What Motivates the 1%?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

When it comes to standard of living I can’t complain. Between a pension and social security I live comfortably, though definitely without luxury. I have no investments and minimal savings so that I in essence live from check to check, as do most Americans less fortunate. Would I like thousands in the bank, of course? Would I like to travel overseas, as I never have, of course I would. It would also be nice to have a luxury auto that accommodates my long legs, 72” 3D plasma TV and many other accoutrements of our consumer society. I know I’d enjoy them, but frankly I am content with what I have and do not begrudge those with far more material things, savings and income. In this respect I am decidedly a creature of what has been known up to now as the “Middle/Working Class”. It is a vanishing citizen category that I identify with most closely and is gradually through conservative policies being driven down towards underclass status.

In addition, my entire working career was spent dealing with those people who can be roughly characterized in American terms as the “Underclass” due to poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, mental illness, criminality and addiction. I know first hand the depredations suffered by this portion of our citizens and this knowledge via experience, is something not shared by most Americans. My work exposed me to the basic unfairness of our system and I must admit my experiences fill me with rage towards those who lack empathy for the ignored and maltreated. Some say that this disparity is merely the result of lack off effort on their part, or of the natural result of lack of ability. Those that do are basically people ignorant of how the American system works and the fact that the putative “race” towards the top is a fixed affair, in all of its’ aspects. Since this is a legal opinion blog I would be giving its purpose short shrift was I not to mention that inequity of result has been a standard of our legal system since our Country’s inception. With a few exceptions used to demonstrate the opposite, the truth is as Leonard Cohen states so eloquently “Everybody knows the game is rotten”.

To me it is a fact that inequality is inherent in our system. Please indulge me to look at what I find most perplexing in this state of things and why I think it exists. Why does it seem that many people, who have received so much benefit from the fruits of this nation, are so begrudging of having those less fortunate at least live more comfortable lives?

The tax cut that G.W. Bush bestowed on the wealthy came at the point that we had balanced the budget and were on the cusp of two wars. For those this tax cut benefited most, the gains were minimal compared to their incomes. Given that now the same party that pushed these tax cuts, causing the huge deficits, are now declaiming from sea to sea that we are drowning in deficits, yet refuse to let these cuts die. What is going on here? Their propaganda of course is that tax cuts stimulate the economy, in the face of the fact that the mass of Americans suffered economically under Bush II and that reality has proven their claims fallacious. The mythology of small government, tax cuts for the wealthy and tax relief for business is proffered by both parties, in thrall to the 1% and to the multinational corporations paying them campaign dollars. Bill Clinton played this game, as did Al Gore as they helped move their party rightward and then were “shocked…..shocked I tell you” that the elected officialdom in this country became more and more creatures of the extreme right wing and almost destroyed them. Barack Obama, has adopted Clinton/Gores adoption of the “government is the enemy theme”, put forth by a washed up movie star, repackaged as a “Potemkin President”. That Reagan recently polled as the “Greatest American President” is evidence of the effectiveness of the money expended on political propaganda, used to destroy the faith of the American people in its government and putative democratic processes.

After many years of being a political junkie and a partisan of a humane world, I have come to see that the various economic theories, the various political “Isms” and philosophies are mere chimeras used to gull the majority of people into acting in their own worst interest. While I can discern the logical methodology being used to complete the domination of the people, the purpose of doing so by ensuring that the lives of the middle/working classes and the poor become ever more horrible is more elusive to define. Although via my training in Gestalt Psychotherapy, I was taught to forget about the “why” and concentrate on “how” and what, nevertheless I need to discern the motivation because it seems so damned illogical to me. If you have enough of “everything”, so that what you don’t have ceases to be of importance, why want it all? You can only have so much wealth, own so many homes, drive so many extravagant autos and bed so many beautiful people. When does it become enough? When do you throw crumbs to the unwashed masses, so that they won’t rise up in distress and rage to overthrow you?

In my mind there are two strains that follow the motivation of those in power and seeking more. These two strains may overlap, or remain separate in different people, but in tandem they explain to me the why of this illogical behavior of destruction. The first strain I would call Narcissism, but not as narrowly defined as in the psychological sense. The Narcissist faction would include those born to be elite and those who struggled to enter the elite. The world is literally their oyster. They deserve it all. They are in their minds of a finer cut of cloth than the masses and so are entitled to be put on a pedestal of privilege.

The Narcissists require that they appear decidedly different from the masses. In a nation living in political and economic equality how would they stand out? In a nation not concerned with materialism, the advantage of their wealth would make them ordinary and “ordinary” is intolerable to the Narcissists.

This is a historical tendency best illustrated by sumptuary laws:

“In the Late Middle Ages, sumptuary laws were instituted as a way for the nobility to cap the conspicuous consumption of the prosperous bourgeoisie of medieval cities, and they continued to be used for these purposes well into the 17th century.”

With the rise of the bourgeoisie, the merchant classes, the nobility whose wealth was land-based found that these “merchants” were becoming as wealthy as them and could dress in equal finery. Thus people on first glance could not differentiate who was “noble” and who was “common”.  This was intolerable to the nobility, who in their narcissism felt their elite status was threatened. Indeed, the sumptuary laws in the end proved futile, as the merchant/banking classes succeeded to exceed royalty and nobility in wealth and bought titles, previously won hundreds of years before by combat. The merchant classes having equaled and in some cases replaced nobility, now became imbued with a similar narcissistic need. They had no desire to, nor could they “win their spurs” in battle. They could, however, become patrons of intellectuals who were more than willing to develop philosophies that would begin to exalt the benefits bestowed on the masses by this new elite and their necessity for the maintenance of a stable society. The end result was the same; however, wealth, privilege and most importantly status were maintained.  “Winners” and “Losers” were once again apparent.

