I’ve wanted to write about the Federal Government’s Close the Gap campaign for quite a while. But I am going to use this opportunity to raise a much bigger issue that underpins the campaign, and other calls for equality, such as women’s salaries, gay rights, and racial equality to name a few. That issue is fairness.
When I hear of calls for equality, I always ask, why would you expect equality? I never hear calls for more white guys in basketball or more black guys in swimming. I never hear cries of outrage when women in sport never seem to make the speeds, heights, of distances of the men; or even fury over gay fellows being far more fashionable than the rest of us straight guys. It is just plain UNFAIR!
So why do we suddenly decide that equal outcomes are important when it comes to other things?
For a start, we can only observe outcomes, not opportunities. What most of use really want are equal opportunities. But how can we know? When we look at nationwide data we can’t know how many women chose to work less, chose not to continue their education, or chose to do more housework?
Let’s take a closer look at the Close the Gap campaign. For starters, why would we expect life expectancy of a single race, to be the same as the average life expectancy of all other race in our society combined? And what about mixed race people? Are they an average of the racial heritage in their bloodline?
I’m pretty sure the data is out there for a real comparison which would isolate race from a number of other factors that are likely to have a large impact on life expectancy, such as alcohol and tobacco consumption, hours of exercise per week, occupation, family history of illness, location and so on. Somehow my instinct tells me that it’s highly unlikely that after all these factors are considered, that race has any impact on life expectancy.
“Why, but of course not!”
That’s the response I would expect from Close the Gap advocates.
“Of course it’s not race exactly that is the cause of shorter life expectancies (because if it is, there’s not much anyone can do about it), it’s all those other factors that are more prevalent amongst Aboriginal people.”
So? They also prevail to varying degrees in people from all races. This campaign is ONLY about improving conditions for Aboriginal people. Closing the gap gets a lot more difficult if you are helping the other races as well. How is that fair? If we were really to be fair we would ignore race altogether. Not one single policy should require the identification of race. Our new campaign would be called Let's Live Longer, but I don't think it would appeal to our emotions so much.
But when it comes to government social programs, fairness appears all the rage. Those people who oppose markets in human organs probably epitomise misdirected notions of fairness. They imagine for example, that a world in which kidneys must be donated, and where 1,000 people (these are arbitrary figures) die each year awaiting a donor organ, is better that a world where kidneys are bought from willing donors and where only 100 people die waiting for a kidney - based on the notion of fairness. They cry that rich people will have an advantage over poor people for access to kidneys. True. But that's no different from the markets for food, clothing or housing. The point is that donors will be able to accept rewards, thus encouraging donations. And every extra kidney will go to someone, rich or poor. The fair scenario in this case treats people differently, while the unfair case treats them all the same. It's the kind of backward logic that bugs me all too often.
But before I move on from the racist livespan campaign and unfair view of life saving surgery, I will reiterate that we can still only observe outcomes, not opportunities. If more Aboriginal people choose to live in shanty towns in the desert, choose not to seek medical attention, choose to abuse alcohol and smoke like a chimney, than who are we to intervene?
My gut instinct tells me that the remote location of many Aboriginal people is a key factor, which itself captures level education, access to health services, diet, exercise, and probably drug abuse. But does that mean that we should supply all the modern services available in the big smoke at every little tin-pot shanty town in the desert? No way.
Anyway, that’s enough about very popular but completely racist campaign; on to the ever-popular issue of equal pay for women. Again, we have an opportunity vs outcome problem here. Did you know that tall people earn more on average as well? I want equal pay for short people!
I won’t continue. I feel frustrated by the absurdity.