Chanting the Death-Wish: DIE, DIE, DIE

“If you allow a political catchword to go on and grow, you will awaken some day to find it standing over you, the arbiter of your destiny, against which you are powerless, as men are powerless against delusions.” 

William Graham Sumner, “War” (1903)

“It was Napoleon, I believe, who said that there is only one figure in rhetoric of serious importance, namely, repetition.  The thing affirmed comes by repetition to fix itself in the mind in such a way that it is accepted in the end as a demonstrated truth.”

Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1896)

It is a great mistake to suppose that political slogans are as ephemeral as advertising slogans, and that the catchwords “Diversity, Inclusion, Equity” will therefore one day go the way of “put a tiger in your tank” and “where the rubber meets the road.”  Consider, for instance, how Woodrow Wilson’s facile slogan about “making the world safe for democracy” has gone on and grown into “the arbiter of our destiny,” against which we are now as powerless as men under a delusion.  Consider how much happier we might be if some brave and learned Senator had interrupted President Wilson and observed that the United States Constitution was written to keep Americans safe from democracy.

“Diversity, Inclusion, Equity” is a truly terrible slogan that should terrify anyone who is not afflicted with myopia.  “Diversity, Inclusion, Equity” is, however, a “good” slogan because it induces myopia with slyly equivocal meanings.  The words diversity, inclusion and equity all have good meanings, and these meanings stand up front when the slogan is repeated today; but lurking behind these good meanings are some not so good meanings, and I daresay these not so good meanings will become more conspicuous in time.

The not so good meanings of divided and indiscriminate should be clear enough, but the sinister side of equity is not so readily seen.  Equity is, after all, a somewhat technical term of law that we seldom use in everyday speech.  I believe most of us are more likely to use the word inequity, almost certainly with tones of disapproval, and therefore to assume that equity is nothing other than the opposite of that.

* * * * *

The word equity actually has two quite different meanings, one being equality before the law and the other being something very close to inequality before the law.  Equity in the first sense means that a rich man cannot injure a poor man with impunity; equity in the second sense means that a judge can award the poor man damages even when the rich man broke no law.

My witness for the first meaning is the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who in his great work Leviathan says,

“The safety of the People, requireth . . . that Justice be equally administered to all degree of people; that is, that as well the rich, and mighty, as poor and obscure persons, may be righted of the injuries done them; so as the great have no greater hope of impunity, when they do violence, dishonor, or any injury to the meaner sort, than when one of these, does likewise to one of them: for in this consisteth Equity.”

Thus the first meaning of equity is equal protection under the law, or what is properly meant by civil rights.  This meaning of equity is susceptible to a good deal of mischief, but this mischief is as nothing compared to the mischief that is possible under the second meaning.

* * * * *

The second meaning of equity is not, by itself, false or unjust.  Indeed it might be called the perfection of justice in the hands of a just and temperate judge, since it recognizes that there are, from time to time, hard cases where the written law does not administer justice, and that in such hard cases justice requires  arbitrary and extra-legal judgements.

As a matter of history, the second meaning of equity originated in the power of the king to void or amend the decisions of his courts, and this power thereafter devolved onto special courts and judges that operated outside the Common Law.  If you felt you had been unjustly injured in a way for which the Common Law furnished no remedy, you would take your complaint to a court of equity (which the English call a court of chancery).

I think it would be fair to say that this kind of equity is dispensed in what Americans call a small claims court, and in these cases equity is a valuable means of social harmony.  This is one reason the judge presiding at these courts is called a Justice of the Peace.

Here is the great jurist Henry Sumner Maine explaining the origin of this second type of equity.

“Even though all or some part of the law might have been set forth in writing, yet there was always supposed to be what may be called a supplementary or residuary jurisdiction in the king.  The law, however administered, was never believed to be so perfect but that the royal authority was always required to eke out and correct it.”*

All the wisdom and potential mischief of this second meaning of equity is contained in those last words, “to eke out and correct [the law].”  When applied to law, the phrase “eke out” means to stretch the law, just as a poor widow might “eke out,” or stretch, her scanty supply of flour by an admixture of sawdust.  The meaning of correct is clear enough.  Thus this second meaning of equity is arbitrary and extra-legal justice.  Indeed one might even say illegal justice.

 * * * * *

The modern slogan of equity implies that certain Americans have been, and are being, unjustly injured in ways that were and are not illegal, and for which the law provides no remedy.  The slogan further implies that it is therefore necessary for judges and administrators to “eke out and correct” the law to redress these injuries.  This obviously has nothing to do with the hard cases that the principle of equity was intended to serve, and everything to do with arbitrary and extra-legal (perhaps even illegal) “justice” by judges and administrators.

Thus, because we now chant the slogan “Diversity, Inclusion, Equity,” those who are not afflicted with myopia know we will “awaken some day” and find ourselves divided, indiscriminate and arbitrarily ruled by vengeful judges and administrators who who are outlaws.  This is why those who chant the slogan Diversity, Inclusion, Equity are in fact expressing the death-wish,

DIE, DIE, DIE.

*) Henry Sumner Maine, “The King, in His Relation to Early Civil Justice,” The Fortnightly Review (Nov. 1, 1881), pp. 603-617.

5 thoughts on “Chanting the Death-Wish: DIE, DIE, DIE

  1. Consider, for instance, how Woodrow Wilson’s facile slogan about “making the world safe for democracy” has gone on and grown into “the arbiter of our destiny,” against which we are now as powerless as men under a delusion.

    I think this is making what, popularly back in the seventies and to some extent still, was called a map-territory error. You could also call it a flag-army error.

    What our post-Wilson foreign policy actually is is very badly summarized as “making the world safe for Democracy.” Overthrowing democratically elected governments isn’t some exceptional American activity. The US government describing obviously popular and democratically elected governments as “authoritarian” and otherwise un-Democratic and/or threatening to Democracy isn’t rare.

    Thus, because we now chant the slogan “Diversity, Inclusion, Equity,” those who are not afflicted with myopia know we will “awaken some day” and find ourselves divided, indiscriminate and arbitrarily ruled by vengeful judges and administrators who who are outlaws.

    This seems both too paranoid and not paranoid enough to me. This technique of describing things which happened in the past in future tense is a way for dissidents to critique the present while granting themselves plausible deniability–hey, I was talking about a hypothetical future, not what’s happening now! It’s too paranoid in that nobody is coming to imprison you for calling the judiciary lawless, right now. It’s not paranoid enough in that, when they do come, they won’t be bothered by the defense the technique offers. They aren’t on the right. They don’t care about procedural justice at all. They are like the Red Guards, not like the Inquisition.

    • I know that map is not territory, but we live in a media environment where very few people do what geographers call “ground truthing.” You are right that Wilson’s slogan is preposterous from more than one angle. I do not seek martyrdom, but I am not counting on plausible deniability. If true persecution begins (and as you say, it hasn’t), there will be no shortage of perjured testimony and planted evidence.

  2. The leftwing group I am most familiar with coolly tells themselves and others that they believe in grassroots bottom-up power but in practice that means people of color and LGBTQ but also the college-educated, the foreign born — it means anyone, anyone at all so long as they are NOT the nativeborn white people of this area who are 95 percent of the population here, at least. So what they mean by grassroots is rule by that 5 percent. What they mean by inclusion is excluding me and mine. And then telling me to relax, they’ll always keep in mind our rights. I can’t think of any period of history when such a thing was reliably so, but they seem to truly believe they are all saints without any need whatsoever of God. They truly believe they are rightousness and that they are themselves righteousness. What they truly are is terrifying.

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