Monday, December 28, 2015
Equanimity about Equity of Inequality
I am moved by the angst of a well-known British right-of-center writer to share my thoughts about inequality as we move towards the New Year. Yes, it’s three o’clock in the morning. And the new biological timetable that attends my current ill health has decided, once again, that my thoughts flow best when everyone else is asleep.
Along with my few ailments, maybe it’s advancing years that make me more settled, or perhaps more blunt, about the whole subject of inequality. Supporters of Donald Trump say he is rational. Detractors say he is a rich whack-job. Take your pick. So. By the numbers.
People are not born equal. We can have a whole metaphysical discussion about this. Which I’ll avoid for now. But, the bottom line is we are not all born with the same gifts. Or the same amount of ‘em.
The only thing that is equal to all of us is the need for us to eat. And pretty much right there are the two factors that have dominated political economy since the time sapiens decided it was better to hit someone with the club, rather than dragging it behind him.
We need to eat. We need to find a way to do it. Some of us use physical strength. Others our developing brains. Some hunt. Some grow. Some just take from others. From this point on, further discussion is really about the finer points.
The finest point being that, as our brains have evolved, not all brains equally by the way, another natural phenomenon, not one we can blame on the 1%, many of us have developed a countervailing influence over the natural order of things – the notion of justice.
So it is that some of us decided that it wasn’t always just that Harry with the club got best pickings of the body carcass. So, we ganged up and stopped him. Or we thought up clever ways of trapping Harry. Or taking sides with him. Or designing stealth drone clubs to attack him when he wasn’t looking. And so on.
Blah, blah, blah. Fast forward a few thousand years. To the end of the cold war. And the advance of globalization. And the points made by Matthew d’Ancona in the article linked to earlier.
It’s really not all that complicated. There is no such thing as freedom. That disappeared the moment Harry hit someone. And that someone retaliated by joining with his fellows to take Harry’s club away. After that, all was legislation and regulation. The balance in society between those with individual strength and those with strength in numbers.
And that has pretty much defined the evolution of the seemingly separate political strands of right-wing individualism and left-wing collectivism. Which definitions are themselves somewhat ironic. Since, certainly in modern times, that right-wing individualism appears to support global corporatism, while the left-wing collectivism has the ambition of protecting less advantaged individuals.
Anyways, my point is, there is no overarching right or wrong. It’s all a question of balance. People are different. They do different things. They give value to different things. They see things differently.
Ambitious people want to get rich. That involves other people. Using them as digits. As units. Whether it is as labor. As a market. As buyers. Whatever. So long as the others get something out of it, they’re happy to go along. Until they feel ripped off. Then, they react. When they get sufficiently upset, they organize, they find strength. And maybe, they get to take the club away from Harry again. Or, they just move way, and do their own thing somewhere else.
And the history of political economy, relative inequality, the supremacy of right or left, individual or collective, at any given moment, is all about where the pendulum is at that point in history. Is Harry in the ascendant? Or those organizing against him?
There is no end of history. No final destination. No ultimate moment. It is all a question of where the pendulum is. No more. No less.
So. Why the long essay about all of this so early in the morning? Hmm. ‘Cos I’m off work awaiting further tests. ‘Cos I’ll have to return to work at some point. And I’m none too happy with my place of work at the moment. And Matt’s article got me thinking about why. And why it is that the unhappiness is causing so much angst. When I’m trying to make my life about magic not angst.
And I realized (not this morning; it’s been building for a while) that, well, different people see things different ways. Because we are different.
Forget the notion of co-operation (you do all know by now that I work in a co-operative food retailer, right?). The fact is, the same human impulses are at work in my co-operative as anywhere else.
There are those with ambition, who do the planning and the overlording. There are those of us who put up with it, so long as we benefit. And there are those of us who do not benefit so much, and we organize and push back.
Those at the top present all sorts of rationale to underpin why the big picture says we need to do x and y in order to ‘succeed.’ While we at the bottom of the pile retort that this ‘success’ looks great on paper, but it still leaves us with sore limbs and a miserable-looking pay raise.
And the epiphany for me, these past few weeks, as I’ve found myself not in the immediate emotional thick of it all, is that, as with most of human endeavor, we are all right. Because we are all attempting to gain different things from the same big picture.
Those at the top want pretty graphs with the lines going up. Those in the middle also want the lines to go up, so that they will be left alone. And that requires that they lay it on those of us below. Who want to be left alone, and to be paid more.
Of course, there is no way we can all be happy. In equal amounts. At the same time. Sometimes the folks at the top win. Sometimes those of us lower down the ladder get our payback. It’s a constant to and fro. And it all ends up being a matter of balance. Over time.
So. What am I saying? None of it matters? Heck no. Well, if you want to be the hermit, on top of the mountain, communing only with the universe. And I’ve thought of that. But I missed Wham. Unless you go for that, then no. Care. Argue. Fight. Rationalize. Every day. Never give in. Keep moving that bloody pendulum. But. Do it all with a pinch of salt.
We are none of us re-inventing the wheel. We’re none of us treading new paths. It’s all been done before. It will never change. We will always be different. Always unequal. Always striving to gain advantage.
Spend each day. Every moment of your life. Believing passionately in what you believe. So long as. At the end of each of those days. You have the good sense to step back and chuckle. We are who we are. We will always be that way. It is a never-ending circle. Enjoy it. Believe it. Honor it. But, don’t let it overwhelm you. Don't let it define you. That’s all.