We cannot discuss the inequality in society until we address the unfairness ingrained by thousands of years of history.
“That’s not fair!”
We hear those words almost every day. If one has children, the sentence is likely screamed rather than merely stated. A sense of fairness is instilled in all of us from a very early age. We all want the same things, the same opportunities, the same tilt in our favor, and the same bending of the rules that we perceive everyone else getting.
Mind you, what we perceive and what is real are seldom the same, but that sense of fairness, that insistence that we each be treated with the same favor we perceive others getting, drives some of our core perspectives of how we view the world. When we think we are treated unfairly in the matters that affect our lives the most, many of us yell, scream, and pitch a fit. We want the world to be a fair place.
“Life isn’t fair,” said every father ever.
And it isn’t. Consider the people who died of various forms of cancer despite having taken every reasonable precaution against it while others, like my late uncle, smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and manage to outlive their own children. Is that fair? No, but that’s life and fighting against that is pointless.
Not all injustices are naturally occuring, though. To the extent that we help in creating and propagating the disparity in what is and isn’t fair, we have a moral obligation to repair the damage done not only by ourselves, personally, but that done by a perhaps well-intentioned but nonetheless misguided society that came before us.
One of the words batted around like a beach ball in 2917 was inequality. Racial inequality. Gender inequality. Economic inequality. As a society, we were very much aware of the gaps that prevent some from being equal to others. No one likes to give up an advantage, though, so every time one group would claim a form of inequality against them, the opposing group would call them unreasonable, claim they were asking for something for free, and even charge some with playing the victim just for the financial gain.
Hierarchy of Privilege
Not all privilege is alike, of course. You already know this. What happened when we were children on the playground might have established a foundation, but many of the privileges that foster unfairness have been in place for centuries, well entrenched by a society that is so dependent on that privilege staying in place as to be frightened to their bones at the prospect of the privilege being taken away. Huge family fortunes have been built around the power of privilege. Names like Getty, Rockefeller, Walton, and Bush stand like towers on the American economic and political landscape because the current generation excelled at nothing more than making certain the privilege stayed in place.
I would not be the first person to suggest that hierarchies are inherently immoral. The power and privilege they produce are not based on skill or knowledge but upon the removal of wealth and exploitation of knowledge of those in the lower ranks. One’s place in the hierarchy determines what opportunities and privileges are afforded to them as “rights.” When one attempts to claim rights outside of their hierarchical ranks, the power structure becomes frightened because in a truly fair world it is one’s skills and talents that wield power and privilege hold no sway.
Hierarchies have existed pretty much since the dawn of time, however. Social strata established as far back as ancient Mesopotamia and feudal China encoded many of the hierarchical challenges still causing problems today. We like to think that the advent of democracy and capitalism changed up those hierarchies and made life fairer, but if one substitutes “king” for “president” or “prime minister,” and “slaves” for “minimum wage workers” and we find there’s been very little difference over the past 2000 years.
Why have we not been able to supplant these hierarchies of unfairness? Certainly, movements such as the Bolshevik Revolution and the French Revolution took direct aim at upending monarchies and systems of peerage that were grossly corrupt and unfair, but looking at the governmental systems in both countries today one would have difficulty arguing that either movement had instituted any real and enduring change. Swap titles around and the flowchart looks pretty much the same.
Breaking an entrenched system of privilege is difficult because 1) they are so numerous, and 2) there are nested hierarchies within each system. Those two factors allow that system to dominate everyday life to the point of oppression when it serves the interests of the system. Let’s break down some of the highest levels of that system so we can see for ourselves just how overwhelming the whole thing is.
Belief systems have always had a hierarchical structure to them, typically with the priest class equating to the nobility of government systems. What we saw n the 4th and 5th centuries ADE, however, was the dominance of the religious hierarchy over all aspects of life and government, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. With this violent movement, one’s belief system itself, whether one was Christian, Muslim, or Jew, established one’s place in the global hierarchy. It was during this time that the term “pagan” was coined within all three religions in an attempt to demonize anyone who did not hold to one of the Abrahamic beliefs. While each held the other in contempt and fought vigorously against each other, being pagan was a crime worthy of death in the views of all three. As a result, entire races and people groups were destroyed because they did not fit into the hierarchy.
