Equality/Inequality

In a 12-1-13 post (Can We Talk – Income Disparity?) this blog quoted world economist Branko Milanovic: ““Inequality studies are not particularly appreciated by the rich.” Indeed, Milanovic says he was “once told by the head of a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., that the institution’s board was very unlikely to fund any work that had income or wealth inequality in its title. Yes, they would finance anything to do with poverty alleviation, but inequality was an altogether different matter. Why? Because ‘my’ concern with the poverty of some people actually projects me in a very nice, warm glow: I am ready to use my money to help them… But inequality is different. Every mention of it raises in fact the issue of the appropriateness or legitimacy of my income.”” A recent post (Limited Time Blue Light Special On Aisle 5, 7-30-14) appears to anecdotally confirm Milanovic’s experience. Seattle billionaire Nick Hanauer says: “You have to remember people like me care a lot about status. That’s why we are where we are.” Webster’s defines status as “the position of an individual in relation to another or others, social or professional standing.” Such a relationship implicates a hierarchy – an up to a down, an over to an under, with all the intermediate designations (a little above you but below them, etc.). Some refer to this as “vertical thinking”. Equality/inequality is not found within “vertical thinking”. Rather, equality can only be found within what is referred to as “horizontal thinking”. A historic example of the distinct difference within these two approaches to “thinking” could be the following (some describe thought as the human evolution of animal “problem solving”, but this digresses). 1968 (the year MLK and RFK were assassinated) found Europe (as well as much of the world) in the throes of social upheaval. In France, a series of worker/student strikes threatened to topple the government. At this time, it was considered appropriate for artists, intellectuals to give “voice to the voiceless”, the disenfranchised, the factory workers, etc. (pre you tube, smartphone, social(ist) media). Two film makers of the time did exactly that through their involvement with workers on strike in various factories. Chris Marker, who assumed his activity as filmmaker was on a par (horizontal) with that of the workers, emphasized giving workers themselves the cameras and editing equipment while taking the time to show them how these “professionally” technical marvels worked. He then facilitated their own film production, “Classe de lutte” (roughly “lesson of struggle”, a play on “lutte de classe” – class struggle). Jean-Luc Godard likewise deployed his professional skill to give “voice to the voiceless” but insisted on retaining control. ”Godard identifies a “gap” between the forms of expression proper to the filmmaker and to the working class. The highly specialized language of the cinema is profoundly alien to that of the factory, and a film on the strike would risk reifying or distorting the class struggle. Conversely, those who speak the “language of strikes” lack the training and fluency to translate the pressing issues of a labor dispute onto celluloid, and were they to try, they would risk falsifying their own experience in the process.” (“Cinema in the Hands of the People” by Trevor Stark, pg. 141, October 139) Godard’s reasoning and motivation may have been pragmatic, but it likewise implicates the maintenance and reproduction of vertical hierarchy.

Poverty/income inequality is always in the language of hierarchy, of vertical thinking, for one cannot consider it without at the same time considering wealth, expressed or unexpressed (“Every mention of it raises in fact the issue of the appropriateness or legitimacy of my income.”). Some would say that all labor, all work is dignified, necessary, and worthwhile. That those who labor all equally contribute to the benefit, quality, and value of the community and their fellows; be they the professionals who lead or organize vast projects and enterprises, or those who sew buttons or clean up afterward. Within the horizontal language of equality, lack of viable employment, housing, education, nutrition, etc. is suffered as an affront. It is a violence employed to maintain and reproduce the hierarchical “gap’ between those with, and those without. This violence enforces compliance with and adherence to the inequality of vertical thinking.

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