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Equality, Equity, Justice and Irreducible Differences

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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17 February 2020 21:04
 

I was listening to the Dan Carlin podcast as I often do. He was discussing female figures and history and touched on the subject of equality. He suggested that many cultures did in fact possess what we might consider progressive levels of gender equality in the sense that men and women had roughly equivalent power within the society. Now it was not equal in the sense that that they had the same kind of power. Men controlled military power and discretion over resources and property while women were spiritual and cultural leaders. In some cases a particular nation or province could have been considered a functional matriarchy because women were the legislature and no major structural changes could occur without their quorum.

I’m not going to offer an opinion on how valid that perspective is but it did get me thinking. How expansive and imaginative should our thinking about social justice be? Should every person necessarily have the same access to stations of power? Are men and women, for instance necessarily suited to the same kinds of jobs? My intuition in the realm of politics says yes but I want to avoid dogmatic assumptions and be open to the better argument, if it exists. I suspect a female president would actually improve my own country at this particular moment and perhaps just in general.

As far as race goes I think arguments that racial differences merit different social stations have been roundly debunked many times. But what about cultural categories that intersect with race, nationality or religion? I understand this is volatile. I don’t endorse formal boundaries but I notice that certain pods occur organically. Mormons in the FBI for example. Or say sports that show some reliable bias toward one group. Lots of jobs reflect a preference for a particular kind of applicant. Add examples if you like. Now to be clear, I’m not arguing for any particular attribute of any particular group… rather I’m exploring the idea that equality within a society might be considered as a kind of score. I may lack privileges or esteem in some domains but I have them others.

I believe in a universal baseline of human rights. The UN formulation is pretty good. But past that, what should we strive for? Should or could all persons have complete equality of opportunity and/or outcome in all aspects? Or are we better off allowing corresponding disparities to cancel out? Not as a matter of law or policy but as an objective for the kind of culture we want?

Corollary question: When scoring some existing community outside our own how charitable should we be about traditional roles that separate people into groups? Is that always bad or are there cases when it’s the best solution to larger problems? I’m thinking of places where there is some kind of protracted civil war and neither side has a desire for integration with the other. Or maybe places where basic resources are extremely scarce and its functionally impossible to apply certain modern standards.

I’m honestly close to neutral. Part of me recoils at the suggestion of classes or strata but at the same time I notice that people have an extremely wide array of preferences as well as an array of skills and attributes and that these differences will assert themselves regardless.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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18 February 2020 06:45
 

Addressing your questions separately, I don’t think individually one can say whether men and women are suited to the same kinds of jobs; there is too much variation among both.  But in the aggregate, as a population, suitability biases will emerge, making men and women on average more suited for some positions or professions and less suited for others.  Except in obvious cases where physical strength is determinative, these differences are probably both small enough between groups and varied enough within groups to necessitate equal access to these jobs and positions of power, meaning there should be no legal barriers to opportunity—rather let self-selection and case-by-case decisions sort the “suitability” matter out, with equality of opportunity given.  I think this is even truer for race, nationality, and culture.

So, outside of professions where it is all but statistically impossible that a man or woman could do the job in question (the Navy Seals, for instance), there should be complete equality of opportunity.  Ditto for race, absent the extremely rare exceptions applicable to gender.  But, expecting equality of outcomes is—I’d say silly, because it is—but really it’s pernicious, even toxic (as it presently is).  The evidence clearly supports this point: in countries where equality of opportunity and cultural equality are as good as one can expect, men and women self-select into opportunities, creating differences in outcomes.  And indeed, given the salient preference differences between men and women in the aggregate—not ability, but preference—inequality of outcomes is to be expected as the norm, once equality of opportunity is established, i.e. it is not de facto indication of discrimination.  In any case, I can’t think of a valid reason for stratifying professions or access to positions of power by opportunity, but equally I can’t think of a valid reason for expecting equality of outcomes either, once equality of opportunity is established. 

