Equality, the goal not the signpost.

The United States of America has a long history of inequality, from its treatment of Native Americans to women’s rights, it has tended to favor one group over others, but it has attempted to repair the damage it caused. However, even though America is the “land of opportunity,” its formerly oppressed peoples are not equal, but what does it mean to be equal? Is equality the government saying you must have the same number of employees from each arbitrarily defined “race?” Does equality mean that people should be forced to be equal? In examining this issue, one must define equality itself.

There are three forms of equality: equality of outcome, of opportunity, and of perception. Equality of perception is the most basic: it dictates that for people to be equal, each person should be perceived as being of equal worth. Equality of opportunity dictates that all people should have the same opportunities open to them if they put out the effort this is a central tenet of the “American Dream.” The final form of equality, equality of outcome, attempts to “level the playing field” by forcing people into certain roles and dictates that all individuals should tend towards the mean this form of equality is evident in socialist theory.

America has enacted laws that are based on equality of outcome to attempt to ensure that “minorities” and women have access to equal pay and to remove glass ceilings, but while these programs have repaired some of the damage, paraphrasing Milton Friedman, equality of outcome leaves most people without equality and without opportunity. This is because forced equality is not equality and only hides the real issue of inequality based on perceptions.

Equality is not saying that all people are physically and mentally equal, nobody would bet an average teenager could win a game of basketball against a professional player, nor can every six-year-old be a physicist because human beings are not inherently equal. However, “true equality” says that potentially everyone should have the same opportunities, that is to say, that potentially the toddler could play professional basketball and potentially the six-year-old could become a future Einstein regardless of superficial characteristics. While these two people may not actually be able to achieve their dreams, this does not mean they should be limited by what people perceive they are capable of. This is equality of perception.

Unlike equality of outcome, equality of perception creates equality of opportunity by dictating that all people should be allowed the same opportunities even if they aren’t capable of realizing them. This allows people to reach their own plateaus without unfair external pressures. However, when one attempts to use equality of outcome to create opportunity, one must take away opportunities from one person to give them to another, rather than allowing both individuals to reach their own, personal, peaks. This is not always a bad thing, during the civil rights era it was an important move to integrate America’s divided society; however, it was a first step, and only a first step. America must move beyond this first step to continue to answer its call as the “land of opportunity.”

Of course, many factors come into account throughout individual lives that change an individual’s capacity for different activities. Equality of perception requires that one realize the way we perceive people based on bias should not limit their opportunities because it does not reflect their abilities. This means that with equality of perception no human being is artificially kept from achieving their goals based on skin color, religion, national origin, or class. Equality of perception cannot be legislated, it can only be taught, but it will create freedom and lead the way to equality of opportunity, but focusing on equality of outcome just limits the freedoms upon which America was founded.

David Hume on Morality

David Hume, an 18th century philosopher, stated that morality is based on sentiments rather than reason. He concluded this after he developed his “theory” of knowledge which stated that everything we could know was observable by the senses — he was a naturalistic philosopher. He then looked at situations in which he thought that there was an obvious “wrong” and he tried to identify the “matter of fact” vice in the situation. He immediately found that he could not find the vice within the facts of the situations.

For example, let us examine a boy who steals a toy at a store. A matter of fact about this situation is that a young human male has taken an item from a store. This is what happened. The senses and reason tell us a few other things too: the toy was a plastic squirt gun; the boy used his hands to take the toy; it took only a second for the boy to do this. Hume argued that no matter what we find about the situation with our senses and our reason, we will never find the actual existence or quality of vice. So then, if morality is not intrinsic to objects in a situation, what is morality?

Hume said that morality can be found within. When you observe an immoral act, you do not find any right or wrong about the situation when you consider only the objects involved in the act. “Only when you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation” will you find a right or wrong about the situation. Hume said that this was only a feeling or sentiment though.

Therefore morality is not something of our reason, for we could not find the existence of good or bad while examining the situation with our reason. Our reason only told us facts about what happened and how it happened. Morality then must a sentiment or feeling. Hume uses the example of the philosophical view of colors, heat and other such “qualities”. Hume says that modern philosophy considers such things as colors, heat and sound as simply perceptions and not definite qualities of any object. Colors and heat are objects of our observation, to be sure, but it can not be said for sure that such things are properties of an object. Take an apple for example. We see red, but red is our perception and is not necessarily an actual quality of the apple. To go even further we cannot even say for fact that an apple exists, and if the apple does not exist than surely red can not be a quality of it. All we really know is that we perceive an apple and in our perceptions it is red. This does not also imply the existence or qualities of the apple. Hume compares this type of thought to morality. Hume is trying to show that like observations of color and heat, morality is not something that can be found, for us, in an object, but instead morality is something which only exists within our world and comes from the sentiments in us.

Hume seems to be correct in declaring morality cannot be judge through the senses. We can only know what is afforded to us by our senses and our senses do not tell us when something is wrong or right. Something only becomes wrong or right when someone applies their feelings about certain actions to what they have seen or heard. The evidence for this is the disparity in people’s moral beliefs: what offends one person’s moral sentiments does not always offend another. While many people believe it is morally offensive to commit suicide in any situation, but in many cultures thought it more honorable to kill oneself than to admit defeat in a battle. These people did not see suicide in that situation as immoral. Morality is not something that is intrinsic in the objects or the action, since two different people would come to two different conclusions about the action of suicide. Instead it must be as Hume says; morality must be within us as a personal sentiment

Myths about the developing world.

