Only Discriminate – four versions of justice

“We do not support the notion of discrimination. But you have to distinguish between people.”

These were the words of the Archbishop of Westminster in response to the Pope’s comments on the proposed equality legislation in the UK (reported by the Guardian).

Note the slipperiness of language. In its non-pejorative sense, discrimination does mean distinguishing between people or things, but the more popular usage makes discrimination a thing to be discouraged: distinguishing with the aim of unjustly favouring some over others. I am discriminating in the movies I watch. There is no question of injustice here. The Glenn Miller Story is clearly the greatest movie of all time. But if I discriminate in the people I offer jobs to, it’s reasonable to ask what my criteria are, and whether they are just or unjust.

The problem is that we have four broad versions of justice, not one, and these versions are at odds with one another. In fact they define themselves in relation to the others, so that my version of justice is specifically not yours. Continue reading

Can Education reform cope with competing visions of fairness?

There has been some discussion recently about social mobility and parental school choice. This arose, in part, from a UK report on how to improve ‘fair access to the professions’.

The problem with almost all such reports and many such debates is that they assume we all agree on what counts as ‘fair’, that we know what ‘equal’ means. Furthermore, the very term ‘social mobility’ assumes we agree already about the nature of the social sphere, within which we move or stay put. Pointedly, we don’t agree. In reality, these words are the battleground of an ongoing cultural argument, which is illuminated, as I will show, by means of grid-group cultural theory. Continue reading

Why aren’t we all Egalitarians?

It appears there are not as many Egalitarians in the UK as New Labour might like to think.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, commissioned by the Fabian Society, seems to show that people in England aren’t particularly keen on equality. They think high income earners deserve their level of wealth, and conversely, low income earners also deserve theirs. High pay is seen as the result of hard work and talent and high income earners are seen as making an economic contribution to the nation. People ‘underestimate the number of rich tax cheats’ and ‘exaggerate the number of benefit cheats’ (Ashley, 2009: 27). Only 22% are traditional egalitarians. In what sense is this a problem? Continue reading