Equality of places vs equality of opportunities

Abstract: The contradiction between equality of places and equality of opportunities has never found a satisfactory political solution. It is managed empirically by the presence of social circles. Places are privileged in privacy and opportunities in global society. The internal difficulties currently encountered by democracies come from the collapse of our social circles and an awakening of the antagonist between equality of places and opportunities.

Social schizophrenia

What exactly does the principle of equality in democracy cover? Is it an equality of places, justified by individual existence alone, or an equality of opportunities in the competition to achieve the most coveted places?

The two principles are contradictory. “Equal opportunities” implies the recognition of a natural inequality between individuals, while “equal places” considers this inequality unacceptable. The result is a conflicting, even schizophrenic, social policy: inequality is ineradicable in nature and equality is equally ineradicable in our ideals. This paradox causes ethical debates to be stifled by inconsistencies and the tongue of wood. How to make the subject breathable?

Fixed or mobile places regimes

A review of the literature shows that no real solution has ever been proposed. The authors position themselves in favor of equality of places or opportunities, and have never dissolved their contradiction. ‘Places’ and ‘opportunities’ have generated large political systems that are incompatible with each other. For equality of places, it is of course anarchy and communism, but also aristocracies, monarchies and oligarchies. Indeed, even if the places are unequal, they are fixed in advance and there is therefore no equality of opportunity.

For equal opportunities, the typical regime is ultra-liberal democracy, the most unbridled example of which today is that of the United States. With the very low importance given to equality of places, the gaps have become abysmal. Individual rights still exist, of course, but are monetized like any other commodity.

Is anarchy an opportunity?

Have I not made a mistake in classifying anarchy? It is supposed to be part of libertarian regimes but has no place with equal opportunities. By refusing all government, anarchy refuses the existence of a collective society. An individual can best manage relationships with a few hundred peers, not more. Anarchy operates within the confines of a tribe. No global society possible. Discussing equal opportunities only makes sense in the social ocean and not on an island.

The incompatibility between ‘places’ and ‘opportunities’ is at the heart of the instability of all political regimes. The systems fixing places are more conservative and therefore durable but are inevitably eroded by the animosity born of unequal opportunities. Opportunity systems are chaotic by nature. No place is definitive and individuals worry about losing theirs, when they cannot progress further. Having become quite numerous, they are demanding a return to conservatism.

Is there a solution?

If you have read Societarium, where I develop a universal political system, you already know it. The solution lies in social circles. If equality of places works on an island but not in the social ocean, then additional circles must be added around the island.

The social island, without its most restrictive definition, is the citizen. Around her, the first circle is her couple, then her family, friends, colleagues, fellow citizens, ethnic group, etc. Circles are overlapping sets, however each one delimits itself by creating its own rules. Each context makes us slightly different. We carry out an integration of the rules attached to all the sets in which we are included at this moment.

Between the guaranteed intimate place and the chance of a general place

Social circles draw a succession of boundaries between the individual and society. From then on it is quite easy to manage the contradiction between equality of places and opportunities. The more intimate the circle, the more essential the equality of places is. The more general the circle, the more equality of opportunity becomes important.

The results are perfectly intuitive: both members of a couple are perfectly equal in importance. Children’s places are guaranteed within the family, whatever their talents. At the other end of the scale of circles, it is performance which maintains the place of rulers, business leaders, researchers and artists, who address a large audience.

A shady justice

But then the solution is simple, ultimately, and we already use it! Yes, society is a self-organization and democracy is the regime that promotes its most fluid functioning. However, this solution is only present in the empirical state. The Civil Code does not mention social circles. The judges appreciate in their own way the respective importance of places and chances to render their verdicts, which are strongly influenced by their political allegiance. Depending on whether you find society very unequal or not, whether you think personal destiny is influenced more by innate or acquired, your leniency differs when faced with a crime.

More seriously, social circles are collapsing. If the contradiction between ‘places’ and ‘opportunities’ can only be resolved in their presence, their disappearance will radicalize it. This is what is happening now. The social unrest that undermines our democracies and amplifies populism is entirely linked to the collapse of social circles.

Do not destroy your circles in a network

Note that social networks are not circles. On the contrary, they erase them. Networks are very real and delimited spaces, while circles are virtual spaces entirely integrated into the individual mind. There is no embarrassment in being married, parent, employee, voter, Christian, Western, human at the same time. Whereas it is impossible to be both right and left, racist and anti-racist, conservative and wokist, green and climate skeptic.

Networks erase circles by standardizing thought and refocusing it on the soul of the group. The other circles fade, the family no longer counts, nor does the general collective. The group develops a childishness in its members. They become enthusiastic, angry, hateful as soon as an event threatens the soul of the group. The rise of populism is a direct consequence of this.

In conclusion

Reconciling equality of places and opportunities requires the presence of social circles, their hierarchy, enrichment, clear identification. They must remain permeable, an essential condition for equal opportunities to pass through them. Equality of place is sacred to the most personal of circles, especially the intimacy of bodily needs. We should all have the same rights to food, clothing and shelter. Note the largely unresolved controversy about sexual needs, which are nevertheless part of basic necessities.

The further we move away from these intimate circles, the less equality of places remains justified. By expanding our personal world, by coveting additional luxuries, responsibilities and rights, we must agree to face growing inequalities with others. However, deviations remain reasonable and acceptable when they occur within a social circle, which limits them. That’s the whole point of protecting and multiplying our social circles.


2 thoughts on “Equality of places vs equality of opportunities”

  1. As your discussion at least implies, anarchy rejects structure and control. In this sense, if in this sense alone, it is the antithesis of equality of opportunity. Anarchy ruled much of the history of homo sapiens, and is, if all indications hold, resurgent. Not an encouraging prospect.

  2. Several other notes, if I may (please regard *’s as bullet points):
    * places differ. equality has never been a strong suit, anywhere.
    * as I am sure you know, my country was never keen on equality in the first place. mis- treatment of black people was only one example, glaringly illustrated, yet ignored until an anemic civil rights act, in 1898. Early slave ownership, by important people, were always glossed over. Whitewashing, we have called this. How, ironic, n’cest pas?
    * Chinese labor built American( and Canadian) railroads and no one batted an eye.
    * Japanese Americans were detained and interred, during WWII—just because they had Japanese ancestry. Had Japan been black, those descendent Americans would have suffered the same atrocity.
    * my ancestry is Dutch, English, Welsh, and American Indian. yes. places and opportunities. most of us kept our heads down—hoping wiser heads would prevail. nope.


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