A sustainable society cannot be built on the quick sands of massive inequality. A fundamental sense of human equality and distributive justice is essential for creating a sustainable society.
The Problem of Equity
The second limb of the triune values of French Revolution is Equality. Perfect and absolute equality exists perhaps only at the highest spiritual levels of existence. In this spiritual perspective equality means perception of the equal presence of the inner spiritual essence in all creation, irrespective of the nature, status or conditions or capacity of the outer forms. In the psychological level there is no equality because people differ in their nature, temperament, capacities, motives, aims and evolutionary status. And since our outer life is the expression of our inner psychological condition, this psychological inequality will be reflected in the outer life. However, a fundamental equity or distributive justice which doesn’t lead to conflict, violence and instability is a realizable ideal.
This fundamental equity has three aspects. First, every individual should have equal access to power, wealth, knowledge, health, resources, gainful employment, culture and opportunities for growth; second, each individual should get the reward he deserves according to his capacities and his contribution to the well-being and progress of the community; third equitable distribution of the fruits of development of all. Every community, nation or civilization, if it has to achieve sustainable growth has to constantly and consciously strive for this ideal of equity or distributive justice. One of the crucial tasks of equity is to prevent excessive and prolonged concentration of power and wealth in a few, which is a major source of disturbance, conflict and instability in society.
However, we are never able to achieve even a reasonable equity so far in our history. Inequality is one of the major defects of human societies from the dawn of human civilization.
In ancient civilizations, even the most cultured like India or Greece, power, wealth and culture was concentrated in a few among the ruling class. These ancient civilisations made no conscious attempt towards equity because inequality was legitimized on the grounds of birth or religious dogma. In our modern age we are awakened to the need of equality as an ideal but the actual realization of even a decent and reasonable equity remains still a dream. International institutions which study and do research on the present condition of the world like UN and World Bank have highlighted poverty and inequality as some of the major problems facing mankind today. A World Bank report (1998), notes:
“…destitution persists even though human conditions have improved more in the poor countries than in the rest of history…. Global wealth, global connections and technological capabilities, have never been greater. But the distribution of these gains has been extraordinarily unequal. The average income in the richest 20 countries is 37 times the average in the poorest countries – a gap that has doubled in the past 40 years.”
Towards Integral Equity: The Task Ahead
We have to retain, combine and extend further the positive elements, contributions and achievement of the past and present approaches to equity, eliminate, neutralize or minimize the causes of failure and fill in the gaps. In the inner level of consciousness, we have to create a system of education which leads to smooth and spontaneous redistribution or diffusion of power, wealth, knowledge and culture from those who have them in abundance to those who lack them, out of an active compassion in the heart and an enlightened understanding of the long-term imperatives of equity in the mind, based on an inner awakening to the law of unity and interdependence of life.
The ancient Indian Culture tried to create equity by institutionalising virtues like sharing and giving in the form of moral and religious edicts accepted on faith. But the future progress towards equity has to be based on compassion and enlightened understanding of the laws of life, proceeding from an inner awakening in the consciousness of people. This awakening has to be created by a mental, moral and spiritual education, especially among the present and potential leaders and decision-makers of the society, in government, politics, business, science and technology, centres of learning and media.
Interestingly, in an international workshop on poverty two Indians Ghotge and Vidyarthi who work with rural poor presented a view which echoes the traditional Indian wisdom on development. Both discussed “how personal values, preferences and life-styles of those engaged cannot be separated from one’s perception of development“ and “you can know what development is only if you are yourself selfless, compassionate and care for human dignity.” Development is possible, they argued, “only internally by a leadership that leads a dharmic life.” In the Indian thought Dharma means the universal Laws of life or Nature and dharmic values means values derived from Dharma.
The other aspect of the inner dimension of equity is an equitable distribution of capacities and psychological energies of the community. As we have said earlier, inequality in the psychological realms cannot be eliminated. Nevertheless there can be a certain equitable balance in the distribution of psychological capacities and energies of a community. For example those who have a certain capacity, skill or expertise in a particular line can share this capacity with others who don’t have it by creating the capacity in them through education and training. For instance, Business has the managerial and technological capacity to create wealth and it can share this capacity with the poor. Another factor which can lead to a greater psychological equity is the matching of inner temperament and capacity with the outer occupation.
A system of education and counseling which can help individuals to become aware of their unique inner aptitudes, temperament and capacities and find an outer occupation which is in harmony with their inner nature can go a long way in creating a balanced distribution of the psychological energies of the community. However our emphasis on the inner dimension does not mean external factors to be ignored. The inner work by education has to be matched by creating an outer environment which is favourable to the progress of equity. The main factors which has to be present or nurtured in the outer life to create an enduring equity are:
A strong and firm governmental support or intervention, wherever and whenever necessary, in favour of the poor and the weak.
Active encouragement and support for all new ideas, values or innovations which can lead to economic, social, political or cultural upliftment of the poor like for example, the concept of corporate social responsibility.
An honest, vigorous and courageous social activism made of NGOs, mass movements, media which can highlight injustice, corruption and inequality in society; awaken the masses to their rights and privileges; organize the poor and the weak against the rich, powerful and unjust exploiter; plod the lethargic and slow moving government machinery to action.
Increasing empowerment of women and workers in the lower levels of the social and organizational hierarchy.
Greater focus and attention in research, planning and implementation on how to maximize distributive justice, like for example, employment opportunities.
The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.