The Hypocrisy of Equality
As a society, we have come to this blanket agreement that discrimination is "bad." By "blanket agreement" I mean to say we support the laws and haven't overthrown the government that enforces them. We may individually disagree with these laws, but as a group we've accepted them. We have made exceptions, however.
We discriminate when it comes to a person's or the public's safety. Blind people can't fly planes. Child molesters can't work around children. This is a far cry from Irish not being hired or black people not being able to use public water fountains. This, I believe, is a good thing. Blind people shouldn't really fly planes. It is unsafe for everyone. Child molesters shouldn't work around children. That's common sense.
There are groups that spring up to ensure that whomever they are representing aren't discriminated against. Bazelon Center. Fair housing groups. The American Disability Association. Various gay rights groups. All of these are very good and beneficial. They exist even though society has said, in general, we don't think discrimination is good. (There are always societal exceptions -- gay marriage comes to mind, but that will eventually happen and gays can face a fifty percent divorce rate like their straight counterparts.) We think that people should be treated equally ... as long as doing so doesn't put them or others in harm's way. If a Vietnamese woman can do a job, she should get the job. If a guy in a wheelchair is financially able to rent an apartment, he should be able to do so. The Vietnamese woman and the wheelchair bound man have just as much right to do something as the white woman and the man who can move unassisted.
That, in the words of Martha Stewart, is a good thing because it ensures none of us will face discrimination ... or at least it should ensure that. Reality, as always, is different. In general, though, that is what it should do.
There are other things society agrees to (also in the sense that it isn't dismantling the government because of it) in general terms. War. Corporate welfare. The death penalty. Giving lip service to education while at the same time not funding it. These are things I don't agree with, and nor do a lot of other people, but we have this tacit agreement that it is okay because we haven't really done anything about them.
Like groups that champion for the rights of those who are typically discriminated against, people who oppose certain public policies make their voices heard, too. They rally. They organize. They distribute literature. They get the word out about what they think is wrong with society, much like the Jewish Defense League challenges anti-Semitism when it sees it.
Obviously, this leads to some hypocrisy and unpleasant truths that are rarely talked about in polite circles. It is a combination of two of these values that are at odds with each other in the worst way because we, as a society, have come to the agreement that these things are okay: the notion that all people should be treated as equals and the death penalty.
If all people are to be treated as equals and the death penalty is okay, why don't we execute mentally retarded (also known as intellectually disabled) murderers?
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the intellectually disabled is unconstitutional. Myself, I don't support the death penalty, so this hypocrisy doesn't affect me, but I wonder about those who think equality is important while at the same time supporting the death penalty. I even wonder about groups that make a case for equality, such as the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), which "applauds" this court ruling. The group, according to its own material, supports "universal rights" for those with intellectual disabilities.
Some are more equal than others.
If you think all people are equal, you should support the idea that if people are equal they are treated equally. If you believe that people should be treated equally, you have to take the good with the bad. That includes the death penalty.
I'm against the death penalty when administered by the state, as mentioned earlier. I don't want to see the state executing people with IQs below 70, and nor do I want to see the state executing people who are geniuses. Groups like the AAIDD, which has "always advocated against the death penalty" for those who are intellectually disabled are hypocrites. I don't see the AAIDD speaking out against the death penalty overall, just for the people it says deserves "universal rights." It's mission statement specifically says it advocates for the "equality" of those with intellectual disabilities. By its own words it should be supporting the death penalty for the intellectually challenged.
It's a decidedly distasteful subject. There will be those who think I am advocating for the death penalty of mentally disabled people who have committed murder. I am not, and never would advocate that. Again, I am opposed to the death penalty no matter who it is being used against. What I am questioning, though, is how seriously you can take a group that comes out and states, "We want this group to be treated as equals ... except when it comes to when they kill someone. In that case, we want you to take their disability into consideration and treat them differently than everyone else."
That sort of thinking, no matter the group it is geared toward, seems backwards, hypocritical and eventually dangerous. After all, right there you are admitting that whatever group you are advocating for isn't like everyone else, and if you treat them special in one instance, what's to say they shouldn't be treated differently in another less beneficial way? Yes, it's a slippery slope, but it is one often started by those who are looking to "watch out" for one group over another.
The end result is really pretty clear. We love the concept of equality, but we don't like it in practice. We need to stop being such hypocrites, or at least admit to it more. Groups like the AAIDD are great at making sure their "wards," for lack of a better term, are not discriminated against, but they lose all credibility when they ask them to be treated differently. It's a double-edged sword, and it is hard to have it both ways. That's exactly what far too many advocacy groups want, however, and that is the ultimate hypocrisy of equality.
Perhaps the solution is not to treat everyone equally, but to treat everyone with respect. This lets you take into consideration special circumstances without risking unequal treatment. Is respect more important than equality? Of course not, but it is easier to manage and is a far more morally superior position.