Unraveling Inequality

The Unexpected Insights from Abstract Mathematics

In the sprawling landscape of human understanding, there are concepts that persistently elude our grasp. Concepts like privilege, inequality, and discrimination, though comprehensible on a superficial level, possess depths that are often hard to probe. However, in the unlikely realm of abstract mathematics, tools exist that can help to illumine these murky territories. By leveraging the objective and universal language of math, we can quantify, visualise, and better comprehend these complex social issues.

Complex Systems in Mathematics and Society

To understand the connection between abstract math and social inequality, we must first recognise that both society and abstract mathematical models function as complex systems. In mathematics, a complex system is often a dynamical system characterised by specific patterns and an intricate network of interrelationships between its components. Similarly, society is an intricate network of individuals, cultures, and institutions, all interlinked and affecting one another in ways that are often unpredictable and chaotic.

Inequality and Power Laws

In abstract mathematics, particularly in the realm of network theory, power laws are common. These laws, expressed as exponential mathematical functions, describe situations where a small number of items or individuals hold a disproportionately large share of the power or resources. These phenomena aren’t limited to abstract mathematical realms; they are mirrored in social structures. The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a classic example of a power law in society, stating that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. Applied to wealth distribution, it highlights the glaring disparities and inequality present in most societies.

Fractals: Seeing the Micro in the Macro

Fractal mathematics provides another illustrative parallel. Fractals are self-similar structures: what you see on a large scale is repeated on smaller scales. This principle mirrors how societal behaviours and patterns can reflect at individual, community, national, and even global levels. For instance, privilege and power dynamics within a single household might reflect the larger power structures in the wider society.

Game Theory and Collective Action

Game theory, another branch of abstract mathematics, is known for studying strategic interactions between rational decision-makers. It offers unique insights into how individuals in a society may act based on their perceptions of others’ actions and their understanding of rewards and penalties. It brings to light the collective action problem faced by society, where individuals’ rational actions may lead to collective irrational results, a concept that resonates deeply with issues such as climate change or public goods provision.

Embracing Empathy Through Abstract Math

While these mathematical concepts can help us understand societal issues, they also provide pathways to empathy. By recognising patterns of power distribution, we can better understand why anger and resentment fester among those who feel marginalised. Through game theory, we understand that seemingly self-serving actions often stem from individuals simply trying to navigate a system they perceive as hostile. Abstract mathematics thus becomes a tool to humanise, rather than demonise, those whose experiences differ from ours.

While it might seem unusual to turn to abstract mathematics as a tool for understanding societal inequalities, the exercise provides a refreshing perspective. These mathematical concepts illustrate the complexity of human society, help to quantify and visualize intangible aspects, and foster greater empathy and understanding.

Embracing this perspective demands a shift from viewing mathematics as an esoteric and strictly academic field. Instead, we should appreciate it as a versatile tool, capable of clarifying and decoding the intricacies of our shared social experience, including the challenging issues of privilege, inequality, and discrimination. By exploring these concepts through the objective lens of abstract math, we can deepen our understanding and approach these issues with newfound empathy and insight.

Be the Change

Join the Math Empowerment Movement. Now that we’ve illuminated the transformational power of mathematics and its crucial role in poverty alleviation, it’s time to translate our understanding into action.