The Problem With Equity

by Chris Horner

Equality v Equity

How should society go about the business of redistributing resources? Many people will be acquainted with the image featured at the top of this article. It is supposed to show the superiority of the notion of ‘equity’ – that is, giving people what they need to succeed, thus satisfying the demand for fairness that the equality approach is depicted as failing. Since people don’t start in the same place, due to gender, race, disability and so on, so the argument goes, an equal distribution is unfair: everyone goes up a bit, as in the image on the left, but since the differences haven’t been addressed, the result is unfair. So we need equity rather than equality. This is an example of an argument that looks persuasive at first glance, but which is deeply problematic when we consider it further. To see why, we need to go beyond the thought experiment approach to this issue, to see the social and  political context in which it has become popular.

A first point to make is that no thoughtful advocate of greater equality has been blind to the importance of considering the needs of recipients. If equality is about justice, then it can’t just be mathematical equality. Giving the same amount of food to a malnourished person and a replete one would obviously be unfair. So if the current equity over equality argument is just saying this we could just see it just a difference in the terms one uses. But there is more going on with it than that. Read more »

Does Democracy Exist?

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

We tend to think of democracy as a set of governmental institutions. We see it as a political order characterized by open elections, constitutional constraints, the rule of law, freedom of speech, a free press, an independent judiciary, and so on. This makes good sense. These institutions indeed loom large in our political lives.

However, political institutions differ considerably from one purportedly democratic society to the next. Voting procedures, representation schemes, conceptions of free speech, and judicial arrangements are not uniform across societies that are widely regarded as democratic. In some of these countries, voting is required by law and military service is mandatory. In others, these acts are voluntary.  Some democratic countries have distinct speech restrictions, others have different and blurrier boundaries. And the ancient Athenians appointed their representatives to the Boule by lot, instead of by vote. Given these variations, how can these societies all be democracies?

This leads to the thought that although certain institutional forms are characteristic of democracies, democracy itself should be identified with the kind of society those institutions realize. We hence can see how two societies with distinct constitutions nevertheless can be democratic.

This prompts the obvious question: What kind of society is a democracy? Read more »

Women’s Freedom – A Short Introduction to Why I Care

Womensrights Why have so many stopped fighting for women’s rights? We fight for “human” rights and discuss them as if they were a natural element of being human; groups lobby and defend, almost diabolically and with much vitriol, the rights of “animals” (species that are not human). Yet women’s rights, that better half of our species, remain a neglected element of secular discourse. It surprises me that so few of those who consider themselves secular humanists do anything concerning this important issue. This does not mean that many secular humanists do not think it important but there is a great divide between simply thinking it important and doing something to make it so. Not only do I think it important, I believe in my lifetime the liberation of woman, all over the world, for all time, is the single most important goal that we must defend, increase and enhance. The other goals which many of us long for, freedom of speech, lack of coercion, and so on, all are part of, and tributaries within, this pathway. By fighting for women, we fight for free speech and liberty; by defending their rights, we defend human rights; by finding the cause for their oppression we cease the cycle of violence and poverty within families around the world. Reports have suggested that a decrease in women’s freedom correlates to an increase in religious fanaticism. This does not mean that once women are free, all over the world, religious dogmatism, backward political regimes and patriarchal bullying will be banished from the earth; but there is little debate that the fight in itself will lead to a greater amount of freedom, more happiness and will result in woman no longer being the fodder for the religious wrath of backward mullahs and reverends.

According to estimates, which have more than likely increased, 70 percent of the two billion poor are women; two thirds of illiterate adults are women; employment rates for women are declining after increasing (yes, of course, the world wars are now over). At the same time many women are forced into veils and burqas, burnt for merely looking at men, stoned to death or buried alive for adultery, forced into sex, pregnancy and delivering HIV-infected children because they were raped, but if they were to report it, they would either be raped again, executed, exiled from their village or town or family. While this happens, the fashion industry booms with make-up and high-heels and plastic models and girls as thin as the paper they are pictured on, presenting us with yet another contrast to whether women really are in control of their bodies even in supposedly liberated societies. That is an issue unto itself, which I am not focused on, but it certainly should give us pause considering the areas we are dealing with. Modern writers, in the secular West, tell women to go back to the kitchen, obey the husband, be a mother, tie an umbilical cord around the house and hang themselves from it. “Feminine is good,” says women’s rights author, Nikki van der Gaag, “feminism is bad.” A lot of feminist views, philosophy and political goals truly deserve scorn, since they replace one tyranny with another; are subject to faith-based, dogmatic adherence rather than calculated sex equality. The vengeful world of patriarchal accident has given birth to a malicious view toward its women. As this highlights, the malicious desire is one of control – but I do not wish to instil Orwellian fears in big governments and little men.

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