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4 comments, In Series: All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity

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The Social Contract in a Dignitarian Society

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The resources involved would be held initially by a National Endowment Mutual Fund--a quasi-public corporation similar to Fannie Mae. The fund would function like TIAA-CREF, dividing its assets into mutual funds of diversified investments. Endowment funds would not be available to parents and would become fully vested when a person reached the age of 30. Assets held by any individual who dies before the full vesting would be returned to the general pool to help finance the following year's new endowments.

The great promise of a "democratic capitalism" is its potential to heal a society riven with dignity gaps. A hand-to-mouth existence is as incompatible with dignity as is lack of access to health care and education. Without a living wage the American dream is a mirage. An inclusive economics affirms every citizen's inherent dignity. Equal opportunity is sometimes confused with equal outcomes.

Obviously, it is no such thing. In a fair race, all the runners at the starting line have an equal opportunity to win, but only one of them gets the gold medal. However, this is all right. Our dignity does not depend on winning or even tying. It depends on doing our best in a fair contest and not facing humiliation or degradation if we lose. It depends on having an honest chance and then finding a niche from which we can contribute something commensurate with our particular talents and abilities.

Dignity also depends on being acknowledged for making this contribution and on being compensated well enough so that we (and our dependents) can continue to play the game.

Besting others in a contest that has been fixed may bring us loot or glory but it carries no lasting satisfaction. Instead, it sows doubts about our achievement that leave us feeling insecure and guilty. Heaven forbid that we should lose a later competition and expose ourselves to the indignities now visited upon those we've vanquished in an unfair match! A dignitarian society promises what we all really need: not necessarily a win, but an honest chance at winning that brings out the best in us.

Given the certainty that some fraction of the population will suffer failure and even catastrophe, plans like Baldwin's do not permit the dismantling of the social safety net. But as rankism is eliminated and equal opportunity becomes a reality, we can expect welfare programs to diminish in scope and size. Funds spent ensuring a fair chance for everyone are more productive than funds spent trying to correct the effects of chronic malrecognition.

Second-class citizenship is incompatible with dignity--not only the dignity of those consigned to it, but the collective dignity of the society that tolerates the discrimination. Creating pathways out of poverty is essential to the integrity of any dignity movement. A dignitarian society will finally deliver on Jefferson's promise that "all are created equal."

For further background on the connection between rankism and indignity, listen to Rob Kall's interview with me here.

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http://www.rowantreenovel.com

Robert W. Fuller is a physicist, a former president of Oberlin College, and author of The Rowan Tree: A Novel. He has consulted with Indira Gandhi, met with Jimmy Carter regarding the president's Commission on World Hunger, worked in the (more...)
 
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... by Robert Fuller on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013 at 4:56:26 PM
Why do people talk about "inequality", in the face... by Ad Du on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013 at 9:53:45 PM
 "No matter how brilliant and hard-working ... by Ad Du on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013 at 9:42:45 PM
The Belief in SignificanceI do not have a lot of t... by Eric Lucas on Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013 at 3:53:39 AM