The respect deficit

BOOK REVIEW

Dream Hoarders, Authors: Richard V Reeves.
Equality of What? Author: Amartya Sen.
One Another’s Equals, Author: Jeremy Waldron.
If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich? Author: Gerald Cohen.
A Theory of Justice, Author: John Rawls.
Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy, Author: Sheryll Cashin.
The Wealth of Nations, Author: Adam Smith.
The Rise of the Meritocracy, Author: Michael Young.
Player Piano, Author: Kurt Vonnegut.
Hillbilly Elegy, Author: J D Vance.

By Richard V Reeves – Contemporary concerns over inequality are typically framed in economic terms. Income and wealth provide convenient gauges of the growing distance between the affluent and the rest. But there is a much deeper kind of inequality, caused not by a lack of resources, but by a lack of respect. You might be much richer or poorer than I am. But if we treat each other with mutual respect, we are, relationally speaking, equal.

Societies that are equal in terms of relations are those in which there is mutual respect, where – as the philosopher Philip Pettit put it in 2010, alluding to a line by John Milton – ‘free persons … can speak their minds, walk tall among their fellows, and look each other squarely in the eye’.

Look each other squarely in the eye. That’s the heart of it. If I lower my eyes out of deference, I render myself your inferior. Black slaves who dared look their owners in the eye could be whipped for ‘insolence’. If we consider ourselves morally worthier than someone else, we are said to ‘look down’ on them; and they likely notice. If we simply fail to look a person in the eye – my bus driver perhaps – the danger is we miss their basic humanity, their essential moral sameness, the basic equality that exists between us. And then I might throw an insult, or something much worse, at them. more>

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