people (children of rich families, on the whole) right now this is not the case anyway. They may lose the income they would have accumulated during their years of studies, but in the most lucrative professions they regain that money many times over. At any rate, there’s no particular reason why any job which requires higher education, for instance, cannot have its wages adjusted proportionally. Therefore, until that premise can be proven, the whole sacrifice issue is a non-starter, and there is no particular reason to believe that the “most important positions” would not be filled in an egalitarian system.

Indeed, what generally worries critics of Anarchist economics are the most degrading positions, which tend to be considered the “least important” in capitalist systems, not the high-status jobs. Therefore it seems strange to attack egalitarianism from the opposite side. People ask “if everyone was paid the same, who would choose to be a sewer worker?”, not “if everyone was paid the same, who would choose to be a doctor?”, because it’s much easier to imagine people freely choosing to become doctors (especially in a health care industry where there are no guilds, which would be the case in an Anarchy) than it is to imagine people freely choosing to become sewer workers. The concept that egalitarianism, that is to say the freedom to choose one’s work on the same footing than everyone else, means that people won’t choose to be doctors or engineers is a rather bizarre concept, not really worth the time spent on it.

“Follow your heart… but don’t.”

I’ve discussed in the past how love has been forcibly limited to the personal and relational spheres, and reduced to ridicule and irrelevance beyond these.

The same thing is true of our innate morality, which is promoted only to the same extent, and no further. “Follow your heart” is a message we bombard our kids with. Yes, it’s portrayed as good to “follow your heart,” but only to the extent that it does not interfere with social institutions and “normal” beliefs. It is good to “follow your heart” in matters of friendship and love, in one’s choice of a career or hobby, but once important beliefs are involved, “following your heart” becomes a sign of weakness or downright corruption.

People who preach compassion in politics, for instance, are ruthlessly marginalized. It is seen as “not serious.” Instead, what should dominate in politics is “realism,” or “pragmatism.” “Realism” and “pragmatism” are code-words for “the ability to rationalize.” All political evils require the ability to rationalize their obvious falsity and their use of coercion. It takes no more or less powers of rationalization to be a Hitler Youth than it takes to be a Young Democrat: both require for the individual to deny his emotions, internalize the proper forms of hatred, and rationalize the absurdity and coercion contained in both ideologies. The whole purpose of the democratic rituals, the pomp of elections, all of the self-importance given to both, the symbols of power, is to make it easier to rationalize the absurdity and the use of force which they represent.

In the face of political movements, only individuals who are grounded in themselves and in their own morality can resist these rationalizations and judge these movements from the outside. For most people, this is impossible, because the way they were raised did not permit them to be authentic, to express their feelings, or to know when they are lied to. There is also pressure on the individual to “be mature” and “not be so selfish” and to “let the system reform itself,” which we know is a pipe dream.

Political and religious authorities want us to take their morality at face value, without involving our own. But this is logically impossible. In order to accept the Bible’s moral precepts, for instance, one must first make the decision of accepting the Bible itself as valid, and this decision obviously cannot be guided by the Bible. It must be guided by some pre-existing principle. The same thing is true for any other form of exterior obligation.

Therefore the dichotomy of innate morality between the relational and social spheres is actually entirely arbitrary. All of human action is founded on inner principles, no matter the scale.

It’s not surprising that inner morality is linked to love in this way, because, as I’ve discussed before, the true self (from which comes our inner morality) is the source of love. Respect for oneself and others, and empathy, leads one away from control and towards love. In order to compartmentalize love, they must also compartmentalize our respect for others. In order to get people to want to control each other, they must first destroy our respect for others. The other fellow is not a human being worthy of respect and dignity, but a competitor who must be surpassed. People who lose deserve to lose.

The essence of morality is to ensure that individuals cooperate with each other. The essence of the capital-democratic system is the complete diametrical opposite: its flourishing is ensured by making sure that people do not cooperate with each other as much as possible without actually killing each other.

