Unalienable Rights

To continue the thread started with my earlier post on the ideal of equality, it seems extremely strange to me when people oppose that ideal. It just doesn’t make any sense given my worldview, though I suppose I can understand how it happens. It’s the same as the way that often people like the idea of competition, imagining how great it would be to be the best, when statistically they will almost certainly fall short.

One thing I think we need to do, which I’m shocked that anyone might argue with, is to guarantee everyone the bare minimum of survival, just the bottom two tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy. Basic housing, clothes, food, and healthcare. It’s a big change from what we do now, but when people oppose the idea or get defensive about it, calling it communist or whatever, all I hear is them effectively saying, “survival isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. It has to be earned.” Really? Many of the same people will fight tooth and nail to keep women from being able to choose whether to continue pregnancies regardless of circumstances.

The idea of fighting your way to the top seems romantic. We love stories of triumph over adversity. Two things, though: first, we could still write stories like that if we improved things, and second, fashioning society to be rife with adversity in order to enable such stories is insane. In one of the Conversations With God books there’s an interesting section I’m not going to bother to look up the quote for that says building our society around “survival of the fittest” is mistaking a process for a principle. Without nitpicking the definitions of those terms, the point is that “survival of the fittest” is an observation of a process that happens anyway without our help. It’s not an ideal of nature that we should be aspiring to; we can turn our world into a utopia and the concept of “survival of the fittest” will still be observable, even though we will have eliminated a lot of unnecessary suffering.

Opponents of the idea tend to come in a few flavors. There are the lifetime haves, the former have-nots, and some lifetime have-nots. I think the lifetime have-nots are mostly romanticizing reaching the top, and imagining themselves someday making it there.

For former have-nots, who often have worked the hardest of anyone, it can be difficult to internalize the fact that some large percentage of their success was not due to their hard work. Many people put in as much effort and never make it; circumstances and chance play a significant role. But any time one has power or privilege that others do not, the tendency of the human mind is to justify it, to believe it is that way because that’s how it should be, in order to avoid cognitive dissonance. To some extent there can also be resentment that they had to bust their asses to survive and get ahead, while the next generation may just be handed some of that.

Lifetime haves face the cognitive dissonance of being in a position of having power others do not from the time they are born. They often have no way to really understand what it’s like for the other 99%, and regardless certainly have no motive to push for changes which would reduce their own lofty altitude. The human tendency of loss aversion ensures that.

I’m human; I doubt I’d be much better at running things than many other people. This is how we think; everyone’s affected. That’s why it’s so important for as much of the population as possible to have equal say in as much of governance as possible. To significantly reduce or eliminate the impact of money on politics. Our forefathers demanded “no taxation without representation,” but we aren’t meeting that standard today.

Leave a Reply