Tag Archives: Hierarchy

The Culture Itself May Be Unjust

If there is a reasonable alternative to an inequality that causes undue and preventable harm, regardless of whether that injustice is a result of economic or political, social or institutional systems, structures, or pressures, then the reasonable alternative should be selected to achieve a more just and fair world. The hierarchical structure of our society that as a strategy for survival, however inadequate that strategy proves to be in reality causes unjust inequalities that lead to unjust health inequalities and neither are necessary conclusions. Therefore, as a society we should seek to implement a reasonable alternative, which entails a decentralization of decision making power to distribute control of our lives more broadly because lack of control is the greatest factor contributing to the unjust inequalities in our society.

Either inequalities are just or they are unjust. Inequalities are natural phenomena, so it cannot be the case that they are inherently unjust. For example, the day is naturally warmer than the night, as is the day also brighter than the night, and both are the result of the unequal distribution of the sun shining on different parts of the planet at different times. Gorillas are stronger than chimpanzees as a result of their natural physical compositions. Men can neither give birth to a child, nor can they carry a fetus to term because they lack the necessary physical components to do so. On the other hand, women, by natural physical composition are the sex of our species that bear the burden of both carrying fetuses to term and suffering the pain of giving birth. None of these examples are inherently unjust, because there are yet no reasonable alternatives to them and as such, there is no choice available to augment the distribution of inequalities.  So, if inequalities of themselves are not unjust, then there must be other factors that commingle with inequalities, if people feel they are unjust.

Inequalities are unjust, if they are unnecessary and they are a cause of preventable harm. There is nothing moral or ethical about the day-night dichotomy described above. It is merely a description of what is. The mere fact that gorillas are physically stronger than chimpanzees, or for that matter one human as opposed to another, is also simply a description of the differences between them and as such, there is nothing immoral about the inequalities; in fact, they are amoral. The physical differences between men and women are not of themselves immoral or unjust, they are merely descriptions of what is. However, when natural difference lend themselves to alternative options, such as, who has control of if and when a woman is to carry and bear a child, then morality and justice come into effect. For instance, women in the United States were at one point considered by law as the legal property of the men they were married to, who also had claim to the woman’s reproductive capacity. Women had to fight a long and arduous battle for the right to control their own reproductive rights; i.e., for women to control the decision of if and when to elect to have a child, when to use contraception, and when to have an abortion. The unfair and biased control exercised over women’s sex difference by men was an injustice to women. Since men are not the ones who have to either suffer the pain of carrying a fetus to term or to suffer the pain of birth, and furthermore, since men have no claim to a woman’s body because it is not theirs, men have no right or justification to impose upon any woman that she must bear these burdens against her will if she elects not to suffer them.  The redistribution of decision making authority from men to women over their own bodies was a just redistribution of control.

It is not the existence of physical differences e that makes the circumstances unjust, similar to the fact that natural inequalities are not inherently unjust, but rather, that when as a result of social interventions that exploit those differences and lead to unfair situations wherein harm occurs is what identifies situations as unjust. Therefore, because that which is unjust results from social interactions wherein there are reasonable alternatives that do not lead to harm or lead to less harm, we should obligate the actions and decisions that limit harm, and hold responsible those who violate those obligations and cause harm, while seeking as a positive duty to limit the unfair and unjust harms that occur.

Sex however, is not the only pertinent social factor that leads to unjust inequalities; class and social status are also relevant social considerations that lead to unjust outcomes and situations. Another example of unjust inequalities is one that results from the social hierarchical structure of our society as one of the consequences of the economic system, was revealed by the Whitehall Studies conducted in London.[1]  Michael Marmot, the author of Social Causes of Inequalities in Health, who analyzing the longitudinal Whitehall Studies identified that a person’s belief of a lack of control over their environment was one of the leading factors to diminished health. Marmot found that there is a gradient of mortality when the society is based upon a hierarchical structure of organization wherein each lower stratum has a higher mortality and disease rate than the stratum above it. [2] The Whitehall Study tracked men in white collar positions, none of whom were impoverished and all who were gainfully employed, and this is where the pattern was identified. The pattern was also consistent for the control of one’s living conditions and was exacerbated by economic constraints such as poverty, which reveals that social class; i.e., the social stratum of an entire group of people is vulnerable to this pattern.  After analyzing trends of the identified pattern and how it shifts over time, Marmot correlated these shifts with governmental policy and suggests that: “[i]f it can vary, presumably as the unintended consequence of government policies and other trends, it should be possible to vary it as an intended consequence.”[3] This reveals that the health inequalities observed in the Whitehall Studies are not necessarily inevitable, and because they are not necessarily inevitable that means there may be reasonable alternatives to the socially caused factors for the disparities and as such could be unjust.

