The problem with equality is that it takes and never gives back. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The problem with equality is that it’s often mistaken for equation…and that’s when it takes, takes, takes. There’s equality of opinion, and then there’s equation of opinion – Australian university students tend to opt for the latter. For all their much talked about openness to the diversity of opinion, Australian universities aren’t all that diverse.
Real diversity requires that we tolerate what we cannot tolerate; an in-equation in which we are equal to one another. Many university students live in a too intolerant culture of “open-mindedness” to recognize this. Difference, for these students, is a thing of style, a certain way of being: you must be a certain kind of person first before you can be considered different enough for your expression to be tolerable. At university, people are not equal in their difference, but are equal because they are different. I am troubled by this closed-mindedness.
I am for the different: the sexually, physically, thoughtfully different. But at the border of difference is more difference, and individuality is a thing without an archetype – I’m not even sure it can be called a ‘thing’; call it rather an un-contoured space that’s recognizable only as we transition from one individual to the next. From the indifferent many, to the extravagant few, individuality has no original but itself. And so I am for all difference, whether it be in the palm of two men holding hands, or in the Leviticus-loving heart of a family-values priest.
And it is this thought that prompts me to write a little about Liberty. None of us are moths that follow moths that all fly to a single light – in our manifold union of community, each of us is gifted with our own eloquence, and a desire to chase after its articulation. If we are to be fully human, we must each of us make a golden enfranchisement of our own, individual souls. And it is in the recognition of this necessity for personal fulfilment that Liberty originates.
For, what the idea of Liberty promotes is incorrectness, irregularity, and distinctness; what it fears is measure, rule, and standard. It is the idea of a native exuberance exploring the tones of its own melody in a balanced tension with the organized harmony of a community that necessarily curbs it. Its motto: ‘equality, but not equation.’
The vitality of a nation is centred on the point of this tension; on that point where the two masses of Liberty and Equality hold each other apart in equanimity, just as the stars do. This health of Liberty (manifested in the individual) and Equality (manifested in the community) is also vitality in a person.
But tip the scale too much one way or the other, and you will lose – as Hippocrates might’ve said – your medicinal equilibrium. Too much Liberty, and you have Anarchy; too much Equality, and you can have one of two (not dissimilar) things: Fascism, which creates equality by eradicating difference and introducing sameness; or, Socialism, which creates equality by assimilating difference and introducing sameness.
Too much of history has been the supreme assertion of one of the two extremes of Equality and a dispensing with the counterpoise of Liberty. In Australia, today, there are ominous symptoms that our community is suffering from a milder form of the latter extreme – assimilation through political correctness (in some disturbing instances backed by law).
The necessity for equality, the fear that incites its impulse, is the quite natural fear of the incomprehensible Other. It is in the interests of survival that the mind assimilate everything outside of itself into intelligibility – making the world homely so that it can be at home. This is no bad thing, and there’s a wisdom in it that materializes into the organization of a community.
But the desire to regulate the world after our own private image often errs into intolerance and prejudice. Majorities and minorities are formed. Now are these minorities being smashed into non-existence by those majorities; now are those majorities politically corrected and organized into the image of these minorities. But isn’t our blood the same under the colour of the rose?
These containers, ‘minority/majority’, are a bleach to make complexity comprehendible. What they belie is the fact that, when considered in themselves, all minorities are majorities (that is, majorities of minority), and all majorities are unions of minority (minorities so minor that their membership is nothing more than a single individual). The cohesion of a generality dissolves when the united difference of particulars distinguishes itself.
Liberty is the expression and protection of this united difference, and it is the counter-point to any too rampant Equality. If it is to survive as an idea, and if what it protects is to survive, then the expression of all major-minorities and all minor-majorities must be protected. A gay man or woman must be free to openly express their sexual being; but so too must the man or woman who is uncomfortable and fearful of such sexuality be free to openly voice and sustain the concerns of their own being. Both must learn to exist in a respectful compromise.
“Respectful” is the emphatic term here: Respect is the co-promise of the liberal individual with the liberal community. Which gets me to the point that Liberty is no anarchy; no supreme assertion of the individual at the expense of other individuals. No. Liberty is a civil thing enshrined for the protection of a community co-founded by individuals, in which both the ideal of the individual and the ideal of the community are fulfilled. Liberty is a promise, not just of freedom, but of the responsibility to abide and protect the freedom of the Other, however odious they may be.
In our universities, and in our nation, give a little less equality and a little more liberty towards thought and expression.