Being privileged

Nathan W. Pyle / Via buzzfeed.com

by Tommy Pass

I saw an interesting article on a website called buzzfeed.com. It told of an exercise lead by a high school teacher to his students. He instructs his students to crumple up a piece of scrap paper and moves the rubbish bin to the front of the classroom. He then explains the rules of the game; he tells the students that they all represent a population of a country and that in order to move up to the upper class, all they need to do is to throw their crumpled up paper into the rubbish bin at the front of the classroom all while staying in their seat.

The students at the back of the classroom instantly complained, stating that the students sat in front of the classroom have a much greater advantage in the game. The results were as expected, the students sitting at the front of the classroom all had a very easy time getting their papers in the bin, while the students sitting at the back of the classroom had a very difficult time doing so, with only very few managing to get their papers in. The point of the game was to show what privilege looks like, the problems that arise within a society with low social mobility. What happened in the game is that the ones in the back of the classroom complained about their disadvantage while nobody in the front complained as all they saw in front of them was the small space between them and their goal. This can be compared to what occurs within a society with low social mobility; the working class complain about their disadvantages within the society while ignorantly being labelled as simply being uneducated and lazy.

We can compare this example to the veil of ignorance, which is argued by John Rawls. The students in the classroom where very aware of their position, everyone could see each other and everyone was very aware of each other’s advantages, all of whom having the exact same goal. If we were to implement the veil of ignorance in a classroom simulation, would we want to be randomly placed in a typically structured classroom where our chances of sitting right at the back are very high, thus making it very difficult for us to achieve our goal? Or would we want everyone to sit in a line, hence everyone being an equal distance from the rubbish bin? What if the goal was a joint effort, that what would benefit society the most was to get as many crumpled up pieces of scrap paper in the bin as possible? Would we then want to place so many students at the back of the classroom, making it extremely difficult for so many of them to reach the goal? I can’t speak for other people, but I for one would favour all students being placed in a row of equal distance from the rubbish bin, hence making it a fair challenge for everybody, the most attractive choice for me to be placed in from the veil of ignorance and also making it possible to fit the largest amount of crumpled up papers in the rubbish bin.

It is exactly the same in our society; the pros of an equal society far outnumber the cons. Some silver tongued outrider of the corporate world will make the argument sound very attractive for having a very unequal society, but this ignores the fact that we are all reliant on one another in society, none of us are in a world of our own. The truth is even huge corporations depend on the labour of their workforce. This workforce is expensively trained up by the state in the form of public education, state healthcare, etc. The same corporations also depend on the state for other benefits such as research and infrastructure, all (especially the stockholders) while trying to argue for a larger income gap, arguing that doing so will give a society greater competition, higher employment rate, etc. The arguments against a more equal society and higher social mobility is that doing so creates freeloaders and scroungers, but aren’t the ones who rely on the workforce of a state the ones who are the scroungers with their tax avoidance and refusal to pay their workers higher wages? The only ones who benefit from such an unjust society would be the super-rich, which add up to just a fraction of 1% of society, thus the percentage of society which would benefit from equality would be the vast majority.

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Choosing Your Future from behind the Veil of Ignorance

Philosopher John Rawls

by Alonso Meraz

The Veil of ignorance is a concept that was argued by John Rawls. “If we didn’t know our status in society (wealth, race, gender, class, skills, talents, etc.), what kind of society would we think was just? If we were behind the veil of ignorance, the kind of society we would agree to would be a just society.”

This was brought up in class and I found it very interesting and made me think a lot about it. The way many people think about how a society should be is based on their position in that society. Poor people may want the rich people to pay higher taxes, and rich people could care less about what’s going on with the poor people and their rights. Maybe men think woman rights aren’t important, or maybe some people don’t think about the other races in their society. So if you asked someone what would make a just society, they would answer based on their position in that society.

From “Easy As Pie: Inequality In Downloadable Charts” (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/easy-as-pie-inequality-in-down/)

But what if they didn’t know where they stood in that society, what if they couldn’t decide if they were born into a poor or rich family, or a man or woman, white or black. What if it was all random and just the luck of the draw, what kind of society would you like to live in? This question was asked in class, and I was shown three pie charts. One where the rich have most of the wealth in the country, one where it was pretty evenly distributed and had no huge gaps between social classes, and one that was exactly perfectly distributed between the social classes. I chose the second one because it looked equal and fair to me. But actually the first one where the rich had most of the wealth is the country where I am from, U.S.A.

