Life Chances

Life Chances

A Chapter by Debbie Barry
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An essay about social classes. Written for SOC 101: Introduction to Sociology.

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Life Chances


7/8/2010


 

I tried to do the assignment as instructed and to imagine a society in which there are no social classes, but I was unable to stretch or to bend my mind to meet the task.  I cannot think of a time in history, even back to that history recorded in cave paintings before the creation of written language, in which there have been no significant differences in people's wealth, income, and life chances.  Admittedly, there have been times when the differences were larger or smaller than they are today, but there have always been strata in human societies.

If a truly equal society ever did arise, every person would have an equal social opportunity to survive and to succeed.  However, success would be defined as maintaining the status quo, which would not provide anyone with any challenges to meet or to overcome.  Meeting challenges is what causes creativity and invention to thrive, and I imagine that both would be lost in an equal society.

It seems to me, after watching a large cage of white mice at the pet store yesterday, that social stratification is a natural fact of life.  In that cage, certain mice seemed to influence other mice, with the more powerful mice keeping control of the food bowl and of the water bottle, while the other mice were left to scrabble with each other over the scraps of food that fell out of the bowl.  In many ways, humans are not so different from those mice.  The stronger, smarter, and more ambitious members of human society exert physical, fiscal, and social controls over the weaker, less intelligent, and slower members of society.  Even when a play yard full of toddlers starts with each child having the same number of toys, the naturally dominant child always ends up with more toys than anyone else, and the more submissive children end up toyless.

As I have illustrated with the mice and with the toddlers, an equal society is unstable, and will stratify over time.  If the members of the society make a conscious effort to maintain the equality of the society, it might take longer for the society to stratify, but stratification will inevitably occur.

Max Weber believed that a person's position in society is based on that person's "class, status, and power" (Schaefer, 2009, p. 190).  In a society in which there are no social classes, there is, in fact, just one class.  Therefore, at the beginning of an experiment with an equal society, every person would be of the same class as every other person.  Status and power, on the other hand, would define each person in the society.  Even if matters of race, color, gender, language, and religion were all equal, age and generation affect a person's status and power.  A parent has higher status than a child, even in the animal kingdom.  At the same time, a parent has power over a child, simply as a matter of biology; a parent controls a child's access to food and shelter, and can exert that power by providing or by withholding the things a child needs.  This creates a natural stratification in a society.  In addition, superior strength and superior intelligence represent power, and contribute to defining a person's position in society.  The strong person, who can use force to get what he or she wants, can rise to the top of an otherwise equal society.  The intelligent person, who can solve problems and invent things that people want and need, can also rise to the top of an otherwise equal society.  An intelligent person who also possesses physical strength, or who can control and direct people with physical strength, can rise to the highest point of all in a previously equal society.  Weak and less intelligent people slip to the bottom of a society that includes strong and intelligent people.  In such a society, the single economic class can be expected to break apart into multiple classes as the members of the society sort themselves into various strata.

 


References


Schaefer, R.T.  (2009).  Sociology: A brief introduction (8th ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw Hill.




© 2017 Debbie Barry



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Debbie Barry
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Author

Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI



About
I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..

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