If I devised a system to mantain the status quo…

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to express a principle that I’ve noticed.

It’s clear in my brain but it’s hard to put into words.  And even though it’s clear in my brain and I suspect I’m right, I’m open to the possibility that I’ve got this all wrong. 

I guess the best way I can say it is this:

The higher up somebody’s status is, the easier it is for them to move higher.

Put more metaphorically: The playing field grows increasingly level.  At one end it’s nearly flat.  But the further away you get from that end, the steeper the slope.

The idea of a level playing field is incredibly important to me.  I think it might be the only just foundation a society can be built on.  The idea is that a good society gives everyone equal oppurtunities for success.  

This idea stands in opposition to socialist idea where everybody is simply given an equal amount of stuff, or in opposition to societies where people recieve an uneven amount of stuff, and this distrubution is based not on performance but on something irrelevant like skin color, family connections, etc.

I think that in America, in the year 2008, we’ve done a pretty good job with the middle class and above.  I believe that the middle class has a decent shot on bettering their position.  (Especially when we’re not in the middle of a recession.)

I think that we haven’t done a very good job with the “lower” classes.  It seems to me that the least among us have the most difficult time at bettering their position.

There’s lots of reasons that this could be the case.   The Mathew Effect is half way to an explanation for some of this.  The Mathew Effect is seen everywhere from economics to learning to read.  The Mathew Effect states that there are some things when we start off with a little bit of it, it’s easier to get more; but if we have none of something, there’s no real way to jump start the process.

If somebody has a little bit of money, experience with navigating the world, etc., they have the ability to leverage this little bit of stuff into a college education which yeilds more money and more experience navigating the world.

If somebody has no money and experience navigating the world, they will not get into college or secure financial aid.  They end up without a diploma, which perpetuates their lack of money and lack of experience.

I think it’s worth noting that the way our society is set up mantains the status quo quite nicely.  I’m not sure I can point to some secret society that egineered things to be this way.  However, if there was a secret society that wanted to mantain the status quo, they might well end up with a system like ours.

If I was somebody with a vested interested in keeping the rich rich and keeping the poor poor, I would first recognize that into the poor occasionally people might come who would pose some problems for the status quo.

These people would recognize that the system is not fair.  They would draw attention to it.  They would criticize it and try to change it.  Perhaps they’d even be succesful.

The lower down on the socio-economic chain this person is, the less influence they would have.  They’d have a diminished oppurtunity to let others know about these problems.  They’d have lowered oppurtunities to develop their potential.

For the very poorest among us, I would only have to worry about the top 1% of the people.  (Number is somewhat arbitrary and used mostly for comparison’s sake.)

However, among people who have just a little more influence and power, I might fear the upper 2% of the people.  Given their slightly increased influence (because they have slightly more oppurtunities and money) a slightly large percentage of these people could pose me a problem.

And so it would go.  At each level, I’d worry about an increasingly large segment of society.  (Until I reached those who benefit by the status quo.)

The question for me would become “What should I do with these ‘troublemakers'”?

One answer I might come up with would look a lot like our society.

I could create an “escape valve” to funnel these troublesome people out of their circumstances.  I could create a system which allows the upper 1% of the very bottom run of the ladder to better their circumstances.  These same systems would want to funnel a few more people out of the second-to-bottom rung.

It seems to me these numbers are pretty close to what we actually observe.  Out of the very worst schools, only a tiny percentage will achieve success.  Out of the mediocre schools, we’ve got a much higher percentage who have a shot at success.

Back to the conspiracy theory: my solution for removing these people from their community would do well to remove them both geographically and socially from where they came from.

And in the real world: moving people means sending them away to college, or into new social/business settings.  It’s inevitable that they will be exposed and influenced to new values and cultures.  

There’s a fascinating and subtle set up in all this.

The first is that the people who have a voice look like hypocrites.  A member of the 1% who is lifted out of the worst possible situation might say “People from the neighborhood I grew up in just don’t have a meaningful chance.”

But the very fact that we’re exposed to this person denies his claim.  He is the success story; he made it, the system can’t be that bad.  The reality is that the other 99% of the people who never made it out of his neighborhood are saying exactly the same thing.  And with good reason.  But in our every day lives, we aren’t exposed to this, because we are seperated.  And if there protests ever do reach our ears, we point to the guy who was lifted out and say “Why can’t you be more like him?”

But the point is this: the system only lifted out the very best and brightest.  It only lifted out 1% of that population.

The person who was lifted out of his circumstances, though, his hands are tied.   Effectively, he’d have to say “I was somehow better or smarter, that’s how I got out of that neighborhood.”

Even assuming we could put false modesty aside, that we could handle the political repurcussions of taking such a statement out of context, this plays right back into the system’s hands.  Because at this point, they get to say “See?  The playing field is level after all.  Your neighborhood has the same oppurtunities as everyone else.  They are just not taking advantage of them.”

The huge number of people stuck in poverty, the cyclical nature of abuse, jail, etc, these all say to me that the playing field is not level.  Perhaps I’m wrong about the reason why.  I certainly don’t claim to understand how it came about.  But I do know that it’s worthwhile to look at whose interests are being served.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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