Now, if you want to discredit any idea, ideology or movement, the best way to do that is to show that it is based on some emotional reaction. We really believe that we are “explaining away” an ideology by “exposing” its emotional roots, much like the Christians believe science “explains away” the wonders of nature by showing their causes. But neither is a valid conclusion, for the exact same reason: explaining the causes of an ideology or of a natural process does not magically make it disappear. Explaining that the rainbow is a result of the refraction of light over a field of raindrops does not change the appearance of the rainbow; in fact, this explanation adds a new level of beauty and wonder.

Likewise, explaining the psychological sources of an ideology does not render it magically false or unjustified. The issue of why any given person adopts an ideology is quite distinct from the premises of that ideology. It does us no good to adopt an ideology dispassionately if that ideology turns out to be corrupt and based on evil premises. The fact that people become racists because they are hateful bigots looking for a target to blame for their own failings does not disprove racism: the fact that there is no such thing as a race disproves racism. The fact that some people become liberals because they feel that they are being egalitarian towards the least fortunate does not prove that liberalism is egalitarian: the fact that liberalism (and all other statist ideologies) has as a premise the need to dominate, control and exploit those “least fortunate” proves that liberalism is not egalitarian.

The opposite is also true. Even if some Anarchists have adopted the ideology on the basis of jealousy (as we are told), this does not make Anarchism false. The belief that some fundamentalist Christians have that atheists become atheists because of their anger against God or because of having had an absent father does not make atheism false either.

All ideas are rooted in emotions, although we often try to rationalize that fact. The idea of “following our hearts” in serious intellectual matters strikes us as ridiculous because we have been taught that emotions are anti-intellectual and that anyone who does so is simply not being “realistic.” And yet there is really no way to side-step the fact that everything we do, down to the words we use, is heavily emotional. The main difference is in how much of ourselves is being expressed, whether our love or our hatred stems from ourselves or from how we’ve been indoctrinated to think.

Some egalitarians are more egalitarian than others…

Equality of outcome is not a popular position in any quarter. Even the Anarchist FAQ speaks ill of it:

Nor are anarchists in favour of so-called “equality of outcome.” We have no desire to live in a society were everyone gets the same goods, lives in the same kind of house, wears the same uniform, etc…

“Equality of outcome” can only be introduced and maintained by force, which would not be equality anyway, as some would have more power than others! “Equality of outcome” is particularly hated by anarchists, as we recognise that every individual has different needs, abilities, desires and interests. To make all consume the same would be tyranny.

This is an extremely bizarre thing to say, especially since I have seen this definition of “equality of outcome” nowhere else. It seems to have been dreamed up especially for the AFAQ. Equality of outcome has nothing to do with making everyone consume the same! In fact, the AFAQ then provides a definition of the equality it supports, which is exactly the same as equality of outcomes as understood by everyone else:

Equality for anarchists means social equality, or, to use Murray Bookchin’s term, the “equality of unequals” (some like Malatesta used the term “equality of conditions” to express the same idea). By this he means that an anarchist society recognises the differences in ability and need of individuals but does not allow these differences to be turned into power…

Anarchists “demand for every person not just his [or her] entire measure of the wealth of society but also his [or her] portion of social power.” [Malatesta and Hamon, No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, p. 20]

That every person should get “his entire measure of the wealth of society” is a most succinct definition of equality of outcome. As Proudhon stated, every individual has the right to an equal part of society’s production. The idea that the individual has the right, either to an equal part of society’s production, or to his own full production (that society’s wealth should go to the workers instead of being centralized), is the very basis of Anarchist economics.

In our current political understanding, liberals present themselves as champions of egalitarianism. In fact, they are not egalitarians at all. The welfare state is about as egalitarian as beating someone up, stealing their wallet, breaking their legs, and then giving them crutches as an “egalitarian” measure. Sure, it is the very smallest glimmer of restitution from the criminal party, the capital-democratic system as a whole, and it is a simple, common sense way to try to make yourself be forgiven, but has absolutely nothing to do with egalitarianism. The very fact that a “safety net” is needed proves that we are not equal. The net is opaque and hides the existence of what is underneath: the guilt of the system.

