The Other I

January 19, 2015

Enough is enough

I have long been suspicious of politicians who talk about equality.  With increasing irritability, I find myself inevitably asking what kind of equality they are talking about.  As I become increasingly aware of my own gifts and limitations, it is obvious that I need other people with different gifts and limitations in order to so much as survive.  And our need for diversity applies to all living organisms.

On a slightly more limited level, I am highly suspicious of political and economic policies that seem to suggest that we should all have more or less equal wealth and opportunities.  We don’t all have the same hopes, the same things don’t make us happy, our abilities benefit from different kinds of opportunities and challenges.  We don’t want a society in which everybody is the same, and we can’t create a “fair society” in which nobody has a need to strive or struggle or compete.  Nor can we create a society where corruption or greed or self-serving laziness are eliminated.

But today I hit the limit  of my inequality tolerance.

Oxfam has just released figures preceding the annual meeting of the world’s financial leaders in Davos, Switzerland that even I find unconscionable.  In 2014, 48% of the world’s wealth was help by a mere 1% of the world’s population.  By 2016, it is set to exceed more than 50%.

Not only is it unconscionable.  This huge disparity is extremely dangerous.  Perhaps even more dangerous to the survival of humanity than extreme climate change.

Why?  Because it is this kind of inequality that leads to the kind of vicious, often religiously based, intolerance we see sweeping across the world’s continents today.  It isn’t being poor that makes people angry.  It’s being trapped.  It’s having no way out of seeing one’s children die of starvation, of living in hovels surrounded by sewage ditch streets, of having no access to education, or facing job opportunities that consist of scrounging through garbage dumps or working the streets through prostitution.

Today the hot spots of Islamic militants are where the poverty is.  In countries where the wealth disparity is not so immovable, Islamism tends to be far more tolerant.  Even in America, the land of opportunity, the land where the boy born in a log cabin can become president, the dream is beginning to lose its potential.  It’s beginning to look as if hard work does not necessarily dig oneself and one’s children out of poverty.  The top 1% are taking all the cream, even protected from higher taxes, while the working man and woman remain stuck in a rut that hard work, ambition, and even talent often cannot conquer.  And we see the lines of intolerance hardening.  Immigrants are no longer welcome by many, even those qualified to be of great benefit to America.  The tax system is based on a “top-down” system that says the rich should be allowed to keep the money they earn because it will “trickle down” to the masses.  Except it doesn’t.

What is the solution?

One’s first impulse, as even Pope Francis illustrated, is to punch back, not merely with a punch in the face but with economic sanctions, as well as drones, guns and bombs.  I can’t claim to be a complete pacifist – I suspect that some physical force is often called for.  But if the underlying economic strangle holds are not addressed, military might will eventually fail.

There are changes that can – must – be made in the economic systems which govern.  Obviously, fairer tax systems world-wide, less corruption, more job opportunities and education.  There are changes that must occur in some religious teachings, and cultural values as well.  But no system is fool-proof.  We will always have people who game the system.  There are others who manage to make disproportionate amounts of money through creativity and good luck even when that has not been their original motivation.  We don’t want to revert to those systems that pursue a fairer system at the cost of repressing creativity and originality.

In our global and rapidly changing world, our economic and social systems need constant adjustments.

I think it is only a sense of justice and community, that basic altruism and love of neighbor that can ultimately insure an economic and social system in which all of us can thrive and benefit from our mutual gifts.

 

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5 Comments »

  1. Hello dear friend–long time! I miss some of our old conversations on Kant and philosophy. We need to do some catching up sometime. 😉

    Overall I agree with everything you have said thus far, but what you say about “equality” got me thinking about a concept that I have been exploring–the concept of “ressentiment”–particularly as it emerges in the works of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Max Scheler. I really think you put your finger on something here, so I want to leave you with some excerpts for your consideration. You say: “On a slightly more limited level, I am highly suspicious of political and economic policies that seem to suggest that we should all have more or less equal wealth and opportunities. We don’t all have the same hopes, the same things don’t make us happy, our abilities benefit from different kinds of opportunities and challenges. We don’t want a society in which everybody is the same, and we can’t create a “fair society” in which nobody has a need to strive or struggle or compete.” Indeed. This mania to make everyone equal seems to be tied to “ressentiment.”

