When I was a kid, we had a very popular topic for high school essays: “Is man better off in modern society than in primitive nature ?”. I remember being astonished by the absurdity of the statement as it seemed to me then. Of course, man is better off in modern society! Look at the benefits like electricity and healthcare to name just two. Can we really imagine a life without them? The various posts on the internet also seemed to confirm my view. More often than not, netizens agreed that the world today is a jolly good place to live in.
But really, is the internet representative of the world population at large? Around 70% of the global population does not even have access to the internet . And forget about internet, what about the views and opinions of those whom the modern world has not even taught to read and write.
This child does not know how to read or write. Would she have been better off in the primitive world? I don’t know? Do the benefits of modern healthcare reach her? Does she have electricity in her home? Is she being forced to breathe in an environment polluted by the privileged? Is she being forced to drink water contaminated by industrial wastes?
More importantly: Do the privileged look down upon her as if she is an insect, a burden on the society and if only her hut was removed, land prices would go up? Does she have a concept of future and living an honorable life? Is she just a statistical anomaly?
I can answer the last question. She is not a statistical anomaly. In fact it is the privileged who are a minority (the Pareto principle rings in my head).
So yeah, there are a lot of people in this world who live on less than a dollar a day and well, too bad they cant rise up. What of it? The answer is “Nothing” or more accurately “I don’t have a fucking clue”.
I DONT HAVE A FUCKING CLUE.
Off late I have realized that I don’t have a fucking clue about a lot of things. I spent two months on a trading floor and if someone asks me if I can be SURE about a trade idea; I would say “of course not!”. I mean, yeah I will pull dozens of economic theory out of my hat and support my arguments with technical analysis but the best I can hope for is to make an opinion on “what should happen”. This, in itself would be a wonderful feat. The problem is that “what should happen” does not equal “what will happen”. Will it happen in the long run? Is it just a matter of time before “what should happen” happens in reality? I don’t know and I don’t care. Because “given enough time”, anyone can be right. And since, “markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent” (Keynes), betting on the “eventual certainty” of a thesis is a very dangerous game to play.
So coming back to inequality, who are the “privileged” people on the other end of the tunnel? And do I believe that this gap would be closed, not “eventually”, but in the foreseeable future?
The answer to the second question is “No, i don’t think it will”. And the reason for that is: humans are not just. Plain and simple.
In his essay, “On human nature”, Schopenhauer says:
“For what is our civilised world but a big masquerade? where you meet knights, priests, soldiers, men of learning, barristers, clergymen, philosophers, and I don’t know what all! But they are not what they pretend to be; they are only masks, and, as a rule, behind the masks you will find moneymakers. One man, I suppose, puts on the mask of law, which he has borrowed for the purpose from a barrister, only in order to be able to give another man a sound drubbing; a second has chosen the mask of patriotism and the public welfare with a similar intent; a third takes religion or purity of doctrine. For all sorts of purposes men have often put on the mask of philosophy, and even of philanthropy, and I know not what besides. Women have a smaller choice. As a rule they avail themselves of the mask of morality, modesty, domesticity, and humility. Then there are general masks, without any particular character attaching to them like dominoes. They may be met with everywhere; and of this sort is the strict rectitude, the courtesy, the sincere sympathy, the smiling friendship, that people profess. The whole of these masks as a rule are merely, as I have said, a disguise for some industry, commerce, or speculation. It is merchants alone who in this respect constitute any honest class. They are the only people who give themselves out to be what they are; and therefore they go about without any mask at all, and consequently take a humble rank.“
And this brings me to the question of who are the “privileged” people on the other end of the tunnel? I would not point my fingers at traders/merchants/businessmen as much as I would point them at the dishonest class of public servants that squeeze the lifeblood out of an economy. A businessman does what he proclaims to do: “earn superior returns for his shareholders”. A good trader makes money by accurately predicting what people at large would do. He is a mirror on which the society can see the intent of their actions. Despite the seething hatred against businessmen in general and groups of businessmen in particular, I don’t see them as dishonest due to the simple fact that they do what they proclaim to do.
But let us turn our heads to public servants. And I mean the entire class of people who ostensibly work for the benefit of public. Two examples that come to my mind are government (including public sector companies) and religious activists. If I start measuring the degree to which corruption and falsification rots these bodies, I would run out of instruments. The amount of wealth that they have looted from the public is beyond any living soul’s imagination.
But you already know this so what I am I doing singing the old song again. Well, I am singing this song because we are so used to being looted by these wretches that our hatred for them is subdued in the resignation to “this is how it always happen”. And this in turn leads us to point the torch of our animosity to the groups of businessmen who look like the “new kid on the block of looters”. Say what we may, businessmen don’t have the degree of power that is wielded by public servants and if we really want to clean our house, it is this corner where we should use our mop.
So people with wealth and power want to maintain the “status quo” and the poor girl would have to live a life of misery. A life of utter and abject misery without any material comforts, without honor, sometimes without acknowledgement of existence. And that has always been the case. And it looks like that would be the case always.
“Is man better off in modern society than in primitive nature ?”
I dont have a fucking clue.
Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mckaysavage/3198657657/lightbox/ (distributed under the Creative Commons license)