Equal Opportunity

I have heard opposition to social programs argue that people should be guaranteed equal opportunity, not equal success.  I agree with this idea.  In fact, I think it's summed up in the old adage, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink."  So, yes, I think that's true.  I think that personal responsibility should be assumed by each individual.  I think that people who work harder should see the benefit of that work.

However, the irony to me is that the social programs this argument is used to oppose aren't trying to guarantee equal success.  They're actually trying to guarantee equal opportunity.  Food stamps are a good way to guarantee equal opportunity to eat.  Some people make enough money to buy their own food.  Some people don't.  I don't think it's reasonable to tell those who have no money that they must go without food.  And it certainly isn't equal opportunity.

Education is the opportunity to make a better future--for oneself, but also for society as a whole.  If I have no education, my choices for a career are few but if I have an education in engineering I can build things that benefit other people, and make a living for myself while I'm at it.  But if I can't afford that education, it'll never happen no matter how intelligent or hard-working I am.  This is why I believe that lifelong education should be socialized.  Tax money should be used to pay for people who need to learn a skill or profession that they wish to learn.  It's actually better for the economy to have a better-educated public.  And it creates equal opportunity.  The way it is now, rich families grow richer by being able to send their children to good schools.  Poor families grow poorer because they can't afford to leave the cycle of poverty by getting an education.

I admit it would seem a bit extreme to simply give each person a million dollars.  But it also seems extreme to me to heartlessly turn a blind eye to those who are struggling for want of basic necessities and tell them they should have worked harder to avoid getting in that situation in the first place.

People seeking employment should have the peace of mind to know that they will be considered for hire based on their competency and not on the color of their skin, their personal beliefs, their sex or sexuality.  That is to say, employment should be equal opportunity.

I cannot look on fellow humans with a lack of concern for them.  I cannot look and be cold to their suffering.  There are people more fortunate than myself and there are people less fortunate than myself.  I do not feel like I am better than those who are less fortunate than I.  I do not feel that I have done anything spectacular to be deserving of sustenance that other people do not deserve.  I do not feel entitled to the wealth that I have, nor do I feel like those below my level of income deserve the little amount that they get.

I do feel that all people have a right to life.  That they deserve not just the literal right to not be murdered at any point, but the right to any sustenance to maintain their life.  I feel that all people should be treated equally.  The more I think about the issue, the more I am convinced that our society does a poor job at treating people equally.

I remember as a child watching To Kill a Mockingbird, and then of course reading it later in life.  I was confused how people could be so blatantly cruel to a man just because his skin was a different color.  That they would assume he did the crime even though it couldn't possibly have been him.  I remember reading Les Misérables and being saddened by how cruel everyone was to Jeal Valjean when he was on parole just because he had a criminal record, even though he really wasn't a dangerous man.  The prisons made him dangerous.  But now that I'm grown I see that these things still happen.  These things occur right before our very eyes.

We saw the trial of George Zimmerman.  A man guilty of murdering an unarmed boy who was acquitted.  That's the exact same story as To Kill a Mockingbird but with the roles reversed.  It's quite obviously racial inequality.  If it had been a black man who killed a white boy, certainly the jury would have returned a guilty verdict.

I can't imagine what it would like to live with a criminal record.  We're far too hard on people who have been convicted of felons.  And the sad thing is that we don't really distinguish between different crimes.  Someone guilty of possession of marijuana is the same as a serial killer--both are labeled as felons and ostracized by society.  I try to put myself in that position.  How would I act if I felt like all of society was against me?  What would I do if my family was starving and I had no legal way to provide food for them?  How would I treat people if everyone treated me like I was beneath them, dirty, and dangerous?

And so I favor social reform.  I favor laws and policies that promote equality.  I envision a future where all people have equal opportunity in the true sense of the word.  Where people really can make the choice between being a doctor or a UPS driver.  Where you can make a better future for yourself regardless of your past.