We must educate about inequality


By Alex Swanson

As unintuitive as it may seem, people tend to look at their society and understand it as being fair, even if it is glaringly unequal.

This rather illogical reasoning has been observed in study participants as young as preschoolers. Subjects tend to perpetuate or accept the status quo as just, even if that means accepting an oppressed position in an unjust society.

Studies have ascribed the basis of this natural support for the status quo to motivation, which either affirms one’s right to exist in a high place in society or serves as a coping mechanism for those in a seemingly unchangeable and low station.

However, University psychology professor Andrei Cimpian and psychology graduate student Larisa Hussak believe that this tendency to uphold the status quo could be due in part to basic cognitive processing — the way we physically take in information.

More specifically, they assert that we understand our social world through internal heuristics, meaning that we make judgments based on characteristics having to do only with a given person or object, not circumstantially.

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This can clearly lead people to discount situational components when considering why a society is hierarchal.

To test their theory, the researchers put together a study asking online survey participants to guess why a given, made-up society is the way it is.

For instance, the survey might ask, “Why are the Blarks richer than the Orgs?” and participants most frequently chose internal heuristic explanations such as, “The Blarks must be smarter.”

Examining the results of this study, it does seem as though we may be, to some degree, biologically mandated to dismiss injustice in society. That’s something of which we need to be acutely aware.

But Cimpian and Hussak say in their report that this tendency is not non-negotiable; we can reteach ourselves and one another to recognize this biological habit.

The fact of the matter is that society is both unjust and unequal. This unfairness extends to individuals caught in unfortunate circumstances all the way to systematic prejudicial systems like discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

We must resist the rather Burkean notion that tradition must be valued simply and only because it is tradition.

It feels absurd to write out the words that all men and women, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., are equal, and any societal hierarchy is due to circumstance or prejudice. That notion should be evident. Further, I believe that most Americans stand behind the notion that we are all fundamentally equal.

And somehow still, people in our society make generalizations based on such identities. Perhaps one of the most publicized, recent examples of this was when Donald Trump discussed the issue of undocumented immigration and Mexico.

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems,” Trump said. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”

The socio-economic status of undocumented individuals in the country is statistically much lower than that of Americans born in the United States.

In my mind, it seems very likely that racist comments like Trump’s, regardless of issues and views on undocumented immigration, have a lot to do with the hypothesis that we see our society as unbiased, even if unequal.

Sure, there was pushback against this comment. And yet, he’s still the front-runner for the 2016 GOP Presidential Nomination.

So the need for social awareness only increases in light of this recent study. We have to educate our population, starting from the very youngest age, to understand that there is no difference in ability that can be explained by race, gender, sexuality, etc.

This understanding needs to be integrated in our public school curriculums, into our popular culture, and we need to reject any public or private comments that suggest otherwise.

We need to increase our awareness both to more accurately comprehend our society, but also so that we can motivate ourselves to alter it, to build a more fair system.

Let’s look past the convenient, and perhaps even physically ingrained, notion that our society is the way it is supposed to be. It’s not, and we need to resist that idea all the more for it being possibly biologically based.

Alex is a senior in LAS.
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