The Basis of Inequalities in Society
There has been inequality among people in every society and no one was quite sure why. For years, researchers have searched for the basis of these inequalities, finding various reasons. The basis of all of the inequalities in society is the combination of “self-preservation” and greed.
According to Rousseau (1762), the most ancient society is that of the family. Within this unit lies the first source of the inequalities in society. “Self-preservation” is the idea that people will do whatever they have to in order to provide for their own needs. Rousseau (1762) gave an example using children:
“…children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. The children, released from the obedience they owed to the father, and the father, released from the care he owed his children, return equally to independence” (p. 121).
According to this, the children need their father to provide for their needs only until they are old enough to provide for themselves. When the children reach that age, they and father are free to go there separate paths. At this point, the family unit only remains together by choice. This idea of “self-preservation” creates a problem. In the real world, each person takes more than they give back with the intention of helping out their own cause. If every person provides solely for their own needs, chaos will ensue. People all have wants and needs, but at times only the needs can be satisfied. Not every person can have all that they want. Luckily for everyone, there is no society in the world where “self-preservation” is complete. There will always be someone who is looking out for others as well as himself, which will allow better society to live in.
The other source of all of the inequalities in society is greed. Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language (2005) defined greed as a “selfish desire to acquire more than one needs or deserves” (p. 112). This is shown in Hardin’s The Tragedy of the Commons. The Tragedy of the Commons (1968) involves conflict between self-interest and the common good. Hardin (1968) uses an example of this conflict when he says,
“… the tragedy of commons reappears in problems of pollution. Here it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in—sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and dangerous fumes into the air…The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them.”
The person who puts the pollutants into the water is being very greedy by not properly disposing of the waste only because of the extra amount of time and energy it would take him. This selfish and greedy act could potentially hurt other people if they were to drink the polluted water. Selfish acts similar to this create inequalities whether the effects on other people are direct or indirect.
The in-class discussion example of a “farm commons” is another example of how greed affects people (Redkey, 2006). Assuming that each person is allowed to own one cow which grazes on the shared land, why does a person need or want another? The answer is greed. For some reason, people want what they don’t have, even if it serves no purpose. Buying another cow is more beneficial than detrimental to the purchaser, so he will get that extra cow regardless of the effects it will have on the “farm commons”. When other people see that one person has two cows while everybody else has only one, they will also buy another cow. These excess cows will consume until the land is bare, destroying the “farm commons” and in a sense, the bond between the people sharing it.
The Aqua Ducks tour that our school class went on years ago in upstate NY was not just a bus ride and a boat trip; it was a learning experience. Most importantly, it showed the ownership of property. Even back when Albany was created, people were greedy. People found this new area and colonized it immediately, outfitting it to their every need and want. Every inch of the land was bought, sold, and re-sold many times over. Everyone wanted as many possessions as possible because for some reason, possessions, like that of land, were a sign of wealth. Why does anyone need more possessions or more land? The answer is simple: to satisfy the thirst of our greed. In theory, the extra land could be sold for more money than it was bought for, or maybe production could increase with the extra available space, but this unneeded purchase effects only the owner in a positive way. Captain Mike, of the Albany Aqua Ducks (2006) said, “The Ten Broeck mansion has the biggest estate in Albany, sitting on 5 acres of land; it also has the most luxuries of all of the buildings…”
This supports the idea of greed. General Abraham Ten Broeck, the owner of the mansion, had the most possessions out of everyone in the city of Albany, partly because his house sat on 5 acres of land. As a result, he was considered very wealthy at the time. The problem with the division of land is that it creates inequality because some people can not afford as much as others, and therefore are no longer seen as equal.
“Self-preservation” and greed are the two main sources of all of the inequalities in a society. These issues have grown to dramatic proportions over the years and remain prevalent today. The most common problems today are the “neighbor battles”. Neighbors, who should attempt to be friends, try to better their homes only to beat out the guy next door. This is very childish and caused by greed and self-preservation. If each person acted in an unselfish manner, by thinking about other people as well as themselves, everyone would be happier and better off in their current society.