Today is Blog Action Day 2014, where the topic of the collective blogosphere’s conversation this time around is on inequality: What it means to us, how it is perceived, and really any such discussion surrounding the topic. My thoughts after the break will hopefully be cause for you to both work to recognize inequality yourself, add to the conversation in the comments here as well as elsewhere on the internet today, and perhaps identify ways you and your community can work to alleviate some of these deeply-rooted inequalities we are living with as normal realities of society.
Inequality is disparity. Disparity at every level and at every turn. Economic disparity is hardly all the disparity in our world as there is far more. This use of inequality emphasizes the depth to which we have fallen in how we treat our neighbors. Similar to the word disparity is despair. This too is a symptom of inequality. Those of us on the top of the pyramid rarely sense any despair, instead exclaiming from the rooftops for all the world to hear that life is fabulous. This only serves to drive the sword deeper into the hearts of those who truly despair in our world. The poor, the homeless, the cast-offs, the janitors, the minorities, those who only get one good meal a day, and so on. But, too, the force of driving that sword pushes us closer to falling off the face of that nearby cliff. The cliff of our struggling society as we adapt to new realities and new challenges (some of which have been discussed on previous Blog Action Days). Disparity, despair, and the plight of those we have trodden on top of. These are all parts of inequality. They are one lens into the plague that inequality is to us all.
Inequality is unhealthy. Unhealthy at the physical and mental health levels. We see the fruits of inequality taxing the bodies and minds of those who have less. There is nothing about the inequality of economics, of wages and gender policies, that lands everyone on equal ground to eat healthily, send their children to preschool programs at a young age much less eventually college nearly two decades later, and so forth. Inequality makes our society unhealthy as well. Our natural world is an equilibrium that relies on everything living and not living to work together at the appropriate levels for it to be healthy. The inequality in our human society is almost worse than that which we impose upon the animal kingdom in zoos and hunting grounds, but it is certainly as bad as that. We need equality for our individual lives to be truly fruitful and rewarding. Smog is a tangible sign of an unhealthy society. But the income inequalities, which are then evidenced by the invisible boundaries of class that piece together every major city worldwide, are the deeper and much longer lasting signs of an unhealthy society. Were we to have a time out from constant wars, the raging battle against Ebola in West Africa, and other pressing threats we should turn our resulting time and resources to looking at making our society healthier by eradicating at least some inequalities. A more robust education system is a way to make future generations more equal. So would be investing in public transportation and land so that we can come together as a community more often and with some ease.
Inequality is dangerous. Dangerous because it is not the way our human nature wants to have us operate. If we were to operate instinctually on human nature alone we would not push people down, structure hierarchies that dehumanize even a millionth of a percent of the population, and find it comfortable to reside at the edge of the Earth itself extinguishing us. For that is what kind of reality we’re living in when inequality pervades our society. You can even look at the effect we have had on our habitat to cause climate change and find elements of that which have arisen purely because we have imposed some inequality on fellow inhabitants. Perhaps only recently, with increased severe weather patterns and warnings of the ice caps (and what that will do to the oceans), are we seeing that even decisions we did not at the time think were decisions of inequality were, because while we then and now aren’t suffering any consequences, our extended human family is. Living on the edge, in constant danger, can give people a kind of high, but that is no reason to perpetuate structures that are far from equal. Danger instills a level of fear in anyone who comes across it, for any kind of danger. With inequality is this fear a fear of the other? Has our society really gotten low enough that we’re willing to dehumanize people through less than equal structures just because we’re afraid of them, when in previous centuries people’s very survival made them work together equally? We are living in the midst of fabulous technological revolutions, information revolutions, and all, but to survive and have a truly equal society we might do well to appreciate some of our past as more than mere stories in history books. If we don’t look back, we just risk repeating history.
Inequality holds society back. Holds us from reaching our true potential both individually and societally. Inequality is one chain handcuffing us to a desolate expanse of unforgiving emptiness. We’re not meant to be creatures that live alone, live in a leveled society, and have separate standards for ourselves compared to those who are our neighbors. Yet inequality is doing all of that, societies live alone and are internally structured by levels commonly known by the term “class”, even under international law and the regional laws of nations standards are not equally written or enforced. Society is held back by clinging to the idea that moving forward necessitates choices that have ill effects on the minority, the misunderstood, and our own neighbors. Progress, as we truly need it, requires that we all stand on equal ground, with the understanding that any inequality would inhibit, rather than enable, our ability to move forward with a future that sets us on a path of success until forces truly above our ability to even contemplate them step in and inevitably, within the next few millennia, destroy everything that we know.
