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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Social Integration

Social Integration

The closest we come to an official definition of social integration is the
United Nations Social Development - Part C* (1995) document(1) which states:

''We commit ourselves to promoting social integration by fostering societies
that are stable, safe and just and that are based on the promotion and
protection of all human rights, as well as on non-discrimination, tolerance,
respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, solidarity, security, and
participation of all people, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups
and persons. (.....and so on.)"

If people were paying attention to the lessons in 1789 and in 1995 they
would have known we already have a well established philosophy and political
theories on social integration: otherwise called egalitarianism. This
concept forms part of the more general subject of the theory of justice.
(see the Stanford Encyclopedia; egalitarianism)

Irrespective of which theory we are looking at, egalitarianism, the UN
social integration or whatever, we find two fundamental recurring concepts:
equality and disadvantaged. Different commentators might use different words
to convey the same idea, for example, fair opportunities, respect for others
and so on. As far as we are concerned, however, it does not make any
difference what they are called.

I will nail my colours to the mast at this early stage and say that there is
only one type of disadvantage a person can have in life and that is to be
born with physical or genetic problems or to develop such problems in the
course of one's life. Every thing else is human caused and probably
"society" caused disadvantages. So when I say disadvantages I will have
this distinction in mind, and would call physical problems as natural
disadvantages.

It is therefore ironic that the member states of the UN should say ''We
commit ourselves to promoting social integration,'' when the disadvantages
they wish to remove are in the majority disadvantages they have themselves
created through faulty or ill thought out policies throughout the ages. The
fact that in 1995, these states got round to talking about centuries old
disadvantages suggests that they really did not pay any attention to the
lesson of 1789. But then why should they? After all, the French revolution
could be said, like all revolutions and civil wars, to be just a local
affair and nothing to do with foreigners. Today we use more diplomatic
language and call this "not interfering in the internal affairs of other
nations." I call this the non-interference principle, which could easily be
interpreted as you abuse your people the way you like, and we abuse our own
people the way we like.

I must admit that I have not read the whole UN document, which runs into a
very large number of pages, but it would be curious how the UN proposes to
accommodate the non-interference principle with clause (o) of the accord
which puts social integration in an international context: Promote
international cooperation and partnership on the basis of equality, mutual
respect and mutual benefit.

For example, would a state that oppressed minorities, such as women or free
thinkers, be regarded as equal? And although the document is the essence of
political correctness and moral standing, it does not mention such groups as
single parents or homosexual people. Some states see single parents, exclude
for now widowed spouses, and homosexual people as normal members of society
with special needs. Others see the same groups as the essence of evil and
would happily let these people be eaten by wild beasts (metaphorically
speaking). Could it be that before we can speak of social integration and
international social integration, we have to establish some sort of
universal state enlightenment?

Maybe, the international context is a bit tricky, which might explain why
out of fifteen clauses only three are aimed at the international application
of social integration.

Clause (k) does, however, speak of the various forms of the family. I take
this to also include families made up of one father and many mothers, the
nebulous extended family, foster parents and adoptees. But to give the
benefit of the doubt to the draftees of the agreement I will also include it
to mean, single parents and gay parents. However, consider this news that
comes from Britain:

BBC NEWS (28/02/2007)
Mothers face 'job discrimination'
".....A mother with a child aged under 11 is 45% less likely to be employed
than a man, the Equalities Review will find."

And this has nothing to do with being a single parent. So once we make
allowances for incompetent and arrogant political and economic policies,
human nature and maybe lack of foresight on the part of some mothers, what
are we left with?

Like many commentators, I would say that the system (whatever that means) is
flawed. But I don't mean flawed in the sense that it is corrupt or unjust, I
have already made allowances for that, but rather in a conceptual way of
flawed.

By conceptual flaw I mean the way we think and approach a situation. To
explain what I mean by conceptually flawed I want to consider the following
analogy: the process of buying fruit (especially apples). Supermarkets know
that most people are dazzled by shinny things. We seem to have a natural
bias to select shinny things, the fact that we seem to receive this
information about shininess sooner than other reflections, plus the fact
that shinny things are not that common, might have something to it. Shinny
things, however, stand out. And shinny things that are also red, just have
our total attention. Of course, when we take those apples home and bite into
them they taste of nothing. Sweet fruit, has a natural progression of
redness. It is not the hue nor the colour of redness that counts, but the
tone of redness.

All colours have tone. If you want to know what tone is, try this. Take a
pencil with a good sharp point at the end. On a sheet of white paper, tilt
the pencil so that only the side of the point touches the paper, but not the
point itself. Now, apply pressure on the tilted point and move it from left
to right and in a downward direction on the paper. As you do this, gradually
release the pressure as you go down the paper. What you get is a tone
spectrum; the colour is the same but the tone goes from dark to light.
Alternatively to the pencil experiment check the site below from About.Inc
(2).

