12 July 2014 ~ 0 Comentarios

The healthy struggle for inequality

by Carlos Alberto Montaner


I begin with an anecdote. It was told to me by its protagonist, an excellent Cuban doctor, a specialist in cochlear implants designed to enable deaf children to hear again.

Some years ago, upon her return from vacation, she was called before the committee of the Communist Party in the hospital where she worked. They intended to reproach her. She didn’t know why, but soon found out. She was guilty of improper socialist behavior: she had built a reputation for herself as the best surgeon in her specialty. She had stood out. Was there any proof? Of course: her patients chose to wait for her and during her absence refused to be treated by other physicians.

The accused listened patiently to the scolding. Her critics explained that the revolution embraces team work and rejects the selfish success of individuals, a practice that apparently belongs in the milieu of the despicable capitalism.

The doctor replied that she had done nothing to seduce her patients, other than being a good physician, but secretly made up her mind to leave a country willing to punish excellence in the name of revolutionary equalitarianism. For several years now, she has practiced her profession quite successfully in Miami.

I tell this story because today, while governments, political parties and numerous thinkers, collectivist and noncollectivist, worry about reducing inequality, demonize the profit motive and raise the banner of the Gini Index, with which they flog those who have enriched themselves, individuals, on the other hand, struggle to stand out and accentuate social differences.

The individuals are right. To try to excel, to try to stand out, to struggle to be better than the others, different from them, even wealthier, is part of human nature and it is to our advantage that it be so. To repress that impulse, to morally condemn it and try to make all individuals equal is the shortest route to general failure.

Furthermore, as everyone who has carefully observed the behavior of normal people knows, that attitude is common, healthy; it is what compels us every day to work and live. Without that intimate, rabidly individualistic stimulus, comes the annihilation of the id, diluted amid a sludgy wave of beings who are closer to a hive of identical bees than to the competitive, alert and unequal species to which we belong.

Self-esteem, so important to emotional balance, depends on that. Those who are satisfied with themselves have more opportunities to be happy and create wealth for themselves and for the benefit of the environment in which they live. On the contrary, the sensation of mediocrity, and even a certain relative inferiority, usually crushes those who suffer it.

When depression does not have a physiological cause — hormonal or chemical imbalance — the origin must be sought in the dark terrain of negative self-perception. Depression is manifested in those persons who cannot, or do not wish to, rise from bed to fight on because their ego has been crushed and they don’t understand what has happened to them, beyond the ailment that afflicts them.

Governments, political parties and religious institutions are wrong to try to demonize and penalize inequality. What do we intuitively do with those who stand out? In general, we admire them. We pronounce them heroes and, if the opportunity arises, we enrich them with our preference. It may be a brave warrior, an exceptional artist or triumphant athlete. It may be a person devoted to philanthropy, like Mother Teresa, or to the creation of enterprises, like Steve Jobs.

A hero is someone extremely unequal who has accomplished an uncommon feat, and that turns him into an ideal behavior model. Nobody is upset (and nobody should be) when, in pursuit of his singularity, the hero becomes a very rich person, infinitely more than the average, as happened with Picasso, Bill Gates, tennis player Rafa Nadal, singer Beyoncé and the thousands of winners who have passed through this world.

The Spanish word for achievement — “logro” — and the English word for money — “lucre” — come from the Latin word for gain — “lucrum.” Gain is not a sin, and achievement should not be a crime or objectionable behavior. On the contrary, he who stands out and triumphs deserves our admiration, never our contempt.

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