I’ve focused on men and women because I think that is where the main—if only—salient differences arise.  Race, nationality and cultural background seem even less prone to irreducible differences that matter, or differences that cannot be overcome (like culture).  Either way, I’d sum up by saying there are only limit cases where in the aggregate irreducible differences make a difference for structuring opportunity, but there are abundant cases—if not, perhaps, the majority of them—where irreducible differences lead to unequal outcomes.  The former case respects ability, while the later respects preferences.  Hence I agree entirely that “people have an extremely wide array of preferences as well as an array of skills and attributes and that these differences will assert themselves regardless.”  In our quest for equality, we must understand and respect that as we parse out opportunity and outcomes.

[ Edited: 18 February 2020 06:48 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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18 February 2020 10:20
 

I agree. And I think even that difference is greatly diminished.

I’m also curious if global objectives might sometimes conflict with one another. I’m pretty sure they do. For instance, the safest society isn’t the freest society. The most just society isn’t simultaneously the most prosperous society… and so forth. So while this project entails a compromise of individual interests it is also a compromise of larger interests.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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18 February 2020 12:31
 

To your point, the US is arguably the freest society of the Western democracies, yet it is also the most unsafe.  This points, perhaps, to issues like violence in general and gun violence in particular.  Here one is free to succeed and fail, absent the safety nets and solidarity norms prevalent in other Western democracies; indeed, morally and culturally this succeed or fail is seen as an obligation, maybe even of condition of national identity.  Perhaps this duality of success and fail amidst an ethos of self-reliance has something to do with why as a society we are more violent than our peers, hence why our society is less safe.  This violence would then go to the question of compromising between individual interests (freedom) and larger interests (more safety) that you raise…

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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18 February 2020 19:27
 

Equality of opportunity seems like it might be mutually exclusive with equality of outcome. Wouldn’t the mechanisms that ensure the latter undermine the former? What would have to happen to ensure equality of outcome between me and Steph Curry, for example? Since my basketball prowess can’t be magically improved to his level, wouldn’t that mean he’d have to play with some kind of artificial handicap? Would that still constitute equality of opportunity? I suppose, in a sense, it would: he’d have the same opportunity as me to be a terrible basketball player.

 
 
LadyJane
 
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19 February 2020 07:58
 

I don’t think the concept of equality of outcome has to be imagined as a zero sum game.  With a variety of skills and interests come a diversity of desires and preferences.  We all don’t have to be in lock step to be satisfied with the outcomes.  A lot of people refer to the weaponized version of equality of outcome that Jordan Peterson was pushing and we all don’t share that particular view.  Then again that could’ve been the benzos talking.  We’ll see if any opinions change post rehab.  I never really associated teeth clenching and seething contempt with sedated states…but anyway.

 
 
burt
 
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19 February 2020 08:34
 
LadyJane - 19 February 2020 07:58 AM

I don’t think the concept of equality of outcome has to be imagined as a zero sum game.  With a variety of skills and interests come a diversity of desires and preferences.  We all don’t have to be in lock step to be satisfied with the outcomes.  A lot of people refer to the weaponized version of equality of outcome that Jordan Peterson was pushing and we all don’t share that particular view.  Then again that could’ve been the benzos talking.  We’ll see if any opinions change post rehab.  I never really associated teeth clenching and seething contempt with sedated states…but anyway.

A balance: https://www.ineteconomics.org/uploads/papers/Level-Up-Economics-012720.pdf

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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19 February 2020 09:14
 
LadyJane - 19 February 2020 07:58 AM

I don’t think the concept of equality of outcome has to be imagined as a zero sum game.  With a variety of skills and interests come a diversity of desires and preferences.  We all don’t have to be in lock step to be satisfied with the outcomes.  A lot of people refer to the weaponized version of equality of outcome that Jordan Peterson was pushing and we all don’t share that particular view.  Then again that could’ve been the benzos talking.  We’ll see if any opinions change post rehab.  I never really associated teeth clenching and seething contempt with sedated states…but anyway.

Yes.Most counter examples are straw men. Endorsing a constitutional principle of equality under the law isn’t remotely like saying that everyone in a sporting contest should get a participation trophy. That misses the point and, I think misses it on purpose.

