Injustice: Why Social Inequality Still Persists
By Daniel Dorling
Because belief in the five tenets of injustice [elitism is efficient, exclusion is necessary, prejudice is natural, greed is good and despair is inevitable] is so widespread among people in power, those beliefs are then propagated through what they control. For example, those who fund and manage educational institutions encourage teachers to present these beliefs as truth. The beliefs are propagated by governments whose departments for social security increasingly label the poor as wanting, feckless, immoral and criminal. The beliefs are supported by the media, where stories are common which imply that some people are less deserving, where great businessmen…are lauded as superheroes and where immigrants looking to work for a crumb of the City’s bonuses are seen as scroungers. The beliefs are supported by politicians whose mantra is that without greed there would be no growth, and without growth we are all doomed. The beliefs are supported by industry whose spokespersons say we must consume more and more…So in various ways academia, government, the media, politics and industry are each key a key element in promoting injustice.
Over the course of a decade, at the start of this century, the rate of imprisoning children increased ten-fold, despite no significant increase in criminality. Increased permanent exclusion from ever more competitive schools contributed. Most adults imprisoned are barely out of their childhood; their biggest mistake was not their crime, but having been born at the wrong time, to the wrong family, in the wrong place, in the wrong country…elitism now raises a few dozen young celebrities to stardom, a few hundred young entrepreneurs to riches, and projects a few thousand young people sent to Ivy League colleges to totter high on unstable pedestals while condemning millions of other children to criminal alternatives.
Elitism is partly sustained because people are unlikely to seek high office, or feel able to remain there, if they do no have a high view of themselves and of their abilities. But it is also sustained because we tolerate such arrogance, and accept so readily the idea of there being just a few great minds, of there being just a few who should aspire to great positions of power, who are able to advise, lead and lecture.
We rarely question why we have so few positions of great power, so few judges, ministers and other leaders. But, if you took every top post and created two jobs, each on half the salary, you do a great deal to reduce privilege. It’s harder to lord it over others when you pay is made more similar to theirs.
Intelligence is not like wealth. Wealth is mostly passed on rather than amassed. Wealth is inherited. Intelligence, in contrast, is held in common. Intelligence, the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge, is not an individual attribute that people are born with, but rather is built through learning. No single individual has the capacity to read more than a miniscule fraction or the books in a modern library, and no single individual has the capacity to acquire and apply much more than a tiny fraction of what humans have collectively come to understand. We act and behave as if there are a few great men with encyclopaedic minds able to comprehend the cosmos; we assume that most of us are of lower intelligence and we presume that many humans are of much lower ability than us. In truth the great men are just as fallible as the lower orders; there are no discernible innate differences in people’s capacity to learn.
In the decade before the 2008 economic crash hit and poverty by any definition increased sharply once again, Britain provided an abject lesson in how social exclusion could grow sharply. It grew simply because the rich took so much more of what growth there had been than the poor.
In the past indentured debt might have been the cost of a passage to the Americas, or the supposed cost of forcible deportation to Australia, in the case of the convicts. The indentured are by definition not free to stop working…Today’s indentured labourers in affluent countries are not describe as such and are not formally indentured, often they are not even in paid employment and are indentured to benefits…The indentured may be in arrears on their rent, on their mortgage, on paying their utility bills, on the taxes they owe local government, on loans arranged through banks…These indentured are in default on hire purchase agreements, even on court orders to pay fines for not having licence to watch their television. They have all manner of ways in which they can be in debt, no longer owing to a single creditor, but usually owing to numerous faceless creditors. They owe because their incomes are insufficient to support their outgoings, outgoings needed to preserve basic dignity in the countries where they live, where it has become acceptable to string people our along a widening and ever more skewered curve of reward, creating many losers towards the bottom. Many losers are required to pay for (and service) every new winner high up at the top, and winners are expensive to support.
The homogenising myth of our times is that people fall to the bottom because they are undeserving, that they probably didn’t have the inherent ability to ever do much better than they did.
Although the Conservatives in 1979 in Britain and the Republicans in 1980 in the US secured the largest number of votes to put them in power (of those who could be persuaded to vote at all), they did not improve the living conditions of even most of those who voted for them, just those of the more affluent of their supporters. Thus in the US if people in the top tenth of society looked up they saw the top 1% flying away from them. When they looked down they looked in fear to see ghettos forming and neighbourhoods being abandoned, entire rust belts regions being consigned to the scrapheap. Because of this, for a long time they could be persuaded to continue to vote in support of the selfishness of the rich in what looked like protection from being abandoned themselves. This implicit threat was so powerful that it resulted in the Democrat and Labour parties mirroring the right-wing policy to become electable. So when they came to power in the most unequal countries these opposition parties made no discernable impact…As with Ronald Regan, the legacy of Margaret Thatcher and those who brought her to power continued long after she lost office.
Taxes, including inheritance tax, should be transfers of wealth from the rich to the poor. Protecting inheritance is all about maintaining unfairness. Inheritance preserves privilege and prejudice, and without it there would be precious little privilege or prejudice based simply on accruing power from accumulating money. No doubt new forms of privilege and prejudice would emerge, but they could not be based on looking down at others whose parents, for instance, could not afford to send their children to the same school as you.
