Is It Your Fault You Have Privilege?
When we talk about structural inequality in our society it normally ends with one group of people feeling vilified because of their class position, namely the wealthy. Why this happens has a lot to do with how the narrative of inequality goes. Simply put, we see structural inequality as the result of nefarious dealings that systemically tilt the scales of opportunity in favor of those who already have access to resource and influence. On the other side of the argument is the perspective that, if there is any structural inequality to be acknowledged it is a result of a natural selection and competition with examples sited that disprove the uneven playing field.
This latter notion flies in the face of clear advantages such as dynasties, and familial wealth but it is not to say that there is any moral obligation for those that have inherited advantage to level the playing feild. Wouldn’t we all want to pass down the best opportunities possible to our children? Would that not mean that our lives should be dedicated to doing what we can to provide the best opportunities for our families to succeed? And in a wold where resources are finite (and they are), should we not take great care to establish a nest egg for our offspring to give them a reasonable shot at success?
This logic is all sound, but it does not clearly identify the antagonist, nor who ‘our children’ are. What seems to happen naturally is a series of associations based on lineage, race, nationality, religion and culture each with their own, often competing place in our minds. While we might want to do everything we can to support the success of human life, we also feel the obligation to devote some of our energy to maintaining other life forms on the planet as well. These goals often come into conflict, especially in an environment that is heavily populated with an influential force (humans). Just as we have difficulty managing our love of animals with our love of meat, we also have difficulty managing our desire to provide for our posterity with that of lending a helping to the less fortunate.
These “less fortunate” would be people that we see as disadvantaged for one reason or another, perhaps they are orphans, or have a physical or mental disability, these we can agree on. Where things get dicy is our perception of those able bodied, citizens of average cognitive ability who for some reason can’t seem to make it on their own.
Is if the fault of these individuals that they have not been able to rise in economic class in a land so rich with opportunity as American? Or is it that, their position in society sets them at a specific, and somewhat indeterminable disadvantage? This is subject to so much dissension that it is where much of the divide in what to do about structural wealth inequality.
If we accept that the current state of financial inequality is due to immoral, and corrupt practices committed by the vile forefathers of one social group or another, what is the proper recourse? Righteous action might suggest that we level the playing field so-to-speak by instituting aggressive redistribution practices but the morality of this action rests on the assumption of past sins of a group that is no longer living.
On the other hand if we accept that inherited fortunes have been bestowed on the descendants of a group of people that did only what a reasonable person might do to establish a foundation for their posterity, we can not, in good conscious seek to strip these individuals of what their ancestors labored to provide for them. Right?
The quest is complicated because it is clear that the gross wealth disparity in our society is causing serious impacts to the quality of live and opportunity to exercise free will over the decisions of the disenfranchised. While the argument might seem as simple as tax the rich or not tax the rich. It is clearly a much deeper issue.
In any instance where we would seek to create filters for the disenfranchised to do better, ie. scholarships funds for women, affirmative action quotas, or government aid for the poor we inevitably have 1. abuse, and 2. people slipping through the cracks. The answer may actually lie in the hearts and minds of the people who are currently living in privileged positions. Should they feel obliged to help out their fellow man, it is all well and good but is it fair to impose punitive tax measures that harm the self-made millionaire as much as the person who inherited a trust fund? And is any of it morally right in the first place. Until we answer this moral question with any certainty our debate over how to move forward will lack substantial conviction and subject us all to behaviors that are unpredictable at best, and discriminatory at their worst.
It comes down to the narrative we hold about wealth. Is our modern society a product of kleptocrat robber barons who’ve been pillaging the weak for centuries? Or are we living in an age that has developed as a result of concerned parents working to create better opportunities for their children than the ones they had themselves? Or Both?