Re-thinking equality of opportunity

Fascinating essay from Dylan Matthews that asks to re-think the concept of equality of opportunity.  It short– it’s actually not something we want.  He makes a pretty compelling argument.  I really liked this part:

The motivation to work hard and make a serious effort isn’t simply a personal choice. It’s the result of millions of environmental and genetic factors: Did your parents push you growing up? Are you predisposed to depression? Did you go to a good school? Were you held as an infant? Did you inhale lead fumes as a child? The ability to work hard is a privilege, spread unevenly across genomes and households, with more going to the rich than to the poor. People who struggle with motivation due to factors beyond their control — be it genetics or mental illness or socioeconomic deprivation — do not deserve our scorn. They deserve our help.  [emphasis mine]

Elites like to talk about effort because it justifies their own positions. It provides a non-arbitrary explanation for their wealth and privilege. It offers an excuse for elites to look out for disadvantaged people with whom they empathize, and not those with whom they feel no kinship. We look at an oft-suspended kid with a 1.4 GPA and see a delinquent. We look at a violinist with a 4.0 and see ourselves. And so we wind up helping the one who needs less help to begin with.

I love the emboldened paragraph because it so reflects my views.  Yes, I’ve done quite well in life.  I’m smart and reasonably hard-working.  I just won the genetic lottery with my intellect and emotional stability.  And on the non-genetics side, I was raised by well above average parents in a stable, middle-class home.  All of that has helped me.  I even suspect there’s a pretty good genetic component to being hard-working.  But even if there’s not, did I choose to be hard-working, or is it more likely that being the product of good parents in a particular community helped me to be hard-working?  I’m definitely with the latter.  So, if we actually just go by equality of opportunity, the rich (not just in money, of course) just get richer.  So, what do we aim for?

That’s because they’re outcomes, the thing opportunity egalitarians define themselves in opposition to. By embracing them, we give ourselves goals to strive for, a basis to determine if our politics are working, a clear path forward. By rejecting them, we are left with a morass of conceptual confusion. Equality of opportunity is a distraction. It takes our eyes off the prize. And in the process, it perpetuates the logic that lets actualinequality fester. The sooner we stop talking about mobility and opportunity and start talking about poverty and suffering, the sooner we can solve these problems.

Equality of opportunity is not the goal. The goal is a good life for all. We should settle for nothing less.

Good stuff.  Sure got this advocate of “equality of opportunity” thinking.

Photo of the day

What is it about foxes being so photogenic.  From a Bored Panda gallery of fox seemingly enjoying themselves:

At least Muslims are better than atheists and socialists

Ben Carson does not think a Muslim should be president.  Alas, he’s far from alone.  Aaron Blake on the story and with the Gallup data:

GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson says in an interview airing Sunday that he doesn’t believe the United States should have a Muslim president because Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” Carson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I absolutely would not agree with that.” …

The wisdom of so publicly excluding an entire religion from the presidency aside, Carson has plenty of people who feel just like he does. A Gallup poll in June showed 38 percent of Americans said they would not support a Muslim candidate for president. The only less-desirable characteristics tested were being an atheist (40 percent) and a socialist (50 percent).

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And, of course, you won’t be surprised, this is largely driven by Republicans.  The idea that Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution is inconsistent with logic and reality.  But so be it.  I guess so is the GOP these days.  As for the Muslims, they should hang out with atheists and socialists to feel better about themselves.

The Pope and politics


Lots of interesting stuff being written about the Pope with his coming visit.  Will Saletan had a really interesting piece (perhaps a little too hung up on “liberal” vs. “progressive”) that nicely explored the Pope’s political beliefs and our response to them.  Apparently, a lot of of Americans think the Pope is way more liberal than he actually is.  I guess as someone who really understands both Catholic theology and American politics, I never really made that mistake.

But, the Pope is still way more liberal than his predecessors, because politics is a matter of emphasis.

Francis isn’t trying to solve liberals’ pet issues. He’s trying to get rid of them. He said as much in an interview two years ago: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”Not equivalent is his way of saying that he’s not particularly interested in enforcing sexual or family morality. If you want to know what interests him, look at what’s on his schedule in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia this week: sessions withimmigrants, laborers, prisoners, and homeless people. Pope Francis is a social justice guy.

And that’s why I and so many other Catholics (and heck, non-Catholics, too) love him.  Social justice.  For me, far more than anything else, Christianity is about what Jesus had to say in in Matthew 25:

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’

EJ Dionne is somebody who knows Catholicism and knows politics, so he also has an excellent column on the matter:

It’s hard to see how progressives don’t come out ahead, simply because the pope has radically reordered the priorities of the church. He is not fighting culture wars. He is fighting against them. This, in part, is what accounts for his broad popularity among former Catholics, Americans of other faiths and even secularists and atheists.

Someone speaking in Spanish — the language of most of the pope’s coming addresses — about justice, poverty, a warming planet and the imperative of welcoming immigrants would not have gotten a warm reception at the Republicans’ presidential debate last week…

In a moving New York Times piece about one of the pope’s planned stops in New York, columnist Jim Dwyer described the invitation list: “carwashers . . .Hudson Valley farmworkers, day-laborers, immigrant mothers, and teenagers and children who have crossed the border without their parents.” In Philadelphia, Francis will visit the city’s largest jail. In Washington, he will bless the needy who get help from Catholic Charities. His ministry will be right out of what the Catholic Mass says of Jesus: “To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners freedom, and to those in sorrow joy.”

No, the Pope is not about the change the position of the Catholic church on abortion, gays, contraception, or the role of women.  But he has changed the tone on all of these.  And it’s not realistic to expect all that much more at this point.  For me, most importantly, he has reminded people what the Church is really supposed to be about– and that’s in the Jesus’ words from Matthew and the quote above.

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