On Linear Equality

I’ve been thinking of another thing Alexey Korotaev mentioned last month: the difference between society of equality and society of the equal – общество равенстваи общество равных. This may sound like an obvious thing, but to me, it offered a helpful framework for approaching certain concepts.

Society of the equal(общество равных) consists of people theoretically equal before the law. Therefore they form a government which gets tasked with observing this notion – e.g. it can re-distribute wealth between the rich and the poor in various ways. This is classic social democracy.

Society of equality (общество равенства), however, requires an institution to maintain uniformity – not before the law, but according to a single line drawn across all individuals. And this includes hitting on the head anyone who pokes out of that line. When, in the beginning of last century, people walked into a doctor’s big apartment, got rid of him and his family, and distributed the rooms to various others – creating the (in)famous коммуналки for decades to come – they were hardly pursuing equality before the law. Instead, they were pursuing their own understanding of justice based on linear equality – with injustice symbolized by a neighbor who owns more than you do.

This notion of linear equality (if I may call it that way) is another concept I find not only fascinating and disturbing, but also crucial to understanding certain aspects of history. Perhaps it’s precisely the ideological and practical confusion between these two types of society which dictated the bloody trials of the 20th century.

One more thing has been looping around my mind in the recent weeks. The popular Russian saying – победителей не судят (victors aren’t judged) – in the USSR had crystallized into победителям не обязательно судить самих себя (victors don’t need to judge themselves). And so, after 1945, while the Germans did, we didn’t. We had the luxury of not having to think inconvenient thoughts, mandated by that great victory. I do feel strongly about continuing to care for it. But I also wonder how much we’ve lost by winning. Perhaps so much that we’re still threading water, while others – the ‘drowned’ – have had to learn to swim. I can’t quite elucidate this further right now, at least not any better than Habermas, Etkind and others have done before.

But the ‘Stuff I’m (obsessively) thinking about’ tag is oh-so-present here.



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