Social Inequality is the Opposite of Social Mobility
Social inequality is evident in various civilizations, from Europe to the Americas. With the development of agriculture and increasing sedentism in complex civilizations, social differences among people in society is inevitable. Social inequality not only leads to the increased complexity of socialization but can also dismantle society. This issue is prominent in two significant areas—the Inca Empire in South America and the city of Athens in the Mediterranean. Despite having the same overriding concern of social inequality, these two civilizations differed in their class hierarchies and what was deemed valuable to society.
Within the Inca Empire, descent and family lineage was a prominent factor in establishing social hierarchies. They had a distinct social order with the Sapa Inca or “sole ruler” at the top commanding the entire empire. The Sapa Inca had unlimited power with rights over the government and was deemed a god. This role was solely inherited through ancestry. As a kin-based society, Incas placed extraordinary value on descendants of their founder and first Sapa Inca, Manco Capac, the assumed son of the cherished sun god Inti. These descendants formed the ruling elite class called kurakas, the intermediaries between the gods and the empire. With ten kuraka ancestries, these heirs dominated the social and political scene of the Inca Empire. By marrying amongst themselves, this class remained exclusive and difficult to infiltrate. Remarkably, female kurakas were quite common, yet males tended to have more value in society along with the liberty to engage in polygamy. Together, the Sapa Inca and kurakas formed the elite population of the Inca Empire. Below this were the common people or the allyu, sets of families based on a common ancestor that were directed by the kurakas. Within the allyu, one’s standing in society was based on their “genealogical distance” from that specific ancestor. Additionally, most of the economic activity in the empire centered around the allyu. Generally, this two-tier hierarchy was very clear cut. If one wasn’t a direct bloodline to the Sapa Inca, they belonged to the allyu, or lower class. Moreover, social mobility was nonexistent as one was born into their class with no chance of movement amid the “caste-like” system. With social inequality, oppression amongst the lower class is unavoidable. Specifically, commoners were oppressed in education opportunities as it was centered around one’s vocation. On the other hand, the elite had the privilege of obtaining a “formal spiritual” education. Clearly, social inequality in South America was formed due to the emphasis placed on lineage.
In the Mediterranean, Classical Greece also exhibits the theme of social inequality, yet classes were divided for dissimilar reasons. The Mediterranean region has well-defined archaeological confirmation that social class divisions revolved around wealth, gender, rank, and status instead of lineage divisions that were present in South America. Particularly, in Athens, the social hierarchy was split into four main groupings: freemen, then metics, then women, and finally slaves. Freemen referred to free-born male citizens of Athens. Based on one’s role in society, freemen were classified even further. The most prominent were aristocrats, then farmers, and then thetes. Aristocrats typically were a part of the cavalry while thetes lacked property and other assets. They tended to be farmers or craftsmen that did not flourish, as ownership of property dominated the social scene. Following freemen were metics, or foreign non-citizens of Athens. Although they were not permitted to own land or able to marry, metics led businesses and were safeguarded by Athenian law. Often, they worked as intermediaries between visitors and the people of Athens. Below this were women with essentially no privileges or rights, as Athens was dictated by males. Unlike the Inca Empire where women could be a part of the upper elite kuraka class, women in Athens were treated poorly, sometimes almost as cruel as slaves. Typically, most women were limited to housework. Finally, at the base of the hierarchy were slaves. Slaves had no rights, yet the most esteemed slaves were given roles as policemen or educators. Slaves, or “living tools” as Aristotle titled them, also had the ability to purchase their freedom. Altogether, Athenian social structure was largely based on material culture, gender, and status, causing great oppression to women and slaves in Greece.
Essentially, with increasing sedentism and the adoption of the practice of agriculture throughout civilizations around the world, social hierarchies arose due to intensification. This brought about substantial effects in social organization. With people settling in one area for long periods of time, they were able to focus on other social aspects deemed valuable to society, like lineage in South America or status and gender in Greece. Differences in ancestry and material goods caused divisions between people, leading to strict social hierarchies on which these civilizations operated. With virtually no ability to move between classes, those who were at the bottom of these social pyramids were continually repressed. The more blessed citizens at the top were among the elite, privileged classes and had endless opportunities to thrive. Although the Inca Empire and city of Athens had differences in their methods of classifying people socially, they both had the same overriding issue of discrimination plaguing their civilizations.
Throughout history, within almost every civilization all over the world, there are social divisions present. To account for these differences from civilization to civilization, though, it can be seen as a result of differing cultures and beliefs. Across the world, it is understandable that people will have different opinions on what is deemed highly esteemed in society. Moreover, each civilization developed without influence from others and decided on their own how to run their societies and what was of value to them. Diverse cultures admire and honor diverse values. In South America, society was built off one’s ancestry and relationship to the gods while Athenians focused on material culture and one’s rank among others, clearly exhibiting differing cultural beliefs.
Altogether, social inequality can be viewed universally, throughout the Old World and New World. The development of social classes is almost inescapable with increasing complexity and intensification of civilizations. Despite there being major variances across the globe in how social scenes are divided, the overriding issue of social imbalance is constant. Nowadays, social differences between classes are still very blatant, perhaps more than ever, solidifying that social inequality is due to rising modernism.
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