In a recent conversation I said something interesting:
I was mentioning how I was noticing an increase in the extremes of society. I speak primarily of how much people make. Just where I live I know guys in their 40’s and 50’s who are making $13.00 an hour, which is practically a non-survivable wage. Elsewhere where I live I am seeing people with million dollar homes, and people driving Ferrari’s, and so on. In fact, some of the display of wealth I am now seeing is absolutely disgusting. I said “here we are in what is supposed to be the most wealthiest country in the world, which is supposed to be for the people, and I’m seeing a horrible inequality in the population”. Of course, this observation is not new. What was different was what I said about it.
Normally, people display contempt or a disgust at it or they try to offer some “solution”, as if its “not supposed to happen”. But I said that, according to my observation of history and all that, it seems that a spectrum of inequality in society, from rich to poor, is the natural order of society and that there is nothing you can do about it. In other words, there is always going to be an inequality between people no matter what you do.
THE QUESTION OF NEED
This tendency to inequality suggests that the inequality is something like a manifestation of a “tension” in society. The tension seems to describe a conflict of need versus availability. More specifically, it is the need or want of something, within a body of people, but in which there is not enough to satisfy everyone. For example, there are only 10 cars at the auto dealer but 30 people want them. This creates a naturally appearing inequality . . . there will be those that “have” and those that “have not”. There’s not much you can do about it. This creates a perpetual “tension” that exists in society and which never goes away.
In this materialistic society people tend to think need is all about wealth or materialistic things but it seems that the need tends to be either one of two things or a mixture of them:
- Material – what money can buy.
- Social – status, prestige, and acceptance.
I think that many people underestimate the power of the social form of need. In many cases I’ve observed I’ve found that people don’t just want material things for the sake of having them but for the social significance they stand for. In this way, a lot of “materialism” is really a form of social need. In this way, my observation is that most of the “tension”, caused by inequality, is social in origin . . . people want what can be described as “social wealth”, which basically means that they want to be viewed highly in the society. In most societies, most of the time, this is what everyone is clamoring for.
It seems, to me, that “social wealth” has caused a lot of misery in the world. In fact, I would even venture to say that most of the misery caused by inequality in the world originates from the striving for “social wealth”, not by actual poverty or starvation or being destitute. What’s interesting, and tragic, about this, is that “social wealth” is not a matter of life or death and is not as important as it seems. That is to say, a person can live without “social wealth” and live happy content lives (in fact, most people do in the world).
Because “social wealth” is not as important as it seems, and causes such misery, it reveals a lot about the power of need. Its not that people actually need it but its the power of need that causes the misery. In other words, its the power of need over us that is the issue.
THE POWER OF NEED AND ITS DISGUISING BY CIVILIZATION
In many societies peoples needs are basically satisfied. They are not starving, are taken care of, and there is often not a lot of clamoring over “social wealth” but, yet, there will be an inequality and people will be in misery. To be precise, my observation is that people will find something to need (which is often a form of “social wealth”) and, as a result, an inequality will all-of-a-sudden appear. The result: an undue and unnecessary misery will appear. In short, the power of need is often what causes inequality and its misery, not actual need.
This power of need, in my opinion, is a result of how all living creatures are “wired”, so to speak. When you go out into the forest, for example, and see all the animals scurrying around, bugs flying, etc. what do you think they are doing? Are they just leisurely roaming around, taking a tour of the forest? No, they are seeking for food. All living things are “wired”, so to speak, to seek something and that this is pretty much a constant force in life.
Humanity is no different. But the illusion, and conditions, of civilization make it appear as if we do not need to continually seek something. In a way, civilization makes us lose sight of, and forget, that we are living creatures too and are “wired” to perpetually seek things and are, accordingly, in continuous need. As a result, on one hand, we need to seek and, on the other hand, we are wrapped up in the illusion of civilization . . . and one had doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. As a result, this continual need appears “out of place” or “doesn’t fit” from the civilization point of view. In actuality, the power of need, which is the perpetual need to seek, is a very big part of life and, in actuality, dominates life.
Because of civilization, it seems, to me, that humanity has lost its “seeking origins”. That is to say, civilization has made us lose touch with what we are actually seeking. It has detached us from the need to seek for food, for shelter, for the support of a tribe, for a mate, etc. that is so prominently displayed in older societies. What they seek is “basic”. There’s nothing dramatic about it. There’s no fancy mansions, no Ferrari’s, no great social power, etc. Civilization has made us forget that what we are needing and seeking is “basic”. Its as if civilization has detached us from this sense of the “basic” and, instead, given us these fancy and grand civilization-based images and wants. In this way, we could probably say that the nature of civilization has caused much of the misery of inequality by making us not want what is “basic” but other grander things.
ATTEMPTS AND TRYING TO SOLVE INEQUALITY
Interestingly, there have been numerous attempts to try to solve the problem that inequality creates. So far, nothing has worked. As I said above, I believe that this is because it cannot be solved as humanity is always in need and will always be in need.
Interestingly, much of these attempts at a solution, in Western society, are Christian in origin and are rooted in Christian mentality and belief. In fact, the attempt at trying to solve the problems of this inequality seems to be a Christian quality as very few other societies have tried to solve it. This is not all that surprising as Christianity began during a time when there was conflict between the Roman Empire and smaller cultures. As a result, it tried to be an “answer” to problems between people, emphasizing many Christian traits, such as:
- An emphasis on all the people.