Over the past 100 years, we have seen religion begin to be usurped on some levels by a growing movement toward secularism, a competing ideology that insists religion has no place in public life nor in the governing hierarchy. Secularism appears to be the solution to the many inherent ills found in a religious hierarchy. However, if history is any indicator, religion will not go quietly into the night. People want to believe in something and all it takes is a unifying fear to bring a religious hierarchy back into power.
Nations create empires and empires rule the world just as much today as they did when Rome first started flexing its military muscle across Western Europe. Nations establish their hierarchy through their militaries and maintain them through diplomacy fueled by fear, also known as bullying.
In many cases, nationality and religion work hand-in-hand to create a more dominant hierarchy, such as what is seen in the Middle East and, arguably, much of the United States. To the extent religiously-motivated rules dominate national laws, systemic unfairness easily reaches the point of oppression and even slavery.
Where we see these hierarchies doing the most damage, however, is when they restrict movement. One prime example would be the current US ban on any person traveling from Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Chad, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, or Venezuela. The ban essentially tells people from those countries that the US considers them the lowest of the low, practically useless among humanity. Other similar instances would be when countries refuse to accept refugees flying inhumane conditions. It is at those points when one’s nationality establishes their rank among the world’s population and affects every aspect of their lives, often right down to the question of whether they live or die.
Let’s get very real on this point: there is no post-racial society. The continued racial struggles of the US have been on global display over the past year while even more entrenched racism across Asia and Northern Africa continues to fuel violence and extreme unfairness among various peoples.
No matter where one is, the concept of “pureness” remains as painfully present around the world now as it did during the dark days of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Across Europe and the US, Caucasians still see themselves as the dominant and “most pure” race. Meanwhile, ethnic Chinese keep long lists of their genealogical history to prove they are more “pure” Chinese than their neighbor.
Humans find race to be an easily visible means of separating those who are not the same. If you look different from me then I must discriminate against you. Different people groups have pursued a pure bloodline for millennia causing great harm to anyone who wasn’t Jewish enough, or black enough, or white enough. Yet, what research has shown us in the past year is that the vast majority of us are not even 100% human. The parts of us that are human all came from a common ancestral source in Africa. Our concepts of race are entirely fabricated nonsense. The hierarchies we’ve built on that nonsense only exist because we refuse to let them be torn down.
Perhaps the most significant problem with the dominance of Abrahamic religions is their perpetuation of patriarchal hierarchies. From them, we get the ridiculous concepts that men are stronger, smarter, and more capable to lead. Never mind the mountains of real-world evidence to the contrary that have built up over the past 6,000 years of recorded history. If the deity is presumed male then that must be the dominant gender, right?
The gender hierarchy is so strong that even our terms for humanity, such as “mankind” support the social patriarchy. Our concepts of marriage and family are built on patriarchal hierarchies. Governments have institutionalized patriarchy to the point that it is illegal in many places to break away from that hierarchy.
Only within the past 100 years have some societies started actively challenging the patriarchy in ways that being to erode the unfairness of the hierarchy. More women are receiving the education they deserve. More women are receiving proper health care. More women are taking positions of power. More women are standing up to the men who have pushed them down. Dismantling the patriarchy takes more than a movement, though. Our entire social structure needs to change.
The past ten years have been a watershed moment for the LGBTQ movement. People who are something other than “straight” have come out of the closet and we are beginning, finally, to look at sexuality not as a rigid point that one either is or isn’t, but a fluid continuum along which one might move either slightly or drastically over the course of one’s life. Even being able to discuss the topic in a public manner is a significant improvement over everything that has existed prior to now.
The hierarchies of sexuality, though, have not moved nearly as much as we might like to think, though. Same-gendered partners still face considerable discrimination from society that considered being “straight” the norm. Even within the LGBTQ communities, trans people face ridicule from gays and those who are bisexual or fluid face even more discrimination from everyone.
Sexuality has been one of the most severe reasons for unfairness and discrimination across history. We like to think that because we’re talking about the topic that everything’s okay now, but it’s not. Just because the hierarchies are challenged in some places doesn’t mean they are absent from society. Suing one bakery doesn’t keep others from finding creative ways to deny business, and jobs, and opportunities to people who are something other than “straight.” This problem runs deep.
2017 saw the gap between the haves and the have-nots grow wider than it has ever been. The three richest men (all white, by the way) are worth more than the lowest 50% of the United States. We’ve talked about income inequality for several years now but no one has done a damn thing to stop the upward flow of revenue. In fact, the new tax code approved by the U.S. Congress at the end of 2017 guarantees that flow continues.
