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SOC102 Habits of Inequality Introduction

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Lorne Tepperman

Habits of Inequality Introduction – The Inequality Myth THE GAME OF LIFE - Milton Bradley o One of his first lithographic works was a portrait of Abraham Lincoln without his beard o Invented “The Checkered Game of Life” in 1860  Players started on a square called infancy  Players could end on a square called happy old age  Players passed over squares named after risky life-states (e.g., crime, politics, college)  Sold 45,000 copies in the first year  Remained steadily popular for a whole century - Reuben Klamer o Redesigned and reintroduced as “The Modern Game of Life” in 1960  Most of us strive for survival, success, and equality  Most of us can relate it to our own lives by making choices that determine our fate o Repeatedly updated to reflect changes in the broader economic and cultural milieux  The income a player could earn was raised to reflect rising real-life prices  Life Tiles were added to represent new kinds of life accomplishments  Players could receive rewards for making socially useful decisions (e.g., recycling, learning CPR) o Real life is different from the Game of Life  In real life  Many of our real life choices are not make consciously or freely  Everyone starts off with different choices to make and different resources to make them  Everyone is born with different life chances  Life outcomes are not purely chance-based  A completely level playing field does not exist o People who are born into rich families live their lives under these conditions o People who are born into poor families live their lives under these conditions o Some people in industrial societies do rise from rags to riches, but rare  The Game of Life  Everyone starts out on equal footing  Assumes that players will be offered different opportunities by chance - Max Weber o Originally introduced the term life chances in his analysis of class inequality  Adopted by others in the sociological field  Recognizes the chancy, somewhat uncontrollable nature of real life o Life chances is the chancy or probabilistic nature of real life (e.g., rolling dice in the Game of Life)  Our life depends on our social and economic background  Our socioeconomic background depends on our parents’ class status  Economic capital  Cultural capital  Social capital o Every child has a different set of life chances of gaining life’s rewards (e.g., gaining education, wealth, power, good health, prestige, etc.) WHAT IS INEQUALITY? - Social inequality  Receiving more or less of life’s rewards o The hierarchical differences between any two people o Many natural inequalities become social inequalities, which produces social consequences  Inequality can have long-term impacts that are often associated with secondary life consequences  Inequality often has additive and multiplicative effects o Intersectionality  Inequalities interact with one another multiplicatively, which makes it impossible to predict the effects of inequality o Conditionality  Conditions under which particular traits or characteristics (e.g., gender, class, race) produce a significant social disadvantage - Kimberlé Crenshaw o Theory of intersectionality  Various biological and social categories (e.g., gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation) interact on multiple levels to produce systematic social inequality (e.g., unique forms of discrimination and disadvantage) o Gained prominence in connection with the multiracial, multiclass feminist movement that challenged the idea that gender alone determined women’s lives o Feminists proposed that the combination of gender with race and class (perhaps even with sexual orientation and geographic location) determines the course of a person’s life o Each type of person will have different life experiences - Gerhard Lenski o Confirmed the importance of intersectionality with a concept called status consistency o Status inconsistency  Conflicting social positions that have positive and negative influences on social status  Status inconsistency has consequences that cannot be predicted by adding or averaging the dimensions of social status alone  Status inconsistent people feel uncomfortable about their situation and often adopt radical political stances against consistently higher status groups - Sociologists cannot readily predict a person’s life changes by averaging advantages and disadvantages, but this complexity does not mean that everyone’s life is unique and that sociologists cannot draw general conclusions about inequality - Habit of inequality  Modern industrial societies make a habit of turning natural differences into social differences and, in turn, into social inequalities o People in modern industrial societies share a set of processes (e.g., exploitation, domination, racialization, victimization) to perform social inequality  Processes are enacted in a variety of venues (e.g., economy, state, religious institutions)  Processes take a variety of forms and spread through a variety of social mechanisms o People turn differences into inequalities, which negatively affect our everyday lives o Inequality is not an inevitable result of the characteristics that differentiate people  High HDI = Less habit of inequality than Canada (e.g., Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand)  Less likely to dramatize differences as inequalities  Less likely to view differences in terms of good and bad, or better or worse  Stronger limits are enforced on the range of permissible inequality  Proof that people can be different, but remain equal  Low HDI = More habit of inequality than Canada (e.g., the US) o The majority of Canadians appear to care about the kind of society we live in and see social inequality as a problem yet to be solved VIEWS ABOUT INEQUALITY - Inequality exists everywhere o Some measure of inequality is normal, natural, and inevitable o Some people believe that inequality is far from unfair o Some people believe efforts to reduce or eliminate inequality would be unfair and unsuccessful o Some people tend to hold strong, passionate, and bitter views on inequality - W.I. Thomas and D.S. Thomas o “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” o Such beliefs can lead people to take action, which in turn can have social effects on legislation or policy modifications o Much of human history has been driven by beliefs about justice and