Reality Around Inequality Determines Change

Nietzsche insists that there is no such thing as absolute truth, and argues instead that all thinking and perception comes from a particular perspective, and that different perspectives will produce different perspectives of truth, there are only these views or interpretations, there is no objective reality beneath them, no independent standard that they refer to. Instead of using truth as the highest standard of value, Nietzsche argues, individuals need to develop their own powers of judgment and to produce ideas and ethics that will strengthen them and help them to live. By making inequality a central part of their vocabulary progressives can take control of the debate. How you label things is more important than how you debate them. Once the middle class understands the extent of economic inequality in the system, they will posses the knowledge for them to recognize the need for change.

Whoever controls the language controls the debate, thus society influences the way we see the world. The answer to the question has to do with power and whoever has the power defines reality. We live in a country that is dominated by the perspectives and ideals of a segment of society, rather than all of society. We need only look at who are in positions of power, such as politicians and corporate leaders, as well as who is represented in mainstream media, to find the answer to which segment of society has the power to define reality. When only a fraction of society holds the power to define what is real and what is not real, the rest of us are left living by their rules. The level of equality of opportunity determines how people perceive inequality. Societies in which individuals have the same chances to obtain valuable outcomes such as income, education and health, have a higher tolerance to inequality.

Knowledge refers to an expertise or skills possessed or acquired by an individual. Knowledge refers to an understanding of the world around us that helps us to lead our life as a member of society. It helps to predict events and hence to mitigate the suffering or enhance the well-being of individuals and groups. We commonly understand that acquisition of knowledge is possible through two fundamental means: by experience (empirical) and reasoning (logical). Knowledge often gets tagged with a connotation of truth. Accordingly, if something has to be considered as knowledge then it has to be true. Only if it is true it qualifies as a form of knowledge otherwise it is not considered as part of knowledge. However, in practical life not all forms of knowledge can be subjected to the test of truth and falsehood. There are forms of knowledge which cannot be subjected to this test yet are very much essential to lead our life.

The desire for knowledge, Nietzsche argues, stems from hubristic self-focus and is amplified by the basic human instinct for belonging — within a culture, what is designated as truth is a form of social contract and a sort of “peace pact” among people. Domination is exercised by a particular group in order to sustain and enhance themselves in a privileged position. Marcuse observes that the system doesn’t require force – just introduce one-dimensional thinking – which leads to acceptance of oppression and surplus repression. The system must make the citizen think they are freer than they actually are. This means the economic elite must control the political discourse, not the workers. The ideology in place ensures the oppressed identify with the oppressor. The desires of the individual must conform to the desires of the economic elite. It is necessary to expose the contradictions by which today’s advanced industrial society is constituted.

Reality is subjective. Reality is shaped by one’s place in the world. It is in the interrelatedness of power, knowledge and truth, and the way they are expressed in discourse, that Foucauldian social reality is defined. That means, what we tend to take for granted in our everyday lives as being our social reality, actually is a complex of historical, cultural, institutional, and intellectual relations all imposing their ‘forces’ on the subject. Together, history, culture, and institutions are powers that represses and restricts the subject and determines an individual’s life. Power is all about people acting in ways that blindly and impersonally condition others’ options to act. A society is not a static body, because what constitutes society are the individuals and their actions. And it is in their actions that they do not just follow the standards of society, but, as Foucault also so strongly emphasized, it is in the deviations, the ruptures, the unforeseen and unstructured behavior of the individual that society is constantly ‘forced’ into changes.

Considering that 95% of one’s thoughts are repeated daily and reflect our own beliefs, the idea that our thoughts shape our reality is a powerful one. To a certain extent, we all know that this is true. Our mindset and thoughts govern our actions, which lead to the paths we take in life (hence, shaping our reality.) Every interaction, conversation, process, and personal thought that happens over the course of the day – both good and bad – plays out in your head as much as it plays out in reality. You might be in an elevator with a co-worker, but your brain is also going through this conversation on its own. What matters is the way you perceive these things to be happening. It’s here that you want to try and make change happen. If you draw inaccurate conclusions about who you are and what you’re capable of doing, you’ll limit your potential.1

Norman Vincent Peale’s “power of positive thinking,” supports the American belief in self above all else and the conviction that thoughts can be causative, that basic assertion can lead to actual achievement. “Stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” Peale urged his millions of followers. “Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.” It was a mindset perfectly tailored for an ambitious builder determined to change the skyline of one of the globe’s great cities. In politics this supports President Trump’s relentlessly optimistic insistence on his own version of reality. And though it certainly was not conceived with this in mind, the science of self-help – of happiness and well-being, of specific phenomena called “unrealistic optimism” and “positive illusions” – is now in some respects embodies the way Trump thinks, and as such, creates significant uncertainty for the country and beyond.2

There’s no getting away from the fact that the gap between rich and poor is getting wider in America. After all, President Obama called economic inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” Researchers found Americans overestimate the amount of upward social mobility that exists in society. By overemphasizing individual mobility, we ignore important social determinants of success like family inheritance, social connections, and structural discrimination. This unique brand of optimism prevents one from making any real changes – only 5% of Americans think it is a serious problem in need of addressing. That’s a shocking statistic when you consider that over the past three decades, the share of household wealth owned by the top 0.1 per cent has increased from seven per cent to 22 per cent. In fact, things have got to the point where the United States is now the most unequal of all Western nations.3

It has been argued that reality is not an absolute, that each individual has his own perception of reality. Reality is the state of things, as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. There is a tension between reality and truth. Reality is a construct of beliefs about the world we hold as true. Truth in itself has nothing to do with reality, applied to beliefs and utterances, however, it contributes to the constitution or maintenance of a reality. What people perceive is usually what they believe, and this is based on what they hear, see and think. One cannot therefore speak of universal truth; truth is necessarily local, relativized to specific individuals or communities. The American Dream that any American can reach economic stability through hard work, and that children will have a higher standard of living than their parents, is no longer true.

The reality is that prosperity is marred by the growing inequality in the distribution of wealth, income, and opportunity; a rapidly restructuring “new economy” that is destabilizing older patterns of work and community; ethnic tensions sparked by the steady arrival of “new,” racially “other” immigrants. The truth is most Americans are treading water as the rich are grabbing more income for themselves through campaign contributions and lobbyists. The perception – barely half (47%) of Americans think the rich-poor gap is a very big problem. Increasing concerns about inequality are more likely to be manifested in desires for policies that enhance opportunities in the labor market rather than redistribute income by the government. Today’s knowledge has a significant but relatively small effect on norms about inequality. Progressives need to own this issue – to define the reality of inequality in America in order to ensure change occurs via the ballot box.

1 Jake Heilbrunn (06 April 2016) Power of the Mind – How Your Thoughts Create Your Reality

2 Michael Kruse (13 Oct 2017) The Power of Trump’s Positive Thinking

3 Nicholas Fritz (31 March 2015) Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think

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