In light of the riots in Ferguson, inequality has been front and centre in my mind recently. Like many others, I am bothered that class, race, and gender continue generate such tremendous divides in North American society. While complete equality may be wishful thinking, the divisions that now exist are inexcusable in a society that prides itself in equality.
Whenever I begin to sway a little too far into the cynical realm however, I look to my history books and am reminded of just how far we have come in the past few centuries. Taking the long view, I like to think that human social change has been one of progress, albeit progress patterned in an endless cycle of two steps forward and one steps backward.
Without a doubt, we live in a society of fewer social divides than the Classical period and the Middle-Ages, regardless of the civilization you look at it. We are leaps and bounds ahead of the colonial expansions that characterized the 18th and 19th century and even stand head and shoulders above societies of the early 20th century
The abolition of slavery and codifying of racial equality set legal precedents that while not always adhered to, represent an accomplishment of public sentiment unthinkable a century or two ago when it was relegated to small circles of philosophers on the social periphery.
A week ago, I was discussing food and drink with a friend and he got me thinking about social division when he pointed out how similar our food is today regardless of our earning power. While I may certainly never go to the swankiest of restaurants, the core food ingredients are now far more accessible than at any point in human history. Judgements on the pros and cons of globalization aside, the fact that I can go down to a local grocer and have virtually all the food and drinks within my purchasing power as the wealthiest is a tremendous change from past centuries. Their existed a time when ingredients made further than a hundred miles from your house were off limits to the average consumer and enjoyed exclusively by the upper-echelons of society.
This is no longer the case. For $20, I can purchase a variety of finely made charcuterie, a craft beer made across the continent, and a cheese made across an ocean. Simply and short-lived as the consumption may be, the fact that I have access to the same quality of food and drink as the wealthiest with my meager spending power is something not to be downplayed. The ability to enjoy spectacular quality within the small things of life such food and drink is a triumph over the class divides of the past.
There still remains many divisions of class within society, but as I sit down to enjoy a home-made meal with friends that kings could only dream of in centuries past, I focus on how far we have come and excitedly await further progress to come.
[Author’s note: I struggled and rewrote this article in order to avoid sounding pompous, self-absorbed, and/or insane…I am not sure that I succeeded. For reader’s that enjoy the more light-hearted stories, I promise next week will be something funny. Until then, feel free to entertain yourself with my recollections of Montreal.]