No one in a county where state schools were as well equipped as private schools would say they were privileged to have been educated privately; they would say they had been duped if someone made a charge for what was their by right.
Racism is the belief in the superiority of a particular race. A race is seen as a major division of humanity, a group of people connected by common decent.
What we think of racism changes over time. It has only been since the 1930’s that we have began to widely recognise racism as it is currently thought of, and only since the 1960’s that the word ‘racism’ has appeared in dictionaries.
As racism among many affluent people has evolved from it’s crude 1970’s form to a more general detesting of the poor as inferior, so the nature of those who enact the changing racism, the treating of people as racially inferior, has changed.
Now the wider racism is much more enacted in boardrooms by businesspeople who consider their target groups of customers – as groups – as inferior, the kind of people (they say) you need to know in order to exploit, but you wouldn’t want to live near or mix with.
People are now trying to run businesses knowing they are increasingly despised for how they act, how they pollute, how they hire and fire at will, how they profit from misery
More and more of the general public are becoming aware that bankers are not often compassionate well-meaning people, but few realise that corporate law requires businesses to act in ways psychiatrists would diagnose as psychopathic in an individual.
Just as with poverty, exclusion and elitism, racism has not always been with us as it appears now, and, as with poverty, only recently have very large numbers of people become committed to its eradication. The currently propagated mass prejudice, that the poor are somehow inferior, will come to pass too.
Those with less are not a race ‘apart’ that you should fear living near, mixing with, or you children marrying. It’s as simple (and for some reason as hard to understand) as that.
The cult of celebrity and watching the super-rich is part of a wider trend that has been incorporated into and has transformed the lives of almost all people on affluent countries.
With greed the failing is a new kind of financial narcissism born out of insecurity, spending money on ourselves and our possessions because such spending temporarily, fleetingly, boosts how well we value ourselves in societies where we feel less valued in general
If you had the chance to avoid paying a little tax you might as well take it; after all, what miniscule difference could your contribution make? It is thinking more and more like this that has contributed to make it acceptable from the 1980’s onwards that authorities increasingly prosecute the poor when they are found to cheat social security systems but not others for the far greater sums stolen when people do not pay taxes.
Just think of all the human work required to create the materials and technology needed to furnish a grand mansion, to kit out a large yacht or construct a private plane and then you can begin to contemplate how just one of the world’s many hundreds of billionaires, someone who can spend a couple of million dollars a day on leisure time outgoings, harms millions of other human beings who in total get by on less than that for all they need. Billionaires and multi-millionaires live in a state of luxury that could be sustained, and can certainly only be justified, if they were a separate species.
The most serious and long-term deadly outcome of rising inequality is that, as inequalities rise, the rich (who argue that inequality is good) become politically stronger and their arguments gain ground. Seeing inequality as a necessary evil is bad enough; seeing it as the solution is worse. Seeing inequality as unnecessary for human beings to live well requires a change in core beliefs as great as that which priests who begin to doubt their own religion usually cannot stomach. It is not the greedy we should fear – we can all be greedy – but those who carry on preaching that there is good in greed. They are likely to continue doing so long after they have stopped believing themselves, because they can see no alternative.
Ideologies of inequalities have trickled down. Once only a few argued that hunger should be used as a weapon against the poor. Now many grumble when inconvenienced by a strike, talk of those requiring benefits as scroungers, hope to inherit money or become famous.
The greatest indictment of unequal affluent societies is for their people to be, in effect, disenfranchised, to think they can make no difference, to feel they are powerless. Apathy has risen as we all become distracted by trying to make a living, lulled into a false comfort through consuming to maintain modern living. In the space of about 100 years we have gone from fighting for the right for woman to vote, to a situation where half the population in the most unequal of affluent countries are not exercising their right to vote.
…it is easy to criticise but hard to find solutions…it is beliefs, the beliefs which enough of us still hold, that today underlie most injustice in the world. To ask what you do after you dispel enough of those beliefs to overcome injustice is rather like asking how you run plantations after abolishing slavery, or run a society after giving women the vote, or run factories without child labour. The answers have tended to be: not much differently than before in most ways, but vitally different in others.
It is, however, in our minds that injustice continues most strongly, in what we think is permissible, in how we think we exist, in whether we think we can use others in ways we would not wish to be used ourselves…Everything it takes to defeat injustice lies in the mind. So what matters most is how we think.
In many ways the Coalition government was New Labour continued, just as we slowly learnt over time that much of New Labour had been Thatcherism continued.
People on both left and right construct their stories, testaments and beliefs as to the way they behave. On the right, what is key is survival of the fittest (the most selfish?) and apparent market efficiency (blindness?), not being held back by weakness (the feckless?), not believing that humans are capable of organising themselves (leave it to ‘price mechanisms’). On the left there is perhaps too much faith in the ability of us all to see sense and to rationally organise ourselves, too much faith that the majority will succumb to good argument when they hear it. The left still underestimates the extent to which the minds of many in power have been closeted by upbringing, and the huge disadvantage caused by each generation having to learn the world anew.
The very least we can do is describe clearly the crux on our present predicament – that much that is currently wrong is widely seen as either inevitable or justifiable.