injustice, fairness and unfairness, equality and inequality - Sociologists study objective social problems, and subjective beliefs and their social consequences o Must carefully consider people’s thoughts and beliefs, as well as the objective situations in which they find themselves o Subjective responses  Harder to measure than objective responses since they are often products of private thought and contemplation (e.g., virtually invisible)  Reflect our capacity for emotional reaction as human beings  Lead to the social construction of human problems o Social construction of problems involves claims-making (a process by which people try to capture public attention and mobilize opinion around particular problems and their possible solutions) - Our view of something as a social problem is determined by changes in actual (measurable) reality and by changes in our perceptions of reality o By bringing together objective and subjective elements, we can define social inequality as a social problem characterized by  Visible, measurable features that threaten people’s well-being  Strong beliefs in inequality as a strong problem that warrants collective, remedial action THAT’S NOT FAIR! - Jean-Jacques Rousseau o Offered the first theory about social inequality o Social inequality involves some privilege (a right, advantage, favour, or immunity specially granted to a certain individual, group, or class, and withheld from others)  Society provides some people with more privileges than others (e.g., unequal distribution of privilege), which may force some people to respect and obey more privileged people o Are there any circumstances under which an unequal distribution of privilege is justified?  Social inequality must be proportional in order for it to be just  Any privilege or inequality that does not clearly arise out of a natural difference is contrary to the laws of nature  Social inequality is unjust if it exceeds natural inequality o On the negative side, Rousseau asks us to imagine a natural law against which we can judge human laws  It is impossible to identify natural laws  Evolutionary psychology has come close to framing such natural laws o On the positive side, Rousseau correctly identifies why most people care about social inequality in which unjustifiable privilege is unfair  This response to inequality has been supported throughout history and across many different nations - Social inequality  The unequal (and usually unjustifiable) privileges, rewards, or opportunities that different people receive within a given society o Equality means fairness, and inequality means unfairness o Whether we judge equality in terms of equality before the law, equality of occupational opportunity, or equality of economic outcome, we expect an equal process to be fair o However, inequality might be a constant feature of the human condition because people in large, modern societies are not able to escape privilege and unfairness - Is inequality unavoidable? o According to economic liberals, the answer is yes, inequality is the price we have to pay for dynamic economic growth under capitalism  Throughout the 20 century, communist states tried to reduce economic inequalities through a rejection of capitalism  However, these experiments failed and created different, equally abusive forms of inequality  In the end, new politically based inequalities were created that were more harsh and less fair than the class inequalities they replaced o These experiments collapsed around 1990 due to social discontent  From a liberal standpoint, the collapse of communism justifies any amount of inequality  Few people believe that perfect equality can be achieved through communism or socialism  Some people believe that social inequality is inevitable - Social equality is a realistic goal o Brain imaging research shows that humans might be naturally inclined to believe in equality  Researchers carried out fMRIs on participants who engaged in money-transfer images  Found that reward centres in the brain respond more positively when a poor person gets a financial reward than when a rich person does o There is an inherent tendency to favour a balance of the economic scales (e.g., to favour equality) o However, this is only one experiment taken out of its social and cultural context - Sociologists want to consider (1) what inequalities are justifiable, (2) what equalities are humanly attainable, and (3) various types of unfairness and the different ways through which they can be remedied o Inequality still makes a difference, just as it did in Rousseau’s time o Social inequality has important consequences for crime and justice, war and peace, and life o The disadvantage stemming from social inequality is usually inherited o Inherited disadvantage  Disadvantage is transferred from one generation to the next o Those who inherit this disadvantaged status have little hope of escaping, and will likely live their entire lives in this condition o The global spread of capitalism disperses and preserves social inequality to an unknown degree MS. JONES’S CLASS - How to divide her time in helping her fourth grade students learn to read - Christopher Jencks suggests five approaches o Democratic equality  Give five minutes of help a day to every student o Moralistic justice  Give more help to students who are making more effort to improve their reading o Weak human justice  Give more help to students from less-advantaged backgrounds (e.g., the desire to learn varies among children from different socioeconomic backgrounds) o Strong human justice  Give more time to students with physical disabilities or abusive parents o Utilitarianism (non-moralistic)  Give more time to the best readers and less time to the worst readers - John Rawls o The dominant academic view of justice or fairness is based on the difference principle o Difference principle  The unequal distribution of scarce goods (e.g., power money, healthcare) is justifiable only when it increases the advantage of the least advantaged groups in society  Equality is the default position, unless inequality will serve to improve the status of the disadvantaged  Similar to the strong human justice approach  Sharing should not undermine the position of people who are already needy  Allocation should not increase inequality, but preserve or reduce it  If we imagine ourselves at the bottom of the social ladder, it requires us to make decisions for our own best interests,
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