It could be argued that the data is wrong, or that there are not reasonable alternatives to select from.  Marmot however, is not the only one who has identified class differences as a relevant factor of health disparities and inequalities, Norman Daniels, has done so as well. Daniels, in the book, A Theory of Justice, in the chapter, “Three Questions of Justice,” identified that class was a greater determinant of health status than race.[4] Given that there are reasonable alternatives to the manner in which health is distributed along economic lines, which is exacerbated by racial and gender factors, Daniels proposes this theory of justice: [5]

Failing to promote health in a population, that is, failing to promote normal functioning in it, fails to protect the opportunity of capability of people to function as free and equal citizens. Failing to protect that opportunity or capability when we could reasonably do otherwise…is a failure to provide us with what we owe each other. It is unjust.

One of the major issues in the manner in which health care and health in general is distributed across and throughout a society is that access tends to be delineated by economic capacity to purchase; that is, spending power. The problem with this as Daniels asserts is that it causes us to “treat health care as a commodity,” as something that is not of “special importance” to society, but that is not the reality.[6] However, Daniels observes that as a society goods, such as jobs and education, are distributed “very unequally across subgroups that differ by race, ethnicity, gender, or class.”[7] One’s position or stratum in the hierarchical structure directly correlates with one’s ability to control one’s environment and the circumstances of the conditions of their environment because success in the economic structure of the market is dependent upon one’s ability to purchase. This market structure however, fails Daniels’ theory of justice because the economic bar to access limits the opportunity for people to function as free and equal citizens.

Margaret Whitehead has also observed health disparities that directly relate to the social stratum people belong to. In Whitehead’s article, The Concepts and Principles of Equity and Health, it is noted that “there is consistent evidence that disadvantaged groups have poorer survival chances, dying at a younger age than more favoured groups.”[8] One of the reasons for this difference that Whitehead identifies is that there are inequalities in access and quality of health services and that “those most in need of medical care, including preventive care, are least likely to receive a high standard of service.”[9] Whitehead lists seven “differentials” that will help to clarify whether inequalities are unnecessary and unfair, or simply are inequalities:[10]

(1) Natural, biological variation.

(2) Health-damaging behavior if freely chosen, such as participation in certain sports and


(3) The transient health advantage of one group over another when the group is first to adopt a

health-promoting behaviour (as long as other groups have the means to catch up fairly soon).

(4) Health-damaging behavior where the degree of choice of lifestyles is severely restricted.

(5) Exposure to unhealthy, stressful living and working conditions.

(6) Inadequate access to essential health and other public services.

(7) Natural selection or health-related social mobility involving the tendency for sick people to

move down the social scale.

The first three Whitehead suggests are simply inequalities or are acceptable and I would agree as it is similar to what I have argued above. However, the last four differentials all share relevance to the type of unjust inequalities that can be distinguished among the social strata of the hierarchical structure of society.  In particular to Marmot’s discussion is (5), “exposure to unhealthy, stressful living and working conditions” because it pertains to the lack of control one has the capacity to express over their environment that leads to health inequalities.

It does not appear as though the data is incorrect since similar data has been identified by multiple sources and they draw very similar conclusions, so the remaining objections to the inequalities being unjust will fall upon the reasonableness of the alternatives. To deny that there are alternative social structures is to deny the reality of the world in which we live because not all societies have such stark hierarchical structures.  In addition to that, it is possible to craft social and economic policies that will have the effect of leveling-up the least-well-off, the lower strata, and to raise their standard of living and personal control of their environments to a more equitable distribution.  It would further be possible to augment the capitalist structure of the political system so that more participation from a broader spectrum of the population would result in a greater sense of control of their lives. A system of collective ownership with collective bargaining could be instituted for how companies organize themselves, thus providing people with more control over their working environments.  In fact, Whitehead recommends “decentralizing power and decision making” as one of the core actions to be taken to mitigate unjust inequalities within society.[11]

If it is argued that these recommendations are unfair because they suggest a shift in culture and that it is not right to seek to change culture, then the most obvious response is that culture, by definition, is a social strategy for survival. Because culture is a strategy that means it is an institution, a human creation and as such was not inevitable, but rather, something that can both grow and change. It further means, that because it can grow and change that there are potential alternatives as have just be evinced, and that because it is social it is the factor earlier identified that if harm results, is the factor responsible for the injustice. Therefore, if the culture is unjust and there is a reasonable alternative, and there is, then there is also an obligation to strive toward that alternative in order to limit the harms resulting from the inequalities inherent in the current culture.