- Peace and love.
- Charity or giving things to people.
- Organization. Because of the very organized nature of the Catholic Church in Western society, its not surprising that the idea of an organized system to solve the problem were viewed as a solution. Examples include democracy and communism.
Some of the attempts at solving inequality, based on Christian mentality, include:
- Organized charity
- The idea of “equality”
- Many of the ideals of America
None of these have worked all that much. About all that they have done is to put a band-aid on the problem. It may work for a time, but the inequality always ends up appearing again.
In some ways, they may have even contributed to the problem or created other problems. Charity, for example, makes people dependent on it . . . “equality” creates an unfair distribution of things . . . organized systems, such as communism, only create a controlling system, etc. About all that works, it seems, is a case-by-case daily helping of people who have problems. So far, no large scale effort or system has worked or been effective.
MISTAKING SOLUTIONS WITH TRANSITORY CONDITIONS
Its easy to confuse what appears as a “solution” with transitory conditions that exist at the time. In other words, when an idea of a “solution” appears, which happens to coincide with a condition that lowers inequality, people often mistake the two and believe that the lowering of inequality is because of the “solution”. For example, after WWII, the U.S. went into an economic boom. Many people have claimed that it is a result of “democracy and capitalism”. But it seems, to me, that it was a war that caused this economic boom. In this way, the post WWII economic boom is more a result of the conditions of war than on the American political/economic system. As time went on the inequality reappeared . . . the condition caused by the war was wearing off.
THE IMPORTANCE OF “CLASS MENTALITY”
It seems that one of the ways people deal with the inequality is by developing what can be called a “class mentality”. This is an acceptance of the conditions that one lives in, regardless of what it is. There develops a sense of “us”, a sense of being part of group or a “class”. What this sense does is make it so that people accept or deal with the conditions they are in. In this way, it makes it so that people live with, and are content, with what they have. In addition, they have the support, security, and identity, of that group.
ILLUSIONARY POVERTY CAUSED BY COMPARISON
Contrary to popular belief many people, who would be considered “poor”, are often the happiest of people. This is seen in primitive societies, for example. In other words, I find that being “poor” is not necessarily as bad as it seems . . . many people can be considered “poor” who are happy. But people can become unnecessarily miserable, and feel bad, because of various conditions, such as:
- The idea that everyone should “be the same” in a society. In a sense, the idea of a “classless society” presupposes some people to become miserable particularly when they see other people who are benefiting.
- The association with other classes. Seeing the conditions of other people, who may be in better or worse situation than one is in, can make one feel bad.
- The fall of “class mentality”. The fall of being part of a specific group makes one lose the security and belonging of that group. As a result, one feels miserable. In this case, one could say that the misery caused by the inequality is not really in being “poor” but that there is a fall in the “class mentality”.
- The demonstration of wealth. Seeing displays of wealth can make one feel :”poor” and bad.
- The appeal of consumer products. Many consumer products make one want them and the inability to have them makes one feel bad. Consumerism, in many ways, have probably contributed a lot to people feeling “poor” and miserable as a result.
- The need to support a family. Having to support a family causes great burden on a person and can make one feel miserable and “poor”. A family puts great stress on a person to have to follow societies norms and ways. As a result, ones “standing in society” plays a great role. I’ve always thought the responsibility of a family is responsible for causing a lot of a sense of being “poor” and is responsible for a lot of unnecessary misery.
In these cases, we see that the misery of being “poor” is not necessarily in being “poor” but is when a person stands next to someone else who has more or see’s something they want and can’t have. This makes one look and feel “poor” and miserable, even though one may not be. In this way, we could speak of several forms of being “poor”:
- Material poverty. This is “actual poverty”, when one is in actually in need.
- Poverty of comparison. This is an “illusionary poverty” . . . a person appears “poor” because other people have more or one wants something one can’t have. In this condition, one can survive well, and be happy, if they really wanted. Its a matter of how a person responds to the comparison and if one takes it badly.
THE CONTINUAL FLUCTUATIONS OF INEQUALITY IN A SOCIETY
There are many fluctuations in inequality that happens in the society. For example, there are situations in history where more of the population will be poor or where there may be more rich people. Its like history fluctuates from one side to the other. Regardless of this, the inequality is always there but the amount of people in each group fluctuates from time to time. This gives illusions of “improvement” and “degradations” of the economic condition of society. Many economists, it seems, will ascribe it to success or failure in various programs or systems. It seems, to me, that its more the natural ebb and flow of fluctuations of society. Sometimes, these are instigated by programs or systems that are implemented. Sometimes, they are not. Either way, they tend to even out after a while. This is because, it appears that in normal conditions there is something like an “even distribution” between rich and poor. This is occasionally upset by new and unusual conditions which instigates an unevenness . . . there may be more poor or more rich. And when there is more poor or rich people it tends to be transitory and eventually equals out over time. This more or less means that things like “bad times” are a result of conditions that, over time, will “even out” . . . they don’t last forever.
This automatic fluctuation of inequality, and its automatic balancing, would mean that there is no solution to inequality. Any attempt at a solution is transitory and balances out over time. This is because of the power of need in humanity, which endlessly creates need, which leads to inequality. As I said above, its not uncommon that much of this need is illusionary creating unnecessary misery in the population.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen