As they say, denial – not just a river in Egypt. Yes, my impression is that there’s a lot of people out there who are very very invested in having nice lives and don’t want to give up any part of them by having to share with people who have less nice lives by reason of starting off with less unearned advantage. So they big long dip in de Nile and come up with all sorts of reasons why they should keep all their advantage.
Reason One: I Deserve It. This one goes: Yes, I have a nice life, but I earned it. I’ve worked really hard for it, I studied diligently, I did well at school, college and university, I worked hard at my job and I added a lot of value and I still do. And there are people who started off with the same advantages as me who didn’t do as well, which proves it’s all down to me. I DESERVE my nice life.
To which the answer is, well, yeah but, no but. Yes, all those things are probably true, but we’re not saying you don’t deserve your nice life, or that you didn’t work hard to get where you are today. The trouble is, so did a lot of others who studied and worked equally hard and added as much value, or would have if they’d been allowed to, and who didn’t end up with nearly as much success and reward as you because they weren’t assisted by a big old turbocharger of unearned advantage.
For an excellent and simple illustration of how this one works, look here.* If you’re in the front row, you still have to throw accurately to get your ball into the basket, and if you don’t you won’t get a prize. But it’s still a much easier throw than for all the people in the rows behind. They have to throw a lot further, and they have to throw round or over all the other people in the way. Very few, or none, of them are going to succeed in getting their balls either in, or anywhere near, the basket.
A much fairer way of arranging it would be to have everyone standing in a ring around the basket, equidistant, and everyone throw at the same time. The trouble with this option, if you’re one of the people in the front row, is that this will probably put you further away from the basket, and if it’s a small basket, it may fill up with everyone else’s balls before you can get yours in there. Which means you won’t get your prize. And you don’t want that. So then you go to Reason Two: It’s Not Fair.
Shall we explore that one tomorrow?
*There’s another awesome exercise on the subject of inequality here. It’s not entirely on the point for this post, but I share it because I thought it was so good.