The goal is not to create a completely egalitarian society or to rid the world of all inequalities, but rather to seek a more just society for all members.  In regard to this Whitehead wrote: “[w]e will never be able to achieve a situation where everyone in the population has the same level of health, suffers the same type and degree of illness and dies after exactly the same life span. This is not an achievable goal, nor even a desirable one.”[12] It is however the goal, to respect the humanity and the dignity of each and every human being, to honor the agency and the autonomy of every person, and to accept that we all need to feel as though we have control over our own lives. The reality is that we all have a shared interest in seeking to achieve the greatest possible aggregate health because that is something that is necessary for us all to flourish, which is what I believe the true definition of justice is. Conversely, that which intervenes in the best possible, or the greatest potential for the flourishment of all people is unjust if there is a reasonable alternative to select. Many of the inequalities that exist today, when measured by the differentials proposed by Margaret Whitehead reveal them to be unjust. Thus, we as a society should seek to limit their impacts by reducing the impacts of the hierarchical structure of our society.

[1] Marmot, Michael “Social Causes of Inequality in Health.” In Public Health Ethics and Equity, edited by Sudhir Anand, Fabienne Peter, and Amartya Sen, 37-61. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 38.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Marmot, 41

[4] Daniels, Norman. A Theory of Justice. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 14.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Daniels, 20.

[7] Daniels, 13.

[8] Whitehead, Margaret, “The Concepts and Principles of Equity and Health,” Health Promotional International vol 6 (1991), 218.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Whitehead, 219.

[11] Whitehead, 223.

[12] Whitehead, 219.

Environmental Racism

First of all, it is not just apathy or a lack of concern for particular communities that is the problem; it is the blatant oppression and harm to particular communities that is the problem. What Shell and other fossil fuel companies are engaged in is Environmental Racism. Now, I know this may be a concept that is difficult for most people to wrap their heads around so I will explain it to you.

When people in America hear the term racism, they tend to think of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Jim Crow and the segregation with all its relevant signage, and Slavery. When people in America think of the consequences of racism they tend to think of Lynchings, Police Brutality, or events such as the Holocaust or the Genocide that occurred in Rwanda.

What is distinct about the list above is that they are all easy to identify, they all possess the characteristic of a particular individual or group as being the cause of the harm done. To flesh that out, the person or group responsible for the harm is seen in proximity to the person or group that is harmed. For example, in these recent police shootings of Black People that are plaguing our country, we can easily trace the path of the bullet from the gun it was fired from, which includes the person who pulled the trigger, to the person who was shot. A person with no scientific experience could identify this.

Climate Change on the other hand, has an issue of proximity, wherein the cause ‘seems,’ and only seems, to be dislocated from the harm that is done. Nothing about the atmosphere occurs in isolation, there is not microcosm about emitting metric tons of carbon on one side of the globe; as to imply that it will not affect the other side of the globe. A teeter-totter is a prime example and elementary algebra is another; what is done to one side of the equation directly affects what occurs on the other. However, regardless of the distance or the time between the cause and the effect, that does not absolve the causal chain and responsibility of what is done on one side of the globe.

The largest consumers of fossil fuel are those in Western Civilizations, such as, the United States, which has a Carbon Footprint of 4 Earths. What that means is that if everyone on the planet were to consume resources at the rate at which US citizens do, that it would require four earths worth of resources to meet that demand. While conversely, countries such as Ethiopia have a carbon footprint of 0.80. Thus, the largest production and emission of carbon is coming from countries such as the US, which is being supplied by companies like Shell at rates vastly surpassing those of countries not counted as being members of Western Civilization.

