Wealth differential, competition and unhappiness

Freedom, O Freedom, soothe many a scorched soul like the morning dew.

Freedom, O Freedom, like the Sun, give life and shine to all, not only to a few.

Freedom, O Freedom, set yourself free, bless the captive, not only the captor.

Freedom, O Freedom, don’t be an illusion or a myth or a slave to wealth and power.

On 5th January 2023, I wrote the following post on social media, which aimed to warn the powerful and the privileged against an increasing gulf between the wealthy and the poor, and why the wealthy must look after the poor, and not push them down into perpetual poverty and slavery.

“Happiness, freedom and progress find their broad definitions in books of academia but, in reality, their meanings vary with each individual, they also carry contrasting and possibly mutually conflicting definitions in our capitalistic world on various rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

“Happiness and freedom of employers can potentially undermine or lessen the happiness and freedom of their employees, and vice versa. If all of us were equally wealthy and free, wonder who would work for whom? Would there be any bosses or subordinates? Possibly, not! We all would have to work hard (24 x 7) and fend for ourselves.

“Shouldn’t the employers and wealthy capitalists be ever grateful to each and every employee of theirs and wholeheartedly thank them for their subservient role?

“Gratitude or not, the most important question is if the wealthy on the upper rungs of the socio-economic ladder will ever like or allow those on the lower rungs to climb up the ladder and close the gap? Logically, no, never! That is why, as the wealthy are becoming wealthier and the poor are becoming poorer, the widening wealth gap is contributing to a growing human unhappiness on the planet, which, in time, will engulf each and every one of us when the ladder eventually breaks apart into numerous incoherent pieces.”

A friend, Mr Ashok Peer, agreed and also made a valuable input as follows:

“I agree with you that increasing economic inequality leads to social and political upheavals. But we cannot have a society where there are no hierarchies.

“The hierarchical system is inbuilt into the animal kingdoms. Even the lower-rung animals like bees and ants have a social structure that follows the order. Queen Bees and Queen Ants are exceptional specimens in their respective colonies.

“In my opinion, the neo-liberalism that began with Reagan in the USA and Thatcher in the UK has, over the period, led to the skewed distribution of wealth and income. Most of it goes to the rich in the form of rent than income from production, and the poor have become poorer.

“The economic inequality between a few super wealthy and the mass poor has multiplied many folds from the 1970s and 80s. The worsening impact of poor wages and public services has begun to show from the first decade of the 21st century, culminating in the 2008 financial meltdown, further deteriorating the economic well-being of the poor. The fallout of which is the rise of right-wing populism in many countries across the world.”

Mr Peer’s qualitative response complemented my post whilst also raising further questions, which I tried to address as follows:

“Mr Peer, I must first acknowledge your valuable input and valid points. Nevertheless, what about the humanity and the essence of the human progress?  Have we humans evolved further from our animal cousins or not?

Similar to their pioneering French counterparts, Rousseau and Diderot – the architects of the French Revolution – the English Romantics, Wordsworth and Coleridge, also joined hands and strived for human liberty but in a markedly different manner than the former after seeing heartrending bloodshed during and in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge campaigned vehemently, through their joint and individual literary works, for human freedom. Rousseau’s quest for human liberty was followed after a few decades by a much more radical English Romantic, William Blake.

To conclude, we just can’t give in and turn our back on the less privileged and compromise their freedom till eternity. Just because we breed, eat and die like other animals, certainly, does not mean by any measure that our behaviours too should mimic our cousins in the animal kingdom. After all, don’t we claim to be civilised? Or is it our sophistication just a façade and a conniving deception to lure and consume our (human) prey one way or the other?

Arguably, since our hunter and gatherer days, our ways of preying on others may have become sophisticated but the animal inside us may not have changed much. Undoubtedly, freedom is paramount to any living being and, in case of humans, a true marker of our ultimate progress.

On the contrary, slavery (voluntary or forced) tethers us to our more violent and distant past. Our freedom must, however, never come at the cost of freedom of those who cohere with us. If it does, we must stop pretending we are any different than our animal cousins. In all cases, our empathy and compassion must set us apart from ruthless beasts.

I belong to a privileged 5-percent of the global human population. It takes immense imagination and empathy to see how the remaining 95-percent may feel as they see the privileged minority exercising disproportionately a much higher degree of freedom in both action and thought. Regardless, no matter what I do or imagine, I can never truly know or experience the true feelings of the poor unless and until I too become poor and remain poor indefinitely, without hope. Till then, I may cunningly justify the broadening wealth (and freedom) differential within the global human populace, using unproven hypotheses of karma or destiny. Audaciously, I may also ascribe my privileges to my sheer intelligence and hard work. But shouldn’t I know that there must be hundreds of millions of much more hard-working and intelligent people than me out there amongst the hapless 95-percent majority? All these superficial explanations just fail in logic in the end. The bottom line is that I am just lucky.

In the human jungle, bigger fish devour the smaller fish. Hopefully, every dog may have its day. Till then at least, on an individual level — to set ourselves apart from the wild beasts in the animal kingdom — we can strive to treat all our fellow beings with respect and equal dignity, and not infringe on their freedom.

Capitalism, competition and negativity

Capitalism requires us to be competitive; it makes a case of sink or swim in a world where only the fittest survive. Competition, in turn, produces winners and losers, most lose and few win. While competition should logically inspire us and bring out the best in us – by driving us to improve the quality of our work and the standard of our product – as a side effect, however, it also tends to nurture corruption, jealousy and sadistic ill-will in most of us, losers and winners alike. An increasing trend in competition, thus, tends to exacerbate the negative shades in the human character.

In a super-competitive world, it is important not to be predictable. Alarming as it may sound, if you are seen to carry a logical and rational thinking as part of your basic nature and, thus, become predictable, you risk being surreptitiously backstabbed, upstaged and undermined by both your closest peers and opportunistic opponents.

A little unpredictability, therefore, albeit on the nobler side, will greatly help to save you from sinister exploitation by those closest to you, which may sound a little bizarre or ridiculous, but being seen as a little unpredictable has become an inadvertent need of the hour in these fiercely super-competitive times ridden with capitalistic materialism, ruthlessness and selfishness.

Remember, beautiful roses too have thorns, perhaps for a reason. Inherent complexity of human mind manifests in complex human behaviours. It is not easy to survive in a human jungle.

© Bill K Koul [7 January 2023, Perth, Western Australia]

Copyright © Bill K Koul

2 thoughts on “Wealth differential, competition and unhappiness

  1. Life is made up of paradoxes.
    There are lots of them, some form the base others the rising / broadening structure.
    Creation and destruction
    Animal and human
    Male and female
    This looks like a 0-1-0-1
    Kind of binary chain.
    But in nature the plus and minus make one.
    Where is nature going?
    Evolution and devolution?
    These are constructs of the mind.
    Nature goes on life, procreation, evolution and destruction. CYCLES.
    History repeats itself. In spite of all rational analyses and reforms.
    The cyclic process continues

    Whether it’s an upright spiraling or upside down, the judgement depends on the point of viewing. The perspective.

    Freedom is a process. And it has aspects – so many! And each aspect has its theoretical perspectives. For example, economy. capitalist / socialist. Politically (the model of governance) these translate into many ideologies and structures.
    A constant that I see (as a ‘wise old man!) Is that the pawns are sacrificed for the good of the State.
    Whether in wars or famines or in ‘normal’ times.
    The fittest survive the longest!
    What shall I do?
    What CAN I do?
    That’s the question!

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