I think the enfolded principle is about protecting diversity of opinion and practice as much as it about dismantling institutional prejudices surrounding race and gender. We should be able to vote or marry or be educated or seek medicine or worship on our own terms up until the point that it infringes upon someone else.

This is the boundary I look for. Employing duplicitous arguments for the purpose of minimizing someone elses options. Such as ‘gay marriage harms the institution of straight marriage’

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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19 February 2020 09:36
 

How can equality of outcomes not be a zero-sum game if it is mandated given a variety of skills, interests, desires and preferences (this mandated or expected equality of outcomes is what Jordan Peterson is against)? 

Take a pool of applicants for 10 positions where equal outcomes of men hired and women hired is mandated, as opposed to choosing the best qualified applicant for the job and letting the gender balance land where it may.  The pool of applicants itself probably won’t be gender-balanced, which means by definition a gender-balanced sample won’t be representative of the most qualified applicants in the pool.  Add to this the order of magnitude of applicants over positions (say 600 women and 400 men apply) and forcing a gender balance all but guarantees qualified women will be passed over in order to meet the quota of “qualified” men.  Exact numbers of course will always vary, and that is precisely the point: so long as there are a variety of skills, interests, desires and preferences, one applicant getting a position under a mandated equality of outcomes means a more qualified applicant won’t get the position—more or less what zero-sum means.  It seems to me that mandated or expected equality of outcomes given equal opportunity and a diversity of preferences and skills can’t but be zero-sum, in that the interest in equality of outcomes is substituted for the principle of fairness equality of opportunity entails.  In other words, mandating equality of outcomes is zero-sum re opportunity, in that opportunities are denied in advance in favor of the desired outcome.  One can’t have it both ways.

This goes, I think, to ASD’s point about equality of opportunity being mutually exclusive with equality of outcome.  As a rule, if one has equality of opportunity given a diverse set of interests, preferences, and abilities, one is going to get inequality, not equality, of outcomes: in this sense the former normally precludes the latter—a weak form of zero-sum.  If on the other hand one mandates an equality of outcomes, one by stipulation precludes equality of opportunity in terms of what opportunity usually means—the chance that one’s success will be determined on one’s merits, not some arbitrary factor.  This is a strong form of zero-sum, in that equality of outcomes all but guarantees lack of fairness (there is technically the non-zero chance that any given pool will be both gender-balanced and gender-balanced by qualifications, but only technically).  In any case, I think ASD is right to note the mutual exclusivity of these two interests.  It seems to me one either can’t have both or one is going to rarely have both, depending on which ideal gets stressed.

One hopes equality of “outcomes” as an ideal means dismantling prejudices surrounding race and gender; that it’s true motive is to insure equality before the law, as opposed to discrimination, thus insuring equal opportunity for all.  And when taken as such it seems to be beyond reproach.  But when taken as an expectation of real outcomes re race and gender in a real world of diverse interests, abilities, and preferences, the ideal of equal outcomes becomes pernicious, even toxic, insuring as it does unfairness in the name some misguided utopia where opportunity and outcomes coincide.

[ Edited: 19 February 2020 09:39 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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19 February 2020 17:07
 

It might be zero sum in the isolated case but it isn’t zero sum on balance. The concept of equality is a principle. It’s not a mathematical formula or something that we can measure the outcome of with precision. I don’t suggest we apply it to things that are clearly engineered contests of voluntary participants. It applies to the general terrain of livelihoods and cultural privilege. I don’t want to eliminate the element of competition in chess tournaments or boxing matches or anything like that.

The reason it isn’t zero sum is because human culture is fundamentally collaborative. An isolated individual isn’t capable of producing the goods that most individuals need and desire at our stage of development. We need hundreds, thousands and sometimes millions of hands to achieve the ends we want. In order to do this we need structures of reciprocity and recourse and standards of fairness that any particular individual can refer to and rely on.

I think you can see models of successful compromise in most any successful institution. It’s perfectly possible to reward individual talent and initiative while also defending a perimeter that applies to everyone.

What am I missing?