When carbon is emitted into the atmosphere it is distributed throughout the globe creating a sort of insulating blanket that locks in the heat that our planet naturally receives from the sun in terms of solar energy. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has been cycling for millions of years, but since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th & 20th Centuries in many Western Civilization countries, we have exacerbated and augmented this naturally occurring process and exponentially increased the rate at which the insulating blanket is forming. The best scientist in overwhelming consensus (something like 98%) have identified a two degree limit that will result in a plus or minus 25 degrees respectively throughout the planet. The IPCC or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided this research and the consequences of not changing our behavior to our governments. The results will be #Desertification depletion of water resources, and rising ocean levels.

Now, most of the countries in Western Civilization have the resources, technology and infrastructure to protect their countries from the harms of climate change. But, the best scientific models do not identify the areas to be most impacted by climate change to be n the Global North, which are primarily populated by people who either are white or look white. The regions that will be most impacted by climate change will be in the Global South, which is populated primarily by people of color, many of who are indigenous peoples, who lack the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms that will result from climate change.

Here it is prudent to incorporate into this analysis the effects of Colonialism and its offspring Capitalism and its foundation of Liberalism and Hierarchical structures. Indigenous peoples throughout the planet have been held in a subjugated position for centuries, and have been continuously denied the ability to develop their own infrastructures and economies. Each time they have attempted to throw off the oppressive reality, they have been confronted with State Sanctioned Violence usually in terms of a military force, but often times in the form of police institutions suppressing their assertions of autonomy and independence from Western Civilization. These Anti-Colonial and Anti-Capitalism movements are nothing new and have been occurring since the advent of colonialism. To clue you in to how far the government and its tool of indoctrination Public School is willing to go to restrict access to this truth take Tupac Shakur for instance. He was named in honor of Tupac Amaru, who was an indigenous revolutionary in Peru in 1780-1781 which at the time was under the colonial rule of Spain. The Crown dispatched a treacherous, rapacious, villainous, genocidal army who murdered indiscriminately the indigenous population of the Andes to suppress the uprising. This was followed by the disbanding and rewriting of the history of the Inca people and the Tawantinsuyu Empire that the Spanish Empire ‘conquered’ in South America. The government, the state, would like the people to believe that the indigenous people, first of all, no longer exist in the lands of their ancestors; and second, that they consented to their lands being stolen and their brethren being viciously exterminated because it makes occupying our lands much more palatable for the average American.

That needed to be fleshed out because I foresaw the rebuttal that if the indigenous people had only ‘assimilated‘ into Western Civilization or ‘made their own way’ that they too would have the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms of climate change; that I have shown they are not even responsible for. So, that argument will not work here.

This now brings us full-circle back to the issue of causality and the fact that the Global North is engaged in Environmental Racism against the Global South. Racism does not require that the person or group responsible for the discrimination be conscious or cognizant of the thoughts or practices they are engaged in that is causing harm to others. Furthermore, racism requires a system of hierarchical power that stratifies and relegates particular groups of people to positions of inferiority. There is no such thing as Reverse Racism and the very term is repugnant. Anyone who argues that reverse racism is a thing first and foremost acknowledges that racism exists. The second thing they acknowledge is that it does cause harm, and this is revealed by the fact that they do not want racism done to them because of its harmful characteristics. And third, it acknowledges that they do not want to do anything to change the impacts of racism because the argument is usually made in response to a suppressed people or their allies promoting some project, policy, practice, or legislation to make the system more equitable. A person who benefits from the hierarchical system of power that stratifies and relegates particular groups to positions of inferiority does not need to be cognizant of the benefit they receive from the system to benefit from it. This is White Privilege and as Sarra Tekola has put it, Climate Change Denial is a “white privilege” because they do not have to be conscious and cognizant of the impacts of climate change, given that they are not in the Global South.

The Shell Oil Rig that is parked in the harbor in Seattle the Polar Pioneer which the corporation is attempting to ship to the Arctic off the coast of Alaska is a continuation of the colonialism, capitalism, liberalism, and oppression of indigenous peoples throughout the entire planet. If they gain access to that deposit of oil it is guaranteed that we will cross the two degree threshold the IPCC has outlined as the point of no return before we enter into a feedback loop of climate change and global harm. If Shell is ignorant of the Global Impact their enterprise will have, that does not absolve them of responsibility or of the blatant racism of their actions. The Selfishness of those who benefit by white privilege is racism when that selfishness has an impact on people of color.