I walked out of the university campus bewildered after meeting Prof. Ghasin. The country of Ladnam was clearly committed to achieving social equality—or as Ghasin had put it, equality of results in every segment of the population in every endeavor. Everyone had a victim ranking—a combination of community, family and individual disability. Everything in the country—admissions, jobs, media coverage—was determined by it. As I walked along the broken road with weeds sprouting out of its cracks, I had a sick feeling in my stomach—if hell is paved with good intentions, Ladnam with its straightjacket of birth-based quotas and victim indexes had produced a grotesque society, the very opposite of the land of equality that I had searched for.
Heavy with my thoughts, I sat down on the side of the road when I noticed a man on the other side breaking rocks. He looked about thirty years old, and was dressed in coarse garments. His face had a distinctive glow. There was something distinguished about his appearance—as if he were a man in disguise, like the prince who dressed up in rags to survey his kingdom. He was breaking rocks slowly and deliberately, with smooth fluid motions. He turned up to look at me staring at him and waved. Curious to find out more about him, I walked to his side.
“You seem troubled,” he said, looking at me, “Did you find out what you wanted at the university?”
I was taken aback. Did he just see me coming out of the university or did he actually know what I had come for. His smile was warm and reassuring.
“I’m Rishi,” he said, holding out his hand. “My sister told me about you,” he explained, “And your quest for the land of equality.”
“Your sister?” I said. Then it dawned on me. “Oh! That girl I had met in the university admissions line. I remember now she had said her brother breaks stones by the road because he was too intelligent to be admitted to the university. I thought she was joking.”
“In Ladnam we are always very serious,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “As you can see, we take our quest for equality very seriously as well. My parents were teachers and I am the oldest child of the family. I had a happy childhood, my parents never divorced, and I choose not to use my caste name, so I have a low victim score. It is impossible for me to get admission into college or a job.”
“Social equality has been my dream,” I said, pouring out my confusion, “But Ladnam is more like a nightmare. Fifty thousand different categories of quotas—for everything from television coverage to walks in the park—how did this come about?”
“I am about done with my day’s work,” he said “Would you like to walk with me to the village—we can talk on the way. You are welcome to stay with me if you have no other place.”
I gratefully accepted his offer. I had not lined up a place to stay and I was keen to learn as much as I could about Ladnam from Rishi.
Rishi efficiently collected his tools and we set off silently past the rocky terrain and towards a distant forest.
“There are two ways to answer your question,” Rishi said, “Philosophically and historically” It took me a moment to remember that I had asked him how Ladnam came to be about five minutes ago.
“Philosophically, Ladnam is the result of adherence to the religious dogma of equality of results. Historically, it is the result of certain events.
“The Ladnam Commission, named after Ladnam, the father of our nation, was the first to articulate this doctrine of “equality of results.” Its claim was that this was the only true equality. To the commission this meant that every section of the population must show equal results.
“We started off by declaring certain classes of people as “Backward” and having fixed quotas for those people in government jobs. Later this was extended to government schools and universities.
“However, people right pointed out that the “Backward classes” were not uniform. There were some among them who were already well situated, the so-called creamy layer, and they should be treated differently. Other’s pointed out that there were different castes that were lumped as “Backward” and, even after removing the creamy layer, the “advanced backwards” showed higher results than the “most backwards” so there should be different quotas for each of these.
“However, even the split between the “most backwards” and the “advanced backwards” did no solve the problem. After all we were talking of hundreds of millions of people who had been classified as most backward. Within that there were further differences. Finally it was resolved that there would be a separate quota for every caste, 3500 in all.
“The problem was still not over. Every caste had a creamy layer; there were different levels of cream. Others pointed out that even within these there were gender disparities, and then there were disparities of age; and disparities based on parental education, and so on.
“The only fair thing, then, was to create separate quotas for each of these categories. Human beings always fall into multiple categories. The religious principle of equality of results inevitably demands the same outcome for very possible slice.”
I interrupted him. “Why do you insist on calling equality a religious principle?” I asked. “I am not religious at all—I consider myself a liberal—scientific and rational—and I believe in equality.”
“How is ‘belief in equality’ different from any other kind of religious belief?” he queried back. “There is nothing scientific or rational about it.”
“We observe that human beings, indeed all natural things, are born different.” He continued, “Look at the forest before us—the trees are unequal in length and girth. They have different leaves and different fruit.”
“Yes, but all trees of the same kind share their genetic code.” I countered. “All human beings have the same set of genes.”
“The same set of genes, but not identical traits.” he said. “Even children born and raised in the same family can be dramatically different—in intelligence, in their talents and characteristics.”
“That’s true,” I said, “But shouldn’t, on average, every large segment of the human population have the same intelligence and attributes—every community, every caste, every country, every race. So every large grouping of people should be equally successful as any other, in the absence of discrimination.”
“It may be so,” he said, “But this needs to be demonstrated scientifically by data in the actual results. It cannot be assumed.”
“But different communities, even though equal, may show different results because of the discrimination they face,” I countered, “So this may never be proven by the data.”
“Exactly. So the theory of equality is self-justifying. The theory of equality is fundamentally a religious dogma. It can never be disproved. All empirical data which shows different outcomes will be waived away citing ‘discrimination.’ The dogma of equality is irrefutable by any evidence. This makes it a religion, not science” His tone was softly persuasive.