Inequality cannot be a part of our global society’s future. I’ve talked a lot about society here, but not explicitly about the scope of the term until now. Though everything I say can and has to apply at the most micro of societal levels (a single block in a neighborhood, or even a single floor of an apartment building) it needs to be applied to the most macro of levels as well (currently, our planetary global society). It isn’t enough for inequality to be a part of micro societies, for then we have those societies looked at as individuals in the next societal level up. Equality among nations, and among continents and islands, is necessary as well. Here too we fall back on the inequalities that realities like climate change and sheer population sizes create. But we also have inequality being the root causes of conflict, and inequality being the fruits of conflict. A clear symptom of global society inequality are the wars raging in places such as the Middle East. As a massive force in those conflicts is not also the United States (government, because many of us citizens aren’t necessarily) a forceful perpetrator of inequality? While many areas of our country are focusing on eradicating inequality at one level, in one sector, or another our reward is tainted with the global perspective being molded by the actions of the governmental few. Yet that is the whole issue with inequality, and why it is still a problem. The few of us, that are really the (perhaps, white) middle class, are dictating our societies into platters of inequality by our very unconscious actions. We all need to wake up and do even just a small gesture to evict inequality. Only then, and once we achieve that, can our global society strive forward and into the bright horizon of the future.
Inequality is inherently not peaceful. Peace really is (at least in part) a state of being, both individually and societally, that is free of conflict, free of danger as well as fear, and where everyone rests on equal ground. Inequality is not any of this, in any way. The moment that the societal positions of even just two people drift apart fear is embodied in the person occupying the lower position, and conflict begins to boil over. Sooner or later irrevocable damage will be done. Indeed, our society is far beyond that point already, my whole life has been since we have passed that point. One of the steps toward peace, be it related to inequality or not, is to make amends with the levels of society higher than yourself. But history stands to show us that if this is initiated by the lower levels more often than not (and certainly in the general public’s understanding of this history) violence will be their punishment from above, and if they’re lucky only a peace absent of conflict could be achieved. But with new leadership at any of the levels in the future opens up the chance that the band-aid will be torn in two and the conflicts would again arise. Is this not what we have seen with the struggle for civil rights, as understood in the context of both women’s rights before it and today’s plight of those with what many still consider “unusual”, “wrong”, and “inappropriate” sexual orientations? We should not be entirely surprised that history has been repeating itself so completely, after all the lower levels of society were the initiators of the change they wanted. But this cannot keep happening generation after generation, lest we will soon tear the very fabric of our society, and then where will we be? Possibly thrown back to the stone age, if we’re lucky. Possibly humanity itself will perish as a result. To secure our future we need to see those at the higher societal levels taking the initiative to fix their societal home webs. Only then might the cycle of repeated history break. Only then might true peace be achieved and society be able to flourish as the future approaches. No single unit (individual or society at any level) can work this out on their own. We must work together to better the experiences of everyone and everything that surrounds us. Religious social justice agendas are a small part of this, but honestly this must be the headlining element of every political agenda for it to take hold. We need to all work together in harmony, doing whatever we can get ourselves to do, to let peace spring from whence inequality currently stands as the dominant weed. Surely this is possible, but the path is far from easy. Indeed we need to not just abolish war from every societal level, but even prior to that we need to establish a global citizenry that embodies the notion of equality and peace such that the governments of nations worldwide cannot stand against their own citizens and neighbors. That is what needs doing, somehow. As a society we must all work towards doing this using what skills, gifts, and interests we have. Inequality has no place in a global society that expects to survive, much less actively flourish.