The conceptual flaw, in this apple example, is looking at the shine and
colour and not at the tone of the colour of the fruit. If you can recognise
tone graduation, your success rate at picking ripe fruit should increase
dramatically .

Before I come to discussing the conceptual flaw and offer an alternative
suggestion, I want to point out some of the sources of this flaw. I have
already mentioned that, except for natural disadvantages, the only
disadvantages that exist are human made. Hence, what do we mean by
integration? This is usually interpreted as equality. Egalitarianism speaks
of equality and social integration also speaks of equality.

In English the word integration gives us an image of movement towards a
unity or 'body.' Bringing someone or something into the fold or even
absorption. We can now ask two relevant questions; Who is or who has to
change their position? And what is the nature of this change?

The answer to these two questions is probably relative to what we're talking
about. If we are talking about those people who have physical problems, it
is quite evident that it is society who has to change; and some changes have
been made. The question is what are legitimate changes and are there any
limits? It is one thing to have access to normal public spaces and an other
to expect people with physical problems to have access to public spaces that
might prove dangerous to every one using these places. And especially
dangerous to those with physical problems.

Let me take two examples. What ought to be done with a person who is
confined to a wheelchair, but they also want to experience a good night out
at the cinema? If things go well the situation would be difficult to
inconvenient for all. In an emergency the situation might prove dangerous.

The second example, is someone who wants to read a book, but have sight
problems. Do they have to deprive themselves from buying books? Some might
point out that there are charities who provide, books for the blind, either
in a spoken form or in large print?

It might be argued that by providing ramps and spaces in theatres (at least
in modern buildings) or books for the blind we are practically solving the
problem. But we are practically solving the problem because we are looking
at the situation with flawed philosophical concepts.

A person with physical problem is not integrated into society by being
provided by ramps and wide spaces. To begin with this person would still
have to confirm that there are such facilities and secondly that such
facilities are not only accessible within the theatre, but accessible, as
able bodied people have access to theatres, from home or where ever they
happen to be. When I'm at work and at the end of the day I want to go with
my partner to the cinema I don't call the cinema to find out whether they
have doors that open or flights of stairs that lead to the hall. And I don't
check with the bus company if their buses have wheels. I just go to the
cinema. We can argue on similar lines for those people with sight problems.

You might argue that what I'm pointing at is utopia or cloud cuckoo land.
Yes but that is because we are still thinking with those flawed
philosophical concepts. The point is that charity and adaptation are neither
economic policy nor a political strategy. First of all, to have books
prepared for people with sight problems requires money and people to do this
work. Charity and charity like policies depend on the benevolence of
individuals (and there are many of such people). But such programmes as
books for the blind require a steady budget and skilled people to make most
books available to those who need them. Integration ought not to depend on
asking for favours or benevolence but through the exercising of one's
rights.

The concept that is usually linked to cultural integration is equality. But
this concept is itself not that clear. Hence when we agree that mothers
ought to have equal opportunities what do we mean? It is clear, that
whatever we mean by integration, it is at least (in Britain) 45% wrong. That's
quite a big margin to be wrong about something. We do however think that
when facilities for the disabled are installed in buildings we are somehow
approaching closer to that magical state of equality. But why should the
"disadvantaged" be made equal to the advantaged? Does equality mean the
majority, hence to be integrated into society means to fall in line with the
majority?

However, equality introduces another kind of problem. Take the case of the
disadvantaged women with children in the labour market. It is one thing to
point out that 45% of these women are discriminated against, but this does
not tell us anything about whether having a right to work implies having an
obligation to employ someone? Hence, does having a right immediately creates
an obligation? Secondly, since giving someone the opportunity to exercise
their right to work is itself not rewarded, why should a company employ
someone who is disadvantaged? The act itself of integrating someone who is
disadvantaged does not have a direct bearing on the bottom line. To use some
technical language, integrating disadvantaged people in a company does not
create good will value on the balance sheet; employing exceptionally
talented people does directly contribute to the good will value of a
company. So what obligation does an employer have to employ a disadvantaged
person when all that matters is the bottom line; and in the modern business
world only the bottom line matters. Sure, there are government policies that
try to help integrate disadvantaged people in the mainstream business world.
But it is also evident that with a 45% deficit it is not enough.

The UN document, for example, has such concepts as pluralism, diversity and
tolerance. At face value these concepts do not seem to fit well with the
idea of integrating with the majority nor with equality. Being homosexual
and becoming like the majority does not exactly work. Being an atheist does
not exactly work in a theistic society. The majority is by definition
incompatible with pluralism and diversity. The meaning of majority implies
that the largest group of people are all of the same opinion even if we
allow a reasonable margin of deviation. But this happens if we take the
concept of majority and society to mean some sort of unified being. However,
I would argue that society and majority are not some being with some sort of
an ontological status. There are only individuals on this Earth, ideas such
as majority and society are only conceptual extractions we are capable of
doing with our brain. Such ideas might help us with our daily thinking, but
they shouldn't assume more status than they actually have.

