Fair Sharing of Costs and Benefits – going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
One of the really interesting things about this is that fairness is usually framed in terms of what’s fair between people. Our attention is on how people are disadvantaged or made unhappy by unfairness. This is, of course, very important in a wise democracy, since we are going for broad benefit over long periods of time.
But with this pattern, there’s also some interesting social dynamics that are overlaid on top of that consideration. There’s a book called “Collapse”, which looks at collapses of past civilizations and why they collapsed. And one of the things noted in that book is that the elites of those civilizations tended to exert oppressive dynamics on the people and on the environment. They tended to use up more environmental resources and to create more environmental damage, both personally through their lives and through the policies and how they governed their societies. The book notes that this dynamic breaks the feedback loop of experiencing the effects of your actions: if you do something that causes harm, you should then experience some harm. This completes the feedback loop and there are corrective mechanisms built into such a feedback loop. So if you experience the harm that you’re producing, you will have some second thoughts and may do things differently that produce less harm.
But when that feedback loop is broken – and privilege tends to insulate you from experiencing the negative effects produced by you and the larger systems that you are part of – then in the larger societal dimension, that is one of the things that destroys a civilization. So such unfairness in experiencing harms destroys society, quite in addition to what’s happening to the individuals that are experiencing what’s going on.
In fact, you could define “privilege” as taking more of the benefits and exporting or externalizing the costs of your operations. So polluting factories tend to be located in places were poor people live. They don’t tend to site big factories in upper class neighborhoods for some reason.
And part of this is that it’s all “out of sight, out of mind” for people with privilege. The very fact of having privilege means you don’t have to think about or experience certain unpleasant things. That’s a big part of what privilege is all about. But those unpleasant things are happening somewhere to someone – either people now or future generations or taxpayers (because the government has to come clean up the messes). So that dynamic of breaking the feedback loop of the costs and the benefits is very much at work here.