Inequality: a fact of life?


I was reading an article recently about two of my favourite TV programmes: Downton Abbey  and House of Cards.  The writer of the article was a fan as well but she was fiercely critical of the world they presented. Downton Abbey  showed a world of the privileged and invited us to sympathise with the problems of adjustment to the modern world which the Abbey’s family were having to make.  The servants who tended on them tended, for the most part, with devotion.  House of Cards, in contrast, showed a United States where the power between the rich and the government was impenetrable, and anyone who tried to pierce its armour ended up dead. In short, both shows presented inequality in society as being either desirable or fascinating or both.

In a way, I understand the Downton Abbey servants and their attitude. A maiden aunt of mine spend her days tending on a succession of minor Anglo-Irish old ladies. She felt privileged to be allowed to be part of their world, even though her pay and living conditions were pretty sparse. When she got too old to work, she moved out but remained faithful. Every year she would receive a Christmas card from her former employer containing £10.  If she’d won the lottery she couldn’t have been happier or more grateful.

Here in our little corner of Ireland we’ve got no shortage of inequality. Housing, education, health, employment, participation in public life, prejudice  –  in 2007 the Equality Commission listed six areas where inequality flourished. To take one of these: poverty relates directly to health.  Or put bluntly, if you’re poor you’re much more likely to be sick and/or die than if you’re well-off. And though the Equality Commission doesn’t dwell on it, there’s the interesting question of health and age. If you’re on the waiting list for a transplant, say, are you as likely to get a transplant at 70 as at 30?  We all know the answer is that the 30-year-old has a much higher chance, and we would point to the fact that s/he is likely to have many more years of good health as a result than the 70-year-old. But try it this way: the 70-year-old has probably worked for a lifetime, paid taxes, been a contributing member of society for fifty years; the 20-year-old hasn’t. Couldn’t a case be made for saying that the former has earned their transplant?  And if you say that the old are less likely to be active contributors to society in the future, you know the road you’re heading down, don’t you? That’s right. The road that says let’s hide things like posters and murals, let’s drape recession in Walt Disney-type store-fronts, let’s address poverty by removing the beggars from the streets, and let’s address the combination of ill-health and old age by, in the nicest way, hurrying those afflicted towards a permanent removal.

Once you start accepting inequalities in society, you can walk yourself into a nightmare in record time.

4 Responses to Inequality: a fact of life?

  1. paddykool February 21, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    Jude : You’ve opened a debate that is too many -faceted to deal with adequately in a few lines. There are as many parts to it as there are individuals…You might say that from the moment we each pop up in a particular household, our fate is pre-destined. Yes, there’s a modicum of luck and genetics involved, Then there is the nurture of the family and immediate society..
    You could say too, that in present day Ireland, we are better off in every way than someone forced into piracy on the coast of Africa or the guy in Marrakesh driving his little donkey and cart on one side of the street while another guy drives his Mercedes on the other. Yep, that’s what life is still like in the Atlas Mountains. of North Africa …..It can be argued that poverty is relative to what you have, compared to your neighbour..The fact is , most of us here don’t really know what real poverty is.. We’re surrounded by so much food , materials and electronics that we take it all for granted . …Who hasn’t got a mobile phone these days? Why is obesity on the increase.?. People are not getting fat by sucking in air.after all. When we were children we walked everywhere but now the “poorest” can have takeaway food delivered by taxi to their centrally heated homes.. Even when we are truly unemployable there is a system, albeit flawed, which offers some modicum of free support..

    There is also the abuse of the support systems to factor in.The fact is though that real poverty has no support….think Geldof , Live Aid and the rest.

    Then there is basic human nature in all its glory to consider. We are not all the same or equal. We all have different talents , skills and personalities. Some are go-getters with get up and go spirit while others are bone -idle and expect the society to look after their every need from cradle to the grave…the Nanny State.
    From personal experience I saw an opportunity to self -build my home over thirty years ago. The opportunity was there to spend twenty hours a week on the project , building fourteen homes. After much canvassing we could only get ten people out of the thousands out there to commit to the project. The ability to work hard physically in all weathers was the only condition..You could spend a year or so of weekends or fit your time in after normal working hours.The project was a success and was completed within eighteen months but there was only a tiny percentage of the local population interested.

    It’s a fact of life Jude, that most people would rather lie up watching “Downton”, treating it as middle-brow soap-opera and romance rather than thinking about inequality or poverty..

    Us older gents are naturally worrying about our pecking place in the Health Service, now that the old body is in steady decline.We’ve lived through some strange times, probably worked hard and paid for our pensions in harder working conditions than those applying today, so naturally we feel a greater entitlement than someone who has abused their health with a diet of rubbish, processed “lazyfood” or alcohol and fizzy drinks that are cheaper than water.
    Like I said , though, who ever said we were all equal or even that life was entirely a fair game.

  2. Virginia February 21, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    Third option for a vision of inequality is the Game of Thrones version where life is a constant nightmare. I will go with the House of Cards.

    • paddykool February 21, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

      yeah i too watch Game of Thrones with great joy and thank the stars it’s only a great TV drama….make that a “bloody” great TV drama…

      • Virginia February 21, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

        What you realize when watching any of the three is that regardless of class, people have more choices when they live on a place more States, Kingdoms, or Provinces. Fleeing inequality gets hard when the land is small.