The Visibility of Inequality

“It is morally impossible not to be troubled by the ever-growing gap between the few at the top and the many at the bottom of the economic ladder. What makes the present situation worse than in the past is that these inequalities are visible. When the horizons of the majority of humankind were limited to the next village or town, inequalities might exist throughout the world but few were aware of them on a daily basis. There were fabled lands where gold ran free, but that was somewhere else in a world of legends and dreams. The global media have transformed all this. Television has brought the world of the rich and famous to the most remote villages, while bringing images of hunger, famine, war and disease into our living rooms. We can no longer claim that we did not know.”

“Nor are traditional defences of inequality sustainable today. The worldview of antiquity and the middle ages was built on the belief that differences in power, wealth and status were part of the ordained order. Status was a given of birth. Hierarchy was written into the fabric of the universe. Some, said Aristotle are born to be free, while others are born to be slaves. True or not, said Plato, people must be trained to believe that differences in fate are pre-ordained, if societies are to defend themselves against unrest: inequalities can be lamented but they cannot be changed. That canonisation of the status quo has no place in the contemporary world. Modernity is the move from fate to choice, and we can no longer reasonably claim that the way things are is how they were destined to be.”

The Dignity of Difference, p. 93