Societies reinforce privilege.
It’s a natural phenomenon.
Doing favours for friends. Helping out relations. Passing what we’ve worked so hard for on to our children…
It’s instinctive, even.
But it’s immoral.
It’s immoral because it’s selective… and selective ‘help and favour’ conflicts with human equality. It undermines our moral right not to be disadvantaged through no fault of our own. It advantages others: the ones being helped or favoured.
Going too far
“Helping others can’t be immoral!” you cry, a degree of satisfaction in your voice. “You’ve gone too far this time!” …then you pause. “Or are you joking?”
You see, it’s not the ‘helping’ that’s immoral. It’s the selectivity that’s the problem.
Morality says we’re all equal. This is something I explore in my book Intelligent Ethics. Morality tells us we all deserve a level playing field right from the start; in ourselves; as human beings; as fellow creatures on this fragile coil.
A child born into poverty in a small village in Malawi or Tibet is just as human, just as important, as a child born to a president or a billionaire in Moscow or Hong Kong or New York.
Why wouldn’t they be? What moral case could possibly suggest otherwise?
We are all atoms of life.
All infants are beautiful and wonderful and equal, just for what they are, as and in themselves.
So a just society must ensure that the privilege of some doesn’t deprive others of their birthright of equality. It must prevent ‘selective helping’ from reinforcing itself, from resulting in some being rewarded at the expense of others, just because they ‘know someone’, or are part of a privileged family, a clique, a class, a caste or a tribe.
A moral society must protect equality, opportunity and freedom for all, not just for some, not just for a chosen few.
But how is this to be done?
It begins with interrupting the positive feedback loops of privilege:
- The Wealth Begets Wealth Feedback Loop
- The Intergenerational Wealth and Power Feedback Loop
- The Privileged Education Feedback Loop
- The Privilege To The Privileged Feedback Loop
The Fairness Revolution
“You’re living in a dream world,” you mutter. “Our society’s too riddled with privilege for anything like that to happen. Just look at how we cling to what we have… We’d never manage it.”
Ah, but you’re forgetting how clever we are.
You’re forgetting the genius behind not one but two agricultural revolutions. You’re forgetting the astounding successes of the industrial revolution – and the sheer magnitude of our scientific revolution.
And, here and now, right before our eyes, just let your jaw drop before the unceasing revolutions of medicine, AI, technology, genetics…
So why not this?
Why not a ‘Fairness Revolution’?
Wealth Begets Wealth
So how does wealth beget wealth?
Those already in possession of wealth can:
- Put their feet up while their assets increase in value through inflation or scarcity
- Do virtually nothing while gaining rent from their assets
- Lend their wealth to others and gain effort-free interest
- Invest in schemes where other people’s work increases the value of their investment
- Own ‘the means of production’, so that whatever’s produced profits them the most, no matter how much the work of others is involved…
- Buy out (or collude with) their competitors to achieve monopolistic control of the market
- Subvert with their wealth any political attempt to limit these processes
It’s a vicious circle.
In the end an increasingly tiny elite grabs almost everything there is to grab, and gains ownership of most of the human world.
Which is bad for national economies; bad for society as a whole; bad for the individuals involved – and it’s not inevitable.
It can be stopped.
These effort-free wealth-generating processes can be strategically and progressively taxed to prevent them reinforcing privilege and accelerating wealth; while subversion and monopolisation can be ruled out by law.
And it’s the moral thing to do.
The Intergenerational Wealth And Power Feedback Loop
Through the inheritance of wealth and power opportunity is granted to some and, as a result, limited for others. This process is a driver behind class, caste, elitism and hierarchy-by-lineage all across the world.
But it’s easy to stop.
Inheritance of power can be legislated against; inheritance of wealth can be taxed.
A ‘Future Generations Fund’, raised through this taxation, can share the wealth of each generation fairly with those that follow.
It’s the opposite of what’s happening now – but it’s precisely what we need.
The Privileged Education Feedback Loop
Elitist education perpetuates elites. That’s obvious, isn’t it?
But again it’s easy to fix.
A moral society will provide EVERYONE with a good education, using well-resourced training, data and apps to ensure education is adaptive to the potential of each child.
Can’t be done?
We landed on the moon…
We wiped out smallpox…
We’re sustaining nearly 8 billion people on this tiny planet of ours…
With the will, just about anything we want to do is possible.
The Privilege To The Privileged Feedback Loop
Individual effort, prowess and skill are wonderful things. We should honour them. We should celebrate great achievement and success.
But let’s not honour them or celebrate them by giving those already weighted down with privilege and wealth more of what they already have…
Let’s not reinforce privilege by rewarding those already privileged with more of the same.
Happiness and resilience
So we have to break the reinforcement cycles of privilege. It won’t impoverish us: it’ll make humanity wealthier. When we know the system’s fair we feel more content, we work harder, we’re more creative, we’re more productive and engaged.
Breaking the reinforcement cycles of privilege will make us all happier. Fairness does that. It will make our society better able to cope with the challenges of the future: economic upheaval, pandemics, climate change.
It will make each and every one of us more resilient, and all of us safer.
A Fairness Revolution.
It’s a transformation our society desperately needs.
This article comes from his Luke Andreski’s new 2020 book, Short Conversations: During the Plague.
Luke’s new book, Short Conversations: During the Storm, is out now.
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Luke is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal collective and author of Short Conversations: During the Plague (2020), Intelligent Ethics (2019) and Ethical Intelligence (2019).