The Worst Form Of Inequality Is To Try To Make Unequal Things Equal. • Aristotle

May 20, 2010

All this talk about equality. The only thing that people really have in common is that they are all going to die. • Bob Dylan

Yse, I know you already saw the title quotation in yesterday’s post, but it’s important enough to use twice.

I do not like the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” I like the part about having others do unto me as I would like to have them do, but I’m pretty sure that they would also like to have me do unto them as they would like to have done, not as I would like to have done unto me. This is where the whole thing gets sticky and unworkable and this is where the unequal stuff enters into the picture too.

When you’re a teacher of teachers, you hear a lot about treating students fairly, and for some folks, this translates into equal treatment: “Of course, I never take late work.” “No tardies. No excuses. That’s my policy and I think it’s fair because it allows me to treat everyone the same way.” “Everyone has to [do whatever] in the very same way. That’s fair.” These are quotations from papers my students have handed in to me related to their classroom management plans.

The equality they speak of is a social and cultural construct as well, but it’s not one that works very well in practice most of the time.

Imagine that I have a classroom tree with golden apples growing on it and that the standardization and accountability folks have determined that all my students must get a golden apple as proof of my excellent tree-climbing teaching. Then imagine that I have a diverse student population of snakes and dogs and elephants. Please bear with me. I know that this is a somewhat lame imagining, but still, you’ll get the point.

The snakes can slither up the tree quite speedily, but they cannot grab an apple and bring it down. They don’t like apples anyway and slither off in search of something else to eat. The dogs have better luck. They jump for the low-hanging fruit, grab it, and proudly lay their apples at my feet (okay—this is a fantasy, but you get the picture), but they would rather have been barking up a Milkbone® tree. The elephants are impatient with the whole thing. They pull the trees up by their roots.

The platinum rule asks that we treat others as they would like to be treated. I don’t know the origin of this rule, although it’s been around in educational circles for a while. The platinum rule requires that you get to know other people. The golden rule only requires you to know yourself.

Is there a time when you were treated fairly, but it wasn’t fair at all? Take this opportunity to rant.

The doctrine of equality! There exists no more poisonous poison; for it seems to be preached by justice itself, while it is the end of justice. • Friedrich Nietsczhe



  1. Unfortunately, Aristotle didn’t really say that. An essay in a 1974 Time Magazine paraphrased the philosopher.He has many great quotes on equality, with a similar meaning, but he never said those words. But in respect of this article, Aristotle did say, “Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth.” Follow the truth.

    • Thanks for the attribution heads-up. As I have noted earlier in other posts, attribution is a moving target. Sometimes it’s difficult to track down, and since I am fond of quotations, having been a collector for years, I do try to give credit where credit is due. However, I find that sometimes it: a) isn’t due, or b) is due to someone else. Thus, I am always grateful for those who can help me stay on track. W-OZ

    • Yep, not only that, the Aristotle quote that was being paraphrased doesn’t actually apply to 99% of the arguments it is being used to support, including this one. What Aristotle REALLY said was ” For all men lay hold on justice of some sort, but they only advance to a certain point, and do not express the principle of absolute justice in its entirety. For instance, it is thought that justice is equality, and so it is,though not for everybody but only for those who are equals; and it is thought that inequality is just, for so indeed it is, though not for everybody, but for those who are unequal; but these partisans strip away the qualification of the persons concerned, and judge badly.” And what he was talking about was inequality in wealth, and whether it would be just for the wealthy to have more power in government, proportionate to their wealth because they had more material stake in the state. Aristotle said this was an argument that champions of oligarchy make.

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