What liberal politicos really want and fight for is equality of opportunity. This is an absolutely non-threatening ideology for these privileged people, in fact it is a very egocentric ideology, because it basically welcomes people of different gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, and so on, to be exactly like them. It is actually an elitist ideology which imposes a unique vision of “things to which people should be given an opportunity to participate,” invariably the orthodox, heteronormative vision of a usury-driven, consumption-oriented, monogamous child-producing society, and pretends to be egalitarian by opening its doors to all who agree to conform to it. This is the ideology that defeats radical movements based on identity and stops all profound social change: “we are giving you the chance to be like us now, you can stop fighting.”

It is precisely because of the hard work by Anarchists and other radicals to end sexual discrimination, racial discrimination, and other forms of discrimination, that people readily accept the premise that we should all be equal to the law, and thus accept equality of opportunity. But it is an insidious connection. The result of equality of opportunities in the economic realm is that competition is heightened, more people’s morals are eroded, life gets harder for more people, freedom gets lower and lower because one’s life experiences are standardized, and there are inevitable repercussions in the form of ideological backlash. The result of equality of outcomes is the exact opposite of all this, because it gives people the freedom to choose the way they work and live, and it pushes away the strictures of competition which corrupt people and directs people through the hoops of our schooling institutions.

Many people claim that equality of outcomes, most notably equality of wages, drags society down. It can do so if implemented by the State, but unlike equality of opportunities, it does not have to. The Anarchist goal, as expressed by Benjamin Tucker, is “the greatest amount of individual liberty compatible with the equality of liberty.” Establishing equality, in that view, is only a necessary step towards the maximization of freedom for all. There is also the related claim that equality of outcomes takes away the motivation of getting higher wages, leading to a society where no one seeks to improve one’s work in any way. But this relies on the fallacious idea that the lure of getting higher wages than one’s fellows is the only thing that motivates people. In fact, the overwhelming scientific evidence shows that competition between individuals is actually the worst motivator possible (see No Contest by Alfie Kohn for a good summary of these studies) and corrupts the nature of work. Equality of outcomes, therefore, only eliminates the worse possible path an economic system can take, and opens up new, better ones.

More sophisticated arguments rely on pro-growth logic to argue that equality of outcomes leads to a bad outcome for society as a whole. If we practice degrowth, according to economists, our society will lag behind the rest of the world, will cease to innovate, and become impoverished, targeted by other colonialist governments, and become victim to all the evil things we do to poor countries. The only alternative is to forcibly isolate that society from the rest of the world, like the USSR did.

There are major problems with each and every one of these points. First of all, even though Anarchists should rightly support some form of degrowth, it is clear that inequality is a detriment to growth (even as defined by the capitalists) due to its associated social costs, and that a society marred by inequality generates a lot of wasted potential. Even capitalism functions better when everyone has access to healthy foods, health care, schooling, and so on.

Second, it makes no sense to say that innovation is driven by growth if growth is the result of inequality, since inequality prevents people from producing their inventions on a mass level outside of the corporate structure. A study tells us that only 2.2% of the surplus generated by an invention goes to the inventor himself (not all the money paid for it, but only the surplus), so either way the inventor profits very little from what he contributes to society. So even on the level of material incentives, capitalism doesn’t work, and there’s no reason to believe why a socialist system couldn’t provide both better material incentives and better psychological incentives as well.

Third, the “become a third-world country or forcibly isolate yourself” logic is neo-liberalism disguised as an argument. Kropotkin refutes a basic form of this argument in The Conquest of Bread:

“So far so good,” say our critics, “but you will have Rothschilds coming in from outside. How are you to prevent a person from amassing millions in China and then settling amongst you? How are you going to prevent such a one from surrounding himself with lackeys and wage-slaves–from exploiting them and enriching himself at their expense?

