Equity: When the Left Goes Too Far

Jordan Peterson
May 23 · 19 min read
Credits for the image to ninagcomedian.com

This article was originally posted on jordanbpeterson.com

DIE

It seems to me that the identifying factors of the radical left types that dominate the humanities and social sciences (and, increasingly, the HR departments of corporations) most particularly constitute the mantra of Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity (DIE). Of these three, equity is the most egregious, self-righteous, historically-ignorant and dangerous. Equity means “equality,” in some manner, and is a term designed to appeal to the natural human tendency toward fairness, but it does not mean the classic equality of the West, which is (1) equality before the law and (2) equality of opportunity.

Equality Before the Law

Some definitions: equality before the law means that each citizen will be treated fairly by the criminal justice and judicial systems regardless of their status — and, as well, that the state recognizes that each individual has an intrinsic value which the polity must respect, and treat as a limiting factor to state power. In my estimation, that doctrine is grounded in the very deep and ancient Judeo-Christian proposition that man and women alike are made in the image of God, the very Creator of Being, and that each of participate in that creation in an ongoing process through the decisions we make (directing that participation with our ethical choices). There is likely no more fundamental presumption grounding our culture. So that kind of equality is to be celebrated.

Equality of Opportunity

Then there is equality of opportunity. That idea is predicated on the idea — to speak somewhat cynically, and to therefore not tell the whole story — that talent is widely distributed although comparative rare. This should come as no surprise to anyone, given that some people are much better at doing a given task, no matter what it is, than others and, because of that, it is in everyone’s selfish interest, in the narrowest sense, to allow such talent to come to the forefront so that we can all benefit. Now, that also happens to be good for each individual, as he or she struggles forward, but an equally powerful case can be made that it is a true public good. This means that no person should ever be denied an opportunity for progress in a productive direction for reasons that are unrelated to their competence or, to put it another way, that movement forward towards production of individual and social utility should never be interfered with by arbitrary prejudice (which is discrimination that has nothing to do with the task at hand). This is also a fundamental principle of Western culture, to the degree that it manages to be meritocratic — which it tends strongly towards, driven by the desire for profitably productivity, if for no other reason (and there are plenty of other reasons, as most people, even evil capitalists, are also motivated by the desire to mentor promising young people and help develop their careers, and to participate in something truly useful so that their lives are meaningful, and to participate in processes that have clearly positive social outcomes — this all despite the cynicism of the anti-capitalists on the radical left).

Equity: “Equality” of Outcome

Equity is a whole different ballgame. It is predicated on the idea that the only certain measure of “equality” is outcome, educational, social, and occupational. The equity-pushers assume axiomatically that if all positions at every level of hierarchy in ever organization are not occupied by a proportion of the population that is precisely equivalent to that proportion in the general population that systemic prejudice (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) is definitely at play, and that there are perpetrators who should be limited or punished that have or are currently producing that prejudice. There is simply no excuse for this doctrine. First, it suffers from the oversimplification typical of ideological thinkers: that one cause (prejudice) is sufficient explanation for a very complex phenomenon (differential representation of individuals in various organizational positions). Second, it is impossible to implement, as there are simply too many organizations, strata of positions, and identities of the identity group sort to possibly treat in the “equitable” manner demanded by the ideologues. This is true not least because most people have multiple group identities, each of which has their own unique combination of historical oppression, let’s say, as well as privilege, and sorting that out is technically impossible, without the introduction of an authoritarian overseer whose power and terror would produce problems that would instantly make the hypothetical problem of inequity look trivial by comparison. Third, it is being pushed by individuals who have made the hypothesis that the West is a singularly oppressive patriarchy an unshakeable axiom, and who will fight tooth and nail any idea that threatens that absolute article of faith, no matter how absurd the arguments that constitute that fight are destined to become. It is my fervent hope, and optimistic belief, that the doctrine of equity contains within it so many intrinsic contradictions that it will actually be the death of the radical left. A typical example?

Diversity and Equity: An Irreconcilable Paradox

The emphasis on “diversity,” for example, is in direct logical contradiction to the dogma of “equity.” The two simply cannot co-exist. If people are in fact “diverse,” for whatever reasons (and, according to the collectivists, primarily for reasons of race, ethnicity, sexuality and sex) then they bring distinctly and important different talents and abilities to the table, in precise proportion to their diversity. The inevitable consequence of encouraging that diversity and giving it free play in the world will thus be an exacerbation of inequality, rather than its elimination. If equity were the goal, then diversity would have to be done away with. There are hints of such thinking, already, which we will return to, such as calls for the eradication of any differences in the socialization of boys and girls (based on the assumption that their basic differences are all a consequence of learning). But such elimination of differences is by definition an elimination of diversity, although the latter is apparently laudable (as it is, when the diversity is based on difference of opinion rather than difference of immutable physical characteristics) and vital to the proper functioning of social and political organizations at all levels. Forget that logical paradox for now (although I can’t see that it is truly forgettable).