    See the following:

    “I conceive two species of inequality among men; one which I call natural, or physical inequality, because it is established by nature, and consists in the difference of age, health, bodily strength, and the qualities of the mind, or of the soul; the other which may be termed moral, or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of convention, and is established, or at least authorized by the common consent of mankind. This species of inequality consists in the different privileges, which some men enjoy, to the prejudice of others, such as that of being richer, more honored, more powerful, and even that of exacting obedience from them” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Mankind, p. 1).

    And:

    “Ressentiment must therefore be strongest in a society like ours, where approximately equal rights (political and otherwise) or formal social equality, publicly recognized, go hand in hand with wide factual differences in power, property, and education” (Max Scheler, Ressentiment).

    And:

    “There are two fundamentally different ways for the strong to bend down to the weak, for the rich to help the poor, for the more perfect life to help the “less perfect.” This action can be motivated by a powerful feeling of security, strength, and inner salvation, of the invincible fullness of one’s own life and existence. All this unites into the clear awareness that one is rich enough to share one’s being and possessions. Love, sacrifice, help, the descent to the small and the weak, here spring from a spontaneous overflow of force, accompanied by bliss and deep inner calm. Compared to this natural readiness for love and sacrifice, all specific “egoism,” the concern for oneself and one’s interest, and even the instinct of “self-preservation” are signs of a blocked and weakened life. Life is essentially expansion, development, growth in plenitude, and not “self-preservation,” as a false doctrine has it. Development, expansion, and growth are not epiphenomena of mere preservative forces and cannot be reduced to the preservation of the “better adapted.”. . .There is a form of sacrifice which is a free renunciation of one’s own vital abundance, a beautiful and natural overflow of one’s forces. Every living being has a natural instinct of sympathy for other living beings, which increases with their proximity and similarity to himself. Thus we sacrifice ourselves for beings with whom we feel united and solidary, in contrast to everything “dead.” This sacrificial impulse is by no means a later acquisition of life, derived from originally egoistic urges. It is an original component of life and precedes all those particular “aims” and “goals” which calculation, intelligence, and reflection impose upon it later. We have an urge to sacrifice before we ever know why, for what, and for whom! Jesus’ view of nature and life, which sometimes shines through his speeches and parables in fragments and hidden allusions, shows quite clearly that he understood this fact. When he tells us not to worry about eating and drinking, it is not because he is indifferent to life and its preservation, but because he sees also a vital weakness in all “worrying” about the next day, in all concentration on one’s own physical well-being. . .all voluntary concentration on one’s own bodily wellbeing, all worry and anxiety, hampers rather than furthers the creative force which instinctively and beneficently governs all life. . .This kind of indifference to the external means of life (food, clothing, etc.) is not a sign of indifference to life and its value, but rather of a profound and secret confidence in life’s own vigor and of an inner security from the mechanical accidents which may befall it. A gay, light, bold, knightly indifference to external circumstances, drawn from the depth of life itself—that is the feeling which inspires these words! Egoism and fear of death are signs of a declining, sick, and broken life. . .This attitude is completely different from that of recent modern realism in art and literature, the exposure of social misery, the description of little people, the wallowing in the morbid—a typical ressentiment phenomenon. Those people saw something bug-like in everything that lives, whereas Francis sees the holiness of “life” even in a bug” (Max Scheler, Ressentiment).

