Equality is a Piece of Cake

By the title of this article, you may be ardently hopeful (or more likely extremely skeptical) that I have found an Utopian solution to make the world a more equal place to live, thus exclaiming “equality is a piece of cake”! I guess to be more specific, I should say equality is like a piece of cake.

This simile (and consequent analogy) is explained Deborah Stone’s work, “Policy Paradox. The Art of Political Decision Making“. Stone’s main argument is that our notions of equality are highly influenced by our perception of the world and our place in it. To explains this, she tells the story of a teacher who brings a chocolate cake to her public policy class to reward her students. The initial choice to divide this cake “equally” was to give the same amount to each student, but the students started debating whether this was really the most equal way to distribute the cake. They claimed the division was actually unfair for those who could not make it to class that day, or those who do not like chocolate. Also, if equality was measured by the nutritional value each would get from the cake, then everyone should get the amount of cake that meets that percent of the nutritional value specific to each individual’s Daily Recommended (caloric) Intake.

What this example is great at explaining is that equality means different things to different people; consequently, the ways of reaching equality are different as well. Politically, for some equality can be about enjoying certain civil rights, while for others it may be economic redistribution, and so on. We all have our views of what social equality is that are shaped by our personal worldview.

Additionally, this paradox is further complicated when we think of how out identities are constructed over time, and constantly evolving. What happens when someone identifies with two societal groups that have different priorities in regards to equality? The intersection of various aspects of an individual’s identity is why, when discussing equality politics, it is important to acknowledge intersectionality. Intersectionality stresses that some individuals face inequality regarding different aspects of their identity, the combination of these inequalities forms an entirely new experience that cannot be understood simply by isolating its variables.  The term was originally coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, who’s work focused on Black women, who experienced oppression at the “intersection” of gender and race.

We can now start to imagine how complicated implementing public policy is for governments. It is too idealist to state that “being equal” is a government’s sole consideration (or even a top consideration) when dealing with public policy. But even ideally – at a quick glance, it seems that adopting a form of equality that would please everybody is impossible. Maybe it is.

However, that does not mean that equal rights should not be fought for. When looking at the larger historical context of the evolution of rights, it seems the fight for equality is teleological rather than circular, meaning that it is working towards a goal (the egalitarian Utopia). Although there is still violence, abuse, and oppression rampant around the globe, there seems to be a general trend towards more equal rights in our post-WWII era.


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