In his video entitled #Equality, Neel Kolhatkar presents a dystopian future in which a time traveler who happens to be a person of pale, male, heterosexual, and cisgender qualities arrives in a future world in which true equality has been realized.
Or so he thinks. While it may be true that in the world he envisions, we have begun to recognize that we cannot simply have names which inevitably beget discrimination based on ethnicity. And while it may be true that in this future world, we have recognized that pronouns are oppressive and offensive, that we need to include all religious conceptions in our exclamations, that we need to criminalize the patriarchal oppression of men disagreeing with women, that food is inherently divisive because not all people can eat all food, and that it is deeply problematic to appropriate the air of the dinosaurs without recalling their uniqueness and grandeur, we nonetheless are not presented with a world of true equality.
Some may agree with me simply because in this world white women who write blogs are protected moreso than other groups, and this is clearly a grave injustice. But I propose that we look yet deeper at a powerfully symbolic inequality present in this future of supposed equality. In this future, all people are known by the number 1.
This may seem wonderful and indeed a brilliant way to lift the oppressive yolk of names and pronouns, or at least a harmless way to avoid giving offense. But it is actually perpetuating the oppression we seek to uproot.
To understand why the number 1 is a symbol of oppression and why using the number 1 as a designation for all people to indicate their value is oppressive, we have to remember that the Base 10 system, and indeed all counting systems, are inescapably hierarchical. Even in the Base 2 system, a system in which equality could find easy expression with 1s and 0s regarded as equal though different, we find that the 1 is inevitably valued more highly than the 0.
And this is not merely a theoretical point; to illustrate, let us look at and yet look beyond the constant striving to be #1 in a particular field of endeavor so endemic to our achievement-obsessed ableist society, an act that always leaves behind the marginalized and oppressed who need our help. To show you how deeply we as a culture have internalized this oppressive hierarchy, we need only examine the electronic technologies which have become so ubiquitous.
The computers upon which we compose our eloquent attacks on injustice are processing and communicating our ideas in the form of 1s and 0s. This may seem innocuous until we realize that the 1s and 0s are primordial symbols of male and female genitalia, the 1 symbolizing the male organs and the 0 symbolizing the female organs.
Unsurprisingly, even as symbols in what is supposed to be a neutral field like mathematics, the unavoidable patriarchal presentation of the male symbol as being inherently of higher value than the female symbol rears its ugly head. The number 1 is an ever-present reminder to women (whether cisgender or transgender) that their value in our society so steeped in the evils of patriarchy is proposed to them as the lower value.
And perhaps even more nefariously, the number 1 when applied to women is an implicit claim that to be valued highly is to be so valued by means of labeling women with a symbol of maleness; rather than raising the 0 to the same value as the 1 and applying it to all (whether we identify as male or female or some nontraditional gender identity) so that we can be truly equal, the future society presented in the video imposes a symbol of the oppressor onto the oppressed as if that were a means of eliminating discrimination.
As we know, this is simply the perpetuation of discrimination, the systemic latent sexism of a culture that has not yet overturned the patriarchal structures which it inherited from even more oppressive societies. A future society in which we are all #1 is not a future of #Equality at all.