Today in America, among the modern Narcissists we can count the Bush Family, the Koch Brothers, the Mars family, the Walton’s, Mitt Romney and their Court Jester, Donald Trump. Having inherited everything they have, having been advanced far beyond their capabilities, they need to stifle the empty suspicion in their guts that they are not worthy. So they latch onto paeans to selfishness made up of empty concepts of political philosophy. The masses, so undeserving, are not entitled to any assistance. Their lives are meaningless in their scheme of things except as servants and canon fodder for wars that vicariously elevate Narcissists to noble status. The masses must be distracted by entertainment, cowed by embarrassment and kept economically helpless. At the same time the insecurity of the masses must be enforced by the propaganda of the “American Dream”, so that even with modest success they are deemed failures in the scheme of things.

The second strain that I see as being the underpinning of American class warfare is what I call the “Hucksters”. These are the opportunists, many of them sociopaths, who have intuitively understood that a large percentage of humanity wishes to follow rather than lead. Their followers, identified as “Right Wing Authoritarians” in the book I mentioned here: http://jonathanturley.org/2012/01/21/the-authoritarians-a-book-review-and-book/  by Bob Altemeyer, are people who are slavish to the “wisdom” of authorities they listen to, excluding other viewpoints. These slavish, authoritarian personalities are not just denizens of the right wing either. Left or right the “RWA’s” as Altemeyer calls them, look for simple answers to the complex problems we humans face. They prefer the solutions that lead them to casting blame upon groups identified as “the other”, they want easy answers to issues of great intricacy and if cruelty and violence are deemed part of the solution, more the better.

The Hucksters have learned how to manipulate the RWA’s, through political philosophy religion and/or bigotry. A huckster may or may not even believe what they are selling, because to them the sale and their advancement towards power are the end game. When they do believe in something they are willing to sacrifice those beliefs in the service of the maintenance of their own status ala Bill Clinton. The current public examples of the Huckster are Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and perhaps even Barack Obama.

This is my explanation of the phenomenon we see repeated repeatedly in human history of the elite abusing the mass of people in the service of their own glorification. They have always been able to do it as shown by that earliest of human edifices the Pyramids. No doubt the thousands that slaved for years to create these edifices believed that the fortune of their Pharaohs was tied to their own and in this foolish belief we see the power that falsehood has in driving human activity. My point in the end is that the real impetus for the politics, policies and beliefs that seem to impel us to action, are merely the extensions of human egos at all levels of notoriety. Nevertheless, knowing this and imbued with the cynicism this knowledge causes, I still retain my idealism. My desire is to work to perform tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase meaning “repairing the world”, despite its seeming futility in the face of rampaging ego-centric behavior.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikkun_olam That is why I write here, for given my rage at the unfairness at the heart of our society, I must do something.

You’ve presumably now read my take on why the seeming selfishness of the “Haves” has driven our world, when the wealth of it is such that all humans can live a good existence, even while the elite flourish. What is your opinion? Perhaps you can add to my knowledge with your perception of other motivations driving this irrational need to have it all at the expense of those with less?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.

115 thoughts on “What Motivates the 1%?”

  1. I would suggest a third motivation: A deep-seated insecurity. No amount of wealth is ever enough.

  2. http://www.alternet.org/story/154741/robert_greenwald_on_the_new_film_%22koch_brothers_exposed%22_–_the_1_at_its_very_worst?akid=8491.147321.jbEWJM&rd=1&t=2

    Robert Greenwald on the New Film ‘Koch Brothers Exposed’ — the 1% at Its Very Worst

    Robert Greenwald and his Brave New Foundation debuts their feature-length film, an exposé of the right-wing brothers’ massive reach.

    March 28, 2012

    “Robert Greenwald and his Brave New Foundation will tonight debut their feature-length film, Koch Brothers Exposed, in New York. (The DVD is available here; see the trailer for the film on the last page of this article.) Koch Brothers Exposed weaves together a series of short films produced over the course of the last year or so as part of an online video campaign of the same name. As principals of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in America and one of the nation’s top polluters, the Koch brothers have grown notorious for their funding of think-tanks and astroturf organizations that aim to deregulate business and scale back government programs such as Social Security, Medicare and the new healthcare reform law.”

  3. Blouise:

    “What he said next amazed me and I have never forgotten it. “That’s okay. Poor people only steal what they need. They leave the rest untouched. It’s the rich, who need nothing, who will take everything you’ve got.”

    And will give nothing for anything,when I use to drive limos ,it was always mom and pop who gave the tips,Folks with the money and you would know who they are when you drove up driveways or went to their houses.

    I had one customer when I was going to take his bag to his porch,he grabbed it and ran thinking I was looking for a tip. left me laughing to myself.

  4. Swarthmore mom,

    Gotta pull my weight around here, you know… 😉


    It’s all pretty sobering. I’m rendered nearly speechless, at times…

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