Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Wealthy Are Different

An article in New York Magazine this week dove deep into the relationship between economic status and negative psychological characteristics such as a dearth of empathy, insensitivity to and unregard for other people, the tendency to cheat and even to be a jerk while driving - the results of a Monopoly game.

The study, by 30 year old psychologist Paul Piff, at UC Berkeley showed that "Putting someone in a role where they’re more privileged and have more power in a game makes them behave like people who actually do have more power, more money, and more status,"

In a study published by Piff earlier this year, "'Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,' it showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can, colloquially speaking, dehumanize people. It can make them less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people. It can make them more likely, as Piff demonstrated in one of his experiments, to take candy from a bowl of sweets designated for children. 'While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,' Piff says, 'the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.'"

Other studies found that those who grew up in comfortable economic circumstances are less attuned to the suffering of others. Young adults who grew up with some degree of financial struggle were much quicker and more likely to show signs of empathy for those less fortunate than others.

Huffington Post also commented on the article:

"This particular piece of research appeared earlier this month in the journal Emotion, but one of the academics involved in the study, psychologist Dacher Keltner, has published at least twice before on the correlation between economic struggle and empathetic response.

"Last October, Keltner was part of a research team that found that wealthy people had greater difficulty in reading facial expressions.

"In August, Keltner and others argued that financial security seems to be associated with an impulse to think about oneself more than others -- and that a dozen seperate studies had produced the same implication.

"But the relationship between wealth and compassion may work both ways. In 2005, researchers found that if a stock trader suffers from some kind of emotional impairment -- that is, brain damage that prevents them from fully experiencing their own emotions -- it may allow them to make more profit on the market,http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/26/stockbroker-psychopath_n_981950.html since they can make decisions based more firmly in rationalism.

"And in what may be a more extreme example of the same phenomenon, research published earlier this year suggests that some stockbrokers actually have a more pronounced competitive streak than diagnosed psychopaths."

Forbes magazines take on the study:

"There is, luckily, some evidence that empathy can be learned and developed over time, particularly through methods like meditation and mindfulness. Dr. Karim has found that experiential methods like these work better than talk-therapy (unless you have a real "Aha" moment through talking, which can certainly happen, he says). He works with very wealthy people using mindfulness and other means to develop the empathy "muscle," while intentionally allowing the old wealthy-ladder-climbing muscle to atrophy.

"A surprising number of very wealthy people don’t have the kind of driving motivation you’d think they would have, and which could lead to incredible charity work and empathy toward others. It’s sort of a psychological paralysis due to money. Money can cripple you. In the end, it’s all about being human. It sounds cliché but it’s true: Happiness is not about money. The more we can bond with each other and connect with other people’s plights, the happier we are."

These finding aren't universal to every person of wealth - the examples of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates contributing vast amounts to worthy causes are quite admirable - and the findings don't necessarily auger the ominous echoes of Marxian philosophy. But the fact remains that most of the very wealthy among us seem to be subverting the democratic qualities of our government each and every day.

Only by criminalizing Conservatism will the worst of these multi-millionaires and billionaires be stopped. Only by outlawing this criminal cabal will the country rise to the democratic ideals that the Founding Fathers strove for. And only by making Conservatism illegal for all time will the country - and perhaps the world - be saved.

With some re-education, some of the Conservatives may lead productive lives as citizens in a democratic society - but chances are, they won't do it willingly.


"The Inflationary Theory of Tax Return Volition (ITTRV) For Mitt Romney:

If Mitt Romney's father, George Romney, gave up 12 years of tax returns to be his party's nominee for President in 1960; and Mitt Romney showed John McCain 23 years' worth of his tax returns when he just wanted to be McCain's Vice President in 2008; then Mitt needs to show us 24 years' worth of his 1040s if he wants us to elect him to the Presidency in 2012."

Joyce, Jnr.

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