Market and Media Research (MMR) is a polling group that normally surveys people on their levels of political party support, or asks where they stand on a particularly hot social issue. Most recently, they decided to pose a deceptively simple question: “Do you think life is fair or unfair?”
The question is perhaps far too general. By what are we measuring “fairness?” By what are we measuring even “life” itself—one’s personal life or life in general? An argument can be made that the broadness of the question is instrumental in how telling the responses are, and telling they are indeed. If you ever needed an illustration of what privilege means, this poll is a good start.
Let’s look at the demographics. 72.1% of Icelanders do think life is fair. This is unsurprising, as Iceland has been near the top of polls regarding personal happiness, the best places to be a woman, and the best places to raise a child. It’s when we break down the demographics of these results that we get a clearer picture on levels of privilege.
Icelanders in positions of upper management were the most likely to consider life fair, while students and the unemployed were the most likely to consider it unfair. By the same token, the more money an Icelander makes, the more likely they were to say life was fair—a result that parallels a YouGov poll from last December, wherein only rich Americans believed life was fair. From this, it follows that voters for the Independence Party and the Progressives—the two parties most friendly towards the rich and powerful in Iceland—also believed overwhelmingly that life is fair. In fact, Pirate Party voters were the only ones for whom the vast majority believe life is by nature unfair. Only the Social Democrats come closest to this, with an almost even split at 51% versus 49%.
What are we to make of all this?
In sociological circles, people often talk of “living in a bubble,” i.e., that privilege effectively insulates people from reality outside of their immediate vicinity, leading to the belief that their personal reality is reality for everyone else. On the flip side of this, the poor and oppressed are far less likely to live in a bubble because, as anthropologist David Graeber pointed out in his book ‘The Utopia of Rules’, the poor and oppressed spend a great deal of time thinking about how the rich and powerful live, think and operate. This is due, in large part, to their own survival: if you want to avoid deportation, foreclosure, or termination, it is crucial that you study and understand the minds of those capable of doing these things to you. Unfortunately, this also makes you keenly aware of just how imbalanced the distribution of power and resources are.
It is unsurprising, then, that the rich and powerful might believe that the same rules and opportunities apply to everyone, while the unemployed and otherwise powerless have a keener eye for nuance. This poll might state the obvious, but the results are demonstrably not obvious to everyone.