Hans Rosling gave a very educational TED talk that uses UN statistics about world health, money and birth rates to destroy the myths about the so-called third world. In the first few minutes, he demonstrates that the developing world has more of the traits that one assigns to the “western” world than previously believed. He then continues to attack other myths through the use of statistics, humor and some really neat graphs.

Is globalism hazardous to your health?

“Globalism is a most vile institution that rapes weaker cultures of the world and homogenizes them into a single unit devoid of variety.” Agree? Disagree? Agree somewhat? While most would not agree with the statement, many agree with the sentiment. Opponents of globalism often see it as the forcing of a super-power’s culture onto other smaller cultures. Not to be blunt, but it isn’t.

The spread of the most powerful culture to the rest of the word has been occurring for all of history. Those without power mimic those who have it to improve themselves. The Mayans, Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Hindus, Arabs, Romans, French, British etc ad infinitum have all been mimicked at one point in time or another in the past 4,000 Years. At no point did the world’s cultures fuse into a super-organism: coliseums were built and gladiators were trained, but provinces didn’t cast off their traditions and become purely Roman — had they done so the Roman Empire would have lasted beyond 1,500 C.E. As anyone who has listened to Hindi Pop will notice, just because the world mimics American popular culture, it does not destroy the cultural influences. Drinking Coke and eating a Big Mac does not mean a person abandons their culture.

While not specifically stated, it is a subtext of most discussions of globalism. Culture is often seen as a static institution that should not be allowed to change lest some “unique” features of it are lost to history. However, cultures have come and gone for millennium because its practitioners have changed or found a “better” way to live. The spread of the internet and globalism does not damage cultures, but allows them to adapt to the changing world. While one may bemoan the passing of cultures, sociology as a whole should not forget that its origins are based on “rapid social change.” The way cultures adapt reveals far more about a society than the way it stagnates itself.

Globalism has beneficial effects on societies, as information spreads it is able to penetrate all corners of the world instantaneously. It took 5 centuries for the concept of a ‘0’ to spread from India to Europe: a distance than can now be covered by a person in only a couple hours. Now it takes an hour for the latest news from Tibet — and most of that is because it takes time to write an article. The negative aspects of globalism are far outweighed by the positives, and although the anthropologist can bemoan the lose, sociologists should revel in it.

Image credit: woodleywonderworks

The future of the English language.

The following was sent to me by a friend, the original source is unknown, and google wasn’t much of a help.

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become known as ‘Euro-English’.

In the first year, ‘s’ will replace the soft ‘c’. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy.

The hard ‘c’ will be dropped in favour of ‘k’. This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome ‘ph’ will be replaced with ‘f’. This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent ‘e’ in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and ‘w’with ‘v’.

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary ‘o’ kan be dropd from vords kontaining ‘ou’ and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi TU understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

fin

It is especially funny to me because I have always supported the simplification of the English language, and I’m currently learning German.

Google Question and Answer: Religion in the Roman Empire

Some people search search engines by using a few keywords, but others ask entire questions. This series of posts is dedicated to them. Over the next couple weeks I’m going to pick full questions from my logs and answer them. It is the least I could do.

The first question in this series comes from an American using Windows and Internet Explorer, and they ask “What religion did the People of the Roman Empire follow?” Well I’m glad you asked that… um…let’s call you Fred… while your search landed on a very popular article entitled Causes and Effects of the Popularization of Christianity in the Roman Empire, I’m afraid that it won’t answer your question entirely.

Yes, for a portion of its history the Roman Empire was Christian, but for most of its history Rome itself (including the period of the Republic and the Empire) followed a mythopoeic religion that was closely related the classical Greek religion. It wasn’t until Constantine realized that a single unified religion could revitalize the Roman empire that Christianity actually became a quasi-official religion. Prior to this the Roman Empire as a whole did not have an official religion: each culture was allowed to worship their own gods as long as they paid tribute to the gods of Rome and did not deny their existence. Even this requirement was ignored for a time and the Jewish peoples were allowed to live peaceably under Roman rule for many years. However, as the Roman economy degraded and the Empire spread to encompass many different cultures, it began to fracture and there was little to integrate the different groups or the classes. Read that article if you want to know more.)

For the rest of Roman history, the Romans followed a pagan religion and allowed people to believe whatever they wanted. That was the long way of saying: there was no one religion of the Roman empire, there were many.

My next question comes from … let’s say Sarah … who hails from Canada and also uses Windows and Internet Explorer. Sarah asks Did the church unite the Roman Empire?” Sarah landed on the same page as Fred and again the question is not fully answered. The real answer is both yes and no because individually the Eastern Empire and Western Empire were united through Christianity, but because they both had a slightly different view of Christianity (this is the divide between the Greek Orthodox and Catholic sects) the two parts of the empire slowly separate because of the religion.

You see Sarah, as Christianity spread in its early days, certain cities became the founding cities of the religion think Québec and Toronto or New York City and Boston, so they had a relatively large Christian population with widespread influence. However, in what was to become the Western Roman Empire, there was only one city: Rome, but in the Eastern Roman Empire there were several cities such as Jerusalem and Antioch.

Each of these major cities basically had someone, think a bishop, who was sort of a guide to the people under their influence, so while the Eastern Empire had several religious leaders to look up to, the Western Empire had only one: the Pope. As the two empires split the Western side looked only to their Pope for religious guidance and over time the two churches separated because the Western Pope was seen as the single most influential person in the religion by his own people, but the Eastern Empire was used to following several different religious leaders, so the religious structure of the two sides slowly separated.

So the short and sweet answer is yes, Christianity did unite the Roman Empire, but it united it in two slightly different styles.