    And:

    “It is a fundamental truth of human nature that man is incapable of remaining permanently on the heights, of continuing to admire anything. Human nature needs variety. Even in the most enthusiastic ages people have always liked to joke enviously about their superiors. That is perfectly in order and is entirely justifiable so long as after having laughed at the great they can once more look upon them with admiration; otherwise the game is not worth the candle. In that way ressentiment finds an outlet even in an enthusiastic age. And as long as an age, even though less enthusiastic, has the strength to give ressentiment its proper character and has made up its mind what its expression signifies, ressentiment has its own, though dangerous importance. . .the more reflection gets the upper hand and thus makes people indolent, the more dangerous ressentiment becomes, because it no longer has sufficient character to make it conscious of its significance. Bereft of that character reflection is a cowardly and vacillating, and according to circumstances interprets the same thing in a variety of way. It tries to treat it as a joke, and if that fails, to regard it as an insult, and when that fails, to dismiss it as nothing at all; or else it will treat the thing as a witticism, and if that fails then say that it was meant as a moral satire deserving attention, and if that does not succeed, add that it was not worth bothering about. . .ressentiment becomes the constituent principle of want of character, which from utter wretchedness tries to sneak itself a position, all the time safeguarding itself by conceding that it is less than nothing. The ressentiment which results from want of character can never understand that eminent distinction really is distinction. Neither does it understand itself by recognizing distinction negatively (as in the case of ostracism) but wants to drag it down, wants to belittle it so that it really ceases to be distinguished. And ressentiment not only defends itself against all existing forms of distinction but against that which is still to come. . .The ressentiment which is establishing itself is the process of leveling, and while a passionate age storms ahead setting up new things and tearing down old, raising and demolishing as it goes, a reflective and passionless age does exactly the contrary; it hinders and stifles all action; it levels. Leveling is a silent, mathematical, and abstract occupation which shuns upheavals. In a burst of momentary enthusiasm people might, in their despondency, even long for a misfortune in order to feel the powers of life, but the apathy which follows is no more helped by a disturbance than an engineer leveling a piece of land. At its most violent a rebellion is like a volcanic eruption and drowns every other sound. At its maximum the leveling process is a deathly silence in which one can hear one’s own heart beat, a silence which nothing can pierce, in which everything is engulfed, powerless to resist. One man can be at the head a rebellion, but no one can be at the head of the leveling process alone, for in that case he would be leader and would thus escape being leveled. Each individual within his own little circle can co-operate in the leveling, but it is an abstract power, and the leveling process is the victory of abstraction over the individual. The leveling process in modern times, corresponds, in reflection, to fate in antiquity. . .It must be obvious to everyone that the profound significance of the leveling process lies in the fact that it means the predominance of the category ‘generation’ over the category ‘individuality’” (Soren Kierkegaard, The Present Age (Alexander Dru tr.), 1962, pp. 49–52).

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    Comment by Roberto H. Vasquez — January 19, 2015 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

    • Roberto – What a wonderful wonderful surprise to connect with you again! But first, let me say thank you for your thoughts on ressentiment and the conundrums of human inequality and diversity. As before, you seem to be able to provide a philosophical foundation and amplification to issues that we both think are of importance.

      I think we have lost touch partly because I have simply come to depend on the facility on WordPress blogs that enables me just to click on the “follow” icon and henceforth to be notified automatically when a new post appears. I have now been to your blog (http://ontologicalstatus.blogspot.co.uk/?view=classic) and see how much our thoughts are running in parallel, and how much I appreciate your perspective. And also how much I have missed.

      Thank you for reconnecting.

      Like

      Comment by theotheri — January 20, 2015 @ 9:06 pm | Reply

  2. A perfect recepie for large-scale civic unrest. Surprising that human ingenuity with all the wisdom at its command has not found a workable solution yet.

    Like

    Comment by tskraghu — January 20, 2015 @ 1:21 am | Reply

  3. Obviously for them enough is not enough!

    At least in US these guys are philanthropic (highest in the world, I read).

    Like

    Comment by tskraghu — January 20, 2015 @ 1:34 am | Reply

    • I’m not familiar with any international comparisons, but I do agree – there are philanthropists in the U.S. who are amazingly generous. And working hard to make their contributions make a real difference.

      On Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 1:34 AM, The Other I wrote:

      >

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      Comment by Terry Sissons — January 20, 2015 @ 8:44 pm | Reply


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