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The science of inequality: why people prefer unequal societies | Inequality | The Guardian

“… For example, studies of income and happiness have revealed that, once a basic level of wealth is achieved, relative wealth is more important for overall happiness. Similarly, a vast body of research in social psychology finds that people engage in constant comparison of themselves with others. Knowing that one’s income is much higher (or lower) than that of a neighbour has a substantial impact on happiness. As Gore Vidal put it: ‘Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.’

This motivation for “relative advantage” can motivate a desire for unequal distributions. Indeed, to achieve the warm glow associated with relative advantage, people are even willing to pay a cost themselves to reduce others’ incomes.”

Full text: The science of inequality: why people prefer unequal societies | Inequality | The Guardian

Very interesting to see it put this way. I’ve been pondering this for a while because I can see it in myself. Although I’m a fervent believer in social justice and equality, my (natural) drive/impulse is to a system where I’m more equal than others. I think that if people are 100% honest, they’d admit to feeling the same.

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19 comments on “The science of inequality: why people prefer unequal societies | Inequality | The Guardian

  1. persedeplume
    May 4, 2017

    That would explain why intentional communities invariably implode given enough time. This can also be observed in the hierarchical nature of organized religion, the elevation of Saints, and sitting at the right hand of god.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. (Most) people prefer unequal societies out of hidden hope of making it onto the heavier plate of the balance…
    Unfortunately, on a personal note, I am a theoretical socialist, but on the practical side, I hate that in the unlikely event of such a society’s emergence, only the leaches would would profit, and thus the 1% “capitalism” be reinstated…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. acflory
    May 5, 2017

    ‘I think that if people are 100% honest, they’d admit to feeling the same.’ Sadly, yes. But I think this is where I have to tip my hat to the Catholic church and the Catholic school system. Having been raised in both, I had the principle of altruism drummed into me so thoroughly that any natural, selfish instincts meet with instant shame. In fact, I probably go overboard to compensate for these ‘failings’.

    The thing is, as individuals, being selfish is a survival trait, but only if we’re like cheetahs and other prime, solitary hunters. But we’re not. No teeth and no claws. We’re more pack animal than predator and as pack animals, we have to put the survival of the pack first, or none of us get to survive.

    This is where the needs of society have to be balanced against the needs of the individual. And that means altruism and its close cousin, empathy. Catholic dogma assigns religious value to altruism. I say it’s as necessary as breathing…to humans.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Catholic angle is interesting because it really depends on who’s listening. Consider Caritas/Oxfam which everyone regards as a Catholic organisation (and it is.) How much do you think they get from the church itself?
      The answer is ze-ro. Not a cent. They get money from individuals, private companies and even some governments, but from the Catholic church, nothing. So teaching guilt is very carefully targeted.

      Like

      • acflory
        May 5, 2017

        Sorry, no idea about Oxfam, but I remember when I was a kid, the nuns would tell us about missionaries in exotic countries ‘doing good for the poor people’ there and we /had/ to contribute something every single week. I’m talking primary school here. So they orchestrated that act of giving, even if the Church didn’t ‘give’ itself.

        These days I’d probably call it social conditioning. It stuck with me because I’m cursed with empathy, and because I can’t find a good, rational reason to be self-centred.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s actually part of the mental exercise I’m doing. Figuring out where the line is and how that relates to decision making 😉

        Like

      • acflory
        May 5, 2017

        Good luck. 🙂

        Like

  4. clubschadenfreude
    May 5, 2017

    interesting article. Especially since I decided to read Brave New World again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. belasbrightideas
    May 5, 2017

    I am 100% honest and I do not feel the same. Maybe it’s a gender thing(?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • So confronted with a door for advantage and another for disadvantage, you’d open the disadvantage door?

      Liked by 1 person

      • belasbrightideas
        May 5, 2017

        I have in the past and might well do so again. I grew up with advantage and ditched it for a simple life in the Maine woods (and I do mean simple). I felt there were things I needed to learn. Caveat: I would not want to move to Syria, for example – if that’s what you’re asking – where I would either have to witness babies’ legs being blown off or having to listen to bombs going off all day. I do need quiet. Beyond that, my needs are quite simple, and the thought of holding anything over anyone else simply because we have it does not fly.
        Cheers, Pink ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s kind of wonderful.
        Was it an entirely conscious process? If so, what set it off? And how easy or difficult is it/was it to set aside the entire structures on which most of society operates?
        Were you ever competitive?

