Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It is all so disturbingly simple...

I approach the discussion of social inequality by providing a fairly simple definition that seems to permit most, if not all students, the ability to grasp the meaning without any personal association. It is a blend of several different concepts that are covered within our discipline:

Social inequality is the categorization and ranking of people that result in an unequal distribution of valuable social resources.

Starting here, I can then discuss and demonstrate how this process results in differential life outcomes based on a person's categories and ranking(s). I bring in real-world examples that, in all likelihood, DO result in personal associations, but this is done in the context of discussing inequality as an observable social reality VS something someone should feel ashamed and/or guilty about. Furthermore, I tell them that part of our job as sociologists is to observe this phenomenon and report our observations to the public; it is then THEIR decision to do something about it or not. I also point out that we have no (or very little; hunter-gatherer societies, perhaps) observations on what an equal distribution of social resources produces in terms of life outcomes, so we don't really know what difference it would make. I do point out what we do know about the impact of the unequal distribution in terms of human suffering and achievement, however.

Now, when I work as an applied sociologist (as opposed to a "professor" of sociology), I adhere to humanistic principles and strongly advocate for a more equal distribution of resources. I do my best to keep the two roles discursively separated, though, when I am in front of a class.

1 comment:

Smartasawhip said...

"Equal distribution of social goods and resources", what an ignorant remark. I'm sure you learned that in a book somewhere and just assumed it is a workable concept.

The idea of equal distribution of goods and resources ignores or denies the very basic reality of human nature, that people work for rewards.

People that work and get no rewards for their labor eventually stop working. Also, there is the issue of fairness.

It is not fair to give the same rewards to someone who did not pay attention or do homework in High School as are given to someone who studied and got good grades in High School, went on to College and then to Graduate School.

Who would make the effort and endure the sacrifice to become a medical doctor if the doctor got the same rewards as a street sweeper?

I used to think like you do but I did not stop thinking. I hope you do not stop thinking either. I also learned from real life experience, and value that more than a theory in a book that does not work in the real world.

I used to believe that competition between people was a waste of time and energy and should be eliminated from life. After a time I came to realize that it was only when I had to compete with others in order to get my needs met that I truly did the best I could.

Lack of competition, Which is implied in the equal distribution model, leads to decreased effort to get needs met, a mediocre society and finally to rage and violence because of the frustration that people experience when they don't get their needs met by doing what the leaders say they should.