The essence of 45% women being discriminated against is not that companies
discriminate against women, but that a manager, a director or an HR
consultant did not want to take the risk of employing a woman with a child
younger than 11 years old. In the same way that I don't take the risk of
buying apples which are super shinny. On a wider picture, therefore, it is
not that society needs to integrate disadvantaged people, but that we, as
individuals, have to tolerate, accept, allow diversity and have pluralistic
attitudes. Social integration is not the business of governments, but it
ought to be the obligation of individuals.

The conceptual flaw is therefore, not that laws, norms or policies are
usually discriminatory, or at least those apartheid type of laws are not
that common now, but that individuals do not come from a mass production
conveyor belt, all conforming to the same specifications. It is not that
laws are usually discriminatory, but that people are all different, all
unique, all have individual needs and capabilities. The flaw itself is to
imagine that laws and norms should be applied the same irrespective of the
individual to whom it is going to be applied to or the circumstances of that
individual. On the contrary it is laws and norms that should adopt
themselves to the individual.

This idea that the law should adopt itself to the circumstances of the
individual is not new. In fact it dates back to 1529, although some would
say that it goes even further when chancellors, who were put in charge by
the king to hear petitions from the citizenry, did not have legal training
and did not follow common law precedent.

I am of course referring to the legal principle of equity, which was created
in the English common law system. The idea behind equity is fairness and
justice, given the circumstances of the case. Equity tries to achieve
justice by ruling certain judgements, which and when statute or judicial
precedent would not allow such a fair judgement. (Wikipedia:equity) Consider
this definition of equity from the dictionary.law.com website:
n. 1) a venerable group of rights and procedures to provide fairness,
unhampered by the narrow strictures of the old common law or other technical
requirements of the law...

The problem with equity is that those who advocate equity must themselves be
equitable. For example, one of the first imaginative uses of equity was for
lawyers to create trust instruments. These are legal instruments, when
property is legally owned by one person, but the beneficiary of that
property is an other person. This was a legal way of avoiding property tax.
One owned the property but did not enjoy its benefits, and the other enjoyed
the benefits but not owe the property; so what are the government going to
tax, the property or the benefit?

But the principle of equity is very sound, irrespective of the creative
imagination of lawyers. For example, today we owe it to equity (in Tort law)
for the idea of receiving damages when injured by someone else. (Donoghue
(or McAlister) v. Stevenson [1932] AC 532, 1932 S.C. 31, All ER Rep 1). In
Donoghue the plaintiff with a friend bought a soft drink from a bar and when
the friend went to pour the rest of the drink a decomposed snail came out of
the bottle. Donoghue said, having consumed some of the drink, that she felt
sick and asked for damages from the bottling company. Before Donoghue, the
law only allowed damages to be paid if there was a breach of contract. This
case allowed damages when there wasn't a contract. This is also a very
entertaining case.

What the principle of equity establishes in the common law legal system is
precisely the idea that it is the law that must adapt to the individual and
not the individual to the law. Of course, I'm not saying that the present
state of equity is what I am advocating should be applied. What goes on in
equity courts today is of little import to us. However, what I'm advocating
is that equity type philosophical concepts solve the problem of flawed
concepts. If you like, norms and laws are the equivalent to colour and hue,
but equity represents tone.

Furthermore, the centuries old principle of equity demonstrates that human
beings have the conceptual tools to administer fairness over rules, laws,
conventions and dictates. Being able to do what is fair and just is not only
within our conceptual grasp but also within our capacity. We do not only
practice the law of the jungle.

The equitable principle is not incompatible with personal just rewards or
accumulation of personal wealth. Of course, it is beyond the scope of this
essay to establish the details and functions of a system based on this
principle of equity. But one line of thought could be to reward more those
who are directly involved in the creation of wealth and value to a company
than those who simply buy an inactive shareholding in the company. This will
probably also reduce the sometimes reckless forays into the stock market. It
might even take such markets to there original philosophy which was to share
ownership risks and not just to become super rich.

After all is said and done, the real problem about social integration is
that it does not take into consideration the individual. It refers to the
disadvantaged or disadvantaged groups, but it does not identify the mother
that needs a fair day's pay for fair day's work. Moreover, it only
establishes the idea of a right, it does not establish do-able obligations.
Social integration shines and looks pretty, but it lacks the bite.

Take care

Lawrence

(1) World Summit for Social Development
Copenhagen, 1995
Economic and Social Development at the
United Nations : Department of Economic and Social Affairs : Gateway to
Social Policy and Development : Social Summit : Agreements; Part C:
Commitments; Commitment 4
http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/wssd/agreements/decpartc.htm

(2) Painting Color Class: Tones or Values
http://painting.about.com/od/colourtheory/ss/ColorClassTones.htm
©2007 About, Inc.,

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