Meanness linked to growing inequality

Posted on November 24, 2013 in Equality Debates – Opinion/Readers’ letters – Re: Longing for kinder, gentler times, Letter Nov. 20
Nov 24 2013.   Eleanor Batchelder

The mean report, Nov. 16-19

Your series on “meanness” highlights the increasing polarization and resentment of our society in recent years, leading to a broad lowering of the bar on the terms of social discourse. As Wilkinson and Pickett say, “At an intuitive level people have always recognized that inequality is socially corrosive” (The Spirit Level).

I suggest that “mean” behaviour could be connected to the increasing economic inequality we are experiencing. Not only are individuals becoming more economically marginalized, but whole social and economic groups are being downgraded. The middle class is shrinking, young people’s hope for their futures are being postponed by a decade (if not canceled completely), and more and more older people cannot afford to retire, but must work until they can no longer do so. Equality of opportunity is becoming a thing of the past, and parents have lower and lower hopes for their children.

In this circumstance, many people feel that they no longer have a stake in belonging to “civilized society,” a “civilization” that invents more and more ways to isolate and marginalize them. In such a society, is it any wonder that individuals and groups harbour long-standing resentments and lash out against one another? This behavior perhaps generates a little group solidarity at others’ expense, like a small bonfire in a blizzard.

Can society offer them a better bargain, or a punishment worse than what they are already experiencing?

Eleanor Batchelder, Toronto

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