25 May 2013

Day 223: Equality of Opportunity: Introduction – Equality and Human Rights – Part 3

Continuing from: Day 219: Equality and Human Rights
Day 221: Are Humans Equal? – Equality and Human Rights – Part 2

Within this blog we will be looking at some of the interpretations of the concept ‘Equality of Opportunity’. The views on Equality of Opportunity can be broadly split up in two perspectives, one which is considered an ‘egalitarian’ view and looks at Equality of Opportunity as Equality of Starting Point – and another which is connected to a liberal point of view which sees Equality of Opportunity as Equality of Access.

When the topic of discussion is Equality of Opportunity, the term ‘opportunity’ is linked specifically to opportunity within the sense of education, job and career. Those who are more liberal believe that what is important is that everyone has ‘access’ to the same opportunities. This basically means that ‘the opportunity exists’, not per se that you will be able to make use of it. This view of Equality of Opportunity is defended on the basis of merit, talent, skill and effort – where there is an inherent belief existent that if you ‘work hard enough, you’ll be able to pursue your dreams’. According to this view, material conditions are not a deciding factor in whether or not someone will be able to make use of an opportunity. From their perspective, the egalitarian view of Equality of Opportunity as Equality if Starting Point is ineffective and inefficient.

Within the stance of Equality of Starting Point, material conditions are taken into consideration as important variables which will influence one’s success in pursuing a particular education/career. Not everyone comes from the same social background, and this may lead to some facing obstacles, hindering their path to achievement. To remove these obstacles, everyone should be given adequate material resource availability so that everyone can enjoy the same start and thus the same opportunities. But – because not everyone will use these opportunities in the same way (eg. One does not study sufficiently to pass one’s exams) – we still have a difference in outcome. This difference, is dubbed to be an ‘unequal’ outcome – and used as an argument by those who are pro-opportunity-of-access to dismiss the concept of Equality of Starting Point – as in the end, those who ‘deserve’ success based on effort, talent and skill – still reach success, while those who didn’t exercise effort, talent or skill will not reach their point of success. From their perspective, the establishment of an Equal Starting Point is just a waste of scarce resources while promoting ‘unequal outcome. The only way to have ‘real equality’ within a context of Equality of Starting Point, is apparently by forcing the same outcome on everyone – by either enabling those who are disadvantaged, or by disabling those who are advantaged (translation = ‘the industrious, ambitious and talented people’). Within following either method, it is believed that the more ambitious/able people are being disadvantaged for the sake of enabling the disadvantaged and is considered to be unfair. Whether it is through appropriating additional resources to the less advantaged (because apparently it means ‘taking it’ from the more advantaged), or directly, through medically and genetically disabling the more able (no joke, this actually comes up as an argument) – those who are in positions of advantage are being abused.

From the liberal side, there is also a strong belief present that human beings are not a product of their environment (which is one of the reasons why economic/material conditions are believed to not be relevant factors in the context of equality, freedom and opportunity). One’s ability to work hard and exhibition of particular talents is a ‘natural’ phenomenon, and is therefore a matter beyond morality or justice – as it merely ‘is’ and therefore cannot be fair or unfair.

It is these exact same beliefs that are in the end used to justify inequality within the world. We are unequal by nature – so this is by default ‘the just and right way’ – why bother to make equal that which was not equal in the first place? It’s just not ‘natural’.

So within this blog, we had a look at two different interpretations of Equality of Opportunity and had a look where each side is ‘coming from’. Within the next blog, we will be looking further into the justifications/beliefs used to defend inequality within the world, namely:

1. Equal starting point leads to unequal outcomes – so why bother
2. People are not a product of their environment
3. One’s genetic endowment as determining one’s position in society is beyond morality/justice

In the end, these beliefs/arguments are all just derivations of a single, essential belief – which is that we are not equal and thus it means that this is the way it should be – or alternatively: Equality is Unnatural.

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