When I sat down to add this topic to the list gathered together under the post “Some thoughts on some issues”, I was intending to create one labelled “Indigenous Issues”. The twitter gang had been tweeting extensively about how to talk about indigenous issues, to the point that the growing list of twitter handles left around 20 characters in which to develop a pithy rejoinder.
But as I thought about what I wanted to write, I realised the fact that “indigenous” issues are nothing more than issues of how we treat different members of our society or, more to the point, members of the society who are “different” from us. So I realised a better title is Equality because ultimately, that what this whole topic is about. In the end, the issues are about equality in opportunity, in the protection, encouragement and control our society places on its members and in the sensitivity and tolerance our society has for people who have different values. So here goes my $0.02 on the subject of Equality.
First of all, let me definitely say, people are NOT equal. The American Constitution aside, this is self-evident. In fact, the inequality of people spreads as far as it can, to every single individual being different from every other (even identical twins start diverging, (somatically if not genetically) the moment they become two separate fertilised eggs). To me, this is a clue as to how we approach the equal treatment of all the members of our society. We constantly compare ourselves to others, often forgetting that they have had a completely different genetic base and environment from us and, indeed, from everyone else on the entire planet. We are all of us unique and so can’t be equal. So social equality just cannot be based on anything genetic – male, female, big, small, black, brown, yellow or pink, clever or not. Instead, it needs to be based on outcomes and be targeted to individuals who exhibit something that requires social intervention. If someone is bitten by a snake, we rush them to a clinic or hospital and we treat them with anti-venom or whatever. We do this no matter if the person is young or old, white or black, male or female, Australian or a foreign tourist. The issue is that someone has been bitten and needs treatment and the issue is completely without any other categorisation.
Now how about someone struggling with alcohol. Perhaps they are getting violent when they are drunk and the society decides it needs to step in to save them from injuring either themselves or others. Again, it really shouldn’t matter into which categories the person falls, but what can best be done to ease the situation. If there are a better clinical way of handling a situation when the person has, say a chronic illness, then that information is a useful director into the most appropriate action.
The overwhelming difference between people is between individuals. So all categorisations are generalisations of the true state and often dangerously so. Time was when it might be put about in Australia that Irishmen were all thieves, that Chinese are all penny-pinching or Greeks are all lazy, or New Zealanders are simply magnificent 🙂 These are sweeping generalisations and dangerously so and are, of course, simply not borne out by any facts. There are thieving, penny-pinching, lazy people in all walks of life, of all ages, sexes, ethnicities, etc as well as simply magnificent people everywhere you look.
So my desire would be to have absolutely no mention in any legislation on race or ethnic background, sex or religion, but to identify issues that individuals may have and how society should respond to the issues. If, for example, some people have a connection with certain locations, then that should be considered when legislating about land, regardless of any other factor about the people having the connection.
Categorisation, the allocation of individuals to pre-defined “boxes” is a basic human predisposition and quick categorisation into danger/opportunity has historically helped us tremendously with our survival. The initial categorisation is done immediately and in seconds, and is almost all based on previous and taught experience. “Is this person a danger to me? No, okay, is there an opportunity to gain from an interaction with this person? Can this person inform me more about how the world is, help me to grow, to understand?” To properly participate in a complex, heterogeneous society, we need to be aware that these categorisations are going on but not to act reflexively to them – and, perhaps to evolve them into more accurate and useful categorisations as in – “This person is lying to me – I wonder what they want.”
Now that I’ve so cleverly persuaded you that it’s the interaction of a society with its individuals that matters, the society still needs to decide what are acceptable and unacceptable actions on the part of its members and then to act accordingly. If we as a society decide, for example, that child or forced marriage is wrong, then it should be wrong for all, even for those members practising a religion that condones it. The “category”, for want of a better word to the members of which specific social measures are applied becomes those enforcing the marriage, the parents or legal guardians of the children in question, etc. regardless of religion, age, sex etc.