Sunday, October 08, 2006

Social Inequality and Prejudice

To judge a person by the qualities that do not reflect their character.

Prejudice is the grounding force of social inequality - within it lies its strength and origin. The division of our people has its place in the mind of the individual, and so in order to eliminate it and bring our society to an ideal of equal opportunity - we must reach the minds of the people. What causes prejudice to arise? While it has been attributed to military rulers who have ruthlessly forced their opinion on their subjects, the reasons for their emergence have also been surprisingly well intentioned. Fear and self-preservation are themes here as well. As a person is persuaded that their person, family or class is threatened, they then take steps to eliminate that threat - a very plausible and understandable course of action. But the error here is selfishness, considering only the needs of the party relevant to oneself and refusing other perspectives. By eliminating other views the person adopts a form of willful ignorance, and will continue to act without further thought. Action without thought always produces unforeseen consequences, whose harm may not be felt by the perpetrator as much as by the parties excluded. As one family gains wealth, another is made poor. As one group gains power, another is held under that power.
So what possesses one people to exalt themselves over another? What sense of self-worth convinces them of their right to take away another's? The purposes are not so obviously malevolent. Stripping a group of their rights can be justified in many ways, but the most common theme, is protection. Were oppression to emerge according to its true nature, it would gain no acceptance among the people, and so it must be concealed, under another, more benign purpose - one that passes at a glance so that a frail justification may be created. But under closer scrutiny these poorly constructed facades fall. All that is necessary is a blinder, the shimmer of reason, so that they may hastily proceed to action and quench their urges. On these slopes the momentum of conformity can slide from one mind to another, quickly engulfing people in a cause which they do not understand, and probably wouldn't support had they taken a second glance.
Then where does one draw the line at oppression and protection? Both can have different motivations, but the same result. One people are relocated - for their protection. They end up in camps. People are told to stay in their homes at night - for their protection. They sacrifice their freedom. The difference between oppression and protection is when the person being protected is denied the right to refuse that protection. The impetus for oppression may not necessarily be malevolent, it could be supported by the interest of safety. In an oppressive society people are denied the exercise of their will at the benefit of preserving their physical well being. But it could also be argued that life is nothing without the drive to live it, and that depriving a person of their free will is also harmful.
This brings up the issue of superiority. As one group believes itself superior to another, it then assumes the burden of the lesser groups decision making - effectively stripping them of the exercise of their free will, and controlling their lives. Here we see the question of power and unjust power. If a group who posseses power weilds it responsibly, should they not retain that power? In the case of a monarchy, the government is only as good as its monarch. But in our modern age this view has been cast aside in favor of divided power and power has been distributed to its lowest and most undeserving levels, the uneducated masses. Should we trust a panel of highly educated wisemen to make our decisions for us? Or do we believe that we should have the power over our own lives, to do with them as we see fit? One may be better for our safety, while the other is better for our freedom. It seems that one can not be had without the exclusion of the other, and in an increasingly fear driven society, bodily health is becoming a far greater priority than principle. Is the purpose of life safety or happiness? It is only when we have lost our freedoms that we appreciate how much they meant to us. Then we realize how much we would give, even our lives, to have them.


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