“But, but,” I said hotly, “Are you saying that some communities are inherently superior to others? That sounds terribly like the racist theories of the 19th century.” I was feeling extremely uncomfortable with his line of reasoning. I did not want to spend the night with a bigot.
“I am saying no such thing” he said with a disarming smile, “The idea of inherent superiority and the idea of inherent equality are both religious belief systems. Just like equality is an assumption, so is superiority. Reality is far more interesting than ideologies of either racism or equality. A racist claims that some races are superior to others, that they are naturally so. Thus some races must rule over others. After all, Aristotle was the first one to proclaim the doctrine of natural slavery of races and this was used to justify much of European colonization.
An “equalist”—if I may coin the term—claims that “all men are created equal”. This is obviously a religious, not a scientific doctrine, since it is readily observed that people are not equal in their talents and abilities. This is such an obvious fact that the equalists cannot deny it, so they claim then, that any large enough segment of population must display the same results on any given criteria.
This again, is not scientifically demonstrable—in actual measurements large segments of the population do show different results on different traits. Since the religious principle of equality cannot be sacrificed, the equalist then creates a theory of discrimination i.e. different segments of the population show different results because those showing inferior results in some criteria, are being discriminated against. This again, becomes a self affirming belief—it can never be refuted since any and all discrepancy can be “explained” by stating, vociferously, that this is due to discrimination since all are created equal. No data can change this belief. The belief in equality is fundamentally a religious belief.
A racist, similarly, is equally convinced that race A is superior to race B. If people of race B exhibit some traits in which they are, on average, better than people of race A then the trait itself will get labeled an inferior trait. The belief in the superiority of race A to race B remains unshaken, irrespective of data. It is only when one believes that everyone must be equal that racism can exist. Since everyone must be equal, but it is found that they are actually different, these differences are then sought to be explained by racism. Racism and equalism are conjoined, racism cannot exist in the absence of religious doctrines of equality.”
The sun was starting to go down as we moved deeper into the forest. We walked silently for a while amid the lengthening shadows of the trees as I brooded upon my thoughts. Long cherished ideas were not easy to give up and I was as committed to equality as anyone had been. But I had no answer to Rishi’s questions.
But there was at least one flaw in his argument. “Are you saying that there is no discrimination in society?” I asked, “Or are you saying that the discrimination is ok and everything should just remain the way it is without anyone trying for equality?”
“I am saying neither of these things.” His voice was gentle. “Let us look at things as they are first before trying to bring our own theories of how they should be. Discrimination exists. It should be tackled as discrimination without needing to introduce grand theories of equality. Change also exists. We can try to influence what kind of change takes place and with what objective.”
“Consider the trees in the forest in front of us” he said gesturing expansively with his hands. “All trees are certainly not equal. They do not get equal light and shade and nutrition. They are all not the same size or height. Different plants in the forest also have different properties and different functions.”
“How would you make all these trees equal? You could destroy the natural forest and try to plant trees so that all get the same sunlight and nutrition. Even then they may not be equal. You could alternatively chop the taller ones down to size so that they are all equal in height. Achieving equality of results is inseparable from violence. Quotas in our society are ultimately a form of violence.” His voice was even but for the first time I found a tinge of sorrow.
“Different communities or kinds of plants also have different strengths and weaknesses. The tall pines have different strengths than the creepers that climb on them.”
I was again troubled. “But aren’t these exactly the kinds of analogies that have been used to preserve the old order and traditional hierarchies of power? We cannot live in the past.”
“Yes, change is a constant. What does not function for our needs today needs to be set aside. But what exactly makes something into a hierarchy? Do the trees and the creepers have a hierarchical relationship?”
“Well one could say that the trees are the kings of the forest and the creepers their underlings. The trees are tall strong and stately. The creepers are thin and dependent and can’t stand up on their own. So the trees are higher up in the hierarchy.”
“Couldn’t one just as easily say that the trees support the creepers” he said. “The lower supports the higher. By this reasoning the trees are at the base of the pyramid and the creepers on the top.”
“What we are saying, in effect” he continued, “is that our value system is what creates the hierarchy. In reality there is a multiplicity of hierarchies—some of which place one community at the top and the other, others. What if each type of plant actually thinks that they are the best and their function is the most important—this would lead to a harmonious natural state.”
“Every value system creates a hierarchy. For instance, if one values tallness and load-bearing capacity, then the trees will be at the top of the hierarchy; if one values flexibility then the creepers will be. When there is not a uniform standardized value system, each can rightfully consider themselves at the top of the hierarchy.
“But now let us say someone comes from outside and through the mechanisms of power privileges just one value system and hierarchy. They specify who is on top and who is on the bottom—for everyone. Here we are talking about this society. The hierarchy then becomes coded into law and state practice. It destroys the idea that everyone could think that their place is the most important. Everyone now has to compete to be in what is defined as the top in that single value system. If the value system of trees is privileged, then creepers must be measured by what a tree is. Tallness, for example, not flexibility. Obviously, not everyone is equally well prepared to do so. This is where quotas come in. However, what quotas do not question is why certain things are privileged over others—for example, why is college education, for which there are quotas, privileged over working in the field, for which there are no quotas?