Practical Reality

Imagine, for a moment, instead, what would have to be done in a practical sense for true equity across identity groups to manifest itself. Let’s start, first, with the most egregious offenders: the most clearly sex-typed jobs. We’ll do that because there are many sorts of oppression, but the type with the longest continuous history, is the oppression of women by men, insofar as such oppression genuinely exists, since that has lasted even longer, biologically speaking, than the racial differentiation of human beings. What we see from the stats is exactly what would be predicted from reasonable knowledge of the psychological differences between men and women: the former are more likely to be interested in and to gravitate toward occupations that involve things, and the latter people.

Occupational Sex-Typing

The first thing we need to do to begin such a task is to rank-order the offenders by degree of systemic oppression. I was using the US Department of Labor stats for that, but they have strangely to have disappeared since February 2019, so I used the Internet Archive Wayback Machine at this address (http://bit.ly/2LJxGmQ). CareerSmart, a UK organization, also lists them (http://bit.ly/2Hl7uur). We could do this for each occupation separately, although that might lead to needless complications (and could be left, hypothetically, for future work). Best, perhaps, to group roughly, for ease of implementation. We could do the gender disequity analysis for both genders, but we were all compelled to admit on pain of mobbing that the oppression has flowed one way, historically (that is, from men to women) so in the beginning we could ignore those disciplines where women have a clear advantage. According to the ruling doctrine, that merely constitutes something akin to reparations for the historical reality of oppression. We can therefore concentrate work primarily on the employment categories that favor men.

These aren’t the prime C-Suite positions (CEOs, COOs, CFOs, etc.) that make up the bulk of the complaints of male domination (and we should point out that it is a very small proportion indeed of men who occupy such positions so that, at least in principle, the non-C-Suite majority of men are just as oppressed as the majority of women, even though there is a slightly smaller proportion of them). They are in fact jobs such as (above 99%) vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians; (above 95%) carpenters and joiners; electricians and electrical fitters; metal working production and maintenance fitters; plumbers and heating and ventilating engineers; mobile machine, forklift and large goods vehicle drivers; those in the electrical and electronic trades; glaziers, window fabricators and fitters; telecommunication engineers, metal, electrical and electronic trades supervisors; construction workers; painters; and IT and design and development engineers (this is a partial list). The highest proportion of females (97.5%) — just as a single point of contrast — are to be found among nursery nurses and assistants. It is also the case that, just as in the 1950s, the most common female occupation is something roughly equivalent to what was once known as secretary, but may now go by the name of executive assistant or something similar. We also see (https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-databook/2018/home.htm) that women are about twice as likely to work part-time than men (24% to 12%). This is primarily because women are much more interested in part-time work once they have children, particularly when those children are young, and it is not at all obvious that there is any tenable policy solution that can or indeed should change that.

Now it doesn’t seem like mere imagination on my part that all the noise about “patriarchal domination” is not directed at the fact that far more men than women occupy the trade positions I described above. Nor does it seem unreasonable to point out that these are not particularly high-status jobs, although they may pay comparative well, nor that it is a ridiculous idea that any one of them (let’s say “metal working production and maintenance fitters”) genuinely constitutes some kind of oppressive patriarchy aimed at the domination and exclusion of women. By contrast, instead, these are working men who keep the staggeringly complex, reliable and essentially miraculous infrastructure of our society functioning, and who should be credited with exactly that (despite, say, the odd old Playboy pinup their construction offices might be decorated with). It is, instead, the 95% percent of men who dominate the highest executive positions in very large corporations, or who sit on the boards of such organizations, who are paraded as the very proof of patriarchal domination itself, despite (as I said) their comparative rarity. The problem with this is that the fact that some men dominate some powerful positions is no proof that all men dominate all powerful positions, as well as all the indication coming from the Scandinavian states, in particular, that increasing the number of female executives and board members by quota has essentially zero impact on improvement for female representation or upward mobility farther down the food chain.

