I’ve been hearing this comparison from mainstream conservatives and classical liberals who are trying to come to grips with the radical egalitarianism of the neo-Marxist left. Often it involves a cringe-worthy meme, which I will not post on principle, but suffice it to say, it involves crates and third-world children.
Anyway, the argument from the center-left and center-right goes something like this:
What you’re advocating for isn’t actually equality, which is liberal; it’s equity, which is Marxist.
And the argument from the Cultural Marxists goes something like this:
What we’re advocating for isn’t actually equality, which is liberal; it’s equity, which is Progressive.
Notice the problem here? So-called moderates have accepted the framing of postmodernists, which is that of course equality is a beautiful and sacred value to hold above all others, but it’s just so hard to achieve, and really the best we can do is aggressively root out and prosecute those thought-criminals known as racists and sexists, but maybe it’s not good for society if you call everyone a racist, and please don’t call us racist, we can find some kind of compromise.
When liberals and conservatives accept this framing, neo-Marxists always win. It’s no different from the arguments I used to have 10 years ago, where I naively and smugly pronounced that equality of opportunity is not the same as equality of outcome. I thought I’d made some powerful and provocative point, but actually persuaded no one. As I quietly drifted out of politics to concentrate on my career, I came back years later to find progressives arguing over whether equality of opportunity is merely insufficient or if it is a totally incoherent idea.
And while sane liberals such as Sargon of Akkad, whom I truly consider to be a modern-day cultural hero, try to present the same arguments I presented a decade ago, I’m forced to conclude that Dylan at Vox is actually correct – or at least, his argument is more persuasive. Equality before the law is not equal opportunity. Even if we deny everything we know about genetics, different individuals still come from different families, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They really don’t have equal opportunity, and since liberals are predisposed to ignore intergenerational effects (e.g. the economic incentive to work hard and save money so your kids can have more opportunities than you did), they are easily manipulated into supporting more authoritarian equity programs.
If you’re reading this, and you’re a trad-liberal, and are wondering how to inoculate yourself against the virulent progressive strain of equalism… sorry, I can’t help you. But to anyone who considers themselves right of center, it’s very important that you learn to reject the Marxist framing and apply your own.
The neo-Marxist narrative:
Historically-marginalized groups can never achieve the same outcomes as historically-privileged groups by simply receiving equal treatment, because they start from a major disadvantage. Therefore we must do everything we can to elevate such people until all disparities disappear.
The conservative narrative (bad argument):
It isn’t possible to eliminate all disparities, and trying to do so makes things worse because it creates perverse incentives. Unequal outcomes are the result of free choice, and individual liberties and free markets produce the highest rate of good outcomes.
The correct, historically-aware narrative:
Inequality on a massive scale is absolutely necessary for civilization to function at all. Almost all major advances by humanity are because of a tiny number – less than a thousandth of a percent – of people who ever lived. They succeed in free societies because they are talented, not privileged. It is completely unacceptable to risk destroying their life’s work in the name of “equality”. If not for equalists, we might already have cured cancer and started colonizing other galaxies.
I’m sure there are better rhetoricians out there than I am, who can come up with sharper language than I have. The takeaway here is that human ability, regardless of how you measure it, has a Pareto distribution, and that any equality/equity policies designed to collapse that distribution will necessarily collapse all human development. In a group of 10,000 people, if you lose the top 1% of performers, you lose 50% of your total output. You do not want that to happen. Not even once.
Equality is therefore anti-progress, and anti-civilization. There is absolutely no reason to get caught up in a debate over equality vs. equity, or equal opportunity vs. equal outcome, because all of the above are incoherent and destructive.
So start owning it, rightists. Equality is the fever dream of an emotional child, not a useful model for social organization or governance. You won’t persuade postmodernists because they never actually cared about equality in the first place (only power politics), but they tend to back away slowly after realizing there’s no emotional lever to manipulate, and you might be able to snap a few low-level conservatives out of their hypnotic trance.