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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19 February 2020 20:28
 

I won’t presume to say you are missing anything, just point out that we seem to be talking about different things.  I’ll try to reconcile them here.

When it comes to something like the “general terrain of livelihoods and cultural privilege”—what you seem to mean by “on balance”—I agree social organization is not zero sum.  It is, as you note, comprised of relations of reciprocity and collaboration, but also, I’d say, of social structures that emerge from these relations, structures that in and of themselves confer status once occupied, but that in of themselves don’t necessarily come at anyone’s expense.  And what applies society wide would apply, I agree, to any successful institution.  In both, some balance is found between equitable outcomes in a broad sense given some standard of fairness and opportunity to achieve those outcomes.

This said, it is not clear to me what you mean by “in the isolated case,” nor would I agree that the arenas where equality of outcomes is an issue are captured by “clearly engineered contests of voluntary participants.”  For sure, sports teams like ASD’s example apply there, but employment and education are neither isolated cases nor strictly speaking engineered contests of voluntary participants, yet the racial and gender demographics of outcomes in both are subject to precise measurement, and they have been hotly contested in light of those measurements. 

For instance, what demographic of men/women and race get into Harvard can be precisely determined.  What demographic gets into college in general, what tier of colleges, what graduate profession, etc.—these outcomes are all readily quantifiable.  As is the demographics of who works in medicine, or engineering, or computer programming, or law, or in financial services, or in hospitality services, etc.  As is the level of achievement within these professions.  In all these areas inequality of outcomes has been a topic of intense political debate, calls for mandating equality of outcomes by demographics have been made (some are law), and deviation from proportional representation has been taken as de facto proof of discrimination. 

This said, as I see it the tradeoff between equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes in both arenas—employment and education—is as described above: zero sum.  It is zero-sum in the sense that there are limited opportunities in both, not across society per se (presumably there are enough of both to go around), but definitely in terms of specifics (a given college, a given company, a given industry, a given tier).  In this respect, one person accepted or employed means another is not—a form of zero sum.  Also, as argued above, mandating equality of outcomes by racial or gender demographics versus creating equality of opportunity such that the demographics sort themselves out ‘naturally’ is a zero-sum trade off, in that given the diversity of preferences, ability, and interests mandating an equality of outcomes means inequality of opportunity, and equality of opportunity means, as a norm, inequality of outcomes.  Per the example above, I just don’t see how there is a way around this.

In the first exchange, we seemed to agree on part of this point—that inequality of outcomes is to be expected in things like educational attainment and employment, given irreducible differences (though we may differ on how large these will be).  Where we seem to have reached an impasse is on the notion of “zero-sum.”  For my part, I am not referring to the “general terrain of livelihoods and cultural privilege,” but only to the aspects of social life where specific determinations can and have been made—in the arenas of employment and education where the outcomes are politically contested.  So, where you say “it’s perfectly possible to reward individual talent and initiative while also defending a perimeter that applies to everyone,” I would say, agreed, but that perimeter must be equality of opportunity because it cannot be—virtually by definition—a mandated standard for racial or gender demographic outcomes.  For as soon as race and gender structure opportunity, it becomes unequal, and the standard ceases to apply equally to everyone.

As for the larger question of equity in society—what you seem to mean by “on balance”—I have no good ideas.  The only thing that comes to mind is active intervention to alleviate the inequalities of opportunity structurally written into our current social organization in order to let the outcomes of livelihoods and privilege fall where they may.  Also, some remediation of inevitably unequal outcomes seems morally necessary.  For instance, given the realities of our economy, even with perfect equality of opportunity and equally hard work by all, some cannot earn a living wage; ergo these structural inequalities need to be addressed if we are going to avoid some heartless insistence on fair opportunity at the expense of moral decency.  I for one am not willing to live in a society that says “tough shit” if you fail when structurally some have to fail even after all do their best.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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19 February 2020 21:15
 
Brick Bungalow - 19 February 2020 09:14 AM
LadyJane - 19 February 2020 07:58 AM

I don’t think the concept of equality of outcome has to be imagined as a zero sum game.  With a variety of skills and interests come a diversity of desires and preferences.  We all don’t have to be in lock step to be satisfied with the outcomes.  A lot of people refer to the weaponized version of equality of outcome that Jordan Peterson was pushing and we all don’t share that particular view.  Then again that could’ve been the benzos talking.  We’ll see if any opinions change post rehab.  I never really associated teeth clenching and seething contempt with sedated states…but anyway.