We must work to remove inequality not just from our society but also from our very vocabulary. Even if we can coax inequality out of our society it will still be a part of each of us, because language is a part of each of us and “inequality” is in our language. When “in” is used as a prefix in English it denotes a negative, something that isn’t. So we would still have the notion of inequality even if inequality stops being a practice of society. This notion would be the kernel that can reinvent the practices of inequality down the road if new societal leadership so chooses. Therefore to eternally banish inequality it must be dropped from our very vocabulary. Could the same practices reemerge, yes, but if generations have passed the chances of what was formerly known as inequality being as terrible as it is today is lesser, and it also won’t have the linguistic baggage that inequality carries. Why would new practices not be as terrible? Everyone who is around would not know the concept of inequality firsthand, and if they knew it linguistically at all it would be in dark history texts. Further, we are already entering a global society, and so if that gets careened further by the current inequalities diminishing to nonexistence (or even just diminishing to a mere trickle rather than the current cliffside waterfall) how easy would it be for our descendants to break their lifelong equality for any reason? By comparison to their realities, the idea that there were sexual orientations not widely accepted would feel like the middle ages feel to us. There isn’t any way for us to conceive of such a future, and likely none of us will remain to see it come to fruition. But there are endless ways we can push society just a step further on such a path. We’ll die with many inequalities still present, but what little things we do to nudge society to equality would ultimately stich our memory into the fabric of banishing inequality.
Our gifts are the keys to eradicating inequality, they are how we make our small contribution, not always purely the fruits of inequality. Indeed, yes, the ability to have thousands of dollars in a savings account, have numerous computers (of all shapes, sizes, and varieties) in one household, plus be educated in the relevant modern understandings of things are all fruits of, to an extent, the inequality in our society. The deeply poor live, at best, paycheck to paycheck. They do not have the same educational opportunities we consider essential and normal. Perhaps they have one point of access to the internet per household, which by necessity is multigenerational in a way we would only accept by choice. We simply wouldn’t have the same resources if everyone had an equal chance at them. There just isn’t enough to go around in that way. We’re seeing that in a number of other areas that do affect everyone, as the fallout from climate change shows. But that leaves us with the responsibility to use our gifts, at least in part, to do something to make the inequalities of our society a little less. Advocacy, telling stories, helping to elect public servants who can lessen some inequalities in their jurisdiction, are just a few of the things we can do.
Today is not just Blog Action Day. Today, with Apple’s media event in a mere two hours, we also have the near-imminent release, be it later today or in the next week or so, of the next version of OS X, Yosemite (which, likely, also brings an imminent internet slowdown for at least a few hours as millions download the new system at the same time). Lots of stuff changes with this update. Our devices will begin working together in ways we’ve not yet seen (making everything from continuing work when you leave the house to run errands to receiving phone calls at your desk when your phone is in another room charging easier), and almost every corner of the OS will get a visual overhaul that while following after the iOS 7 redesign will usher in a huge amount of transparency as well. Sidebars and other skeletal window elements will let what sits behind them show through. While transparency (or translucency) is what this is called, it does not make either what is behind or frontmost invisible. We have to look at inequality with the same model. Though we may be above those with less as our admittedly partially naive worldview tells us, better off by any measure, we are nothing without the bedrock that those below us form, that truly all of humanity as one interlocked and interrelated community forms. Indeed, we inherit the hopes and dreams of those below us, we inherit the society we all live in from those that are gaining the least from it (is this not what many faiths teach?). Yet we do not become invisible at the hands of inequality, nor do our contributions fully block out the rest of the pyramid. Inequality is all of the terms used in this discourse because it hurts our ability to equally coexist and contribute to society and be decent productive participants in it. Returning to the source of this image (one that a sizable population will see daily for the foreseeable future), so will OS X windows neither block out the content of what is behind them nor will they allow it to shine through without their contribution. Like we inherit the state of society from everyone who on the scale of inequality rests below us, these windows inherit the colors of what is below them. Our very pigment is defined by the homeless, by the orphan, who live in the same neighborhood that we live in. Earlier I mentioned that citizens of foreign nations have their feelings toward us defined by our government’s actions. If they get passed that, and as we look at our relatives in other areas of this nation, we all are looked at by the needs of those who are the face of our neighborhoods, by the lowest struts of society. We all want to look good, so in order to truly look even decent we need to cut off some of the links of this chain of inequality. Inequality is, at its most fundamental level for us, then, mud caked on our faces. It is what makes us dirty, yet what a mere shower cannot fully wipe away as it will leave traces on us until we scrub with the sole intention of making ourselves clean once again.
At this point I’ve said enough. But each of the above statements rests only to serve as extension points for each of you. Each one of them has a lot of places to expand on using your own words and experiences. I now turn the stage over to you to contribute and discuss as you see fit in the comments here as well as elsewhere on the internet. Perhaps you will answer the questions I started off with, or add your own examples to illustrate some of the points I made. Whatever your contributions will be, make them ones that will further today’s global discussion and set us all off collectively on a path to understand inequality, and how to alleviate parts of it, better.