One of the things I have noticed dominating the political landscape for the past week or so is the subject of income inequality among men and women. I’ve also come across a bit about inequality in other areas of reading and conversation and so that has sort of inspired me to write how I feel about the current state of the world and the attempts of various groups of people to find equality.
Equality in itself is simply a form of justice. We all want to be treated fairly, and live under the same rules. I would add to my own definition of equality that we should all be treated according to our actions. I imagine that there are those who would take issue with that (socialists, for example). This is to say that I do not think that Human A and Human B are entitled to all of the same luxuries in life in order for equality to be established. That said, I do not at all believe that we have achieved equality. And I think that in specific circumstances, everyone is treated in ways that have more to do with their skin color, gender, and income level than on the basis of their character and actions (yes, even rich white men).
It’s also important to point out much of the time a question of “fairness” arises where it’s not really due. As an example, let’s say there’s a guy named “Bob”, and he invests a bunch of money to start his own business, he works really hard, and he is successful, and makes a lot of money. Along comes another guy named “Tim”, and Tim decides he too will start his own business. He invests the same amount of money, works just as hard, and after a few years of struggling to break even, he is forced to shut it down. Is it fair that this happened? It’s impossible to answer really, because the question doesn’t apply. To what are you ascribing unfairness? The nature of reality? Can reality be unfair? The fact is, both of these guys could have played it safe,but they chose to take a risk… and sometimes risks pay off, and sometimes they don’t.
With those clarifications, let’s get back to the first thing I mentioned. Income inequality between men and women. The large numbers you see come from statistical information which takes nothing into account but gender and actual income. The most important thing to remember when dealing with statistics, or whenever someone throws a statistic at you, is that on an individual level statistics mean absolutely nothing. This is important when considering the issue of inequality because equality has to do with individuals. Am I equal to you, and are you, in turn, equal to another person? The moment we start grouping people together we are essentially conceding points on which we might start treating them differently because they are not like us. That said, there is a gap, but it is a considerably smaller average (it’s about a 5 cent deficit, as opposed to the 23 cents you commonly see cited) when you take into consideration career choice, major, etc. I do not know the reasons for this gap, and I’m not sure anyone does, but if we would like to eliminate it, I think we are better off trying to identify to social cause and seeking to remedy it. I don’t believe the cause is a misogynistic culture, as many feminists would have us believe, because, quite frankly, we don’t live in a culture that values misogyny. If we did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion at the national level. Obviously, misogynists exist, but society looks down on such people.
On a broader spectrum, different groups that have had injustice down to them tend to cling to the tool of the injustice done to them. That tool, bluntly, is government. This system of force has long been used to oppress certain groups of people to the benefit of another, and given that it is only able to achieve anything through the use of force, or the veiled threat of force, which would mean nothing if people didn’t know that the force would indeed be carried out, it is unlikely to ever achieve equality or justice. It is seemingly antithetical that the primary reason people cling to these ideas is to achieve those things. As a simple example of government not achieving equality, one only needs to look at statistics as they relate to black Americans (and remember, this says nothing about an individual black person). Statistically, black Americans are much more likely to commit violent crimes, both against white people, and against other black people, then other people groups. They tend to be arrested much more frequently from drug crimes as well. The incarceration rate is much higher than their percentage of the population. This does not have ANYTHING to do with their race, black people are not inherently violent, but it is indicative of a societal problem. Before the Civil Rights Act, segregation was government policy. The tool of oppression was used to try to stop oppression. By degree, oppression has decreased, but a simple glance at those statistics can tell you that government policy is harmful to black Americans.
You can’t force someone to be different than they are. If you hold a gun to someone’s head and tell them “be this way, or else”, then perhaps you will change the words that come out of their mouth when you are present, or when you might find out about them, but they will not be fundamentally changed. This is the problem with seeking change through government force. People simply bury such feelings and it becomes all the harder to really root out the source. This is why wielding a gun will never bring about justice.
In a strange way, I think a desire for justice against past oppressors tends to cloud the issue and get in the way of achieving equality. Not long ago I was on a film crew at a location in south central LA, and we had a visitor who insisted on coming inside to go through our trash to get our cans. In trying to get her to leave, because we can’t have people who aren’t part of the cast/crew there, she immediately jumped to race, as though we were only making her leave because she was black. She told me it was a black neighborhood, I guess those of us on the crew who were not black were thus not welcome. I bring this up because I think this woman has a desire to see justice on past oppressors. The trouble is, those oppressors are dead and gone. You can’t achieve that justice. To take out vengeance rightly directed toward slave owners against me or any other white American is simply another injustice. We didn’t carry that action out. What happened between our ancestors is in the best, and it’s best left there. We remember it, and we strive not to repeat it, but we don’t judge each other based on the actions of people who were not us. I think that a refusal or inability to move on from the past is the biggest obstacle to overcoming this “grouping” of people. If we are to truly be equal we need to get rid of these vestiges of ancient tribalism. We need to stop being groups and start just being people. If we can do that, maybe we’ll stop feeling a need to point guns at one another for good.