Yes.Most counter examples are straw men. Endorsing a constitutional principle of equality under the law isn’t remotely like saying that everyone in a sporting contest should get a participation trophy. That misses the point and, I think misses it on purpose.

I think the enfolded principle is about protecting diversity of opinion and practice as much as it about dismantling institutional prejudices surrounding race and gender. We should be able to vote or marry or be educated or seek medicine or worship on our own terms up until the point that it infringes upon someone else.

This is the boundary I look for. Employing duplicitous arguments for the purpose of minimizing someone elses options. Such as ‘gay marriage harms the institution of straight marriage’

Maybe we have different ideas about what constitutes “equality of outcome,” which seems pretty ambiguous to me. (“Equality of opportunity,” on the other hand, seems less so.) Of course we couldn’t strive for everyone to have the same outcome in a specific arena, like basketball. That was a deliberate oversimplification, intended to motivate you to be more specific. Does “equality of outcome” mean that everyone will be equally successful in whatever arena they choose to specialize in? As in, I should be just as successful as a plumber, for example, as Steph Curry is as a basketball player? Again, not intended as a straw man, just trying to get you to go beyond platitudes.

What does it mean to “[protect] diversity of opinion and practice” in terms of “equality of outcome?” That sounds more like “equality of opportunity” to me: everyone has the same opportunity to express their own opinion or to practice their own whatever. Same for “dismantling institutional prejudices surrounding race and gender.” And for being able to vote or be educated, etc.. Those all sound like “equality of opportunity,” not “equality of outcome.” What am I missing? What exactly would a society in which outcomes were equal look like? How are you measuring outcome?

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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19 February 2020 22:17
 

I don’t think we have a substantive disagreement. I’m not even sure we have a semantic one.

I suspect that the exchange reduces to how much demand we are making for specifics.

When I say ‘isolated case’ what I mean is that the sum will be zero within the small sphere of competition between individuals. One winner plus one loser equals zero. It’s a question of scale. In that sense the sum is usually well into the negative numbers. If a hundred people apply for a promotion and only five receive one. At the same time if the system is functional and fair everyone gains the global benefit of a successful project even if they lose out on some specific thing.

When I say ‘on balance’ I mean that a consistent commitment to justice tends to raise all boats. This is imperfect and often painfully so but its exactly these imperfections that establish the parameters of ethical study and sociology and politics in the first place.

Where we may disagree is on the point of competing interests. I don’t think that equality of opportunity and equality of outcome are incompatible. Not on the larger scale. I agree that ought not apply to any specific circumstance where competition has been engineered by mutual consent (like sports) or where strident evaluation of personal progress is essential and also consensual (higher academics and research for example) Where they should, I think apply is things like social services, infrastructure, medicine, housing, access to education, civil rights, civic duty… those sorts of things. I think every member of a society benefits from a sort of baseline citizenship that is less meritocracy and more, dare-I-say socialist.

I do appreciate the feedback. I’m still very much forming my views here.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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20 February 2020 06:46
 

We may not disagree even there.

Zoom out to the larger scale and I don’t think opportunity and outcomes are incompatible in the sense described, especially if one switches “equity” for equality on outcomes. 

As I indicated in my last paragraph, equality of opportunity isn’t, for me, sufficient for a moral society.  It’s necessary, but the meritocracy, as you call it, entailed in it is not sufficient.  Given the reality of our economy, structural inequities will persist even with perfect equality of opportunity and everyone doing their best with what they have.  With this in mind, I not only agree that “every member of a society benefits from a sort of baseline citizenship that is less meritocracy and more, dare-I-say socialist”: I would add this baseline citizenship re “social services, infrastructure, medicine, housing, access to education, civil rights, civic duty” is a moral imperative—that outcomes in some of these areas must meet a minimal baseline of equity, one not exclusively sorted by opportunity and merit.  How to do this escapes me on some issues but not others, but that is a topic for another thread.

