"The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members."
The above quote has been said by many people, because there is an undeniable truth in it. The reality is however, that apart from a few Scandinavian countries and Japan, most societies on the globe would not measure up very well to the lofty sentiments of this quote. Most, would actually be typified as societies of patterned inequality and unfairness, where those who are disabled, have a low IQ, lack education, have a mental illness, are ethnic, indigenous or old, are relegated to the bottom rungs, to lead lives of quiet desperation. Is this fair?
People who fit in the above demographics, in most first world countries are more likely to live in poverty, on very low incomes or welfare. Many forced to live their lives out in depressed regional areas or inner city slums, where housing is relatively cheap, jobs are perhaps scarce, facilities like hospitals inadequate and transport scanty. Such social disadvantage, can create a permanent underclass of people, who become stuck in a vicious cycle of lower living standards and lack access to social, human and cultural capital. Such structured inequality, becomes difficult to break, as people become marginalised and forgotten, by those more fortunate.
Credit: Flickr Identity Photogr@phy's
Many indigenous people, have become marginalised subcultures, dispossessed of their land, who face constant racism. Racism, which can be cultural and based on such factors as religion, national origins or language, can also lead to the dangerous idea of a 'superior race' and the idea that a minority group can be 'bred out. Hegemonic groups also, often develop a sense of entitlement and the belief that other less powerful groups, must conform to their beliefs and standards and that their worldview is the societal norm. Being at the bottom of the ethnic stratification system and the bottom of the socio-economic pile however, can also lead to depression and hopelessness and such inequality may become structured and replicated in the following generations.
It is also the case, that if you are part of an ethnic subculture, your life chances are likely to be reduced. Ethnic groups, are also often relegated to a subordinate position, by the dominant group, based on physical appearance (Castles & Miller 1998:30) and many live in ghettos and slums. It however, should be appreciated that just as ecological diversity is important, so is cultural diversity, as we can gain a broader, richer, more nuanced view of the world and ideas for problem solving.
Is it fair, that many who are old or have disabilities must live in poverty and face high financial pressures and perhaps a reduced ability to earn income? In America, the richest nation in the world, 37 million Americans live below the poverty line, another 7 million of those are disabled and can't hold down jobs and a large percentage are over the age of 65. America, also has the highest income disparity in the world, between rich and poor. And yet one great American said:
"These men ask for just the same thing, fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all other shall have"
A society typified by social equity on the other hand, is one where all people have access to jobs, education, health care, the political and cultural resources of the community and fundamental human needs are met. How does your nation stack up?
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