“You cannot bring about a revolution all over the world at the same time. Well, then, are you going to establish custom-houses on your frontiers to search all who enter your country and confiscate the money they bring with them?–Anarchist policemen firing on travellers would be a fine spectacle!”

But at the root of this argument there is a great error. Those who propound it have never paused to inquire whence come the fortunes of the rich. A little thought would, however, suffice to show them that these fortunes have their beginnings in the poverty of the poor. When there are no longer any destitute there will no longer be any rich to exploit them.

Nine-tenths of the great fortunes made in the United States are (as Henry George has shown in this “Social Problems”) the result of knavery on a large scale, assisted by the State. In Europe, nine-tenths of the fortunes made in our monarchies and republics have the same origin. There are not two ways of becoming a millionaire.

This is the secret of wealth; find the starving and destitute, pay them half a crown, and make them produce five shillings worth in the day, amass a fortune by these means, and then increase it by some lucky hit, made with the help of the State.

Everywhere you will find that the wealth of the wealthy springs from the poverty of the poor. This is why an anarchist society need not fear the advent of a Rothschild who would settle in its midst. If every member of the community knows that after a few hours of productive toil he will have a right to all the pleasures that civilization procures, and to those deeper sources of enjoyment which art and science offer to all who seek them, he will not sell his strength for a starvation wage. No one will volunteer to work for the enrichment of your Rothschild. His golden guineas will be only so many pieces of metal–useful for various purposes, but incapable of breeding more.

Piotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, p35-41

In short: neo-liberal exploitation is only possible because it first devastates its host economy, or occupies an economy that is already devastated, where people’s wages are so low, or their possibilities of employment so scarce, that they will willingly accept to be exploited. In an Anarchist society, industry would serve human needs instead of serving usurious ends, and thus the work required to be performed by any individual to meet his basic needs would be far reduced from what we have today. Therefore there would be far less motivation in a degrown economy for people to serve foreign interests than in a destroyed economy.

But further, equality of outcomes necessarily implies some form of Anarchism, because hierarchies necessarily imply concentration of wealth and other forms of power. And without corporations or governments, most of the mechanisms by which capitalism exploits the third-world would not be possible in such an economy. Therefore there is no need at all to use force in order to isolate such a society from the rest of the world. If the USSR proved anything at all, it proved that central planning of a whole society cannot bring about equality because its bureaucracy will necessarily become the new power elite; but the USSR is not a good example of equality of outcomes, because such a stratified system could never achieve it.

Why our social structure is invalid. [part 3/3]

Parenting is another hierarchy which is not only based on the imagination (there is really no such thing as a “parent”) but also entails drastic inequality. The child, by his mere child status, is deemed to have no rights of his own, and has little actual protection against abuse. The end result is that millions of children ever year are beaten, verbally abused, sexually abused, kidnapped, ritually mutilated, have their free time controlled, told what to wear and what to say, and indoctrinated into bizarre belief systems which narrow their capacity to understand the world in later years, to give just these examples. Any single one of these abuses of human rights would be considered absolutely unacceptable if they were performed on adults; parenting necessarily relies on ageism, more specifically the hatred of the young, in order to justify its abuses of human rights. It is often claimed that parenting exists out of love, but it is hard to understand how a system geared towards near-total control of an individual indicates love for that individual. In no other field would we use such twisted reasoning; one rarely hears of fascism or state communism, for instance, as paradigms of love in politics, even though they put a heavy emphasis on controlling the individual.

The influence of inequality on our freedom even extends to our mental freedom, such as the freedom to construct our own sense of identity. Through the media, and its far-reaching influence on public opinion, we are bombarded with archetypes and categories within which all individuals are filed and from which they are evaluated, such as gender roles, ageist targeted marketing and race stereotypes. The laws also provide a whole panoply of these (“criminals,” “drug users,” “sex offenders,” “immigration,” married, and so on).