The economic hierarchy is actually a hierarchy of greed. Greed is difficult, if not impossible, to battle within a society. A fundamental flaw in the human psyche, greed, the continual desire for more, has been a driving factor throughout human history. For all the various concepts and methods of government that have been proposed, none of them have found an adequate way of overcoming the greed factor.
What matters at the moment is that where the economic hierarchy once held multiple strati where one might feel they were making some advancement up an imaginary ladder, the middle has been eliminated so that there is the upper one percent, and everyone else. That’s it. Making matters worse is that the relative economic power of the 99 percent continues to shrink as wages have remained stagnant for several years. Nothing anyone has done at any level of government has been significant in correcting this problem.
Americans mistakenly believe that we have this issue under control, that every child has the opportunity to a general K-12 education and that anyone who shows sufficient initiative can go to college. Anyone who believes that scenario to be true, however, is terribly naive. Education continues to be one of the most significant unfair hierarchies that keep millions of people from reaching their potential.
Key to this discussion is understanding how opportunities are presented at different levels of the hierarchy. For the best private schools in the nation, teachers at every level hold advanced degrees, have access to the latest tools and technologies, and keep class sizes small enough that each child receives individualized attention when they need it.
For the poorest schools, however, of which there are thousands more, the situation is quite the opposite. Classes are maxed out in terms of the number of students per teacher while resources are practically non-existent. Textbooks are woefully out of date and in some instances contain severe misinformation that leaves undereducated children at a disadvantage in college classrooms and other situations. Teachers are grossly underpaid while having to meet continuing education demands and their wallets have shrunk even more now that classroom supplies they’ve been purchasing are no longer tax deductible.
The end result is that privileged children grow up well-balanced and capable of meeting educational challenges while underprivileged children often fail to complete high school, have severe literacy issues, and feel out of place in society. This is only in the United States. There are plenty of places around the world where the problem is even more severe.
Each of these hierarchies, all of which are long-standing and well-entrenched matters of privilege, represent a level of unfairness that leads to discrimination and inequality in society. While discrimination and inequality might make for more palatable sound bites, we cannot justly address either of those issues until we first approach the basic unfairness of the hierarchical privilege that leads to such injustice. We need to start at the foundation and work upward from there.
A New Fairness Doctrine
Google the term “fairness doctrine” and the results contain multiple pages of articles related to the Fairness Doctrine of the FCC that was repealed and unlikely to be replaced. That rule simply stated that holders of commercial broadcasts licenses were required to give equal time to opposing viewpoints on matters regarding controversial and/or political subject matter. Removal of that rule is what has allowed certain aspects of commercial radio and television to become severely partisan in their content.
In the US we already have sufficient laws that should, in theory, guarantee fairness for everyone. Unfortunately, those laws are rendered moot when they are not enforced justly, or at all, have loopholes to exempt those privileged, exclude certain people groups, or are completely overwritten by new laws taking precedent. Passing more laws isn’t going to fix what is fundamentally a social issue involving individual attitudes and actions.
What we need instead is a new Fairness Doctrine, a statement of belief, a personal commitment that supersedes what might be allowable in following the strict letter of the law and prevails upon the highest level of fairness in how we deal with each other on every possible social level. We need a doctrine that specifically breaks down long-standing hierarchies and replaces them with fair standards and practices that are immovable and cannot be skirted by unscrupulous dealings in backrooms. We need something around which we can take a firm stand.
Doctrines are beliefs, however, and beliefs are somewhat ethereal until they are put into words. Given that our most frequent relationship with doctrines is in the form of religious beliefs (ie. the Doctrine of Salvation in Christianity or the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism), perhaps we would do best to establish a Fairness Creed through which we can express our beliefs in fairness and by which we can be held accountable for our actions. Through such a statement perhaps we can establish a sense of solidarity that begins to dismantle hierarchies of privilege and moves us toward a most just and fair society.
Therefore, I propose the following statement of fairness, something around which people all over the world can hopefully unite for the improvement of lives and society everywhere.
