Those who have made it their business to push the concept of "equity," including the Biden administration and the legions of "diversity, equity, and inclusion" (DEI) pests in our universities and corporate HR departments, very much want you to confuse the term with one of the pillars of classical liberalism, "equality."
Alas, the only form of "equality" found in "equity" as the DEI mandarins interpret it is "equality of outcome," which can only be achieved by treating people unequally.
DEI enthusiasts wish us to conflate "equity" and "equality" because they seek to smuggle in a concept (equality of result) long rejected by the American public, at least when presented in straightforward fashion.
There is a certain irony in all this, given that much of the past 200 or so years of political life has involved the conflict between equality of rights (the basis of the American founding) and equality of outcome/result (espoused by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and other communist theorists).
The Cold War was the most intense expression of this conflict, with the Soviet project essentially an effort to create a classless society with equality of material condition at the expense of inalienable rights and freedom more broadly.
Whereas the central goal of Marxism-Leninism was equity in terms of class status and material wealth, the central goal of DEI is equity in term of ethnicity/race/gender identity and sexual preference, defined as proportional representation in all organized life, which is vastly more comprehensive in scope and thus potentially more transformative.
The old left wanted to use state power to engineer an equal distribution of wealth; the new left wants to use state power to engineer a spoils system in which societal rewards are allocated according to race, ethnicity, and gender. The old left defined everyone in terms of class (bourgeoisie or proletariat), the new in terms of where on the racial/gender intersectionality hierarchy they fall.
In each case, traditional understandings of equality before the law are supplanted by unequal treatment dictated by ideology.
Thus, DEI represents a sort of back-door effort to craft a perhaps even more ambitious form of communism than the one the Soviets sought to impose upon the world, only now cloaked in deceptively cuddly verbiage that few would otherwise object to (and for which criticism can therefore be more easily dismissed; who, after all, can possibly be opposed to such things as "diversity," "equity" or "inclusion"?).
The degree to which equity has become our new political religion thus constitutes something of a testament to the ability to deceive through the manipulation of language and use of euphemism--what we were once repulsed by when offered in the guise of Marxism-Leninism we now meekly accept in the guise of DEI.
It's as if the radical left went back to the drawing board after the Berlin Wall fell and came up with something less threatening and thus more politically saleable, while still retaining the original goal of equality defined in terms of results.
In the end, though, both communism and its contemporary counterpart, DEI, end up waging war on the meritocratic principle in such a fashion as to sow the seeds of their own failure.
In the communist world, tension developed over time between ideology ("red") and merit ("expert"), such that the priority granted "red" over "expert" inevitably led to technological stagnation, mass poverty, and eventual implosion. In the DEI formulation, ideology (race, sexual preference, etc.) acquires a similar, privileged status vis-à-vis merit, to the point where the embrace of equality of outcome inevitably leads to a lowering of standards in any area DEI infects.
Put differently, you can't achieve equal outcomes by elevating as much as you can by levelling; the lowest common denominator therefore becomes the shared standard/outcome, the destination toward which equity understood in this fashion propels us.
Tearing down success is much easier than making everyone successful, in the same sense that destroying is so much quicker and easier than creating.
The shared poverty that came to characterize life under communism will arrive just as surely for us under DEI, as poverty can be the only outcome for a society that chooses to discard merit in the allocation of rewards.
A crucial difference between Marxism-Leninism and DEI is, however, that the former openly presented itself as an attack on the liberal order, whereas the latter presents itself as part of it, leading all too many liberals who should know better to unquestioningly accept its profoundly illiberal premises.
"Equity" (and, more broadly, DEI) also possesses the virtue of not having any real-world exemplars to have to struggle to defend; no immense stacks of corpses that were once found in places like Moscow, Beijing, and Phnom Penh and which served as refutations of the ideology that caused such mass murder.
No albatrosses hang from the necks of the DEI apparatchiks in the way those corpses once hung around the necks of the commissars.
Given the innate human differences in ambition, ability, etc., there will always be only two options: Treat people equally and accept unequal outcomes or treat them unequally to achieve equal outcomes.
The first approach is consistent with the free society; the second with totalitarianism.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.