Why your mindset may be a barrier to tackling inequality
By Dr. Will Essilfie
We walk through life with a set-up that discriminates against many people while masquerading as an inevitable norm. For somewhere along the line, inequality was built into systems that seek to prevent us from thinking outside this framework of existence where a minority live a luxurious life. We may no longer be ruled by monarchs and their social class, but we have wealthy groups of people who may as well be royalty when we consider how insulated they are from the impacts of poverty.
Unquestionably humankind lives on a planet of finite resources, yet the wealthy consume a disproportionate amount of resources. Contrary to what some people think, individuality does not disappear with a more equitable society built on socialist principles. Having whatever you want because you have the wealth to acquire it is not sufficient justification for gaining an unfair share of the pie. Indeed, there are different ways to organize society so no one need go without meeting their basic needs of food, shelter, healthcare and clothing. It would require humankind to collectively engage with life differently, opting for private sufficiency in exchange for public luxury.
Consider the right-to-buy scheme introduced by Margaret Thatcher. Through more people becoming property-owners, they indirectly bought into maintenance of a system of inequality perpetuated by Conservative governments, at least where home-ownership is concerned. For once you own property you want to hold onto it, possibly passing it on to loved ones, and resist change that might deprive you of your said stake regardless of how little others have. The belief that people deserve more than others because of some perceived efforts or contribution to society, is yet another aspect of inequality that is tricky to disrupt. Some jobs certainly have a greater significance in our lives due to their specialist nature, for example surgeons. However, the efforts of the surgeon will cease to have the intended impact without the cleaner keeping the operating room sterile. Many such undervalued roles are essential, but a significant proportion of modern work falls under what David Graeber calls ‘bullshit jobs’, pointless jobs in the grand scheme of society.
Grappling with Gaeber’s ideas takes us into exploring what truly adds value to human existence. How much of what we see as freewill is actually self-reinforcement of attitudes whose sources we can’t quite pinpoint though we think we birthed them ourselves? Frameworks reinforce certain norms, so often what we think is how reality needs to be is really a mindset brought about by a series of institutions, behaviours and customs reinforcing particular ways of being.
When you start thinking about what needs to change, and what strategic interventions in how we organize society could help initiate change, the barriers to tackling inequality are identical to those of climate change. Rather than getting caught up in debates about whether reform or revolution is the way forward though, consider Andre Gorz’s concept of ‘non-reformist reform’, reform that shifts things forward while also improving the chances of radical change being sustainable. If you think about the ways inequality is embedded into society, what are the things that lead you to accept this arrangement? What is the minimum standard of living anyone should exist with? And how much beyond that minimum seems reasonable, especially in light of the need to avert environmental disaster in the form of climate change and an ecological crisis?
In considering what ways our own thinking might be standing in the way of addressing economic inequality, Bob Marley’s line ‘emancipate yourselves from mental slavery’ is worthy of reflection.
Will Essilfie is a member of the Journey to Justice Economic (In)Justice advisory group.
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 Private Sufficiency, Public Luxury: Land Is The Key To The Transformation Of Society by George Monbiot – https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/private-sufficiency-public-luxury-land-is-the-key-to-the-transformation-of-society/
 Scratch the surface, and the ‘new’ politics looks very much like the old by Gaby Hinsliff – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/may/06/red-wall-politics-culture-war-tories-home-ownership-jobs
 On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant by David Graeber – https://www.strike.coop/bullshit-jobs/
 Why you don’t give a f#*k about climate change (but these 6 GIFs can fix that) – https://claresaxon.medium.com/why-you-dont-give-a-f-k-about-climate-change-but-these-6-gifs-can-fix-that-82e7c248eb7a
 Non-reformist reform – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-reformist_reform
 In ‘Donut Economics’, Kate Raworth explores similar concepts of minimum and maximum levels from an economics perspective; see ‘What on Earth is the Doughnut?…’ – https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/
 Redemption Song by Bob Marley – https://genius.com/Bob-marley-and-the-wailers-redemption-song-lyrics