A Never-Ending Plethora of Legislation and Policy: Adulthood

But let’s ignore all that, and assume for a moment that we should aim at equity, and then actually think through what policies would inevitably have to be put in place to establish such a goal. Let’s also assume that a combination of such policies would be necessary to accomplish a task of such complexity (and also ignore the fact that major, multidisciplinary social interventions inevitably produce unintended counterproductive large-scale consequences). We might begin by work at eliminating pay scales that differ (hypothetically) by gender. This would mean that we would introduce legislation requiring companies to rank-order their sex representation at each level of the company hierarchy (let’s assume a 5% pay differential, on average, defines a rank) and then adjust the pay differential by gender at every rank. If there are ten per cent fewer women, or men, perhaps a ten percent adjustment might be good start. If there are 100% more men, then a 100% adjustment could be in order. Companies could be monitored over a five year period for improvement (say, recruitment of 10% more of the misrepresented gender per year). We would then have to establish targets for improvement: perhaps a five-year implementation period might be acceptable or, alternative, one year per ten per cent of gender disequilibrium. Failure to meet the appropriate targets would be obviously and necessarily met with fines for discrimination, scrutiny of relevant company policies regarding diversity, inclusivity and equity, and suggested increases in differential pay scales. In the extreme, it might be necessary to introduce staggered layoffs of men (perhaps, once again, ten per cent a year) so that the gender equity requirements could be met. This would certainly speed up the process, so might well be advisable.

Then there are the much broader social policy implications. We could start with the hypothetical problems with college, university and trade school training. Many companies, compelled to move rapidly toward gender equilibria, will object (and validly) that there are simply not enough qualified female candidates to go around. This is generally viewed as simply another excuse by the patriarchy to justify its prejudice, but if it isn’t the case for the C-suite types (and it probably is) it is absolutely and certainly the case for the mechanical/machine operating/construction types that I described earlier, where the sex ratio difference is particularly marked. This would mean radical changes in the post-secondary education system, and they would have to be implemented in a manner both immediate and draconian — justified, let’s say, by the obvious “fact” that the reason the pipeline problem exists is the absolutely pervasive sexism that characterizes all the programs that train such workers (and the failure o the education system thereby implied).

The most likely solution — and the one most likely to be attractive to those who believe in such sexism — would be to establish strict quota systems in the relevant institutions to invite and incentivize more female participants, once again in proportion to the disequlibria in enrollment rates. If quotas are not enough, and they may not be (given the degree to which women have (1) been discriminated against in the past and (2) have internalized the misogynistic attitudes stemming from that discrimination) then a system of scholarship or, more radically (and perhaps more fairly) women could be simply paid to enroll in education systems where their sex is badly under-represented. The necessary bureaucracies within the relevant educational institutions could be set up to ensure improvement in the female/male representation ratio, and those bureaucracies made responsible to the appropriate government ministries. The same combination of fines, etc., might be applied to institutions where compliance is not forthcoming.

A Never-Ending Plethora of Legislation and Policy: Childhood and Adolescence

That’s not going to be good enough, however. The sex differences that result in gender-disequilbrated later occupational representation clearly manifest themselves early in life. Toy preference, for example (a reflection of the comparative male preoccupation with things and female with people) appear very early in life, are associated with difference in testosterone exposure in utero, and even characterize non-human primates. These differences reflect or shape the later outcomes we are describing. And other factors matter, as well. There is some evidence that the same proportion of boys and girls excel, for example, at math in junior high school (although there is some evidence that at the highest levels boys may outperform girls). However, the high math-skills girls also tend to be verbally gifted, and that is not equally true for the boys. This means that high math-skills girls have a wider range of occupational choice, given their broader range of abilities, and that comparatively fewer of them therefore enter the STEM fields. It is also very much worth noting here, just so we’re all on the same page, that countries that have pushed the laudable doctrines of equality of opportunity most assiduously (so that would be the Scandinavian countries) have the lowest rates of STEM enrolment among females in the world, as it turns out that freed females, so to speak, given free choice, do not often voluntarily become engineers and mathematicians and physicists. To call this a major problem for those who insist (1) that all sex differences are socially constructed and (2) that equality of opportunity doctrines will necessarily equalize outcomes is to say almost nothing at all.

We’ll ignore all that, as the doctrine of social constructionism (that is, the insistence that all sex differences are a consequence of socialization) insists. Then it becomes clear that educational practices in the K-12 system must be radically restructured. This is a process that is already well underway, much to the well-justified dismay of awake parents. At the Kindergarten and early elementary school level, the government might fund the production of books of fiction at the appropriate level of sophistication featuring characterizes defined by their sex pursuing nonstandard occupations, insuring that the more sex-typed occupations get the least coverage. This would mean, practically, something akin to a ban on fiction representing women as nurses, secretaries, etc. (perhaps even stay-at-home mothers) or at least a reduction of that representation in inverse proportion to the degree of systemic oppression indicated. That would mean a preponderance of fictional works portraying women as front line soldiers, heavy equipment operators, bricklayers, etc., while males should be portrayed pursuing currently-female dominated pursuits such as nursing. This suggestions runs slightly at odds with the early policy introduced suggesting that the female-dominated occupations be left in their current skewed positions, for reasons of historical reparation, but it is simply not realistic to suggest that male characters (and their inevitable career trajectories) be left out of fiction provided to young readers entirely, which seems to be the only option other than presenting them as pursuing and enjoying non-sex-typed occupations.

