The other day, on a fine and glorious morning, I checked my privilege. Wallowing in an ivory bath of goat’s milk, sipping the curdled blood of cute puppies from a cup carved from the skull of a child labourer from some forsaken eastern country, as the dancing girls fanned me with rare feathers and the latest stock news blared out over the radio, I found my privilege to be of greater worth than the many bricks of gold stored in my Swiss vault.
Hello, my name is Ben and I am a Tory. According to the BBC, the Guardian and George Monbiot I am a climate change denying hound from the depths of a dark and terrible hell, a barbarian and cultural philistine and a throwback to an age best forgotten. The latest research suggests that 85% of my Facebook friends will read the opening paragraph and think it based on a real event.
Privilege is something that is a thing, and the latest fad among the left is to check it on a regular basis, as though it were a medical condition. The purpose of checking ones privilege is self-censorship, for what else does the middle class left love to do but constrain and restrain debate? As a white, heterosexual male my privilege is so exceedingly great that I can express no opinion on women, racism or sexual equality. Which is exactly the kind of repression that women, racial groups and sexual minority groups have fought against. Oh blessed irony!
For all my scorn there is an element of truth in this ridiculous fad: I live a privileged life. My income (which is below the UK average) puts me in the top 3% of world population, I am richer than 6.3 billion people. I am 58x times richer than a billion people. And with this larger income comes a lower proportion spent on food (20% compared to over 50%), an education level that also puts me in the top few percent of the world and twenty four years of peace, living in a country with a good justice system, a working democracy and large levels of infrastructure investment.
All this leaves us with a pertinent and difficult question: why is life so unfair and what can be done about it? By the providence of God I was born into a prosperous life with over 6 billion people around me who are less well off. Having no control over so many aspects of my life, I have privilege that is indeed beyond measure.
And as a Tory, my response is to affirm this principle: Life is Unfair. Immediately, this goes a long way to explaining why being Conservative is so unpopular to some people (particularly young people). This is hardly a philosophy that the masses are going to die for. “I believe in freedom and life being unfair!” is not the cry of the revolution. And I can imagine that a lot of people reading this are having fits of anger, assuming and reading into this simple statement a hundred implications that no sane Conservative would ever believe.
Nuance, is a wonderful thing, so having laid out my starting proposition I am going to defend it by adding nuance back in. I make no apologies for starting with the Bible and the words of Jesus: “You will always have the poor among you.” (John 12v8) for with these simple words a thousand utopian dreams die and a hundred ideologies are crushed.
The reality of the world we live in is that it is broken, both nature and human nature has an inherent corruption to it which the Bible calls sin. If that word offends, open up a newspaper, read through and tell me that this world is in anyway not broken. This brokenness is not something that can be fixed by any human means, the human race has fallen and there is no helping it except through the good news of Jesus Christ. But that is a topic for another day, it is enough to say that curing human nature is beyond human power.
Therefore, as an immediate consequence, any political aspirations are curtailed. Once the unfairness of life is taken as a constant, the goal and aim in a political ideology must change. Any ideology that promises heaven on earth is wrong, because it has failed to understand human nature. Consider the last few thousand years of human history, for all society likes to pretend that we have progressed, human nature is still just as bad as ever. Sure, we banned slavery except it still exists. Sure, we gave women the vote and then we force thousands of women (and men) to debase themselves to fulfill our desire for pornography. Sure, gay people can now be married only instead of oppressing homosexuals society now oppresses the religious minorities who oppose gay marriage. Science was going to save us and instead taught us more efficient ways of killing each other.
All these "advances" have not and cannot alter the fundamental reality of the world we live in. It is unfair. Life is unfair and there is no helping it. If I could, I would carve this phrase into stone and place it in the centre of all Parliaments world-wide, to remind them that human endeavour has distinct limits set by our flawed human nature. Promises to end inequality are chaff in the wind, doomed to fail, at best replacing one kind of inequality for another. Even if society was organised to eliminate economic inequality there would be a new kind of inequality, likely political. Socialist countries still have the “haves” and the “have-nots”.
All this doom and gloom raises an important question: why bother to do anything then? For it is possible to read Jesus’ words as saying: “You will always have the poor with you so why bother to do anything to alleviate poverty?” But by saying life is unfair and by trying to show that there are limits to what can be achieved, it does not follow that nothing should be done, it merely tempers our expectation of reality.
For as fallen as our nature is, we are still made in the image of God and still possess the capability to go good, and a lot of it. For example, it is a good thing that Northern Ireland has recently passed a new bill on Sex Trafficking which is designed to help victims more. It is a good thing that the Christian charity I mentioned in my last post is striving to help and stand up for the poor and the needy. Increasing the personal allowance is a good thing for the poor, increasing employment is a good thing for the country, protecting the rights of minorities or oppressed groups are good things.
A Conservative Government will go about looking to improve the country, as well it should. What makes a Conservative Government different is that it should also carry with it a sense of perspective granted by the axiom that life is unfair. For this truth focuses the mind, not on the perfect, but the achievable, not on pie in the sky dreams but spade in the earth reality.
It might not be strictly fair for the rich to pay the same rate of tax as the rest of us, but increasing the tax means that they leave the country and so pay no tax at all. This might not be fair either, but it is and so it has to be lived with and worked around. Accepting that life is unfair gets you to the final point much quicker, by all means tax the rich but remember not to go too far. Again, not exactly the election slogan to win votes but a point of wisdom nevertheless.
To use another example from this charity I worked for – there are a number of clients who get dropped from the charity because they make no effort to get out of the situations they are in. It might not be fair that these people are dropped but there are others out there who will work with the charity and so this is the reality that has to be lived with. It’s not the ideal, far from perfect, still unfair but better than doing nothing at all.
The fact that life isn’t fair does not shackle us to the prison cell of inaction, instead it frees us to do good in this unfair world, having a sense of perspective that will ground our efforts and actions in a practical and robust attitude. This truth is a cornerstone of Conservativism, a block of hard truth that many young people initially fall against only to discover its truth years later.