Inequality, rights and justice: Can citizens do something about it?
Inequality is a multifaceted phenomenon closely connected with notions of discrimination, access to healthcare and job market, socioeconomic status and freedom of choice (Neckerman, 1991). The lower is the socioeconomic status, the weaker is social connectedness and job perspectives. Limited and isolated in terms of social support and possibilities, individuals in disadvantage social groups are being marginalized and deprived of the mere possibility to get fair treatment and basic human rights (Gallagher, 1997). This marginalization occurs both in developed and developing countries, and often affects migrants and persons with lower educational level. Each citizen makes conscious decisions when dealing with and utilizing symbolic boundaries, deciding which businesses to support by making consumer choices, and choosing employees when acting as an employer. Each such decision may encourage justice or incite inequality; citizen, therefore, have a very particular role in ensuring justice on everyday basis.
Free trade agreements as well as fair trade initiatives are aimed at reducing trade and economic divides worldwide. They are, however, not flawless and often benefit already wealthy business owners and not necessarily the workers who directly contribute to these businesses’ success. Citizens may choose to support or disregard such initiatives, depending on their attitudes, interests and understanding of fairness. Contributing to global processes as a citizen is not an easy task, given lack of information and global corporations having disproportional power over smaller businesses around the world (Spiked, 2011). On a smaller scale, however, every citizen has a possibility to contribute to the fight against corruption, discrimination and unfair practices by choosing to support persons around us. Those who need help and look for ways to improve their personal situations and contribute to our society are in fact dependent on other citizens and their judgements. Reducing levels of mistrust to newcomers and migrants and giving them a fair chance to contribute to our society may in fact pay back by hard work, tax contributions and dedication of those who are often not given a mere opportunity to become useful residents from society’s point of view. Citizens may also choose to support charities of their choice to contribute to implementation of fairer practices and better quality of life of those heavily affected by unfair treatment and lacking essential means to survive. Integrating those around us, instead of rejecting them on the basis of race or nationality, is an achievable goal which indeed may make our society a better place to live in.
Soundscape is an example of invisible boundaries and is connected to cultural, personal and professional matters. A music teacher needs support from its neiboughrs to make his living; an industrial establishment built close to private houses may indeed disturb local residents and lower their quality of life. Commercial messages in public places may also be considered a violation of personal rights as they indeed introduce forced listening with no choice available to listeners (Sewald, 2011). Citizens can advocate fairness as professional activities are concerned, at the same time protecting their own peace and quiet. At times, a considerable amount of tolerance is required to make sure that people with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds can live together sharing physical space and soundscape. For instance, young people established their own culture of sound and sound tolerance which is not necessarily shared by older persons. Younger people would appeal to their basic right of enjoying their life style wherease older persons may have a point when emphasizing their right to reside in quiet environment. Both categories may feel that their rights are violated when their definition of fairness is not fully supported by their environment. That is where citizens should utilize reasoning, fair judgement, negotiation skills and tolerance when solving soundscape conflicts. In particular, employing individualisation and acknowledging that sound is rather context- than location-dependent often helps people realize that shared space requires negotiation, tolerance and sometimes active actions. We continuously need to adapt to our environment, and let other people function when requesting our rigts to be respected by others. Due to individual differences between definitions of quietness and acceptability of noise levels, the only way citizens can contribute to justice is to be considerate and apply judgement all the times when realizing others’ rights and interests. Respecting each other and negotiating rather than exacerbating conflicts seems to be a very good alternative to fighting in courts and letting authorities decide what space we are to live in. Nevertheless, when it comes to judicial process, citizens are to help courts and attorneys to do their jobs instead of elevating levels of stress and becoming unreasonably negative. Citizens, therefore, have to apply fair judgement and be tolerant even when they fight for their own rights in courts.
Furthermore, learning to recognize inequalities and making choices on everyday basis makes citizens more aware of their own rights as well as rights and needs of others around them. Only when one takes into consideration both own needs and those of other people, justice can emerge. Being a responsible citizen does not mean doing everything right; rather, it can simply mean to be aware of different points of view. Other people may have different opinions which should always be respected unless they are particularly directed against peace and harmony in the shared environment. Being mindful of one’s own environment is a prerequisite for ensuring justice on a greater scale.
Zoning attempts at regulating sound at certain zones thus reducing the occurrence of conflicts. Having its advantages, zoning cannot be implemented in the way benefiting all the persons living in the area. Residents living in bordering areas suffer similar restrictions as those living in exclusion zones. Moreover, this type of regulation is rather based on prohibition than negotiation, which makes it difficult for residents in quiet zones to deal with occasional infrequent sound events such as loud arguying or car noise outside the house.
Regardless the way communities deal with soundscape issues, individual citizens can, and should, use their own judgement in order to reduce occurence of interpersonal conflicts and make sure that justice is not understood unilaterally. Everybody has a right to live in a friendly environment, so being able to discuss, compromise and understand each other is an important factor in ensuring justice. This approach to justice also reduces the amount of unnecessary conflicts and legal actions. It makes sense to fight for one’s rights but only when there is no possiblity to make an agreement without involving legal proceedings. It is, therefore, up to citizens to choose a peaceful solution, whenever possible, and demonstrate their tolerance to each other and the desire to make shared space comfrotable to all the residents. The process of adapting to environment and adjusting one’s behaviour is a clear demonstration of the so called ‘distributive justice’. Absolute justice in shared places does not exist; rather, the benefits and burdens are distributed through the society. One cannot enjoy only benefits without having to tolerate some inconvenience when other people enjoy their own rights. The solution is in balancing out benefits and burdens, and understanding that other people have their own needs and rights.
Society obviously cannot function without boundaries. These boundaries, even though often designed to maintain peace, lead to inequalities, discrimination and violations of rights for some social groups. Whereas boundaries attempt at creating protection for some groups of people, the same boundaries may lead to social exclusion for others (Massey, 2007). Boundaries, therefore, should not be abused and rather used for justice purposes. Citizens, yet again, should actively promote justice by not misusing existing boundaries as well as not creating new unfair boundaries with respect to others.
In conclusion, one needs to point out that justice cannot be described in absolute terms. Every single citizen may have a slightly different opinion on what justice is and what behaviour is being considered acceptable. Rather than creating even more boundaries, citizens have an option of dealing with existing ones in a responsible and reasonable way. Rather than escalating conflicts and waiting for others, including authorities, to be able to resolve the issues, it makes sense for citizens to actively participate in promoting tolerance, fight discrimination and demonstrate fair judgement. Rather than looking for differences, citizens may make a step forward and offer help to those around them instead of simply fighting for their own rights and personal interests. Communities are being shared by different kinds of people; we would rather try to establish community rights than separate people by giving rights to some social groups but not the others. Justice, therefore, cannot be achieved by citizens passively waiting for rules to be implemented and rights to be enforced. Instead, each citizen should have a role in defining the justice and have their say in making justice work.
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Massey, D. S. (2007). Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Neckerman, K. M., & Kirschenman, J. (1991). Hiring strategies, racial bias, and inner-city workers. Social Problems: Special Issue: The underclass in the United States, 38(4), 433-447.
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Spiked (2011). Why fairtrade is an unfair deal. Retrieved from: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/11116#.WYncIvFSCDI