The Left likes to view itself as the champions of equality, compassion, tolerance and support for the oppressed. As with many people, my most dramatic experiences of the Left are of people who are entitled, self-righteous, vicious and nasty.
Status through equality
Unequal equalising power
The most extreme version of this is in North Korea's bizarre dynastic Stalinism, where one family is deemed to have such transcendent status and moral-historical understanding that the entire apparatus of state (which has essentially subsumed the entire society) is directed according to their purposes. A family that includes an eternal President as well as an eternal Secretary-General and whose current ruling avatar is the third generation of such transcendent guides. All in the names of creating the perfectly equal society utterly free of every last element of exploitation and alienation. But the Kim dynasty has just turned into a dynastic principle the underlying logic of complete material equality and entitled moral purity.
Great imbalances in power have consequences: a perennial consequence of huge power imbalances throughout history has been a small elite living a luxurious existence and masses living in want. Despite the worship of "correct" historical and moral "understanding" in certain circles, equalising intentions are absolutely no protection against that perennial reflection of human nature. That the logic of material equalising generates great power inequalities is much more important a causal factor than the alleged motivation behind the power inequalities. The means chosen utterly overwhelms the alleged motivation. Indeed, this is the problem with the notion that the ends justify the means: the ends are mere intentions in the mind, the means chosen are what affects the world. So, the disastrous effect of utopian ends comes from the absolute nature of the thereby justified means.
Some of the latter has been on display in the recent round of commencement addresses in US campuses, where the banning of "heretics" from speaking at US campuses continues to get (via) nuttier and nuttier (while remaining nasty, entitled, self-righteous, vicious and ultimately self-destructive). The science of climate has become infected with the same vicious heretic-hunting, as the recent experience of Prof. Lennart Bengtssom has shown.
Status through equality
But I have long since realised that ostentatious commitment to equality has a huge status advantage--since social life is so multidimensional, one can always find another "axis of equality" to push. Why is that a status advantage? Because the more committed to equality one is, the more morally virtuous one is. If one sort of equality becomes generally supported, then one shifts to another to keep ahead in the moral purity stakes.
Support for equality can thus degenerate into a fairly vicious status game. A point that applies to virtues generally, including those the Left is ostentatiously attached to. So the status game of ostentatious morality--the game of feeling morally entitled and self-righteous--generates vicious and nasty behaviour in the name of compassion and tolerance. Robespierre's reign of virtue (which showed how to transmute alleged virtue into terror and viciousness if enough ostentatious self-righteous entitlement is applied) resonating through history, including the pale and pathetic mirrors thereof provided by petulant and privileged youth on US campuses.
Unequal equalising power
Equality specifically has a deeply vicious potential logic to it, for if equality is applied to the material things of life (beyond welfare state redistribution), then pervasive power has to be applied to ensure people do not exchange or work their way into unequal outcomes. This then sets up a profound inequality--between those to be equalised and those who do the equalising. Not merely an inequality of power (though that drives much of the consequences) but also an inequality of status and moral-historical "understanding".
|The compulsorily equal and their equalising hereditary owner.|
This dynastic Stalinism has created a Party-state-society which is, of course, also a standing offence against such complete material equality as the ruling elite (particularly the ruling dynasty) live lives of great luxury. But that is an inevitable consequence of the gulf in power and status between those to be equalised and those doing the equalising. We can see the same logic in another state committed to material equality which (not coincidentally) has also applied the dynastic principle to leadership of the state: Cuba, were an ailing Fidel Castro has been succeeded by his younger brother Raul Castro.
If people want to see the society described by the film Elysium in real life--a small elite living luxurious and privileged lives while the masses live in the midst of decaying economic ruin--then all they have to do is to go to Havana, Cuba. As writer Michael J. Totten describes.
|Elysium: presenting us with a post-Castro Los Angeles.|
If anything, the creating-equality motivations make the effect worse, since material equality is so all-encompassing a goal there is no part of social life that power cannot justify reaching into while full equality without any exploitation or alienation is so ostentatiously "noble" a goal that almost any status game can be justified for its power-practitioners.
may or may not have been intended as critique of American capitalism: as such it is a failure. To take only one basic point, a fundamental pattern of capitalism has been the diffusion of technology through society, not its elite monopolisation. But as a description of what a society formally dedicated to complete material equality ends up being like, the film is spot on, as North Korea and Cuba demonstrate.
The Emancipation Sequence, the long fight for equal protection of the law--from the battle against slavery and for Jewish emancipation, Catholic emancipation, votes for women, women's liberation, civil rights, queer emancipation--has been a noble and ennobling series of events in human history. But that is a world away from vicious logic of equality that leads to Havanna's Elysium on Earth, the dynastic Stalinism of North Korea or the pale, pathetic distant mirrors thereof in what the petulant and privileged fortunate heirs of other people's struggles get up to on US campuses.