At the later grades, that should continue, but it might be useful to introduce mandatory life plans, with each female student required by their guidance counsellors to outline an education or career plan that features an under-represented occupation as their goal. The relevant psychological literature indicates that encouraging students to develop a detailed strategy for the pursuit of such goals does increase the likelihood that the plans will be implemented. Strong encouragement for the implementation of these plans, once developed, should be provided. The sort of interest that might tempt a given boy or girl toward a particular career has been engendered, so to speak, purely as a consequence of socialization pressure, so that whatever individual desire expressed by a given student that might run contrary to the new equity doctrines (such as claims for strong proclivity toward traditionally gendered roles) should be strongly discouraged, first to combat the internalized misogyny already discussed and second to disavow students, their parents, and society at the larger level from the notion than any truly individual desire exists (independent of social construction). It would be best, perhaps, if this was allied with sex-typed differences in physical training. As the average woman has 30% of the upper and 55% of the lower-body strength of the average man, this would mean comprehensive and continual and thorough and mandatory strength and endurance training programs for girls, beginning at puberty, when the sex differences in power start to manifest themselves. It’s not clear how to deal with the temperamental variability that also kicks in at the same time. Assertiveness training would be required on the female front, empathy training on the male (while the differences in negative emotion would also have to be dealt with, in some manner that has not yet been established).

If we regard differential sexual representation as proof of systemic oppression, as the theory of social construction demands, then we are failing in our social and individual responsibility to social justice to delay implementing such policies immediately, and with full force. Every year that passes with little to no movement on the front of sexual equity is indicative of a serious moral failure (and there has been remarkably little change in many occupations over periods of multiple decades with regard to representation by sex). Thus, if we’re serious about equity, as we seem to be required to be, since objecting to it instantly brings about accusations of misogyny and sexism (and alt-right sympathies, if not outright fascism) then there is simply no excuse not to implement these draconian but morally necessary policies as soon as possible. And we can’t end there. Sexual inequality is only one small part of the problem.

After Sex: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class…

After, say, a five or ten-year period, concentrating on sexual equity, it might be time to consider the same set of actions implemented for equity by race and ethnicity (if we assume that these are the next most important forms of oppression). It is highly likely that the women who will benefit from the sex equity requirements outlined in this document will be those who have benefited in the past from their race. This means white women (and perhaps even more particularly those who are white and Jewish, if we have decided to include Jewish people in the category of “white”). Thus, it will be necessary and appropriate to produce a set of standards (including the rewriting of the fictional accounts described previously) to highlight women of color, and to promote their movement forward in precisely the same manner as was implement for women, per se. And then we will have to concentrate a bit later on the other places where systemic prejudice is apparently self-evident: social class, age, attractiveness, disability, temperament — even perhaps education and intelligence).

It is also possible that some of these policies should be implemented simultaneously, with each job category favoring men also analyzed and assessed by race. We could start with the three main races: Caucasian, Asian and Black (recognizing as we do so that these are merely social constructions, but must be treated now as realities because they have been treated as such in the past). The dual implementation would be more costly and complex, and place a heavier administrative load on the companies and organizations affected, but would have the major advantage of redressing a number of historical injustices simultaneously. Perhaps we could be optimistic about the possibility of success in pursuing such a comprehensive plan, and dare both.

Is This Truly What We Want?

But perhaps we could also sit back and think a bit. Are we really up for these large-scale interventions? Do we really believe that they are necessary and, even more naively, that they would solve more problems than they would cause? And what are we to make of the fact that women granted equality of opportunity appear to choose, freely (assuming such free choice exists) to work part-time more frequently, to move for career purposes less often, to work inside rather than outside, to pick safer occupations, and to choose education pathways, often dealing with people, that are associated with less lucrative careers? Are we to assume that they aren’t making the “right” choices, because they are fouling up the equity doctrine, and to apply the substantive force that would be necessary to correct them?

