Equality & Respect: How I'm Equal to Hugh Jackman
According to the Declaration of Independence, we’re all created equal. But Professor Aeon Skoble is not as rich as Bill Gates, as tough as Vin Diesel, or as sexy as Hugh Jackman. To Professor Skoble, the Declaration intends for us all to be treated equally before the law. Put another way, we should all have equal freedom to choose our own respective paths to happiness as long as we do not infringe on the freedoms of others.
Treating people as equals means that we should show equal respect for the choices they make. That means that, although we may disagree with others, we should respect their preferences for jobs, tv shows, music, etc… The legal system should show equal respect for persons by respecting their rights equally, not by interfering with the outcomes of people’s choices. If we try to produce equality in some other fashion, we will necessarily violate people’s freedom to choose.
Equality & Respect: How I’m Equal to Hugh Jackman
To be perfectly honest, I’m not as sexy as Hugh Jackman.
According to the Declaration of Independence, we’re all supposedly equal. But I’m not as wealthy as Bill Gates. I’m not as tough as Vin Diesel, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not as sexy as Hugh Jackman.
So, what’s all this about equality? One way they’re my equals is our legal standing. We enjoy equal freedom to choose our path to happiness and act to secure it. We’re equal in our liberty. The only way we can all have equal liberty is if we understand liberty not as the freedom to do whatever I please, but as the freedom to do whatever I please subject to the condition that this doesn’t infringe others’ freedoms.
The philosopher John Locke was careful to distinguish liberty from licentiousness. If we’re equal, then I can’t treat others as if they were my slaves. I just thought of another inequality: I think I have the best job in the world, but we can’t all have the same job, then nothing would get done. But, wait. Does Hugh Jackman wish that he had my job? My guess is that he likes what he does, just as I like what I do.
Since there is a wide plurality of human tastes and preferences, we can all enjoy what we do without all doing the same thing. Some of the things that some people enjoy, others don’t like at all. Some people watch TV shows I think are awful, listen to music I can’t stand, read books I wouldn’t enjoy.
But, I can respect that people have different tastes and preferences without sharing them, as long as their preferences don’t entail violating other people’s rights. I need not respect the lifestyle choices of serial killers the way I do respect the lifestyle choices of people who like music I don’t like. I can treat everyone with equal respect as long as I recognize their equal values as persons, their equal moral worth. By the same token, the legal order can show equal respect for persons by respecting their rights equally. That’s true equality.
If we try to produce equality in some other way, we’d actually be failing to respect persons, because we would either have to violate their freedom to choose, or we’d be violating the freedom to choose of someone else. For example, we could take away some acting jobs from Hugh Jackman so that I could have one. That would be a step towards equalizing things between us.
It wouldn’t get me on the cover of People magazine. But, it would get me more money. Of course, it would also mean that his fans wouldn’t be as well served. And more importantly, it would mean that both of us were denied opportunities to do what we love to do. Treating us as equals doesn’t mean that he should be required to write books or that I should be required to act and sing.
Treating us as equals means showing equal respect to the choices we make, provided that our choices don’t entail taking away a similar freedom for others. It means we must enjoy equal protection of our rights.