For this month’s Scientiae, Pat @ Fairer Science has asked,
What do you think a better, more equitable society should look like? What are your dreams for your life? For the lives of others? How close are you to living the life of your dreams? What would make you able to live that life?
What I would like to see more of in our society in general is choice. Real choice. Not just new compulsory roles masquerading as choice. I mean a multitude of different ways for people to live their lives, and all of them equally viable and equally respectable. I feel that I spend an awful lot of time justifying the choices I've made in my life and the rights of others to make different choices. Overall, I am pretty happy with my life, because I have done and continue to do the things I want to do. But I often wonder – how many people just don’t live the kind of life they want to because they just aren't as good as I am at ignoring the judgments of others.
I’d like to see people truly free to marry whomever they love – regardless of gender, race, nationality, or religion. And once these marriages were celebrated, I’d like to see the happy couples free to define the rules of the union for themselves. There would be no repercussions for choosing to be a two career couple. Likewise, if they agreed that only one of them will work outside the home, that would be fine, too, regardless of which one does so. It would be nobody else’s business which one of them brings home the bacon, which one fries it up, or which of them cleans up the mess when it’s done. That would be something that couples work out between themselves, and the only thing society would expect of them is that they work out a mutually satisfactory agreement.
Couples who chose not to formalize their relationship with a traditional wedding would not be marginalized, though I believe that with a more inclusive definition of marriage, many of the disincentives to entering into the contract would be minimized. And if a person chose not to marry or enter a long term relationship, that choice would be fully respected as well – no more lectures about how singles just need to get out there and find the right person. People are not socks – they do not have to be in pairs.
How many children a couple chooses to have, and when, is a personal choice, and in my dream society, it would be treated as such. But that would not be used as an excuse to withhold the basic supports that families need, such as health insurance for their children, decent neighborhood schools, and adequate and affordable childcare. And employers would treat all people as the rich and complex entities that we really are. This would mean they’d be willing to figure out ways for people to get their work done without having to slowly chip away at the parts of their lives that don’t take place in the workplace until all the joy in their lives is gone.
I’d also like to live in a society where the family unit is not rigidly defined. A family is a structure that exists to provide the support people need to thrive through the various stages of their lives. It should facilitate the raising of children. It should serve as a safety net for the newly independent young adult. It should serve as a pillar of strength to the fully engaged adult who is building a life’s work. And it should provide a hearth of comfort to the aged nearing the end of life. It seems to me that there must be more than one way for a group of human beings to accomplish those goals. In my ideal society, the most important thing would be making sure that people get the support they need from a family, not policing the configuration of that family structure.
In my dream society, people would be free to do the kind of work that excites them. When people are doing work that they find engaging, they will feel naturally motivated to do their best work. That is, I think, a much better motivator than money. But that doesn't remove money from the equation. I'd like to see the range of jobs that will allow a person to earn a living wage to be expanded. And I'd like to see greater respect for work that is done for no pay – like raising children and caring for infirm relatives.
If a person is wants to do a job, and is able to do that job well, he or she is an excellent candidate for that job. Period. I’d really like for there to be an end to all debate about whether a job is appropriate for a certain person because of things that have nothing to do with their ability or desire to do the job. And I’d like for those who are in the position to make hiring decisions to figure out that a person’s age, gender, and race are, more often than not, completely peripheral to the actual job qualifications.
Not all work requires the same, cookie-cutter education track. So I'd like to see a broader definition of when and how a person can be educated. That means more flexibility in when people go to college. Some kids are not ready right out of high school, and some people only realize later in life what they need that degree for. I’d also like to see more variety in the types of education a person can undertake that would be respectable. Maybe that means more apprenticeships, and more internships. We also probably need more configurations of “the degree”, including associates degrees that are actually worth something, and, perhaps, some sort of an extended degree that is more than a bachelor’s degree but not as intense as a master’s degree. And we definitely need more ways to pay for college. This is another good reason to create more apprenticeships and internships. Student loan debt is getting out of control. There have to be other options.
More choice. It seems really simple, but it would actually require a lot of restructuring of our current version of society. Or maybe not. Letting other people live their lives the way they want to may very well mean the end of the world as we know it. But if everyone in the world woke up tomorrow and realized that it could also mean the beginning of an even better one, the work would be done in short order. Call me idealistic if you like, but that is my dream.