Saturday, May 29, 2010

Equality Re-visited

Having said what I have said about 'equality', I find it necessary to address another issue - a very pertinent issue capable of causing a lot of heartburn.

When we say that two things or two men are unequal, we usually rush to conclude that one is inherently superior or inferior to another.

Equal and unequal are one pair of words; superior and inferior are a different pair. I see no reason to link inequality with either inferiority or superiority. This is avoidable confusion.

Perhaps the confusion is because if something is superior to something else, the two are obviously not equal. But if two things are not equal, can we say that one is inherently superior to the other? The converse is simply not necessarily true here.

The superiority or inferiority of any thing or person depends on the context. It has only a fleeting value and transient relevance. What is superior in one situation may be inferior in another or even irrelevant.

A steel rope and a hemp rope are definitely not equal - in terms of strength, cost etc. But, the superiority or inferiority of either is a different cup of tea altogether. Neither is inherently superior or inferior to the other.

In terms of strength, the steel rope is decidedly superior. So, if one is looking for a rope to build a suspension bridge, the steel rope is the rope of choice. It is superior – in that context.

In terms of cost, the hemp rope is decidedly superior if all that one wants is to use the rope to tie a pile of old clothes into a bundle. In that context, the hemp rope is superior in terms of cost and suitability as well!

The learning of a scholar may be (considered) superior when peace and prosperity are prevailing in society. But is it superior to the battle skills of a warrior if there is a battle raging? Is it superior to the swimming skill of another when the two are faced with drowning?

As I have said, ‘equal’ and ‘unequal’ are one pair of words and ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ a different pair. If we must link them, we should remember that ‘unequal’ does not necessarily imply either inferiority or superiority.


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