I think I’ve discussed enough examples for the general principle to be obvious: systemic inequality entails generalized loss of freedom, and vice-versa. We can also safely say that the more profound the inequality, the more profound the loss of freedom. And although I did not really discuss the opposite movements, I believe we can also say that structural equality entails a generalized gain in freedom, and vice-versa.

While these principles also apply to the individual’s own adherence to this or that system (i.e. when we are part of egalitarian systems, we are more free, and when we feel more free, we seek out egalitarian systems), they apply more directly to society as a whole. Individuals can only be free in an egalitarian society, and an egalitarian society can only be a society where individuals are free. Individual autonomy and social freedom, self-determination and social organization, free will and order, are linked together and follow each other. Any ideology which only resolves one part of the equation has failed to grasp the nature of what it was trying to resolve. Eliminating some inequalities, but keeping others, will generally not improve the state of society as a whole.

To understand why, you must understand that natural rights, no matter how many people deny their existence, do exist, and what’s more they exist necessarily. All rights are claimed by someone or some group; the less rights claimed by the individual, the more rights are claimed by others. Unless the individual is able to regain control, his rights are open for the taking by any other hierarchy that persists in his society. Eliminating capitalism alone would merely open the door for greater statist controls over work and life as a whole. Eliminating the State alone would merely open the door for more corporate economics-based control of behaviour. Likewise, the near-elimination of religion from Western societies has merely delegated various forms of norm enforcement (such as sexual norms) and psychological comfort (such as the fear of death or failure) to the political and economic realms.

The statist will no doubt reply that complete individual autonomy is not only a surefire recipe for chaos, but that it cannot lead to equality because every individual will seek his own advantage over everyone else. On his side, the classical liberal (of which so-called American “Libertarians” are merely a branch) will reply that social freedom is an attack on the individual’s property rights and that these are the source of autonomy above everything else, that property rights are the foundation of all rights, and that without property everyone is at the mercy of “society” (i.e. that from which they, the atomistic individualists, feel they are excluded).

To answer the statist, one merely needs to note two things: that the State itself is a major and profound source of inequality, as I’ve already described, making his own proposed solutions complete dead-ends, and that we have nothing to fear from people seeking their own advantage within a society whose institutions are structured in an egalitarian manner. Obviously, where power is less concentrated, we have less reason to be concerned about people wreaking havoc than when the most power is given to a few individuals at the expense of everyone else. Also, and this is a side issue, it’s been shown many times that people who are given a certain level of autonomy over a given area, or simply seize that autonomy by themselves, will tend to establish egalitarian structures over it (the Argentinian self-managed businesses being the latest example of this).

To answer the classical liberal, one may argue that property rights are not at all a necessary foundation for all other rights, and that making property rights the foundation of all rights results in some major paradoxes, as established by Block’s Corollary, the child renter argument, and other similar arguments. In fact, property rights perhaps have the distinction of being the worst supposed right to use as a foundation for rights. The charge that ending the concept of property endangers autonomy is more serious, but we can give basically the same answer that we gave to the statist: it is a society plagued with hierarchical institutions which tries to control the individual, not an egalitarian society. State Communism did not, and cannot, work, because giving control of ownership to a State is the recipe for ultimate tyranny. But an egalitarian system of ownership, founded on the concept that individuals must deal with each other as equals, act only on the basis of agreement, and have equal access to society’s production, can only enhance individual autonomy. The concept of property rights, on the other hand, only ensures autonomy to those few who can afford it.

Both positions are rooted in the belief that man is innately evil and that we need some kind of control mechanism to counter-balance a state of total individual autonomy or total social freedom. Their objections also assume a hierarchical society, insofar as they assume that controlling others on the long term is always viable (obviously I’m not talking about, say, someone mugging someone else, or any other a form of control that is always possible in any system). In any hierarchical society, such extremes are purely theoretical, since hierarchies necessarily represent an attack on individual autonomy and social freedom to begin with. A society that is both hierarchical and free/egalitarian is a pure logical and organizational impossibility.

