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Post No.: 0637privileged

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

All else being equal, if an independent party divides a pot of something desirable for two other parties to share, and divides it 50:50 – both of these parties will normally be happy.

 

But if that pot were divided 60:40 – the party with the smaller share will obviously be unhappy, yet the party that was arbitrarily given the larger share may later start to come up with rationalisations for why they deserve that larger share, even though they wouldn’t have done so if they were in the first scenario.

 

In other words, the capacity for the advantaged side to self-justify the desert of their arbitrary advantages after the fact is high. (The endowment effect and loss aversion are also possibly at play.) And arbitrary advantages commonly arise in the real world because no one ultimately chose, earned or therefore deserved their genes, parents, upbringing and inheritances.

 

A high salary is assumed to be correlated with how difficult or dangerous a type of work is, hence people who get paid highly can start to rationalise that their work must be tough – but company executives are hardly frontline key workers during a plague! Many wealthy people do work hard, but still only equally as hard and as long as those who earn far less than them yet who also do unpleasant and far more critical jobs to make an economy and society operate (e.g. saving lives, education, sanitation). A chief executive’s work is certainly not several hundreds of times as difficult or as down to talent as the average worker’s work in their own firm. But many will still try to find a way to justify their remuneration based on personal hard work and/or skill rather than pure market forces.

 

Some wealthy heirs can admit to being lucky yet still try to justify that they deserve the full proceeds of their luck, hence don’t feel they should share more of these proceeds with others less fortunate than them. Some rich people don’t even think they’re rich at all because no amount is ever enough when infinite is the limit. Many will even believe that aggressive tax avoidance is fair. Money leads to power, which leads to a sense of entitlement.

 

Arbitrarily designating a leader in a group can give that individual a sense of self-entitlement over the rest of the group too. They might experience a power trip and believe that they deserve a bigger share of any spoils that the group produces through teamwork.

 

No one chooses their own race or ethnicity yet many people believe that their own arbitrarily given race or ethnicity is superior to others. No one chooses which country they’re born or raised in yet many people believe that their own nationality or country is superior to others.

 

Because arbitrary privileges are self-justified, many men believe their work is more important than women’s work just because they tend to earn more money than them; even sometimes for doing exactly the same jobs. The main family breadwinner can start to believe their work is more important than the unpaid work of child-rearing or keeping the household together at home.

 

So people in positions of power and privilege have a biased tendency to rationalise why they think it’s fair that they deserve their power and privilege. They rationalise that they must’ve worked harder than others, or are somehow uniquely special compared to those who have less – sometimes venturing into believing that ‘their race’ is genetically superior if they’re comparing to populations from poorer nations. This also dehumanises and distances them from the powerless and less privileged, thus they may hold less empathy and care towards them.

 

Therefore a wide gap in equality also creates a gap in empathy from the privileged to the less privileged. We hold a different social outlook regarding our fellow citizens if we understand our interdependence compared to if we feel like we don’t need anyone else’s help. If we don’t need to take anything from others (or so our biased perception perceives), we likely won’t feel like we ought to give anything to others either. Once someone has become wealthy or powerful, or was always born privileged – they’re not as reliant on others as much because they have all their material needs met and can throw money at problems to solve them if need be. This self-reliance can therefore result in having less empathy and pro-sociality for those who need assistance.

 

Powerful and privileged people who don’t fall into this trap are those who don’t regard themselves as special. They don’t believe in their own exceptionalism. They recognise that they would not be in the position they are in now without the efforts, actions and presence of others too. They are thus deliberately and vocally grateful about what others did, the efforts they put in and how it helped them, starting from before they were even born. Woof!

 

We can find it hard to realise how fortunate we are though, to empathise with those who are less fortunate than us. Those who’ve suffered in true and deep ways in their lives, such as from routine discrimination and abuse, have a tendency to empathise with others who’ve faced similar kinds of suffering too. And it usually doesn’t matter what form of discrimination either – so someone who has routinely experienced racial abuse can empathise with not only other people of the same skin colour who have experienced racism but also people of any other colour who have experienced racism, or abuse due to other discriminatory reasons too (e.g. homophobia, sexism, physical disability or poverty).

