Balancing act

The discrepancy between privilege and poverty nicely illustrates what we might call an unnatural social imbalance. Unnatural in the sense that it is an imbalance such as could not arise in a functioning homeostatic system absent some intervention. Unnatural social imbalances do not simply arise as a matter of course. They must be engineered. Which is not to suggest the work of some ‘evil genius’ manipulating society so as to create such imbalances for some purpose that is not immediately obvious. It is merely to say that unnatural social imbalances must be the product of some force operating on the systems by which society functions.

By definition, the default systems cannot be detrimental to the cohesiveness of society – or they wouldn’t have evolved to be the default. And exaggerated social imbalances are undoubtedly harmful. They are a blight on society as a whole as well as blighting lives. It should be noted that this necessarily implies that the privileged are adversely effected as well as the impoverished. It’s not that they are untouched by unnatural social imbalances. It’s just that they are better cushioned against the worst of the impact.

By way of an example we might do worse than refer to the imbalance between the sexes. More specifically, the imbalance in certain roles which in aggregate results in a general imbalance of power between the two most fundamental categories of the human being who make up society. To the extent that society is deprived of what females might bring to these ‘senior’ roles, it is less than it might be for all those embedded in that society. We all lose so long as these unnatural social imbalances persist.

They persist, not so much because the are maintained by that ‘evil genius’ as because they are the product of processes and practices so imbedded as to have all the appearance of being ‘natural’. The root causes of exaggerated social imbalances tend to go unrecognised or unquestioned because they are familiar. Some people are so comfortable with – or at least untroubled by – the inequity that they will actively oppose recognition and questioning of the root causes. There are always reactionary forces at work. As there must be in any system which is by default self-regulating.

I find it helpful to think in terms of unnatural or exaggerated social imbalances and the underlying causes thereof rather than in terms of particular manifestations of social imbalance. The article informs us that,

…child poverty campaigners said that there needs to be a “fundamental rethink” about how to prevent poverty and support low-income households.

With all due respect to these doubtless well-intentioned child poverty campaigners, that is nothing like a “fundamental rethink”. To use what may be a provocative simile, the approach suggested is akin to treating bubonic plague by applying a poultice to a single pustule – even if it is one of the largest eruptions. Trying to redress an imbalance after it has been created is futile. So long as the forces creating the unnatural imbalance remain unchecked all efforts at amelioration must ultimately fail if only because those forces will continue to act long after the amelioration effort has used up all available resources. The exaggerated imbalance will always be re-established unless the root cause is effectively addressed.

Understanding the underlying causes of unnatural social imbalances is, of course, essential if a strategy is to be devised by which they can be neutralised. Such understanding will be substantially informed by evolutionary psychology. But that is far too big a topic for a comment such as this. What I will say – fully realising that it may be highly controversial – is that attempts to develop a deep understanding of unnatural / exaggerated social imbalance and its cause is inevitably (even if inadvertently) hindered by the fact that an ‘industry’ has grown up around the pustule-patching work of attempting to mend the symptoms rather than break the disease.

It may be difficult to persuade people of the need to step back and see the problem from a different perspective. They may be reluctant to accept that supporting low-income households, while obviously necessary, is actually facilitating and perpetuating the social imbalance – and so ultimately pointless.

What is required is a massive rebalancing of society. A reinvention of the systems and processes by which civilisation is maintained. Or it won’t be.

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2 thoughts on “Balancing act

  1. If a problem is large and complicated, you first need to simplify it. One way to do that is reduce the scope. Independence would be one way of breaking all the connections to the British attitudes (the poor deserve what they get, are lazy, etc., etc., etc.) which perpetuate the current system. Then we could really tackle a lack of opportunity which holds poor people down.

    Liked by 4 people

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