- That there is no race inherent to Earth but the human race of which we are all an equal part and that no one is diminished in their humanity for any reason or under any circumstances;
- That as humans we all have an inherent right to life as we choose to define it for ourselves without oppression from any government or religious entity nor interference from any person or group;
- That no force nor power nor individual has the right nor the authority to take or control the life of any other human whether individually or corporately for any reason save in an event wherein the necessary and willful sacrifice of one might immediately and inherently save the lives of innocents;
- That to each human shall be afforded the right to sufficient sustenance prepared according to one’s physical needs and personal beliefs without regard to economy, geography, nor any other factor that might deprive one of nourishment;
- That dry and safe shelter is required to sustain life and that all humans have a right to such housing that provides comfort, light, security, and protection from both elements of nature and predators of any kind;
- That no one country, belief system, nor grouping of any form or cause is superior in nature or intent and that no human shall be required to practice, adhere to, swear an oath, or pledge their allegiance to any entity or government save by their own willful determination; neither shall any corporate entity, whether formal or informal, exercise undue authority over any individual through any means electoral, or through exclusion, nor by intimidation;
- That each person has an inherent freedom to travel, to explore, and to reside in any portion of the globe which they find hospitable to them and to live without hindrance, oppression, or subjugation from any government, religion, or other established group;
- That knowledge and open access to information are necessary for the advancement and peace of the species and that no entity of any kind or purpose shall infringe upon or deter access to such information whether through established education programs or individual access through whatever means might be available;
- That education is critical for all humans to intelligently participate in a functioning society regardless any real or presumed limitations and that the quality of any education should not be limited by anything other than the individual desire and willingness to learn;
- That all persons have fundamental value and as such shall be compensated for their employment in a fashion that guarantees one’s ability to fully provide for their own needs and comfort and that all such recompense should be equal with no discerning factors save skill and demonstrated level of responsibility;
- That universal health care is a responsibility of humanity toward itself, not a profit center to aid the economic advancement of a few and that as such there should be no treatment nor medicine refused to anyone in need and that it is the responsibility of society to insure that care is received;
- That where there is no victim there is no crime but that a crime against one is crime against all; therefore, where crime does exist it must be judged fairly, by one’s true peers, defended rigorously without regard to compensation, and if one is found guilty then punished in such a way as to provide recompense for those most directly harmed, saving incarceration only for those whose threat to society cannot be controlled through any other means.
There you go, a creed that outlines a new doctrine of fairness.
Of course, like any creed, it is an abbreviation of a full doctrine. You would stop reading if I attempted to flesh out all the nuances of these twelve articles. For that matter, I would probably grow bored and stop writing if I tried to put everything into a single post.
While I’ve given these a lot of thought, I do want to flesh them out more, a separate article for each. These are important issues and without addressing them adequately billions of people suffer. Those of us in the US are fortunate that our ability to think out loud in this fashion and to publish our thoughts in this manner has not yet been curtailed. I don’t think we give enough thought to the privilege we have through this act alone.
Such privilege demands we be responsible for bringing the same level of freedom, the same access to information, the same ability to speak without fear of reprisal, to every person in the world. No, we are not going to like what many of them have to say. Yes, we are going to disagree and our disagreements may at times cause severe divisions between us. Yet, I am firm in the opinion that to argue for equality on any level, for any cause, we must first address the level of unfairness that exists not only in the United States but around the world.
A Call To Action
Talking is never enough, but talking is a start and at this particular moment I’m doing all the talking. That needs to change. I don’t normally do this but to encourage real conversation I ask you to comment in the section below this article. Tell me about what points you have questions and concerns. If you think there is evidence to the contrary, please share a link. Engage at the highest level you possibly can.
Then, share the article. Please. Share it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and wherever else you might have appropriate access. In doing so, encourage others to participate in the conversation. While talk holds limited value there is no successful course of action that does not first begin with a deep discussion.
I sit here most days by myself, reading, doing research on these articles, happy if at least ten people bother to read what I’ve written. This year, with all the critical issues the world faces, I want more. I want you involved. Time and space limit my ability to come and have coffee with everyone individually so it is here that we must meet and work out these details.
Changing the world is not something one does alone. I often wonder if anything I write will endure long enough for someone to grasp it and say, “Hey, this makes sense, let’s do this.” I do know that nothing I type makes a damn bit of difference if no one read it.
This is my first post of 2018 and it signals a change in how I treat this website and the manner in which I want to interact with people. We need to talk. We need to interact. I need more than ten sets of eyes.
If you desire a world that is fairer and subsequently more equal, or even if you think I’m totally off my rocker (which is always a possibility), please comment and then share this article. Let us improve the world not only for ourselves but for all humanity.
-the Old Man