        Liked by 1 person

      • belasbrightideas
        May 5, 2017

        Yes, I’m competitive, mostly just with myself athletically. And don’t get me started on word games – I may not like that I’m this way, but can’t deny it. As for structure, I am one who avoids it at any cost. Even structuring a weekend.

        Yes, moving to the woods was a conscious process. I am not and simply never was a city person in any sense of the word – hell, I can’t even wear ‘good shoes’ without my feet hurting. I had already moved to Maine in a small city/town, and went from there. I didn’t go from the hills of Southern CA right into the woods, no. My dad was a huge nature adventurer, and we did live right in the foothills of the mountains, which back then was quite rural for being so close to Pasadena (and now is very elite). So we raised snakes and mice to feed the snakes and homing pigeons and rabbits, dogs, cats, fish, frogs, turtles, even an opossum. I did have exposure to woods and waters besides this – we had a boat and would go fishing; had legs so we’d go camping and for long hikes – I was the only girl who really wanted to learn as much as I could and be outside the city as much as possible. Always hung out with ‘the guys’ anyway.

        So when I moved to Maine, it was far more natural for me than staying in an ever-encroaching city. Did I miss a clothes washer and dryer and/or dishwasher when my girls were growing up? Central heat or air? Convenience and proximity? Did I resent having to hike to the old beater car parked 1/2 mile up our road in sometimes thigh-deep snow drifts to work or get supplies (or to birth my youngest)? I don’t remember feeling that way at all. I also worked 10 yrs. at a fur company where I learned how to skin anything alive, once the owner left on his many European selling trips and I was alone with the guys out back. They taught me everything they knew, even bought me my own skinning knife which I have to this day. At least two of them had Masters Degrees in Wilidlife Biology. I was vegetarian, but ate every kind of meat there was and learned to cook it. You have to understand, I was in my 20’s and early 30’s – this was a huge adventure.

        As I got older and into my late 40’s, these things wore a bit thin, I had girls entering or finishing up undergrad work and a full plate of clients, radio show and writing commitments – it got tiring. It’s when we decided to move back to Hawaii (where we had tried to live years before, but the schools were awful and couldn’t blame the girls for wanting their good New England schools). So we chose the Big Island’s north shore which people are ‘discovering’ thanks to magazine articles and such (‘hidden Paradise!’) but which retains its rural roots. The highway ends 7 miles down the road from the nearest town anyway. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  6. makagutu
    May 5, 2017

    Maybe Montaigne was right when he wrote

    And, which is yet worse, let every one but dive into his own bosom, and he will find his private wishes spring and his secret hopes grow up at another’s expense. Upon which consideration it comes into my head, that nature does not in this swerve from her general polity; for physicians hold, that the birth, nourishment, and increase of every thing is the dissolution and corruption of another:

    Liked by 1 person

  7. acflory
    May 5, 2017

    Just throwing this out there – evolutionary biology now counts cooperation as a survival trail along with competition. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely! It depends very much on which species, but also on environmental factors.
      I’d love to know what the tipping point is.

      Like

      • acflory
        May 5, 2017

        I think Darwin’s theory of natural selection is really misunderstood. Survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the strongest individual or the one that can fight the hardest. It simply means that the animal that can reproduce the most successfully passes its genetic heritage along. By definition, that also means it has to live long enough to reproduce, but a successful survival strategy could involve ‘hiding’ or runing away or banding in groups and co-operating with others.

        Humans are the perfect example of a species that cooperates against nature but competes within itself.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Autumn Cote
    May 16, 2017

    Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. Thhere is no fee, I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and I liked what you wrote. If “OK” please let me know via email.

    Autumn
    AutumnCote@WriterBeat.com

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on May 4, 2017 by in thinking aloud and tagged , , , , .
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