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Scarcity: The Value Judgement Driving Us All

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

One of the downsides of living in a society defined by scarcity is that the market penetrates nearly every aspect of our lives. We are constantly making decisions based on the knowledge that, for most resources, there just isn’t enough to go around. What was once motivation to procure the means of survival is now a cognitive process intertwined with our understanding of the world. Just like children inaccurately build schemas with surface-level relations, we have constructed a schema built on an incomplete idea of competition. Our closest friends are often the biggest threats, and celebrating others comes with a necessary comparison to ourselves. This market thinking has penetrated every aspect of American life.

In schools, children compete for the limited resources given to the best. In my own high school, my closest friends were also my biggest competition. And we were all blatantly aware that helping each other was to the detriment of our own goals. There were only a few scholarships, only a few leadership positions, only a few spots on the team. Success was dominated by scarcity.

Such a mindset was not unique to high school. It followed us home. There were only a few of our favorite snacks in the pantry. Our parents’ love was finite despite their best efforts. And free time was defined by the clock. Had we not grown up in a world defined by scarcity, we may have viewed our own limitations better. However, one can not grow up in the United States and not be forced to make value judgments to meet the market’s demands of efficiency. In a society constructed on market values, scarcity is the enemy, not a limitation with which to be reckoned.

One of the areas of American life which is most inundated with market analysis is the political realm. At face value, this seems like an obvious argument. The market defines policies, as one can not care for the people without at least thinking about the economic implications. However, the conceptualization of scarcity goes much further than that. When we think of power, who has it and who doesn’t is of interest. In fact, I usually think that the fear of scarcity is the driving force of a lack of representation for many groups in government. Additionally, this reliance on scarcity as a motivator can be seen as the driving force of the tension between a feminist analysis of policy and the male-dominated policy scene we have today.

There is a lot that could be said about the reaction most people have to feminism -or any critical ideology- concerning scarcity. For example, in understanding how scarcity is a predominating fear for many, one can understand why new ideologies would create fear in the minds of those who believe the older ones. Adding support for a new ideology means there is less support for others. The often unconscious fear of scarcity produces behavior that seeks to limit interaction with new ideas, afraid that there is not enough space for both ideas to coexist. This fear is just one of the many mechanisms in which market ideology influences tolerance of new ideas. However, in this essay -rather than general and explicit ways scarcity controls the ideologies in power- I will focus on the more subtle and subverted ways market ideology has corrupted our ability as a society to adopt inclusive beliefs.

Large bodies of research in both sociology and psychology have been devoted to understanding the process of socialization. The latter describes how social factors and interactions influence development, values, and beliefs. More recently, this body of research has been applied to the political realm. Ideas which once were purely intuitive or purely philosophical now have concrete facts. For example, one can use the research to prove how the market conceptualizations have shaped the response to scarcity in everyday life, rather than just theorize that such a relationship exists. These processes of socialization apply to society as a whole and also subcategories. Thus, while market behavior contributes to socialization for American society as a whole, other social factors affect only certain groups of people. For example, because society treats men and women differently, there are effects of socialization unique to women.

When two forces of socialization occur, they do not compete for value formation. Instead, they work together to shape the beliefs and values a person holds. For women, who are socialized by market factors and societal factors which perpetuate the women’s role as a caretaker, the belief system works as follows. The individual is motivated by scarcity and thus knows that a value judgment has to be made. To make such judgments, the individual must compare who and what is most important to them and how to maximize achieving their goals. Up to this point, both men and women undergo similar thought processes based on their market mentalities. However, deviations differ between what men and women value and who they think are important. Thus while both are making value judgments, the outcome is often different.

For women who have been socialized into what researchers call the “motherhood mentality,” there is a high value on taking care of living things and being empathetic towards people. This displays itself in a variety of ways. In environmental policy, for example, one would expect women to be more likely to support environmental advocacy. One would also expect that a woman would be less tolerant of extreme speech and less prone to join wars.
Men that are socialized into a “bread-winner” mentality tend to make decisions on a completely different value system. Rather than focusing on the individuals affected by a policy, large research bodies indicate that men make decisions based on efficiency. In such cases, men value economic outcomes and are more prone to view people as statistics.

As policymaking is still disproportionately affected by men, the values men use to make political judgments are represented in much greater ways than the value judgment women make. Such issues permeate every area of public policy, and as a result, women are severely underrepresented in terms of ideology. Since the scarcity mindset dominates the political realm, there is little hope for immediate change. Those in power like to rely on their value judgments and fear that if others’ values are accounted for, there won’t be enough resources left to satisfy their desires. In such a case, there is quite a bit of hesitancy in bringing a feminist understanding to policy because doing so feels like a direct threat to the status quo and those who have the power within it.

For more reading on this topic please consider:

Boch, A. (2020). Increasing american political tolerance: A framework excluding hate speech. Socius : Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 6, 237802312090395. doi:10.1177/2378023120903959

Conaway, M. (2017). A feminist analysis of nuclear weapons: Part 2 – hegemonic masculinity in oriental narratives. Retrieved from https://centreforfeministforeignpolicy.org/journal/2017/3/10/a-feminist-analysis-of-nuclear-weapons-part-2-hegemonic-masculinity-in-oriental-narratives

Fiss, O. M. (1986). Free speech and social structure. Iowa Law Review, 71(5), 1405.

Gender and nuclear disarmament: https://www.peacewomen.org/assets/file/Themes/gender.pdf

McCluskey, M. T. (1999). Subsidized lives and the ideology of efficiency. The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, 8(1), 115.

Strapko, N., Hempel, L., MacIlroy, K., & Smith, K. (2016). Gender differences in environmental concern: Reevaluating gender socialization. Society & Natural Resources, 29(9), 1015-1031. doi:10.1080/08941920.2016.1138563

Hope Moffatt is a freelance social media manager and photographer who is passionate about blending creativity with a comprehensive view of the world. She is currently exploring a career in research and writes many pieces related to her career interests. However, she believes in the vitality of writing relating to nearly every aspect of life, and thus also writes lighthearted pieces related to her everyday life. When she is not writing, working in media, or studying, you can find Hope delving into the world of coffee or spending time with sweet friends. You can follow her on Instagram @Hopemphotos.
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