The Growing Gap Between the Rich and the Poor

The issue of the growing gap between the rich and the poor is the theme of the 2013 movie Elysium.  Despite the movie’s many failures, it does bring up an important issue.  According to Rick Searle writing for ieet.org:

The immoral potential implicit in this gap confronts us directly, even if on simplistic terms, in the film Elysium where in the year 2154 the majority of humanity lives on a planet (the Earth) of want, social breakdown and violence when a minority lives in a transhumanist paradise in space (Elysium) where there is no disease, poverty or war.

Searle arguments are directed at transhumanists (or uber-technologists with an interest in life extension).  He goes on to write:

Part of the moral dilemma any transhumanist has to face is the sheer, and often unacknowledged gap, between transhumanist goals and the actual conditions of the large numbers of humanity.  Transhumanists in large measure have objectives such as the obtainment of biological immortality when the average life expectancy in a country like Sierra Leone is 46.  Talk of technologically supercharged humanity rings hollow when 2.6 billion humans beings lack toilets.  If these disparities are not addressed and our global environmental and political problems are not solved, we will likely have more explosions like the recent one in Egypt which is as much a crisis of population density, energy, food and water scarcity as it is a secular vs. religious conflict.

So while the technologies espoused by transhumanists are coming (in one form or another), it is important to insure they are universally available.  One way to do this is through enhanced social mobility.

Fareed Zakaria, writing in the Washington Post, says “cities with strong families, civic support groups and a community-service orientation do well on social and economic mobility.”  He notes that this is “why Salt Lake City–dominated by Mormons–has mobility levels that compare with” countries in northern Europe that “do better at moving poor people up the ladder than the United States does.”  And Zakaria emphasizes that Latter-day Saints consider it a religious duty to help their neighbors.

But churches like the LDS Church are finding many of their new members below the equator in developing countries.  So suddenly the demographic makeup of these churches is changing.  The description “neighbors” starts to take on a whole new meaning.  And as the world grows smaller (thanks to technological innovations), our potential to help our global neighbors expands.

Perhaps this is an area where transhumanist (largely viewed as atheists or agnostics) can gain from religionists who are sincerely interested in helping to narrow the opportunity gap between the rich and the poor.

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This entry was posted in mormonism, Movies, Religion, Social Justice, transhumanism. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Growing Gap Between the Rich and the Poor

  1. dor says:

    Thanks for the post Roger; it is an excellent topic.

    The gap between those who have enough and those who suffer from scarcity is growing. Technology has the ability to make the problem more intractable or to help bridge the divide. It is a matter of will and, perhaps, the civil rights challenge of our time.

    We must design not for simply for those who view design as an aesthetic but rather for those for whom design innovation is the difference between life and death. We must realize when we have “enough” and be willing to apply resources for the betterment of humanity rather than the excesses of the moment.

    Mormonism has the notion, within the family unit, of being sealed together for “time and all eternity”. It is time we extend the intent of sealing to the realization that “our family” includes all of humanity and that our fates are, indeed, sealed together. While the film envisions two separate existences, our near-term reality is our fates are indeed bound together.

  2. rogerdhansen says:

    The Mormon concept of family leads to some practices and doctrine that are difficult for me. Instead of focusing so much effort on assisting the dead, I would like to see the LDS Church place more emphasis on helping the living, those in our extended families that live in developing countries.

    With the internet and other communication options (including mobile banking), it is becoming increasing easy to connect with communities around the world. I like your statement that it is time we realize “that ‘our family’ includes all of humanity and that our fates are sealed together.”

    • Allen says:

      The church is doing quite a lot of humanitarian work. I expect it is a judgment call among LDS leaders, as well as among the lay membership, as to how much effort and resources to put in to help the poor vs. more traditional religious activities. For those interested, here is a good beginning page to understand what the church is doing and how you can help.

      http://www.lds.org/topics/humanitarian-service/church?lang=eng

      • rogerdhansen says:

        The LDS Church is doing a lot in the way of humanitarian service. And so are the members. I’ve talked to humanitarian and senior missionaries serving is several areas around the world. I’ve seen several of their projects. And I’m impressed

        The problem is the magnitude of the problem and the Church’s response. It’s been estimated that the Church spends about 1 percent of its total budget on global humanitarian aid (this is a difficult number to estimate because the leaders do not release financial information). Including Fast Offering, the number goes higher. If you include the estimated value of the volunteers, again the number grows. But still, I think we need to encourage the Church leadership to do more, much more.

        The LDS Church has been viewed as a top down organization. But increasing the leadership has shown signs of being heavily influenced by the opinions of its members. I think this is one area where the membership should speak out.

  3. I really liked the move. I think of it as a mixture of a story about today (the class divide, and immigration politics) and a story about tomorrow (the transhumanist medicine, the A.I. Flying cities, inntelligent guns, the totally awsome exo-sceleton)
    Also, it is partly a really modern style Sci-Fi, and partly a cyberpunk-film, that reminds me a little bit of Blade Runner, perhaps.
    I think that it’s scenario for the future is a bit unrealistic. I don’t think that the early adapters is the only adapters. A technology in rapid growth can’t just stop, once it has reached all the members of a certain class of people. That could work for cars, perhaps. But not for cellular-phones or computers. And definitively not for medicine that will “re-atomize” you and heal you completely. Would they really just stand there in the appartment? Why could anyone of Elysiums inhabitants just rent them out to earth-people for 10 minutes at the time? They could earn a lot, and it wouldnt really cost them much?
    I think that a rapid expanding technology like this would eventually benefit the poor too, and perhaps have a relative bigger i pact amongst the poor, just like the internet or cell-phones. Oh, and in the end of the film, it turns out it does benefit the poor, but not before (Massive spoiler! I won’t say!)

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Elling, I’m glad you liked the movie. I have just a couple of comments. Not only did the movie remind me a little of Blade Runner, it also reminded of the movie Escape from New York.

      But I’m not quite as optimistic about the future as you are. If you look at the practice of medicine today, the rich get a lot better care than the poor (many get none).

      I’m currently alive because of modern medicine and insurance. I had a serious heart attack at age 50 (almost on my birthday) with stints installed 6 months later. I then had triple bypass surgery at age 60. My total medical bills were over $150K. Luckily, I had access to insurance and quality medical care. But when this same scenario happens to someone who is poor and living in Africa, they just die. And unless things change, this disparity between service to the rich and poor will grow.

      I certainly hope that expanding technologies help everybody. Cell phones, computers, the Internet, mobile banking, etc. are having a big impact in eastern Africa (I spend quite a bit of time in Uganda). Hopefully similar things can happen with other technologies (mobile medicine?).

      But despite some serious concerns, I’m still positive about the future. I have to be; I have 11 grandchildren.

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