 

Without open minds, we won’t know any differently than our own limited life experiences. So some people who are born privileged can fail to understand how different their upbringings and resultant lives could’ve been – the things they didn’t earn or choose (i.e. fortune) that fell nicely for them, being born at the right time and place, etc.. They might compare themselves to their immediate peers but their immediate peers may be similarly as privileged (e.g. they weren’t asylum seekers either) or they may make assumptions (e.g. that all of one’s peers received pocket money, got nice presents and had blown candles off the tops of cakes on their birthdays – thus everyone in the world must have too). One might think ‘I started learning to ride a bike as a kid like any other kid’ – but really one should think ‘I started learning to ride a bike as a kid as a lucky kid’ because lots of kids around the world, and even in the same country as where one was raised, didn’t and don’t get that opportunity.

 

Some children receive something like a telescope at Christmas, which gets them interested in astronomy and shapes their career path. Toys have inspired many young inventors but not every child is fortunate enough to have fancy toys or therefore the play, learning or inspiration. Some children get taken to museums or driven to after-school clubs by their parents. Don’t assume all children received similar privileges when young. Such details in our lives mustn’t be overlooked when figuring out our arbitrary advantages and how others have affected our life trajectories in ways we should be grateful for if we’re doing fine in life. And we should understand that not everyone has experienced the same fortuities as us. What you assume is ‘universally normal’ might’ve been a privilege and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

 

High-and-mighty judgements can therefore backfire on us, such as assuming that someone is a lazy ‘mummy’s boy/girl’ for not knowing how to use a washing machine as an adolescent – but the reason is because they’ve been washing their own clothes by hand since the age of 11; hence who’s the relatively lazy ‘mummy’s boy/girl’ now?(!) If a person is living with their parents as an adult, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not paying some bills, cooking, cleaning, etc.. They could actually be looking after their elderly or widowed parent too. We should therefore not exactly imagine ourselves if we were in someone’s else’s shoes, for this would speak about what we’d do if we were in their situation – but should imagine being the person we’re attempting to judge in their shoes, because this would more closely speak about what they’re doing in their situation. It’s like if you assume someone must be eating lots of chips because they work in a chippy, this wouldn’t speak about them if they’re not doing that but speak about what you’d do if you worked in one, or speak about what you did do when you used to work in one – sort of like what your parents did do for you when you lived at your parents’ home, which won’t be the same for everyone who lived at their parents’ homes.

 

Parents of children who are born privileged would do a great service to them if they took them to spend some time amongst those far less privileged than them so that they understood how lucky they are. However, what tends to happen is that they self-segregate (e.g. take their children to private schools where other privileged children go), constantly focus on those who have just a little bit more than them, and are insulated from those who have a lot less than them. They might even be exposed to propaganda reinforcing the idea that those outside their circles are dirty, scrounging wastrels.

 

Some consequently try to justify existing social inequities by saying that the rich deserve it and everyone else is just jealous. But no one makes it on their own. The rich benefited and benefit from large contributions from all parts of society (e.g. the school and healthcare systems for themselves and their employees, the transport and internet infrastructures that allow their businesses to thrive). Previous discoveries via publicly-funded research later lead to other innovative processes and products that become exploited by, then expanded by, lucrative businesses (e.g. integrated chips, GPS, lasers and the web – which were R&D funded by, invented by and/or run by public organisations). Defining what creative work is truly original nowadays is fuzzy and subjective. All rich and poor directly or indirectly relied and rely on the welfare state, the commons and public goods throughout their lives – and the richer you are, the more they gave and still give to you and your business(es) and so you owe back proportionately more.

 

Some will argue that they’ve paid their taxes to completely cover all they’ve personally gained when younger for their education, health and security. But some things are priceless (e.g. a country in a state of peace, which depends on the overall cooperation of all citizens. Conflicts also deflate markets and private business isn’t so easy inside conflict zones). Some receipts are perpetually ongoing (e.g. the use of public infrastructure, a vaccinated and educated workforce, police and national security, the courts system). And the bigger your business, the more you use and depend on these things to create and maintain your wealth. The air, public spaces, roads, streetlights, lakes, wildlife, natural resources like underground minerals, police and security forces – even intangibles like culture – and more, aren’t yours or anyone’s alone, and you haven’t anywhere near personally paid for them alone. They’re shared and collectively paid and maintained for. But with greater relative wealth comes greater relative power, and power can easily corrupt and encourage arrogance, and thus one might start to, in a self-aggrandising manner, believe that one’s success is all one’s own making; as one looks down upon other people who have less.

 

Woof. So recognise your interdependence with others and with society at large. Or if you consider yourself independent now – recognise you could only have gotten to this point because you depended on others in the past (not just your relatives but teachers, friends, kind strangers, taxpayers, even politicians and lawmakers, and more) – because, as a human, you didn’t raise yourself.

 

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