The Era of Procrustes
Tibor R. Machan
It used to be an ugly trait to be envious. Envy is when one holds that it would be best if everyone were equally badly off. If you are better off than I am, envy will incline me to want you to give up whatever it is that is advantageous and accept burdens up to the point where you are no better off than is anyone else. Makes little sense but there you go.
When I came to the USA I managed to get admitted to a college that mostly well to do students attended. For example, during the Christmas break a good many of them went off to St. Moritz and Veil to do some skiing, something I couldn’t do as a first generation immigrant. I took some job during the break while my mates were off doing all kinds of fun stuff.
Although I noticed this, I never felt even a smidgen of envy. Indeed, my feeling tended toward delight, knowing that in time I may well take similar vacations or, at least, my own offspring will be able to do so. And while I lived in a room in a house owned by a lady near the college, most of my classmates had far more impressive accommodations. And I thought, “Good for them–there is where I want to be in the future!” Not, “What horrors, they are doing better than I am,” at least in some basic respects.
Later in my education I ran across the myth of Procrustes. He was the fellow who invited guests to his abode only to cut them all down to one size so they could fit his bed. Over the years I found that Procrustes’ solution to differences among his guests was the same as that of a great many political theorists, including many who are now in charge of public policies in America and across the globe. One size needs to fit all! Anytime someone is a bit better off than others, this must be remedied by eliminating the difference. Equality is the operative ideal these days. Just watch all the fuss about Mitt Romney’s wealth.
Not everyone falls in line with this and here and there are some very formidable dissidents, among them George Orwell whose story Animal Farm teaches very valuable lessons about this destructive social philosophy. Making everyone equal, in economic or other matters, is mostly a failed mission and invites the worst of all inequalities, namely, inequality of political power. Those imposing the ideal of equality will be anything but equal to those on whom they impose their misconceived idealistic policies. Just think of the old Soviet Union.
Yet, despite his education, President Obama and his pals tend to be an avid egalitarians. They don’t even allow that some people may have worked hard enough to get ahead of others in wealth creation. For him no one could have achieved the advantages he or she enjoys.
Luckily we have reminders aplenty that this fanaticism about equality is totally misguided and dangerous to boot. The recent Olympic Games helps to see just how crazy egalitarianism is. And anyone who teaches in the various schools where young people are attempting to gain knowledge and are tested for how well their efforts have paid off cannot miss the fact that those who study hard tend to get farther than those who just hang out at school.
Sadly egalitarianism gains support from some pseudo science in our day, especially the kind that insists that no one has any power over his or her life, that our actions are all driven by impersonal forces. Despite the paradox involved in this kind of thinking–which, if true, would allow for no remedies of anything at all–a lot of people jump on the bandwagon and it gains enormous institutional support around the educational, psychological community.
But a good dosage of common sense alone should serve to repel that kind of support for egalitarianism. After all, the egalitarians who want to make changes in our institutions are clearly not buying it. They think they can certainly make a big difference. But if they can, so can we all.