Aristotle once said that the worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal. This statement suggests that inequality of any kind is a natural predisposition and does not result from the actions of individuals, groups or governing factions. This perception makes it a delicate matter that needs effective strategies to address. To understand how to treat various types of inequalities, we have to know how they occur and persist over time, and their effects on the society. We have to understand how the society makes and remakes itself and how existing differences connect and disconnect us.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines differences as qualities that are not the same. It also describes inequality as an unfair situation in a society when some people have more opportunities or resources as compared to others. Absolute differences could be the cause of certain inequalities. For instance, as occurring with race relations in the twentieth century, the system of governments in white majority countries and European-conquered territories favoured the whites over blacks. They had access to the best education, healthcare and investment opportunities and thus they become intellectually and economically superior. This economic inequality is evident today through poor ghetto establishments and slums all over the world that are dominated by black neighbourhoods.
Two outstanding strands explain how variations in the society occur and last or how they get withered with time. Namely, the making lives strand and the connecting lives strand.
The making lives strand
This strand explains how the society creates varying identities through preference and choice. Different categories of people who associated with particular products, occupations or lifestyles are formed as a result.
The consumer culture
Inequality reinforced by the consumer culture is evident in the buying habits of people. For example, high-end phones would mostly be purchased by the wealthy in the society. These high-end products, therefore, become a symbol of inequality since the middle class, and the poor do not have the financial capacity to access them. At the same time, people may consume to point to their lifestyle or the lifestyle they would like to have, to identify themselves with a certain economic or cultural niche. Selective consumption of this kind as described by Bauman allows people to make through what they consume a personality they desire to have (Allen and Blakeley, 2014, p. 133).
The industrial society
In the recent past when both mass production of different types of commodities and television adverts were absent, inequality presented itself through occupation. High paying jobs such as office clerks and accountants were the intellectuals who had had a good education. People working in industrial firms as handymen were considered to be from poor backgrounds unable to go to school or intellectually inferior. Ones occupation automatically reverberated through their lives, their associations and their surroundings. For instance, a mechanic working in an automobile firm would not see the need of wearing suits and ties just as the accountant or clerk in an office would rarely be in Workman attire. The choice of clothes would influence their choice of environment and association forming groups of different and unequal people.
The seduced and the repressed.'
This strand produces two groups of people in the society. The society favours Those who have many choices and opportunities as a result of their good financial standing. They are known as the seduced.' Their dwellings are made comfortable and to their specifications, their products are the best quality and the services they receive are the most hospitable. The manufacturers and the marketers try their best to get their attention because they have the purchasing power. Their needs are keenly looked into, and most of what they use are custom made to their personality overlooking time and resources (Allen and Blakeley, 2014, p. 136).
On the other hand, the statement repressed represents those with limited life choices. Mostly occurring but not limited to people with little economic power. When one is unable to get certain products or be part of certain modern trends, the society tends to marginalize them. For instance, fancy and expensive concerts frequented by the young may be the in-thing in a particular cultural setting such as a cosmopolitan city. Young adults who are unable to buy tickets to such events automatically get cut off from modern social circles where all the attention is. The same applies to disable people. To feel like part of this dynamic culture, they have to be fit enough to participate in activities that come with it (Allen and Blakeley, 2014, p. 137). Their disability disallows them.
Consumption of all kinds is, therefore, a principal means of forming and sustaining status within the society. Different situations once created contribute to unequal livelihoods (The Open University, 2016).
The connecting lives strand
There are various categories of identities that connect and disconnect people. The differences highlighted through them contribute to inequality among the various existing groups. The three standard categories are gender, race or ethnicity, and class. When people share certain traits, they find it easier to associate and communicate. That sameness connects them. When people are different on these aspects, their differences disconnects them.
Connecting and disconnecting through gender
The main reason why gender differences occur and persist through time is due to categorization. From a tender age, boys and girls would get separated because of their different physiological abilities. For instance, in field sports, the girls would compete among themselves as the boys do the same too (The Open University, 2016). It is deemed unfair to have them mixed up since the boys are perceived to be stronger and more physically enduring than the girls. They later go on to form gender-based sports clubs and unions that are very different in the matters they advocate. The gender that does best in the activities that they both participate in, receives the best treatment and incentives, thus undermining the other.
In the recent past, women were deemed to be homemakers. At the time, advocacy for females in the workplace had not found a voice, by the time it was so, men already had an unfair advantage- they had been working for generations. The kind of inequality this categorization regarding occupation created resonates today through unequal pay with women at the lower end (Clarke and Woodward, 2014, p. 10).
Connecting and disconnecting through race and ethnicity
The race is of an individual is determined by distinct physical features while ethnicity is deeply rooted in language and culture. These are therefore the most notorious forms of connecting and disconnecting because they stand out. People of the same skin colour could easily hold meetings, rallies, and even protests because they can see their similarity and they trust in the loyalty would have in one another during a course to advocate for their well-being. The British Empire was able to exploit this by establishing different racial and ethnic identities to pit one group against the other. They segregated the blacks, the white and the Indians therefore, creating different identities for both people and places (Clarke, 2014, p 12). This differences, in time, created wealthy suburbs for the whites, industrial zones for the business-oriented Indians and the impoverished dwellings for the oppressed blacks.
Connecting and disconnecting through class
The lives that people lead and their exposure to opportunity or lack thereof are determined by the class in which that they are born. There are three class divisions that occurs in most societies. That is, the wealthy, the middle class and the have-nots. The best opportunities and amenities naturally attract the wealthy. Over time, the rich find themselves in comfortable surroundings and favourable environment while the poor are doomed to deplorable conditions. Well-organised estates with high aesthetic appeal come to existence in direct contrast to slums and ghettos. These two groups of the class become disconnected to the point that their political motivations and lifetime aspirations differ broadly.
For instance, a child born of a rich family may aspire to be a great musician and have the capacity to pay for music lessons. On the other hand, the child born in poverty may want to be a banker, not because they are passionate about their choice but because it offers them the best opportunity to pull themselves out of misery. This differing outlook in life creates two fundamentally different sets of people in the society (The Open University, 2016).
It is evident from the two strands that differences occur first which lead to inequalities in the society. Differences exist and will always exist, however, it is our perception of these differences that lead to unequal treatment. It appears to be human nature to identify with and favour that which is similar and to avoid or discriminate against that which looks or feels different. The greatest inequalities created throughout history have been as a result of ill or ignorant motives fuelled by the scarcity of resources. The only way to stop persisting inequality would, therefore, be a proper, organized and efficient economy where there is no waste, and everyones potential gets harnessed for the good of the society.
Allen, J., and Blakeley, G. (2014). Understanding Social Lives Part 1. Wakefield: Charlesworth Press, pp. 133-137.
Clarke, J. and Woodward, K. (2014). Understanding Social Lives Part 2. Wakefield: Charlesworth Press, pp. 7-13.
The Open University (2016) Reflecting on Connecting lives [Audio] DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=796335§ion=3 (Accessed 9 September 2016).
The Open University (2016) Reflecting on Making lives [Audio] DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=796325§ion=5 (Accessed 9 September 2016).The Open University (2016) Reflecting on Ordering lives [Audio] DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=443766§ion=7 (Accessed 9 September 2016).
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