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Essay: The Perverted Notion of Equality: Exploring Definitions, Norms, and Standards

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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“All animals are equal, some are just more equal than others,” is an appalling yet interesting quote, taken from George Orwell’s allegorical novel, Animal Farm (1989). Briefly explored, the story involved animals conspiring a coup to take the reins of their farm away from humans. Upon taking control, ‘animalist’ commandments were established to put an end to oppressive behaviors exhibited by humans. Further down the line, the pigs perversely rewrote the last commandment that suited their best interests, from “All animals are equal,” into ” All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,”. Which the raises a series of questions like, “How can an individual be more equal than others?”, “Does this also mean there are others who are less equal than?” and “What does equality mean at this point?”

For us to be able to grasp and understand the concept of inequality, it is important for us to establish the definitions of equality. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018), equality concerns the individual’s opportunities, ensuring that each must be granted with the same opportunities to maximize their potential in life. They have also added that no one should be dealt a bad hand simply due to their physical, cultural, and social circumstances. This entails that particular groups of individuals are much more fortunate, as they are protected from discrimination while others aren’t as fortunate as they should be. Meanwhile, one of the many definitions of equality according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2021), translates to an equal correspondence among a group of different individuals that have the same qualities in at least one respect, but not all respects. This definition suggests that individuals are equal for their similarities rather than their sameness, which further advances the notion that some are less equal than others, as two non-identical individuals will never be completely equal in all aspects.

With these regards, inequality appears to be an inevitable and uncontrollable force. Another definition of equality constitutes to its relative and subjective usage, in which it poses the question, “what kind of equality does one need?” with respect to “whom and when?” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2021). This definition implies that equality could either be treated descriptively, such that circumstances depicts itself, or prescriptively, such that the standard are prescribes based on norms or rules. This definition even further advances the proposed notion, that some individuals are more equal than others, as one’s material equality is proportionate and is based on ‘norms’ that are presented in legislation or popular belief.

Hence, why reducing inequalities is one of the 17 sustainable development goals proposed by the United Nations. As inequality continues to persist globally, especially in developing countries, reducing inequalities and ensuring no one is left behind are integral in achieving sustainable development. According to the United Nations (2018), this sustainable development goal aims to affirm equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including but not limited to eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices, while also promoting appropriate legislation and action. Furthermore, it also aims to narrow the income disparity and progressively achieve and sustain income growth for the bottom 40% of the population.

Thus, it is imperative for us to contextualize inequality in a more realistic setting, Philippines. According to the ASEAN Trade Union Council (2021), our country ranks highest in the rates of economic and social inequality in Southeast Asia. This issue isn’t just about personal wealth. The growing disparity between the Philippines’ richest and poorest citizens has an impact on land distribution, educational and vocational opportunities, and basic welfare programs (Child Fund Organization, 2021). Geographic disparity has emerged in the Philippines as economic inequality has grown more evident over the last decade. Six of the ten regions in Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost and second-largest island, are in the top ten in the country in terms of poverty rates, with between 25 and 40 percent of families living in abject poverty. More than one-third of the Philippines’ poorest households live in the 30 poorest provinces, resulting in generational poverty that is extremely difficult to overcome. As in many other parts of the world, it is often the indigenous population that suffers the most. In the Philippines, the approximately 1.7 million people belonging to the nation’s 100 ethnic groups remain the most disadvantaged, with discrimination and a lack of opportunities creating serious barriers.

These inequalities became even worse that the Coronavirus Pandemic had started, when President Rodrigo Duterte announced a state of public health emergency on March 8, 2020, the country had already registered 10 Covid-19 cases and had earned the distinction of having the first death outside of China. Following the President’s statement, other declarations were made, both at the national and municipal levels. Then there was the Metro Manila community quarantine. Later, the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was implemented across the whole island of Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island. From March 17 to April 13, 2020, all homes must adhere to a stringent home quarantine as part of this enhanced quarantine. While certain individuals and groups are among the exceptions to the general rule of home quarantine, virtually all of the people of Luzon are prohibited from going out of their households during the entire duration of the ECQ. Later, the ECQ would be reproduced in certain provinces and cities in the Visayas and Mindanao islands. The Philippines’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic would also later on be addressed by the creation of the National Action Plan (NAP) chaired by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a military general and the administrator of Martial Law in Mindanao from 2017 to 2019. In fact, the NAP would be composed of military generals whose medical knowledge, it can be presumed, is far inferior to that of scientists and health experts more fit to lead a body tasked to curb the effects of a pandemic.

While the improved community quarantine appears to benefit all affected individuals, a closer examination of both its substance and implementation exposes a socioeconomic imbalance that has plagued Philippine culture for decades. To begin with, the idea of a home quarantine would only be effective if and only if all citizens were quarantined within a home in the first place. Urban squatting is at an all-time high in the Philippines, with 20-25 million Filipinos living in substandard housing. In the Philippines, urban squatting has a long history, although the problem is mostly linked to a lack of job possibilities in urban areas and affordable social housing for the impoverished working class. The Philippines’ housing crisis makes what Friedrich Engels wrote in The Housing Question in 1872 all the more relevant. “What is meant by housing shortage today,” he asserted, “is the unusual aggravation of workers’ poor living conditions as a result of the abrupt rush of the people to the great cities.” He went on to say that a shortage like this is marked by “colossal increases in rents, even more overcrowding in separate dwellings, and, for others, the impossibility of finding a place to live at all.” What is particularly alarming about this housing crisis is that it affects not only the working class – and, of course, the unemployed – but also the petty bourgeoisie. In the absence of adequate housing where one can protect oneself from the dangers of a contagious and deadly virus, one can merely sleep on exposed sidewalks most vulnerable to the threat, effectively nullifying the concept of quarantine.

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