Danny Dorling: Unjust beliefs make inequality persistent
Danny Dorling, a UK social geographist worked with the epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket. His book “Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists” is a must read, it’s available for just £7.99. Its book is not perfect, but the social geography is splendid. You can also find one of Dorling’s papers summarizing the book and graphs and data out of it online for free. The book is about five unjust beliefs having great social impact:
- Elitism is efficient
- Exclusion is necessary
- Prejudice is natural
- Greed is good
- Despair is inevitable
Unjust thoughts and ideologies of inequality have seeped into everyday thinking from the practices that make the most profit. In the 1930s only a few argued that hunger should be used as a weapon against the poor. Now many grumble when inconvenienced by a strike, label those requiring state benefits ‘scroungers’, but hope to inherit money or to win fame one way or another. Status and social evaluative treats are often at the very core of our frustrations. It’s in our genes.
Danny Dorling refutes the unjust beliefs using geographical data about inequalities in the UK today. The book builds on the analysis of The Spirit Level and covers some of the same detail but in a more accessible way for the general reader. Some well know facts around educational elitism for example, but backed up by his analysis of how large numbers of young people are in effect 'written off'… His work is an example of sociological imagination, a methodology developed by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills some fifty years ago.
There is no conspiracy of the rich
Unjust beliefs which serve privilege, elitism and inequality, infect our minds like computer viruses. Inequality is the antecedent and outcome of injustice, but our politicians have accepted that inequality is inevitable. Spreading the idea that ‘despair is inevitable’ has yielded huge advantages for the rich, making people numb and silent so they can be exploited without protest. People think they are the victim of some invisible conspiracy or just bad luck, circumstance. I quote Dorling’s paper:
“The greatest indictment of unequal affluent societies is for their people to be, in effect, disenfranchised, to think they can make no difference, to feel that they are powerless in the face of an apparent conspiracy of the rich or what might simply be called ‘circumstance’. Apathy has increased as we all become distracted by trying to make a living, lulled into a false sense of comfort through consuming to maintain modern lives. In the space of under 100 years we have gone from successfully fighting for the right for women to vote, to around half the population in the most unequal of affluent countries not exercising that right.”
Though in the UK:
“One in five adults now routinely report, when asked about their circumstances, that they are finding it ‘difficult or very difficult’ to get by. This was the proportion reported before the economic crash. Similarly, a quarter report not having the essentials, such as a car if you have young children, even though (if resources were just a little better shared out) there is enough for all. A third now lives in families where someone is suffering from mental ill health.”
Dorling’s thinking behind elitism as a cause for injustice and inequality is further explained in chapter three of his book where he provides an extensive list of examples of educational underachievement.
Dorling gives us also some nice examples showing there is no conspiracy of the rich:
“There has not been any great, well-orchestrated conspiracy of the rich to support the endurance of inequality, just a few schools of free-market thought, a few think tanks preaching stories about how efficient free market mechanisms are, how we must allow the few ‘tall poppies’ to grow and suggesting that a minority of ‘wealth creators’ exist and it is they who somehow ‘create’ wealth.”
“That there is no great conspiracy was first realised in the aftermath of the First World War, when it became clear that no one ‘… planned for this sort of an abattoir, for a mutual massacre four years long’ (Bauman 2008: 6). The men they called the ‘donkeys’, the generals, planned for a short, sharp, war.”
“Today, those who think they run the economy, from Thatcher to Brown, all believed that growth accompanied by trickle-down economics, variously aided, would reduce inequality. There is no orchestrated conspiracy to prolong injustice. If there were, injustice would be easier to identify and defeat.”
Neither the invisible hand of the market
It’s neither the invisible hand of the market that caused the problems, but real people having names and faces. A face of blinding luxury and baffling squander, see for instance the Millionärsclub. The markets have a face. You can read about them in Le Monde Diplomatique, the article is translated also in Dutch here. And of course our politicians are closely connected to these people. Read about the connections of François Hollande here. Also look how they are networked here, for the short version look here.
Elitism is the incubation chamber within which prejudice is fostered. Elitism provides a defence for greed. It increases anxiety and despair as endless examinations are undergone, as people are ranked, ordered and sorted. It perpetuates an enforced and dysfunctional hierarchy in our societies. More quotes from Dorling’s paper about how exclusion, greed and elitism are related:
“Just as elitism is integral to all the other forms of injustice, so is exclusion. The exclusion that rises with elitism makes the poor appear different, exacerbates inequalities between ethnic groups and, literally, causes racial differences. Rising greed could not be satisfied without the exclusion of so many, and so many would not be excluded now were it not for greed. But the consequences affect even those who appear most successfully greedy. The most excluded might be most likely to experience despair, but even the wealthy in rich countries are now more prone to such symptoms, as are their children (Dorling 2009). Growing incidence of depression and anxiety has become symptomatic of living in our more unequal affluent societies.”
“The prejudice that rises with exclusion allows the most greedy to try to justify their greed and makes others near the top think they deserve a lot more than most. The ostracism that such prejudice engenders further raises depression and anxiety in those made to look different. As elitism incubates exclusion, exclusion exacerbates prejudice, prejudice fosters greed, and greed − because wealth is simultaneously no ultimate reward and makes many without wealth feel more worthless − causes despair. In turn, despair prevents us from effectively tackling injustice.”
“Removing one symptom of the disease of inequality is no cure, but recognising inequality as the disease behind injustice, and seeing how all the forms of injustice that it creates, and that continuously recreate it, are intertwined is the first step that is so often advocated in the search for finding a solution (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). The status quo is not improved ‘by introducing an inequality that renders one or more persons better off and no one [apparently] worse off’ (Arneson 2009: 25).”
“The awarding of more elite qualifications to an already well titled minority reduces the social standing of the majority. Allowing those with more to have yet more raises social norms and reduces more people on the margins of those norms to poverty through exclusion. To imagine that others are, apparently, no worse off due to inequality requires a prejudicial view of others, to see them as ‘not like you’. This argument legitimises greed.”
Appeared at reele-democratie.org