What are the farther reaches of equality? How can the overall “cymatics of equality” progress? What would a “deeper resonance” be like? The general idea would be that deeper equality is not only an issue of distribution, but also—and perhaps ultimately—a question of transformations of the eye of the beholder. Inequality is always caused by an act of measurement, by a beholder who judges the beheld as inferior, be it our “self” or one another. The deepest forms of equality must resonate not only in social structures, but also in the hearts and minds of all participant-observers.
The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. This is the final post in a series on six forms of inequality. In the green box to the right, you can find the links to the full series.
Credit goes to the talented Berlin-based artist Sina Goge for the artwork used in the thumbnail picture.
There’s a clear link to ideas of quantum physics, entanglement and enactment here: The “object” of inequality is non-local and interdependent with the observer. But let’s not delve deeper into it at this point. It suffices to mention that the observer herself must be part of the equation of any deeper and more radical equality.
Instead, I would like to propose a simple stage model to address this issue. Not that the farther stages of equality are anywhere within reach in the present world, but just to understand where we might be heading long-term, inshallah.
Equality, stage one, is the struggle to make people more equal, to even out the real, visceral differences between us: the rich and the poor, the privileged and the underprivileged, the powerful and the disempowered, the enfranchised and the disenfranchised, the respected and the despised.
The six dimensions of equality all play into this struggle. There is an almost infinite amount of work to be done as obviously unjust inequalities saturate every aspect of our lives. The greatest inequality is of course the global divide between rich and poor—and thus, this must be our first and foremost focus.
In practical terms, we are so far from any form of global equality that we must also strive towards more local forms of equality; relative equality within the borders of countries. This is in order to curb the destructive effects of inequality upon each society so that these may develop in stable manners that serve the emergence of a transnational, global order which is fairer and more adaptive than our current morass of global governance (or lack thereof).
We need to let some societies—nations, city hubs and local communities—become nodes in the network that is the intermeshed transnational, metamodern, world order. Of course, this cannot happen unless people in these societies develop postmodern and metamodern values, and that can only happen if there isn’t rampant inequality across all six dimensions.
Equality means making people more equal—in a sense, more alike. This is the classical understanding of equality within socialism and all modern ideologies. It is the kind of underlying assumption that still drives almost all the research into inequality—and all the practical policies towards the same end.
Equivalence goes deeper than that. It is the struggle for people to truly feel as equals, that we are of equal value or worth. After all, the very notion of equality is ridden with paradoxes. Ultimately, we cannot be equal since we are not alike. In fact, we are so very different from one another that even a theoretical state of “perfect equality of opportunity”, a perfect meritocracy, (and the even yet more impossible “equality of information”) would serve to highlight our differences and legitimize our inequalities.
Is there a way out of this paradox? There might be. What if equality could run so deeply that we genuinely feel as equals, in the sense that we are all world citizens and sentient beings? This is equivalence, the genuine sense of equal worth. Such an embodied sense would protect us not only from many exploitations and injustices, but also from many venues of self-blame and inferiority.
Such equivalence has already, to a certain extent, become reality through one of the great modern projects: liberal democracy, in which we are equal before the law, cast equally valid votes and so forth. Equivalence is also, in extension, the utopian or spiritual goal of socialism.
Modernity holds that people are endowed with sacred and inviolable, natural rights—unfortunately yet to be extended to other animals—and as such endowed with some kind of basic dignity.[i] We are “all humans”, “all individual citizens of the state”, “all workers of the people’s republic”, and so forth.
But in reality, the disempowered, disenfranchised, disdained and emotionally impoverished find little solace in this “formal” or legal idea of equivalence. It goes some way to make us feel like equals, but in practice, we hardly feel like dignified equals of one another.
If there could be a deeper form of equivalence, one that is felt and embodied by many more of us, this would work against the paradoxes of equality. If we genuinely felt the equal value of ourselves and others, many of the corrosive effects of inequality would certainly be mitigated. We could accept our differences and still feel as dignified equals.
Can we awaken in ourselves and one another a profound sense of dignity inherent to every human? This must be a goal that lies beyond formal, legal and material equality. Hence, equivalence is a higher stage than simple equality.
Equanimity goes deeper still. It is the spiritual and psychological struggle to give up our deeply seated tendency to judge and evaluate ourselves and others in the first place. You could say it’s about transcending “the spectrum of judgment” (the scale of negative emotions) altogether, or to become less enthralled by the need to possess a comparatively positive self-image—an ego.
I snatched the term from Buddhist teachings in which “equanimity” is practiced as a mental stance of accepting our mental and bodily states as well as our life situations and ongoing events. As such it is linked to higher subjective and spiritual inner states and can only be achieved in a society in which the average inner state is much higher and the social logics of everyday life are governed as little as possible by the underlying negative emotions of the spectrum of judgment.
Equanimity doesn’t mean that we give up discernment; we still need to evaluate the behaviors, ideas and efforts of one another. It just means there is a fundamental sense of “okay-ness”, of acceptance—that our differences and inequalities no longer remain such a big deal.
And it certainly doesn’t mean that we no longer care about inequalities and injustices—which Buddhism is often accused of by the Left.
In practice, true equanimity would only be conceivable in a state of profound material, emotional, social and existential abundance. So it’s not really a conceivable goal for society anytime soon. It would be a society in which we obviously are not equals, but where that still—and strangely—is okay; where everyone “is okay”, where people are not only tolerated but accepted.
Acceptance, in this sense, is the negative side of love. When we love someone fully, it is not only that we cherish their strengths and potentials, but that we accept their weaknesses and struggles. Such love can be found in some of the best families and long-lasting marriages.
Dare we ask of ourselves, for the future of humanity, to aspire for such an acceptance of all creatures under the sun? Here we return to the core of Christianity and other world religions. In a state of genuine non-hierarchical non-judgment, our inequalities can be treated more productively as differences—and nothing more.
Of course, equanimity of this kind would mean the end of that paradoxical phantom still haunting us: envy. When we no longer judge ourselves, we are no longer obsessed with the strengths and weaknesses of one another. And what lies beyond a life of fear, guilt, shame and Sklavenmoral; beyond hatred, judgment, disdain and envy?
There it is again, waiting for us, the crazy Nietzschean moustache: the Übermensch, the attractor point that draws us beyond the category of humanity and its limitations.
Perhaps, in the future, we can stumble upon it. Inshallah. And, as with freedom, we can begin to see that the higher goal of societal development is not so much to achieve “perfect equality”, but rather to render the very struggle for equality obsolete.
Equality, equivalence and equanimity—there is the progression, from leveling the unfair differences between us, to adopting a more profound sense of value for all, to letting go of our strange human obsession with impossible comparisons, ultimately rendering equality itself obsolete.
But if the latter two are so distant, are they not merely a distraction from humanity’s struggle for a more realistic equality? They can be. Why, then, have I presented them here?
Because they can still show up momentarily, in limited settings, for shorter periods of time, in small incubators within our personal relationships and some of the metamodern internet tribes out there. They might not stabilize or spread, but only flicker past us during our lives. But as such they can remind us of the deeper meaning of equality, and thus subtly steer the development of the world-system.
In such settings, where equanimity reigns, creativity must be held higher than equality. The longing for equality must not get in the way of creative processes that can help us achieve human flourishing in the first place. We must become lovers of the will to power—the power of ourselves and one another to create and to transcend.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.
[i]. In embryonic forms, this was already the case within traditional religions such as Christianity and Buddhism. “We are all children of God with unique souls”, “We are all born into a perfect human rebirth”, etc.
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