Nine years later edit (April 18, 2019): This starts off sounding bad, but marks a turning point where I started looking favorably at affirmative action. If I were to write this today, it would be phrased much differently.
More often than not, when I hear someone arguing for better equality, their reason for why equality is ideal is subjective. The words, “How would you feel if…” are often thrown about. “We want…” is the cry of people seeking to lengthen a stick of which they are firmly held at the short end. People who use such tacticts are trying to convince a majority who have never been, are not, and perhaps never will be at the low end of inequality to act in their behalf by appealing to sympathy.
But most people don’t know what it’s like to be trampled on, stuck without enough money for rent or even food, having few if any options for education that would allow them to get out from between the rock and the hard place. I know I don’t. Their appeals to my sympathy have always failed miserably in the face of my apathy. While that’s still true, my opinion on inequality has changed.
I’m minoring in sociology, and as my current sociology professor pointed out on the first day of class, sociology is a liberal discipline. Sociology turned out liberal, though, because the results of sociological studies have shown that liberal institutions tend to be beneficial to society. Sociological studies focuses on the nature and causes of social dysfunction, including the level of inequality between groups within a society and how societies’ levels of inequality compare to each other. Many studies have shown that countries where inequality is less have lower poverty rates, which in turn lead to lower crime rates and fewer and milder instances of other social problems.
It is such logical reasons on which arguments for equality should stand. If you can convince the majority that it’s in everyone’s best interest to help the needy rise above their situation, you stand a much better chance of seeing changes happen.
That’s not to say that using logic on the dominoes will make them all fall into place. There are many obstacles to seeing more liberal social assistance programs put into place in the United States, not the least of which is cultural attitude. The term welfare state has a negative connotation here in the United States. Our culture holds a deep-rooted belief that working hard means working your way to the top, that you can do anything if you only put your mind to it. The flip side of that coin is the belief that people who are on the lower rungs of the equality ladder suffer from some sort of personal or moral infirmity, that they’re not deserving of assistance since they can’t help themselves.
This is where emotional appeal does come in. Used appropriately the, “How would you feel?” argument can be put to good use to raise awareness of the fact that not everyone living in poverty is there as a consequence of their actions. By itself, though, it’s not enough; logic must be used as well.