There is also a whole body of propaganda that says we are already all equal and all free; it is manufactured and constantly added to by scientists, economists, philosophers, scriptwriters, and various other members of the academia or the media. Their main goal is to hide the motivations and actions of the class of people which controls the apparatus of production and prices, the apparatus of violence, our own preferences (through the gigantic machine of marketing, more than a trillion dollars’ worth), law-making, the options we’re given at the voting booth, and so on. None of it is worth anything except as an exploration of the mindset of its believers.

We are taught that we are free because we have the right to choose our masters, and the right to complain when they don’t fulfill their promises. These two conditions are really all that is needed for people to believe that they are free. We also have the freedom to consume within our limited wages, and the freedom to have as many children as we want so they can repeat the cycle. These, no one objects to. Rights are granted so that the individual may be a better worker and a better citizen. Freedom of thought does not exist, which also entails that free will cannot exist. The concept of a “marketplace of ideas” is as vacuous and fictional as that of the “free market” presented to us by propaganda. It is just another concept designed to hide the fact that our beliefs and preferences are constantly molded and reinforced by forces wholly outside of our individual control.

Why our social structure is invalid. [part 2/3]

The inequalities inherent to capitalism function in pretty much the same way. Capitalism is a planned economy partitioned into units that wildly vary in size (small and medium-sized businesses, corporations, multinationals), controlled by the highest ranks of these units. Although capitalist theorists always try to portray “the market” and “consumer preferences” as the driving forces of the economy, these abstract concepts really only hide the fact that some people are in control of the means of production and use this control to impose their values on everyone else, just like law-makers impose their values on their subjects. When economists talk about economic freedom, they really mean the freedom of these elites to steal, acquire and take away capital at will, just like how political freedom usually refers to the existence of independent nation-states. The “freedom” and the “values” that matter are those of rich white sociopaths in suits.

If we look at reality instead of textbooks, we see that the net result of capitalism is a general attack on freedom. With the support of its international institutions and the ideology of neo-liberalism, which drives the ever-expanding capitalist machine, and its need for always lower wages and lower production costs, into more and more “developing nations,” planning units plunge entire populations into poverty, in some cases outright slavery, and subjugate them to the colonialist logic: “you exist to service our needs, not yours.” For these populations, there is no economic freedom possible. They are trapped and at the mercy of the “developed” world. From the economic inequality which resulted from prior colonialist waves can only come a further degeneration of economic freedom.

The great inequality between the employers and the individual workers means that employers can set their terms and dispose of anyone whom they find too inconvenient or too unreliable for their purposes. The “freedom” of the worker is therefore the same as that of the voter: to have a hand in choosing his master. Certainly the average worker has no freedom as regards to his work, except that which he can eke out when the masters are not looking.

But most importantly, employers grab a large percentage of the money gained by selling the worker’s production, called profit, preventing the worker from receiving the full product of his work. The employer, who centralizes capital, continues to accumulate capital, and the worker is left with narrowed possibilities of consumption, and by extension production. Since money is the prime measure of economic freedom in a capitalist society, economic freedom will therefore tend to be centralized by the planning units and their leaders. Like all other forms of usury, profit is the symbol of the fundamentally parasitic nature of capitalism: parasitism against individuals, societies and the world.

The union was supposed to be a force that would equalize this imbalance, and for a while it accomplished great positive steps, until the structure of the union itself became calcified, and, as happens to all movements which become successful, the survival and power of these organizations, not the welfare of the workers, became their first priority. Political experience has shown that unions are necessarily pro-work hierarchy because they depend on that work hierarchy, the dichotomy between employer and employee, for their very purpose; their survival depends on workers not being free. Self-management, that is to say libertarian socialism, is in no union’s interest.

Between the planning units and specific governments, there is also a vast intersection of collusion, policies made for vested interests, conflicts, and so on. Wars and neo-liberalism are two great examples of this. Once again, the outcome of these maneuvers will depend on where the balance of power lies, but they very rarely come out as a positive for the average citizen. To use an example relevant to my topic, the inequalities between firms leads to the adoption of public policies which favour big firms against smaller firms (for example: barriers to entry, minimum wage laws, eminent domain, strict patent laws and intellectual property laws), which further concentrate economic power in a few hands.

