Inside Trinity One's Ethics Stream
Trinity One student Chelsea Tao talks about the dynamics of privilege and oppression from TRN171Y - Ethics and the Public Sphere.
“In order to analyze the ethics of today’s society and its impacts on the people living in it, we must turn our attention to the pervading spheres of inequality.”
“How can we approach such a dense and complex topic in a way that respects individual experiences?”
As you read this, consider the fact that you, as well as seven and a half billion other individuals, are living in a world shaped by a remarkable 200,000 years of human history. Contoured and carved, built and produced, forged from incredible achievements as well as the horrors of human evil. As we exist today, the impacts of histories such as colonization, war, slavery, national identity, rights movements, and much more permeate every aspect of our lives through the dynamics of power and oppression. In order to analyze the ethics of today’s society and its impacts on the people living in it, we must turn our attention to the pervading spheres of inequality.
How can we approach such a dense and complex topic in a way that respects individual experiences? As a class we committed to a model of profound listening and active engagement with the material. We do so by drawing from our own observations of inequality in contemporary life. Through this process we realized how conferred privileges and socially determined discrimination affect and sometimes regulate facets of daily life. Our socioeconomic status, sex, sexual orientation, race, physical and mental health, and more influence the way we experience and participate in a socially constructed world in which social benefits are unequally distributed.
Privilege and oppression occur within systems and institutions such as schools, workplaces, families, the media, and economic models. We must ask questions about who controls the narrative of society, what factors come into play when we think about the “defaults” that normalize behaviour in our society, and how people who don’t fit into this mould are treated.
For example, consider inequalities of physical accessibility: public buildings and spaces in Canada often offer stairs as the sole means of travelling between floors, ultimately making wheelchair use impossible and barring certain individuals from participating fully in society. Access inequality extends far beyond this example and into spheres of the racialized, the gendered, the dis-abled, and more. These are all ways that make some people less part of society than others.
As we moved through our discussions of applied ethics it became increasingly clear that dynamics of privilege create a web of relations that in turn construct a social reality that includes obstacles to equality. It is our duty to investigate the physical world and ask how these spaces influence our interactions with one another and how we can remove obstacles to full participation in social life. Just as we live in a world shaped by the decisions of those before us, we are responsible for understanding the dynamics that shape our world, and to make it better for those who will come after us.