Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Equality of Opportunity

Written by johnleemk on 1:13:33 pm Jun 14, 2007.
Categories: ,

As most people might suspect, the debate of nature versus nurture is one of the oldest around. Related to this debate, though, is the question of how we discriminate.

To many people, the word "discrimination" carries negative connotations. However, we all discriminate in some way — we discriminate when we choose what business establishments we frequent, who we befriend, what cars we buy.

In essence, it is necessary to discriminate in order to live. We must ferret out those options which we prefer, and to do that is simply discrimination. The only reason "discrimination" is viewed negatively is because it became linked with discrimination on grounds of things like race.

Frequently, we discriminate on what I would consider to be grounds of nurture — alterable things. A football coach will discriminate and choose the best players for his team. If you don't make the cut, work harder, and you stand a chance.

The problem we encounter is that so often in society, we encounter discrimination on grounds of nature. It is human nature (pun not really intended) to do so.

Consciously or otherwise, how we deal with other people is influenced by things they have no control over. We stay away from black people because we associate them with negative images. We think twice about sitting next to that turbaned man in the airport for fear he might be a fundamentalist Muslim, even though most people who wear turbans have no intention of hijacking a plane.

To some extent, these things are justifiable. It is only reasonable for a security guard at an airport to be more suspicious of a young Muslim man than of an old Chinese woman. But being something of an idealist, I cannot help but fulminate against the horror of a world where such discrimination takes place — in particular, I believe it should never be endorsed by government policy.

I have always been a bit of an oddball, an unorthodox chap who cannot be pinned down and described in generalities. The nuances of my thoughts, actions and beliefs have a tendency to fly over the heads of most people, to the point where I have given up on trying to explain them and resigned myself to letting people think of me what they wish.

But because of my strange nature, I have always been discriminated against on grounds of nature, in a sense. In primary school, I was mocked for being born in Japan and thus being a traitor to my country, which had been occupied by Japan in World War II — something I could make no sense of, since I had no control over where I was born in. My own government's policies discriminate against me, and the contradictory mass of explanations given can never assuage the fact that I am discriminated against not because of who I have made myself, but because of who I was born as.

It is for this reason that I have always related strongly to the cause of equality of opportunity and the fight against bigotry. Unlike some minorities in my home country, I am not motivated by a sense of injustice done to my race — I am motivated by a sense of injustice done to the individual who has no choice about what he is born as.

One or two years back, I was reading a primer in political philosophy, when my eye was caught by an interesting thought experiment. This thought experiment runs along the lines of imagining yourself before you are born.

You have no idea where you will be born, what family you will be born into, in essence, all that has to do with nature. All you know is that you will be born as another human being on this planet.

With this in mind, what policies would you formulate, given the chance? What political systems and institutions would you set up? The answer becomes blatantly clear — you would want to give everyone an equal shot at being the best they can be, because you have no idea who you will be born as.

I am not happy with individuals who discriminate on grounds of nature, even though I can see why. But I think governments should never have to resort to such discrimination.

I do not want equality of results, as some feminists do. All I want to see is governments evaluate individuals for who they make themselves, and not for who they are born as.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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