A Note on the New Equality
DOROTHY SAYERS, in her book The Mind of the Maker, quotes a memorable passage from a lecture by L.P. Jacks, given in the 1920′s:
I am informed by philologists that the rise to power of these two words, “problem” and “solution,” as the dominating terms of public debate is an affair of the last two centuries, and especially of the 19th, having synchronized, so they say, with a parallel rise to power of the word “happiness.” . . . On the whole, the influence of these words is malign, and becomes increasingly so. They have deluded poor men with Messianic expectations, which are fatal to steadfast persistence in good workmanship and to well-doing in general. Let the valiant citizen never be ashamed to confess that he has “no solution to the social problem” to offer his fellow-men. Let him offer them rather the service of his skill, his vigilance, his fortitude, and his probity. For the matter in question is not primarily a problem, nor the answer to it a solution.
The words “problem” and “solution” still beset public debate and inquiry. Task forces to identify and define problems are the mark of government at every level, and also of business and of institutions and organizations. “Problem-solving” is a national preoccupation. But if problem-solving is still associated with “happiness,” it has also come to be associated with a word of comparable, if not greater, significance and influence in social, political, and economic thought today. That word, of course, is “equality.”
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