Why did I choose the middle one? Well, If I was placed under the veil of ignorance, and didn’t know anything about where I would end up in society, I would like a society where everyone has the same opportunities, where even the people at the very bottom have the ability to move up, and even the people at the top can fall down the social ladder if they don’t fulfill their duties. Of course there has to be freedom and everyone must follow the same laws. I would like a society where hard work is rewarded. The middle one best represented this kind of society in my opinion. There weren’t any big gaps between the social classes, so it seemed to me that everyone was given the same opportunities, and everyone was in the social class that they deserved to be in. It looked like the people in the top were there because they worked hard to get there.

Why didn’t I choose the first one? Even though it is my country? That’s because most the wealth was in the top social class. More than half of the wealth belonged to the top. What if I chose that one and ended up at the very bottom, what would I do? There has to be a huge gap for a certain reason, right? Maybe the bottom people were born to poor families, didn’t get the same opportunities as everyone else, and cannot join the top social class. I wouldn’t want to be born in that situation and have no way out. So the middle one was more appealing to me. I think the veil of ignorance makes people think about the very worst possible situation. Because if they were put at the bottom, they would still want the opportunity to be successful and happy. And that would be by giving everyone the same opportunities, freedom, and laws. And that in my opinion is a just society.

How can we build an “equal” society?

by Yuki Muto

In class, we talked about how much salary baseball players should receive. Someone said they should be paid depending on their ability and achievements. Others said they should be paid basically the same amount. Both ways are “equal ways.” In the professional sports world, a stronger one and winner get much merit. We usually don’t complain when a gold medalist get more money than a silver medalist. So, I think a merit system may be admirable in professional sports word. However, given the social system, we cannot build equal society when we think this way.

There are huge gaps and inequality in our society, and some people suffer from poverty. In class, I learned that poor people are poor not because they are wrong, but because they are socially vulnerable. The social system makes wealth and poverty. In our society, we have different environments and backgrounds by nature. People can’t conquer the problem of low incomes, unemployment, sickness, disability, gender, poor health or old age by their efforts. We need to provide security to people who are suffering from these problems in a social system, and that is why social welfare and education are important in our society.

I worry that the Japanese social system tends to be a merit system. Like a professional sports athletes, people who have power and wealth get more power and money, and poor people can’t overcome the poverty. We say our society is a stratified society. I’m surprised that Japanese level of income inequality is high and more close to the data of the U.S. than other developed countries. When I talked with Nordic students in our class, I always wondered why we can’t do like these countries! “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.” That is an article in Japanese constitution. Japanese social welfare system is not enough to secure the all people’s “minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.”

So, what can we do to improve our social system? I think there are 3 steps. First, people (especially who are socially vulnerable) must recognize they are poor because of social structure and system. Second, these people insist to the society the system should be changed, as shown in the film “Women of Fukushima”. When I watched the movie, I thought, to change the social situation, people in trouble need to think, insist and make an action. Third, we need listen to their assertion and support them. It is impossible to make perfect equal society, but it is possible to advance forward equal society.

How to Solve the Problem of the Working Poor in Japan

In Justice

In Justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Megumi Takase

Under capitalist society, the poor can’t earn enough money to make a living while the rich own the large portion of the total wealth of their home countries. It is also true for Japan. Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) featured the problem of the working poor and attracted attention in 2006.

People who are called the working poor live at the low standard of living though they work hard. The problem of the working poor is caused by the structure of society. In Japan, corporations tend to recruit only new college graduates. Thus, it is difficult for people who can’t enter the high school or university for economical reasons to be recruited as regular employees. They tend to become non-regular employees and fall into the working poor. It happens not because of their faults but the social structure.

I think that the government should take action to solve this problem because it is difficult for individuals and corporations to do it which the structure of society made. Above all, the government should promote redistribution of wealth. Whether you succeed economically or not depends on luck. For example, suppose you were born in a rich household. You can enter the private university even if you can’t get good grades in high school. In job hunting, you will have an advantage over the poor who can’t enter the university only because you graduate from the university. After you enter a company, you will earn more income than the poor who are high school graduates. Of course, college graduates must do effort to develop their skills after entering a company. However, if they were born in a very poor household, they must not have an advantage of being a college graduate. Thus, the rich should distribute their wealth to the poor who unfortunately fall into the poor situation.

For the government to promote redistribution of wealth smoothly, the rich should have tolerance for distributing their wealth to the poor. In addition, the poor of course shouldn’t depend on social welfare program. Both the rich and the poor should consider and help each other. For creating a society where everyone considers others, I think that education is important. In high school, I had “Modern Society” class twice a week. However, I only studied the structure of the law, the Diet, or taxation. I had few opportunities to discuss about social inequality in the class. Before I took “International Sociology” class, I hadn’t considered this problem very often. Under this situation, people won’t be interested in the unfair society and understand redistribution of wealth. They will pursue their own benefits. For solving the problem of the working poor, Japanese government should draw up the curriculum which makes the young interested in social inequality.