Equality before the law only extends as far as does the law itself. In matters not subject to the purview of the law, we are entirely unequal. We are unequal in status, in general approbation, in intelligence, in ability, in social standing, in wealth, and in many other ways. There’s no getting around this; it’s “baked into the cake,” as the saying goes.
Yet many yearn for an equality of a kind that transcends the law. At any rate, people prattle about it sufficiently to make me think so. The demand for an extra-legal sort of equality certainly has its dark side:
The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.
The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.
And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: “Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, lah-di-dah affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here’s a man who hasn’t turned on the jukebox — he’s one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.”
[From Screwtape Proposes A Toast]
…but it has another aspect that deserves to be thought about more often than it usually is:
“I have never availed myself of the duel. But knowing it is there has made a huge difference in how I regard Home and my life here. On Earth, the politicians and ultra-wealthy don’t call themselves King or Duke or such, but they have elevated themselves over the common man as much as if they had the titles. On Home we are equal and the ultimate expression of that is the duel, because nobody is exempted. If I feel someone is attempting to repress us and gain domination over us, I can call him out on it and say defend your actions with your blood! I don’t want to lose that. I worry any restriction is starting down the road to losing it. Next, we’ll have people saying it is only for gentlemen and I don’t mean males, I mean the privileged class. If a challenger comes from someplace that would not allow the duel, well, what does that have to do with us? We don’t support other governments’ restrictions on their citizens’ rights. We don’t collect their taxes for them or acknowledge their laws. Why do that here?”…
“I feel safer knowing the duel exists,” Elaine Barrington told them. “The law addresses many crimes, but some are very hard to bring to justice. Some are more or less he said – she said conflicts. I don’t have the skills to duel, but if someone committed a crime against me, I have a husband and grown son who are both expert pistoleros. That is well known and I feel safer knowing most folks are aware accosting me would be close to suicide.”…
“I agree with Mr. Holloway that we should regard it as a right. It is the final court of appeal to which a person can go when everything else has failed. Are we going to have some bad duels? Yes. But we have bad court decisions too. In fact, in the legal system we left behind we had a lot of them. The duel doesn’t exist in a vacuum, you have to compare it to the system without it in place and judge if it is better or worse.”
[Mackey Chandler, A Depth of Understanding]
Just a little post-Thanksgiving food for thought.