Why Treating Everyone Equally Is a Problem

Why Treating Everyone Equally Is a ProblemI recently received an e-mail from someone who questioned me on a comment I made about manners. I had said that manners presuppose distinctions. They call upon us to honor those who are excellent with special treatment. At the same time, they allow us to show compassion and consideration toward those who are lesser or weaker. I claimed crass egalitarianism leads to today’s uncivil society.

The reader took issue with these affirmations saying that all people are children of God and therefore everyone should have the right to be treated equally regardless of who they are or what they have achieved. Hierarchical distinctions are mere fabrications that create resentments and must be avoided.

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The e-mail surprised me since I had never really thought about such an objection. Treating others differently seemed very natural to me. However, it now occurs to me that others might share the objection and so out of special (and unequal) consideration to them, I thought it would be good to provide an answer.

Two main problems need to be resolved.

Equal in Essence and Nature

The first is to clarify the confusion between essence and accidents in dealing with human nature.

I am the first to admit that all men are equal in their essence as humans. As such, we are all entitled to some fundamental rights, among them the right to life, honor, property, family and Faith. These rights generate in turn certain universal manners of treatment that we deem humane since they are proper to our nature.

From the perspective of the essence of our human nature, all should be treated equally. There should be basic manners that are universally applicable and expected. Everyone knows, for example, that we must not treat others rudely or brutally. We must respect their fundamental dignity.

Up to this point, I can well agree with my reader about this basic level of manners.

Accidents Change Everything

That leads to the second problem—dealing with our accidents. Things get complicated when you start to consider that humans are unequal in their accidents. People are vastly different when we look at their virtue, talent, beauty, strength, family, tradition, and so many other defining characteristics.

Equality and Inequality Among Men

These inequalities of talents, abilities, and circumstances result in an ordered hierarchical society where individuals or groups have specific leadership roles and functions, just as members in a body play key roles. This naturally tends to distill different manners of treatment and consideration.

Why Treating Everyone Equally Is a Problem

The need to make distinctions is particularly clear in the case of offices and authority. Failure to recognize this authority through exterior signs weakens the office and the good order of society.

That is to say, hierarchy is not fabricated but part of the natural order of society. Pope Saint Pius X in his motu proprio Fin Dalla Prima states: “Human society, as established by God, is composed of unequal elements, just as the different parts of the human body are unequal; to make them all equal is impossible, and would mean the destruction of human society.”

Thus, an array of different manners helps us exteriorize these distinctions that come from inequality in society. Manners help us make these distinctions known to others.

Honoring of Authority

The need to make distinctions is particularly clear in the case of offices and authority. We are commanded by God to honor our father and mother and all legitimate authority since all authority comes from God. This implies a different treatment because there are others that are not so honored since they do not share this authority.

Honor is the esteem shown someone. One key way it is publicly manifested is by manners and etiquette. Thus, the loving manners by which we honor our mothers, for example, are vastly different from the simpler manners shown to other ladies. When we address a judge as “Your Honor” and show him great respect, we recognize the high purpose of justice in society. The priest is called “Father” and treated with reverence because of our high regard for his sacred office.

Failure to recognize this authority through exterior signs weakens the office and the good order of society. That is why the classroom where distinctions between teacher and students are minimized and egalitarianism informs speech and behavior is a recipe for disaster.

Honoring Achievement

There is another way in which manners are applied unequally. This consists in giving public honor in recognition of deeds or achievements.

Why Treating Everyone Equally Is a Problem

We naturally treat with special deference a Medal of Honor recipient, a Nobel Prize winner or anyone who makes the nation proud of their achievements.
Photo: Major General Patrick Henry Brady, USA, Ret.
Medal of Honor recipient.

If these deeds are done for the benefit of the nation, then society owes them a debt of gratitude and such persons should in all justice be publicly recognized. If a personal achievement represents a milestone of excellence that enriches all society, then it is just that the person be acknowledged since it benefits the common good.

This is what we do when we recognize and thank soldiers for their service and sacrifice. That is also why we honor the hard work and erudition of someone with a doctorate degree by addressing the individual with the just title of doctor (which I found before the e-mail signature of my objecting reader).

We naturally treat with special deference a Medal of Honor recipient, a Nobel Prize winner or anyone who makes the nation proud of their achievements.

Such manners and public treatment are good for society since it teaches the virtue of gratitude to others. It provides an opportunity for justice whereby we give to others that which is their due. Those honored benefit society immensely since they are models that serve to motivate others to strive for excellence.

Misguided Compassion

Such arguments should make sense even in our egalitarian world. However, I suspect that the cases mentioned above did not get to the core of why many people wish equal manners for everyone.

Many have an aversion to treating people unequally because they have a misguided notion of compassion. They think that by honoring someone greater, we make someone lesser suffer. They associate inequality with pride and brutality. They believe that the only way to avoid this false dilemma is to disguise excellence and treat everyone the same. In this way, we supposedly practice compassion and Christian charity.

The opposite is true. Society is enriched by the enormous inequality of offices, conditions and circumstances. Manners are the habit of thinking about others and acknowledging these social differences. A book of manners is a collection of established formulas that harmonize different sectors of society. Manners need not only be rules, but they can also be touching expressions of tenderness, consideration and affection that express true compassion.

The Equality Myth, a Founding Legend

By putting excellence and vulgar behavior on equal footing, we do no favor to anyone. People practice true Christian charity when they do their duty to shine in virtue and excellence. It is wrong to deprive people of their right to have models before their eyes that they might imitate and admire. Manners help bring out the best in us. Everyone, and society itself, is elevated by them.

