We live in a world surrounded by an apparently infinite variety of beings, all of which are equal. The water bear, the ant, the human, and the whale are equal. Even within a species, the male and female are equal. Every animal is equal regardless of the color of its coat or skin. Every plant is equal as well; sage and hemlock in equal amounts of water make equal tea. All these things, and the stars, and the planets, the asteroids, the nebulae, and the singularities are equal. Everything is equal.
If they are equal, then in what sense are they all equal? And lest we get too far ahead of ourselves, what is equality?
In the mathematical sense, equality is a statement of value. The value of the integer 1, for example, is equal to the value of the integer 1. The value of the integer 1 is NOT equal to the value of the integer 2. What’s even less interesting than those truths of mathematics is that where the values of integers are not equal, then they are either of a higher or lower value.
That’s right. Mathematics is inherently hierarchical. Like governments, businesses, and organized religions, mathematics is dependent on a hierarchical mode of understanding integers. Inevitably, the zero is seen as less than the 1, and the 1 is seen as less than the 2.
And as we all know, hierarchy is bad. Equality is good; we should value all things equally. This is the only inequality allowed: being equal is greater than being unequal, equality is more valuable than hierarchy, and hierarchy is lower while equality is higher. In the hierarchy of values, hierarchy is at the bottom. This is the contemporary view of equality, that it is the greatest good, the superlative value, the apex of the hierarchy of values.
Under this contemporary view, all other things being equal, equality is higher and hierarchy is lower.
This is of course greatly at odds with the ancient view of equality. In the ancient schema, the stars, the planets, the plants, the animals, and all of us human beings were ordered into higher and lower values based on our attributes. For the ancients, the world was rich with hierarchies, so many of them intersecting that a being could easily be at the apex of one hierarchy and at the bottom of another. The animal was higher than the vegetable, the human higher than the animal, the god higher than the human, and so forth.
And even within hierarchies, there were further hierarchies, like an infinite fractal of hierarchies; the female chicken was higher than the male chicken, the female human lower than the male human, the child lower than the elder in status, and children more valuable than the aged for preserving their lives. For the ancients, equality was unnatural; nature showed only a grand ordering from lower to higher, from stronger to weaker, from living to dead, from evil to good.
In the ancient world, everything had multiple values, all within different hierarchies, shining forth as a rich tapestry of different values. In the ancient world, all other things being unequal, everything had an equal number of values within the myriad hierarchies.
Where the contemporary world is mostly level in its values, the ancient world is a mountainous landscape, rarely level in its values. And the ancient world valued hierarchy over equality, not because the ancients had any dogmatic opposition to equality, but because all the universe spoke to them of hierarchy.
So why is hierarchy not equal to equality in the contemporary view? Could hierarchies not be just as valuable as equalities, whether equality of opportunity, equality of income, equality of outcomes, or equality of value? And could equality not have a higher place in the ancient view?
Personally, I propose that whether all other other things are unequal or equal, it would be worthwhile to consider the possibility that hierarchy and equality are of equal value.