Or would it just be simpler to note the insane complexity and internal contradictions and impossibility and danger of the pursuit of this appallingly simple-minded dual insistence (1) that the West is a hotbed of patriarchal oppression (particularly compared to every other society that currently exists or has existed in the past, instead of contrasted with some hypothetical ideological utopia) and (2) that all indications of inequality of outcome are proof positive of the oppression so claimed? The truth of the matter is that there is no excuse for the equity doctrine. Its proponents don’t even concentrate on the areas where the largest sex differences exist. They don’t care at all that there are multiple well-documented reasons for unequal outcomes in occupational choice and pay. They don’t think through the policy implications or, if they do, are nonetheless willing to grant to themselves the bureaucratic power to implement by force the changes that would be theoretically necessary to balance the scales (and that would produce kick-backs of a magnitude that the yellow-jacket protests, for example, should make us leary of invoking). They haven’t contended at all with the data suggesting that free women make different occupational choices than free men, and that there are economic consequences to those choices that may be regarded as perfectly acceptable by the women, who could well be choosing time over money (a not-unreasonable trade-off).

They also do not consider that we currently do not know how to formulate a complex economy that does not produce inequality of outcome in general (as the non-free-market/non-Western states that still comprise the majority of the world are certainly less egalitarian in opportunity and outcome than the oppressive, patriarchal West — see data from The World Inequality Report 2018: https://wir2018.wid.world/), and they certainly don’t consider the fact that radically unequal distributions are a somewhat ill-explained fact of life, governing phenomena as diverse as the size of cities, the numbers of species in a given genus, the comparative mass of stars (and of planets), the frequency of word use in given language, the number of creative endeavours characterizing individuals, the scoring success of professional athletes, hard disk drive error rates, the size of oil reserves in oil fields, the standardized price return on stocks, the size of sand particles (and of meteorites), the magnitude of casualty counts for many lines of business, and the volume of river discharges and annual maximum one-day rainfalls. All this (plus the fact that inequality was a fact of life long before the modern industrial period) indicates that all attempts to attribute inequity to the particular pathologies of the oppressive patriarchy are not only incorrect, but wildly optimistic, as the problem that is posed by the universality of unequal distribution is apparently far deeper and far more intractable than anything that can be explained by or altered by simple economics.

Equity Doctrine As A Moral Weapon

None of this stops the pushers of the DIE triad from using the doctrine of equity as a moral weapon, in service of their fundamental claim: white men historically and currently and unjustly and cruelly dominate, historically and currently (this despite the fact that American Asians, for example, make 30% more at the median than Caucasians in the US — a difference that is almost exactly the same as the gap between Caucasians and Latinos). In consequence, all inequalities of outcome must be regarded as unjust, and used as proof of the central contention — that is, the idea of patriarchal Western oppression that is the central dogma of the radical left. This is a terrible thing: not only because it identifies perpetrators who must be punished, and victims who must be coddled and protected (both equally dangerous consequences) but because it risks interfering with the progress that is actually being made to bring the world’s poorest people up to a standard of living that is vastly improved over what was typical even twenty years ago, even in the poorest of countries. Free democracies, with market economies (or even just the market economies themselves, with the freedom they inevitably bring) certainly produce inequality, just like every other economic and political system ever devised. But they also produce wealth, and enough of that is distributed to those at the bottom of the hierarchy to life them out of the abject poverty that constitutes the utter misery of, say, excess child mortality, lack of access to any education whatsoever, and outright starvation. Thus, there is no excuse for the radical leftists to claim virtue on behalf of their care for the poor, given that their entire doctrine is likely to (and has been indisputably shown to) make everything worse for precisely those upon whom their attention is so empathically lavished.

Conclusion: A Doctrine Too Far

We know the left can go too far. The Soviets taught us that. The Maoists and the Khmer Rouge taught us that. The North Koreans, and the Cubans, and the Venezuelans continue to teach us in the same manner. We don’t know exactly when and where the “going too far” begins. But I’m willing to stake my claim on the equity doctrine. In a word, it’s inexcusable, both morally and practically, and should be regarded, in my estimation, as an ideological position that should be roundly rejected by anyone who wishes to be taken seriously in any reasonable political discussion. And we should well remember that “reasonable political discussion” is the only alternative we have to outright strife and the kind of conflict that tends to degenerate rapidly and dangerously.


I am a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, clinical psychologist, international bestselling author of “12 Rules for Life”, "Maps of Meaning", co-creator of Self Authoring (online writing programs that help you explore your past, present, and future) and Understand Myself (personality assessment to help you understand yourself better).

You can learn about my work and follow me on all social media platforms: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or my website.

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Jordan Peterson

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Professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, clinical psychologist, author of "12 Rules for Life", creator of Self Authoring and Understand Myself.