(In)equality: (Im)possible?By Mehita Iqani
On some metaphysical level it is perhaps true that we all get our fair share of everything in the final analysis. I like to believe that in the last flickering moments of consciousness that we'll each have just before we die, we'll see it all fall into place and get a picture of balance. We'll get to see a bottom line, an audit of experiences, and see that ours were no better or worse than any others. That mortality and fallibility were coded into each moment of life and that no one was the luckier. We'll realize that we did not miss out on anything: that all gains and losses, each kiss stolen or shared, each success, failure and opportunity was no greater or lesser than those of anyone else. Of course on the material level, this fantasy is complete bullshit. Especially in a city like Johannesburg, my current home, where there is hard evidence of inequality at every corner. Reminders of the gulf between polished privilege and the raw bones of suffering are many and constant. Although we all aspire to a certain notion of equality - enough food, water, education, public health for all - those of us accustomed to the comforts of homes, internet connections, credit cards and full stomachs often indulge the guilt of our positions. Poor us! Having to face that deprivation all the time, and be reminded of how some humans are always more equal than others. No matter how hard we may try to enact equity and non-prejudice in daily life, these values fall apart when faced with another person, also made of flesh, blood and brain-chemistry, who looks you in the eye and says, "I'm hungry. Please. Help me." We feel that guilt precisely because we're not wiling to give up our privileges, because we're grateful not to be suffering like that.
What's the alternative to inequality?
Is the theoretical impossibility of equality (in the absolute sense) simply some thing that we have to accept? Of course not. Because even though absolute equality is not possible (nor desirable - it turns quickly grey, flat and authoritarian, stripping us of personality, creativity and free expression), it is absolutely necessary to continue to fight for progression towards that ideal. I don't aspire to a world in which talent, beliefs and opportunities are exactly fairly distributed across all people. I appreciate that difference in ability and circumstances can allow the human spirit to flourish in beautifully diverse ways.
But neither do I want a world (this one) in which only an elite few gain access to all of the things that make life wonderful, while the rest are systematically deprived of the material resources that are indispensable to happy living and self-actualization. A great passion drives many activists to continue to invest huge amounts of time, energy and expertise into efforts to expose injustice, corruption and the kinds of dictatorial flavours that keep emerging in post-authoritarian 'democracies' like South Africa. We should salute and support those who explicitly devote their lives to fighting injustice, who expose the lies, who take on the rhetoric of those in power, who keep fighting the good fight. All in the name of equality, in the service of the set of ideals that says: access to food for all, access to clean water for all, access to health care for all, access to education for all, access to information and communication technologies for all, access to safe and happy environments for all! More equal opportunities and more sharing of our resources will equal less suffering, right?
Although some notion of perfectly apportioned equality is neither possible nor desirable, what is, in my opinion, is a world more just and equal than it currently is. And unless we continue to strive towards that, our ideas of equality will remain nothing more than idealistic, metaphysical pipe dreams.
A luta continua!
I am a member of the ITCH Editorial Board. I have been involved in ITCH since 2003, when I started the publication. I have a PhD in Media Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies in the School of Literature, Language and Media at the University of the Witwatersrand.Website: www.wits.ac.za/staff/mehita.iqani