Besides the two major hierarchies, there are of course many others. I would put the hierarchies of religion, sexism (which nowadays is largely reducible to religion and commercialism) and racism in the same category. I draw a sharp distinction between these hierarchies and the two previous ones, because these are founded on, and justified by, an imaginary power. Political power and economic power are real, but sex, race and gods are all imaginary. Therefore there are two considerations: the inequality that is real, and the inequality that is imaginary. That being said, it is also obvious that both have an impact on society, because it does not matter for social purposes whether a belief is real or imaginary: as long as people believe in it, they will act on it, and thus there is an impact in both cases.

However, there is a way in which the imaginary nature of the power does make a difference, in that it makes the belief itself as important as actions. When we look at economic power and political power, there is no question that those forms of power exist, and no one considers belief or non-belief in them very important. No one wakes up in the morning wondering “gee, I think maybe money is just meaningless pieces of paper” or “maybe policemen really can’t hurt me after all.” Within the framework of our society, these are not reasonable things to doubt (this is not to say that I really do believe that money and policemen are unquestionable in all contexts). Where imaginary power is concerned, belief takes on paramount importance; but this has the advantage that individuals can exorcise its baleful influence on themselves simply by ceasing to believe, an advantage which does not exist with real power.

Religion differs in that its source of moral superiority is not an imaginary human attribute but rather an imaginary all-powerful being (or beings). But in all these hierarchies, the result of the imaginary inequality is to position oneself in the “superior group” and to delegate moral responsibility to some other construct outside of ourselves. In religion, worshipping the correct god in the right way means that one is “saved,” and follows the moral and ethical code ostensibly given by the god; the dramatic inequality between the god and the follower merely ends up being an added motivation to surrender moral responsibility. In sexism, having the correct set of genitals means that one is “a man” or “a woman,” and therefore innately worthy of respect on that basis regardless of one’s actions. In racism, having the correct skin color means that one is of the correct race, and therefore innately morally superior. One’s actions performed on the basis of being in the “superior group” are automatically justified, regardless of their nature.

When we surrender moral responsibility, we give up on part of what makes us human beings: our capacity to empathize with other human beings, to be social animals, to see others as more than masses of flesh. The prototype of this lack is the sociopath, who is born without a conscience, without empathy, and without higher emotions like love and compassion. But human beings can be made sociopathic as well. The soldier, who has been turned into an obeying automaton and has been trained to objectify the enemy, is necessary less than fully human.

But ultimately all hierarchies are sociopathic, because they, by their very nature, create an elite which pursues its own interests and the interests of the system at the expense of everyone else’s. As I’ve discussed many times before, this is not because the people populating the system were evil or sociopathic from the beginning: all we need is to assume that people will naturally seek to use the power available to them for their own best advantage. For example, the corporation is sociopathic (as I’ve recommended before, watch the movie The Corporation for a full explanation of this point) because the people who populate its decision-making levels seek profits, which both helps the corporation they work for (their “team”) and helps them preserve and improve their own careers. Issues such as constant fraud, massive pollution, violence and slavery against third-worlders, the gambled livelihood of the workers, and so on, necessarily take a backseat to the constant search for profits, even though we would qualify individuals who support such things as sociopathic.

One may argue that these inequalities only affect those people who are not part of the “superior group.” But if we look at the situation in a more global manner, we see that everyone is someone else’s enemy. No one is really safe from being oppressed, even the non-elite members of the “superior group,” although obviously those who are privileged in a given society mostly have the upper hand. Either way, it should be obvious that the greater the real inequality, the most devastating the effects on freedom as a whole. The race and religion-motivated wars led by the United States, for instance, prove that religious bigotry and racism can bring about genocide. We should also not be reminded of the millions of people who still live in fear in our very own societies because of homophobia.

Continued in part 3.