Finding Equilibrium

In a previous blog post I wrote about some of my questions about equality.  Why do some people actively seek it and why don’t others?  Is that they already see the world as equal as it can be?  Do they simply accept a natural order in which things are going to be unequal?  Or are they simply selfish, knowing inside that equality might remove them from a position of privilege?

Whatever the answer to that question is, a recent conversation with a friend, and articles about the inequality that exists in areas of Baltimore, got me thinking a little more about equality.  I started to think about the question:  What does equality even look like?  Is equality a state of perfection that we cannot attain?  Are we caught in idealism and not being practical?  How can equality be achieved, when we are all different?  I think those of us who fight for equality have visions for what that might look like, but have we ever actually seen it?  Does this sense of equality only lie in our hearts and we push in a direction not really thinking about where we end up?  Even though nature often tends towards balanced, it is state rarely reached if ever.  Instead we find most things oscillating about a state of equilibrium.  Many times that oscillation is damped, meaning that while we never quite reach a state of balance, each oscillation is not as wild (or in other words doesn’t take us as far from equilibrium as the preceding oscillation).  Is this perhaps what the fight for equality looks like – swinging back and forth until finally the oscillations about that state of equality or so minute that we can no longer detect the inequality anymore?  In a complex society where one can find many areas in which inequality exists, do we prioritize the most obvious ones first, until other ones seem resolved to the point that new areas of inequality see more important?  Or as a fellow blogger wrote when addressing the issues of vaccines, can we sometimes make the issue worse by continually fighting for something even when the problem doesn’t exist because of the time and energy we have invested into a cause?  A recent Daily Show piece discussed how anti-GMO groups have actually helped large corporations, like Monsanto, to gain more of a stranglehold on the food supply because they are now the only ones with the money to be able to afford all the bureaucracy it takes to get a patent on a genetically modified seed.

It occurred to me that although we might be great at pointing out inequality, how often do we have a conversation about what equality looks like, and does it exist anywhere?  Are there real examples we can use?  Are there any microcosms of the larger society we all want to live in?  It is has only been within the past 30 years or so that a lot of psychological research shifted away from just looking and ailments of the mind and started focusing on the more positive aspects of our humanity, like happiness.  While depression is terrible and it is important to help those with depression out of those states, is learning how not to be depressed that same as knowing how to be happy?  Can we always derive what a good example is, by simply only looking at bad examples?  I believe the answer to that is no.  Growing up with an alcoholic father, I learned about the kind of husband and father I didn’t want to be.  But as I had marriage troubles in my own life it occurred to me I never thought enough about what a good father and husband is supposed to be like.  It required a certain rewiring in my thinking.  When it comes to studying happiness it required asking a set of questions that haven’t been asked before.  What makes people happy?  What kind of behavior to happy people exhibit?  What kinds of societies are happier? These questions are important to ask and science has helped make a lot of progress in the area of happiness.

So while we are all pretty great at point out inequality maybe we should shift our focus to talking about what equality would look like.  Find real world examples.  Analyze how and why those societies work and how they are advantageous to what we already have.  Pointing out inequalities between men and women have value, but let’s have a conversation about what are the positive values we want a human to have, regardless of gender.  Let’s have an idea of where we are going, before we push.  It might even help us get there faster

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Ideally Though

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about a particular issue in this world and I think made an important and worthwhile change of view.  It’s not really a complete 180˚ turn, but I am asking questions in a different way, and feel like I am becoming more grounded about the issue.  That issue is for a later post, because in trying to understand my change of heart, because I feel like my original stance is not wrong.  After some soul searching I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem was that I was being too idealistic and it has lead me to think about ideals, and how we can sometimes get caught up in them and that it’s not always that helpful.

So what is an ideal?  We all have them.  We’ve all known people that are overly idealistic and while those people can be enjoyable to be around and make for engaging conversation, sometimes such people can appear a little naïve.  I may be one of those kinds of people at times.  The dictionary defines “ideal” as person or thing regarded as perfect, or a standard of perfection, a principle to be aimed at.  I realized that the reason ideals can get us in trouble is because they do involve some personal vision of perfection.  I have written about perfection before and how it can be an unhealthy concept since a) we all have different ideas of perfection and b) to my knowledge perfection has never been reached, so do expectations of perfection do us a disservice?  I believe at times they can.

If by definition an ideal represents some state of perfection, one that either cannot be reached, or cannot be reached easily or quickly being dogmatic about your ideals can lead to rigidity in thinking, it can also put you in a “future mindset” too easily when problems exist in the here and now.  For example you may hold the ideal that war is pointless, unnecessary and we should all live in peace.  I love it, and I’m on board.  But unfortunately there is war.  And while I do believe that we may someday get to a place where we find better ways to resolve conflicts than through war, it’s not clear that will happen anytime soon, and there is always the possibility that war may always exist, despite how obvious alternate solutions might be.  So given that there is war, we can’t get caught up in an ideal of world peace that we forget to treat soldiers humanely who have been injured physically and emotionally and give them the medical and psychological treatment they need during, and after their service. Hell even the immutable physical law, the Ideal Gas Law which describes the relationship between pressure, temperature, and volume of a gas doesn’t really exist.  The law describes how a gas would behave under ideal conditions.  Ideal conditions that while we can get close to we have been unable to reach.  So it’s important to remember that ideals are just that, and not in anyway a truth we can find in the present.

From http://meetville.com

There are many fine and lofty ideals out there.  It’s easy to just start thinking, I wish the world could just see things my way and it would be a better place, but that isn’t likely to happen.  But I don’t think ideals are a waste of time.  The part of the definition of an ideal that I like the most is it being something to aim at.  Ideals are like far away targets and it’s easy to imagine yourself hitting the target, but instead we should simply see it as a direction to head and not worry so much about whether we get there.  Focus on the journey and pay attention to what is actually happening.  It could be that solutions in the present don’t necessarily conform to your ideals but they are the right thing to do for the time that you live in.