Equality is a buzzword in politics. Equality is an ideal that many strive for and is the motivation behind many movements. At the same time there is a difference between equality and equal rights. One is about everyone living equally and the other is about everyone having an equal opportunity. Equal rights is extremely important and is something that should be strived for. Everyone should have the same opportunity to succeed or fail based on their own choices, not because of someone else deciding they should not be given the chance.
Equality, on the other hand, has amazing potential and at the same time potentially dire consequences. Equality really depends on what you think it means. There is a great thought of a community working together, everyone on equal footing, equal resources, equal chances. Equality means that people are truly equal, in every aspect. Science fiction stories have given some of the best looks at what can happen when we try and make things truly equal.
Forced Equality Thru Drugs
Both Equilibrium and The Giver are great examples of stories that deal with equality by using drugs to control the population. Now in each of these stories drugs are not the only thing that is used to create equality, but they are some of the components being used. To create equality they have to control the population through drugs. In each instance they are trying to control the emotions of the population.
In The Giver the drug is used to suppress desire. People are assigned jobs based on their skills instead of their passion. They are even assigned spouses based on personality compatibility instead of attraction. Without desire they no longer have passion or attraction. Everyone is assigned jobs and spouses for the betterment of the whole society. Women are even assigned as birthmothers to create children for the society that the assigned spouses can apply to receive to raise.
Equilibrium is a very similar situation. We are not given as much detail about the job and spouse situation, but the basic idea is that everyone takes a drug at assigned times to eliminate emotion. Without emotion no one cares about color, art, music, theatre, etc. Everyone wears the same clothes, lives in the same houses, and shows no emotions. They are trying to solve the problems of war and yeah everyone is moving along and living, but there is no joy in it.
Both of these societies could be considered ideal. No war, no fighting, no crime, no drugs, all the things that people want. The problem that you do not think about is you need to have at least one person still driving the ship. In The Giver there is one person who is assigned to hold all the memories of the people so that if bigger questions come up someone has the wisdom to figure out an answer. In Equilibrium the guy on top is the one who has emotions. He feels he needs the imagination to figure out how to keep the word turning.
Forced Equality Thru Genetics
So this is a little bit more of an interesting difference and is something that many people truly fear. Gattaca is a great example of this, where they have discovered how to make sure that there is no disease or defects in a person’s body before they are even born. This means that everyone can be the best examples of themselves. Everyone can be on equal footing because you can make sure there are no more disabilities, no more defects, just people.
Now from one side this sounds fine, but anyone who has not been genetically perfected at birth is considered less due to the fact that their genetics are random and therefore people could have unknown genetic problems. People who are born naturally are in many ways separated from the rest of society because they are locked out from certain jobs and other things due to their genetic makeup.
This is kind of similar to something else that happened in The Giver to control society for the greater good. When a person became too old to contribute or if a child was born with a defect or disability they would kill them off. They had a nicer term for it, but essentially if you were not considered a productive member of society you were let go from society. In Gattaca it is not as extreme, but it is still pretty bad to say that you cannot even try because your genetics determine that you are inferior.
So it seems that in a lot of science fiction equality means sameness. If everything is the same then everything is equal. Everyone has the same things so there is no jealousy. The problem with this is that you have to mess with emotions and / or genetics to get to this point. Often risking the importance of individuality for the idea of a greater good. The places in science fiction that you do find a utopia of equality is on much smaller scale; a village instead of a world.
The one place that I think of this the most is Star Trek Insurrection. The lack of health problems really helps with the people of the planet living as equals. They all contribute and help out to keep their society going. They do not have access to outside help, to exist they have to help each other. This mentality means that everyone is working in some way. This also works because it is not about money; everyone works the fields and trades their wares. Now there were some that did not agree with the simple lifestyle who chose to leave. This just shows that equality can be difficult for everyone to live by.
I think equality is a noble goal, but is impractical. Doing things for the sake of equality can be easily abused. Equal rights is a different story entirely because everyone should be treated as a human no matter their gender, ethnicity, etc. They should be given the opportunity to succeed and not shut out before they have a chance. This means that they could fail, but it also means that they could succeed. The problem is that success is an inequality because it often means that someone stands out from the crowd.