In any case, what I am sure of is that mandating or expecting equality of outcomes in employment and education by race and gender—what Jordan Peterson and others have spoken out against—is both unrealistic and morally pernicious.  But insuring that everyone has access to a basic education made as equal as possible, or to minimal healthcare, or to a minimal living income…as I see it, these “outcomes” should be equitable for everyone, and once that insurance is in place, race and gender will, I expect, sort themselves out.  That there is much progress to be made in making sure this equity is realized by race is clear, but the solution seems to be correcting the front end of opportunity instead of correcting for the lack of it through the back end of mandated outcomes. In this respect I maintain there is still a conflict between the two.

On writing this I think the relationship and mechanisms re opportunity and outcomes touches on a key point of how societies self-organize, and how this self-organization can be directed.  But that too is another thread.

This one has been good for me, so I appreciate the opportunity.

[ Edited: 20 February 2020 06:53 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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20 February 2020 10:10
 

Mostly agree. I dislike most of Petersens emphasis because I think he conflates his preferred institutional dogmas with ‘common sense’. Maybe we all do. Anyway.

What’s important is priority. It’s important to have a clear idea of what merits moral concern and active intervention. In my opinion it isn’t skill or knowledge or inherent ability. These things are self rewarding and don’t require further reinforcement from social structures. We ought to acknowledge these things truthfully and not minimize them. Certainly we should not punish them.

The thing to acknowledge, in my opinion is the capacity to flourish and enjoy. Also the capacity to suffer and perish. The resources I devote to the well being of my fellows ought to be on the basis of how efficiently I can improve their lot. And explicitly NOT how reliably those resources are returned to me. This is superficially altruistic but I think it’s actually the efficient model to maximize my own total profit. People can certainly survive and even thrive on direct reciprocity but, in my view THAT is the real zero sum game because it freezes the circle of concern.

If there is real wisdom in Christianity its these enfolded concepts. Anonymous charity. Compassion and help for the least advantaged members of a community. Unselfish public service. Not to appease some supernatural authority but as a thoughtful strategy for community building. I can’t remember who said it but the idea that the verdict on a society should how it treats its weakest members.

 
LadyJane
 
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20 February 2020 14:49
 

Thinking of equality in terms of opportunity and outcome reminds me of the way we approach free will and determinism.  As individuals we expect to reap rewards that match what we are able to contribute.  As a whole we want to take what we reap and dole it out according to what we individually contributed.  The same way we feel like we possess control of our own free will.  And live like ants on the hill of a planet in a deterministic universe.  Whatever choices we do manage to make are mostly automatic and somewhat superficial.  Usually based on what came before.  We theorize when we don’t know things fer sure so when we can’t predict the outcomes we can learn from our mistakes.  Which is probably where the whole reward system originated in the first place.   

It all depends on how you look at it…how you think about it…and how long you are willing to hold that thought.

A necessary construction project seems like the perfect example of a shared desired outcome.  Especially that of a hospital or school.  You recruit experts in their chosen fields and they each do their part to satisfy that need to benefit the community.  Architects, engineers, designers, carpenters, electricians, painters, all paving the way for teachers and doctors to teach individual subjects and treat specialized diseases.  There’s room for everyone if the opportunities are made available.  Eliminating the need for forty year old affirmative action arguments in societies that are overflowing with a talented workforce to choose from.  The less we think about it personally or individually benefiting from the project the more we all share in its success.

The climate crisis is changing the way that wealth divides the masses.  I think profits and losses will look very different when we’re scrambling for higher ground.  And money won’t mean a thing.  It won’t even be the currency.  These challenges may determine whether or not humanity even has an outcome.  Divide and Conquer has a different ring to it when we’re all on the same page. 

Looking at everything literally conceals most of reality.  Like a spherical cage where you can never find an edge.

 
 
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