1000 Words, part 1

There’s a picture entitled something like “Equality vs. Justice” that’s cropped up a lot on various sites. I haven’t linked it, because I don’t know the original source, but if you google that phrase you’ll likely find plenty of examples of it.

While pictures may be worth a thousand words, I’ll try to describe the gist in fewer: Three figures—one tall, one short, one average height—are trying to see over a fence to watch a game. In the first panel, labelled “Equality”, each has a box to stand on, but the shortest figure still cannot see over the fence. In the second panel, labelled “Justice” (or, in some versions, “Equity”), the shortest figure has two boxes and is now able to see, and the tallest figure has no box but can still see.

Something not conveyed by the “picture worth a thousand words” adage, though, is that there may be details or implications of a picture that are not apparent. For example, imagine a photograph of two men in suits shaking hands at a press conference; it can take on quite a different meaning and impact depending on who they are and why they are shaking hands. If it represents a peace treaty between your country and its neighbour, for example, it will likely provoke stronger emotions than if it represents a merger agreement between two foreign companies.

The equality/justice picture is cartoony and stylised—the importance is not who these people are*, but in their allegorical value. There are still some points to be considered, however.

Why the height differences?

Are they adult (tall), teen (medium), and child (short); or all adults? Essentially, are the differences between them temporary or permanent; a consequence of age, or genetics? If we wait long enough, will this problem resolve itself?

How were the boxes shifted?

Even if everyone agrees that there’s enough to go around, and the problem could be solved by redistribution, the manner of the solution still matters. Taking from the rich and giving to the poor can provoke feelings of resentment on the one hand, and inferiority on the other. There needs to be a conceptual shift as well—recognising that the inequality is not because the “haves” are inherently better or more worthy than the “have-nots”. People’s intrinsic value needs to be acknowledged as distinct from an assessment of their circumstances**.

More to come next time.


* They appear to be male Caucasians, but this is probably an artifact of the norms of the creator rather than any meaningful choice. Varying the group by gender or ethnicity might have raised unfortunate implications.

** If someone is of the opinion that someone’s value is entirely bound up in their circumstance, then they will disagree on this point. However, I don’t believe any rational people will hold that extreme an opinion, as that’s leading toward the unpalatable side of eugenics.

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One thought on “1000 Words, part 1

  1. Pingback: 1000 Words, part 2 | Semi-Coherent Musings

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