Our Future is Terrifying without Equality by Caitlin Moran for The Times
(posted for people who want to read it without the paywall)
‘Equality is not humanity’s cashmere bedsocks. It’s not a present. It’s a necessity’
When I first started being serious about being a bleeding heart pinko liberal lefty right-on lover of women, gays, disableds, mentals, the working class, transsexuals and all the ethnics – apart from the Chinese, obviously. It’s difficult to trust them. They’re a cruel race. Or is that supposed to be the Japanese? I can never remember – I did it because it seemed to be the right thing. The polite thing. The noble thing.
“If we keep excluding people from society – and by ‘people’ I sometimes, ironically, mean me, because I am both working class and a woman – then this will make those people (which are sometimes, let’s not forget, me) sad,” the 13-year-old me would think, virtuously.
“Inequality, wherever it is, upsets people,” I would go on, indignantly. “Poor the immigrants in our area – having burning rags pushed through their letterboxes. And gays, having their love seen as a crime. I would cry if that happened to me. Like I sometimes cry about sexism meaning I’ll never be the Pope, and statistically being unlikely to become CEO of a FTSE 100 company. Society shouldn’t do things that makes people sad. Society needs to be lovely. Society needs to be kind and gentle – like a handsome prince. Why can’t we treat all the minorities to a smile, instead of a frown?”
And I carried on drawing my poster about oppression: an African child crying, and a fat white man wearing a crown and holding two bags of money, standing on top of her. The word “WHY????” was written underneath, in block capitals. I think it might even have had it twice. “WHY????” “WHY?!?!?!?!?” That’s how right on I was, in 1988.
Looking back now, and unpicking my undoubtedly good intentions, it’s interesting to see how I’d come to the right conclusion – but via the wrong reasoning. This idea of equality being the kind thing is rooted in the aristocracy’s noblesse oblige, stepped up a gear with middle-class Victorian philanthropy, and then finessed, via the hippies and The Guardian, into the 21st-century idea of being “right on”, and, for some reason, listening to Billy Bragg.
Currently, believing in societal equality suggests that you have made a moral, selfless decision to redistribute privilege. It is a decision to be good. A decision to be right. And therefore a decision, maybe, to be a bit smug.
However. The problem with proselytising for change on the basis of “good” and “right” is that – with the exception of murdering a child and stuffing it down a well, high on Triad heroin – most issues of morality are annoyingly subjective. There were a lot of people in Ku Klux Klan hoods who believed they were the good guys – even as the trees writhed with strange fruit.
Ultimately, arguing for equality – equality for every peaceable human on Earth to love, live, work and progress as they wish – on a moral basis is an impossibly difficult task.
And it misses – as I missed, at the age of 13 – the biggest point. The urgent point. Which is: equality isn’t some fabulous luxury we can gift ourselves when we’re feeling morally flush. Equality is not… humanity’s cashmere bedsocks. It’s not a present, like champagne. It’s a necessity, like water. For if we look at a map of the world – where every nation struggling with poverty, child mortality and political instability is marked in red – it’s notable that its bright, red, shaming rash coincides almost identically with the most unequal countries in the world. Deny your women education? Imprison your gays, lesbians and transsexuals? Treat your working class like expendable factory parts? Chances are, your country is in trouble.
Because the winning point in favour of equality – which I didn’t know at 13, but I do now – is that we don’t treat ourselves to it. We need it. In the 21st century, humanity’s greatest resource isn’t oil, or titanium, or water, or gold: it’s brains. It’s people’s brains. Tot up all the “minorities” of the world – the gays and disableds and women and working classes, all those “people of colour” – and they are, together, in the majority. They are most of this world. And while we keep these billions of tons of brains – a million ideas, a billion inventions, a trillion ways for the world to be better; an untapped reserve of intellectual oil, big enough to power us into our next 100,000 years – offline, we put humanity in an illogically difficult position. By believing some people are naturally superior, we make our species, as a whole, inferior. Weaker. To be frank: stupider.
So this is where I come from now, as we struggle with female bishops, gay marriage, the “war on women” in America, the death penalty for homosexuality in Uganda, a lack of universal suffrage and a million daily evils, on every street, even as economies continue to tank. Because for a little planet with a lot of big problems, equality isn’t an optional extra. Frankly, our future is terrifying without it.