Nothing More Brutal

The final problem with treating everyone equally is that the logic of this false compassion inevitably leads to adopting the lowest common denominator of manners to prevent the suffering of the lowliest. Worse, it leads to turning each person into the supreme judge of what constitutes these manners since each subjectively assesses what causes one the least suffering.

Thus, some turn manners into only that which pleases them and takes the least effort. Others retreat into an individualistic world in which they see no real need for manners beyond those serving their self-interest. In the frenetic intemperance of the world of instant gratification, so many discard manners and glorify vulgarity. This attitude embeds a universal code of rudeness that well characterizes our egalitarian society.

Indeed, I fear the day when all manners will be declared equal. There is nothing more brutal than a false compassion that suppresses all excellence. There is no greater tyrant than the self-centered individualist who does not take others into consideration. There is no worse intolerance than those who claim to tolerate everything in the name of Christian charity.

Why Treating Everyone Equally Is a Problem

All this leads to a politically correct world that refuses to recognize any superiority or inferiority—even the most obvious ones—for fear of offending others with the truth. In short, it leads to the uncivil society that has so polarized and fragmented our nation.

And so I rest my case. I have tried to argue it calmly but passionately, logically but with all due respect to those who might object. If we are to return to order in civil society, I politely suggest that we must not treat all manners equally.

As seen on Crisis Magazine.

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  • Lukas Beck

    I don’t think this is very accurate. The most “offended” and disallowing of free speech folks I have ever met have been God-fearing, Catholic republicans.

  • 441019

    I know someone who was a high school teacher in Los Angeles. The teachers were required to be loving and kind to the students; the students were disobedient, rude, and disrespectful to the teachers, yet they were never disciplined. This is a result of the liberal, leftist attitude. The situation is the opposite of what it should be, where authority and goodness are respected.

    Also, as a woman, I think it’s great when men treat me with respect.

    • Lukas Beck

      No it’s not. It’s a result of horrible parenting and a failing capitalist system that pays teachers the bare minimum. Ask for more authority and you will get more anarchy, or maybe a completely communist society where people are afraid to question the law, if that’s what you’d prefer.

  • Chris Lilly

    Radical social leveling does not work. Men by nature are unequal in aptitude and ability. Can everyone get into college? Can everyone become a world class athlete?

  • CamCon97

    Heartily agreed. Interestingly, I’ve noticed in my former high-school years that people without manners are more diverse (hence unequal) in their habits than people who do, yet their individuality suffers as a result.

    By the way, I’ve noticed a lot of people theorizing that the Medal of Honour is a pentagram… Most opposition, of course, belittles such speculations, which makes me even more suspicious. Can anyone affirm it or debunk it?

  • Ginnyfree

    If all people were truly equal in God’s sight, Mary wouldn’t be the Queen of Heaven. She is. People aren’t all the same in God’s sight. Simple logic. And technically, to be a true child of God, one must be Baptised and at least willing on the natural plane to keep His Commandments, that is according to Christ Himself, however this gets denied on a regular basis among most of those who are Catholic by culture. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  • Mr. Martin Savage

    Excellent article Mr. Horatio.

    Although not explicitly about equality, small poem illustrating the dangers of misplaced compassion:

    If to contain our brother’s pain,
    Recounting we the facts,

    We think, omit that crucial bit,
    Then so the truth retracts,

    Or we invent with good intent,
    What mounts up to a lie,

    The Way, The Truth, The Life we kill,
    We sin personify.

  • Rose Marie Doyle

    In the case of honoring authority, we are really giving honor to God who shares His authority with certain individuals on earth, just as Jesus showed respect to Pilate when He emphasized to Pilate that he wouldn’t have authority if it hadn’t been given by the Heavenly Father.

    St Paul’s description of the Body of Christ In 1 Corinthians 13 and 14 shows both the mutual respect and dignity due to ALL and the variety of gifts and works that make us different and therefore placed in different relationships with one another that deserve to be acknowledged by showing courtesy.

    • Legoge47

      How can we honor people such as Hillary, Obama, Pelosi, who apparently are not worthy of honor due to their actions?

      • Ginnyfree

        If you worked for Pelosi, and she gave you a direct order that wasn’t contrary to a Commandment of God, then you could honor her is keeping it. If however, she insisted you not make the Sign of the Cross and pray before you eat your lunch in the common lunch room, you’d have to deny her. If she insisted on making a stink about it, you could try to explain you still have religious liberty in the USA no matter how much pressure some try to apply, but she may not like that since she’s supposed to be doing the same at every meal she eats as well. If it happened to me I’d probably offer to give her a refresher course on how we do that, and then get fired. Oh well. Pelosi is worthy of respect and courtesy and that’s basically all you’re expected to give her as her position requires. That is all the Commandment requires. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  • K. Q. Duane

    Can I make an educated guess that your “Doctor” objector was a woman? Men seem to innately understand your assessment of the importance of manners to sustain a civilized nation. “Career-oriented” feminists, on the other hand, believe just the opposite. Sadly, these females no longer inspire courtesy from men, but instead rudely reject it. I was once one of those feminist women, but no more, because it became clear that feminist ideology was ruining my ability to find happiness in even the simplest kindnesses.

  • Peccatori

    I agree with the article.
    I use a different terminology to show the distinction, equality does not mean same.
    We are all equal in dignity, but none of us are the same. Just as 1 is not the same as 2 is not the same as 3.
    But 2+2 is equal to 1+3.
    Peace.

  • Michael Skaggs

    Who is the CMH winner in the photo?

    • CamCon97

      Patrick H. Brady