Monday, January 14, 2013

The great divide

I notice more and more how purportedly classless (egalitarian) societies, like the one I live in, struggle with the reality that not all of its members enjoy materialistic equality. It becomes more apparent to me each day, especially as this country gets richer due to its oil money. All individuals living in this society have gotten richer during the past ten years, yes, but some individuals have achieved a higher level of wealth than others. Not all people make the same amounts of money nor do they own the same numbers and types of homes and cars. They are not equal in the materialistic sense, no matter how hard the government tries to make it so. And that will likely always be the case. A perfect utopian society on this earth seems unlikely (the notion has been around for many years)—a society where all members have exactly the same level of wealth, status, or material possessions. A society where all members have equal opportunities for public education and the same legal rights is achievable. But there is no guarantee that even if all children have the same opportunities from birth, that they will grow up to earn exactly the same amounts of money, or be similarly educated, ambitious, talented, hard-working, creative, innovative, or that they will behave in similar ways in any given situation. Society consists of unique individuals, and that uniqueness begins at birth. People will utilize their talents and gifts in different ways compared to all others around them, and that will inevitably lead to different career choices with the resultant income disparities. Not all types of work are rewarded with similar incomes; perhaps that reality lies in the future. Imagine a society with no salary differences whatsoever. That would change the way in which education is viewed, as well as how career progression is viewed.

But it is the definitions of rich and wealth in the materialistic sense that interest me. One hundred people gathered together in one room might not be able to come up with a working definition of ‘rich’ or ‘wealth’. Some people will define ‘rich’ or ‘wealth’ as owning one home and one car, whereas others consider themselves rich if they are able to rent an apartment and not own a car, but perhaps use their money to travel, while others require a home and a summer cottage, and several cars and maybe even a boat in order to feel as though they have achieved the requisite level of wealth. Some people will say that they are rich if they have freedom to do as they like and can come and go as they please; they may not be interested in owning many material possessions. So what then is the definition of ‘poor’? Individuals who rent an apartment and do not own a car, a vacation cottage or an expensive boat—are they to be considered poor if they are content with their economic situation? Can society force that definition upon them? To me these are difficult questions to ponder, let alone answer.

There seems to be a lot more envy now in society than I can remember from when I grew up. You need only look at a newspaper to understand that; if the rich open their mouths and tell the less rich how to live or what to do, or if they in any way go overboard in terms of flaunting their wealth, the less rich will tell them in no uncertain terms to shut up or try to take them down a few notches, again using the media to do so. But they do it in a way that smacks of envy.

Perhaps globalization and a relentless media have made us more aware of the haves and the have-nots. We again need only turn to the media for them to tell us how the rich live; all the gory details are there for our perusal. The danger is that constant immersion in the media-created focus on wealth fosters a false sense of reality--that all people can achieve wild levels of wealth, if only…….And who knows if this way of thinking has contributed to high levels of personal debt—in the craze to have as many material possessions as possible, even if it means personal ruin.

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