Opinion

Poverty or wealth — it’s all in the genes

Sangeeth Varghese | Updated on November 29, 2019 Published on November 29, 2019

Success tool Genepool closely secured   -  istock/hyejin kang

The rich are communities that have zealously guarded their genepool over generations, and thus access to knowledge and power

Some institutions anchor us to hope — that even the downtrodden can step up and punch above their unjustifiably ascribed social weights. The JNU is one such institution. It allows the youth from small towns, backward classes and economically weaker sections to defy the enormous pull of historical gravity. Yet, inequality remains a scourge and social mobility hugely restricted after three-fourths of a century of our Independence.

Though it is quite plain that low- and middle-income economies like India would have larger, unequal societies, it is surprising that even wealthier ones like the US, Japan and Singapore face this challenge, albeit in a different form or degree. Sample this: in the US, three individuals, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, own as much wealth as the bottom half of the population. Hence, it is not surprising that reducing inequality has been a larger-than-life preoccupation of experts across politics, sociology and economics. The biggest economic and political theories of our times have been chasing what is basically a mirage.

Capitalism, the most popular one, believed that a free market would eventually self-correct inequalities, and hence advocated private means of production and competitive determination of products, prices, and distribution. However, capitalism left behind billions in the last several decades, became too unfair and ruthless; the top tier captured most of the economic benefits and the rest of the population was marginalised.

Socialism emerged with its rallying cry of equality, condemning capitalism for exploitation, domination and alienation. It believed markets were biased and hence there should be collective or governmental administration of the means of production and distribution to overcome inequalities. However, now we have empirical evidence on the persistence of significant inequalities and stratification in socialist societies, with no noticeable difference from capitalism. The inequality question looms large.

In our naivete, we believed that wealth and lack of opportunities were the reasons for all our inequalities and hence kept ourselves busy by either redistributing or creating wealth for the less equals. After so many decades of trial and error, we need to ask ourselves whether the real cause of inequality is something different altogether. Something hidden from plain sight. Our genepool.

Gene protectionism

Successful groups innately understood that it was not the wealth, but the genepool they possessed that really mattered and hence protected it aggressively from the prying eyes of intruders. They securely shut the access doors to their groups by creating exclusive identity moats of religion, caste, race and community. Each of these identities was further reinforced as water-tight compartments using soft tools of customs and traditions, and hard tools like taboos, social bans and arranged marriages. One example of such vigorous guardianship of the genepool could be the Jews, a highly successful community.

In our own backyard, alongside triumphant behemoths like the Parsis, Sindhis, Jains and Chettiars, there are even midgets boxing above their weight — like this wealthy Kerala Christian community called Knanaya. Though conventional wisdom suggests we could bring down inequality through methods like redistribution and reservation in reality, none of these might really have an impact, unless the dominant and successful genepools are opened up.

Through their genepools, independent groups have already built up tremendous systemic advantages in their favour. They filled up places that matter, in education, business, politics, and judiciary, and devised systems and rules favouring them, thereby accumulating tacit knowledge accessible only to them, oblivious to the outside world.

Any closed system shall implode once disadvantages start to weigh over. Basic knowledge of evolution tells us that inbreeding can have undesirable effects, and hence would eventually self-destruct. However, the hoarders are yet to feel the heat, because they have so far not been put to any visible and obvious disadvantage that could be traced back to their protectionist tendencies.

Many of these groups, who have closely guarded their genepools, have not only survived the onslaught of time, but also have thrived and succeeded. Opening up, as they have always feared, may not provide them any sort of tangible benefits — to themselves or to their future generations. To keep our hopes of an equal world alive, we either would have to continue our fight to keep anchors like JNU intact, or wait for the genepool hoarders to open their family treasures.

The writer is a social strategist from LSE

Published on November 29, 2019
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