Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
I believe that it is impossible to deal with any problem until one understands the underlying nature of that problem. The analogy of a Physician treating the symptoms of a patient, but ignoring the cause of those symptoms, comes to mind. We have the medicine to deal with the specific manifestation of an illness like a headache and a fever, but in ameliorating the discomfort of the symptoms, we may miss the underlying pathology. This happened to me last March when shortly after being prescribed a change in the anti-rejection medicines that keep me alive after my heart transplant, I began to get so sick that I needed hospitalization in intensive care. I won’t bore you with the grimy details of this sudden downturn in health, but I must note that my most important bodily functions began to shut down. What is curious about this incident is that my wife, who is internet savvy, immediately began to suggest to my Doctors that I was having a bad reaction to the medicinal change. At first they ignored her as they had Department Heads in Cardiology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Neurology, Proctology, Urology and even Dermatology come in to examine me and pore over my medical charts. Finally, in response to my wife’s unfailing advocacy, they returned me to my prior anti-rejection medication. To my Physician’s surprise and possible chagrin the symptoms almost immediately began to abate and within in days I was home from the hospital and on the mend.
While the story above may seem to be far afield from my topic today, I use it to illustrate how even the best minds can be distracted from an underlying pathology by the symptoms it presents. The pathology I want to deal with in this piece is that of our America becoming a country increasingly divided between rich and poor. We are a country at war with itself. That war is one defined by social/economic class and by skin color. The manifestations of the “warfare” are to be seen in our political system and the mock battles between “conservatives” and “liberals” for the soul of the nation. Yet the two dominant parties are both financed, thus controlled, by those who are extremely wealthy. Their party differences seem only to be ones of degree. By degree I mean the Republican’s are in favor of an all out war on those of lower economic status, while the Democrat’s seek to ameliorate the effects upon them, but continue the economic dominance of that miniscule percentage of our people. To my mind the problem of economic inequality in our country is merely a symptom of an underlying psychological mindset of those with wealth and thus great power. Those of us who would change the equation between wealth and class find ourselves fighting the “symptoms” of this class warfare, but these “symptoms” confuse our cause. On a macrocosmic scale the “battles” in this “warfare” are “fought” via political ideologies based on theories by “great” economists and social commentators. To my mind these are “mock battles” because they are involved only in symptoms misdiagnosed by “experts”. Permit me to explain.
Consider the Koch Brothers, whose wealth was estimated in Forbes Magazine to be $36 billion each. http://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/morning_call/2013/09/koch-brothers-net-worth-36-billion.html Were these brothers to stop all economic activity today it would be reasonable to assume that all their progeny and future progeny, would have enough money to not have to work for perhaps 20 generations to come. The simple truth is that barring some heretofore unsuspected catastrophe, that much wealth would allow the bearers to live comfortably through even the harshest social upheaval one could imagine. Even violent revolutions, as those we’ve seen in Russia and in China, were such that many of the wealthiest in those societies were able to escape the “Revolution” with their lives and their wealth intact. Yet these brothers, who are tied for fourth on Forbes list of the “100 Wealthiest American’s, are arguably the most active people politically in this country and their activism is all focused on ensuring the primacy of themselves and their class. What can it be then that motivates people like the Koch Brothers, who have far more wealth than they can conceivably manage to use in their lifetimes, to be so set on ensuring the that their class will be supreme in America and in the world? I suggest that the answer has nothing to do with either politics or economics. I assert that it is a battle of “good” versus “evil”, but that those terms are rendered meaningless if applied in their normal moral contexts.
The leadership in this country’s war against the lower classes are fighting this “war” because they deem themselves to be the repositories of “virtue” and also the most capable, therefore the most deserving people to lead. This is why I believe that we could throw out the normal conceptions of “good” versus “evil” when we try to conceptualize what is going on here. Class Warfare in America is being waged because most of our wealthiest people believe they are acting morally in waging it. They see themselves as representing all that is “good” in humanity and they are fighting the “evil” of those who would take from society without “producing” anything. To understand the basis of the struggle being waged politically in our country, we must understand that it has developed from psychological suppositions, rather than socio-economic principles.
“A study of social class — defined by annual income and by education-level — finds that “Social class rank was positively associated with essentialist beliefs [beliefs that genetics is more important than environment in explaining social class]. … Social class rank was also positively associated with both belief in a just world … and meritocracy beliefs, … suggesting that upper-class … individuals are more likely to believe that society is fair and just than are their lower-class rank counterparts.”
This study, “Social Class Rank, Essentialism, and Punitive Judgment,” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and was performed by Michael W. Kraus and Dacher Keltner, two leading social scientists, whose investigations of the moralities that are applied respectively by the rich and by the poor, are contributing importantly to our understanding of society, of politics, of law, and of economics.
“This research found that “Upper-class … individuals were more likely to endorse beliefs that social class is an inherent, stable, and biologically determined social category relative to their lower-class … counterparts. Moreover, this pattern emerged after accounting for both political attitudes and material resource measures of social class. … Beliefs that society is fair and just explained the tendency among upper-class … individuals to endorse essentialist [biological] beliefs about social class.” Thus: the richer and more educated a person was, the more that he thought the world is just, and the more he attributed his being upper-class to his supposed inborn superiority, rather than to the circumstance of his having been born from rich parents who possessed the money to send him to college and perhaps to an expensive university.”
“Rich and educated people were more supportive of punishment as a means of retribution; poor and uneducated people were more supportive of punishment as a means of reforming the criminal and of (via fines, etc.) restoring to the victims what they had lost from the crime. “Moreover, relationships among social class rank, essentialist beliefs, and punitive judgments could not be accounted for by measures of individuals’ material resources or political orientation.” In other words: even “liberal” rich tend to be more favorable to retribution than are “liberal” poor.
In summary: “Upper-class … individuals would be more likely to endorse essentialist lay theories of social class categories (i.e., that social class is founded in genetically based, biological differences) than would lower-class … individuals and … these beliefs would decrease support for restorative justice — which seeks to rehabilitate offenders, rather than punish unlawful action.” http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Rich-and-Educated-Beli-by-Eric-Zuesse-Deficit-funded-Tax-Cuts-To-Wealthy_Spread-The-Wealth_WEALTH-VS-ALTRUISM-IN-POLITICS_Wealth-Concentration-131202-193.html
Reading the above I think one can begin to limn the outlines of the motivation of the Koch Brothers and their allies. If you give it some thought it makes sense that rich people, especially the Koch Brothers would feel the way they do and act on it. By virtue of their birth they are wealthy beyond belief. They have lived lives where those around them cater to them. They have attended schools surrounded by others from their social class and they have no real experience when it comes to what life is like for the average person. When Mitt Romney gave the advice to college graduates to borrow $20,000 from their father and start a business he was being totally sincere. His father gave him $10 million to start Bain Capital after all. When I first started driving, one of my friends who came from a wealthy and indulgent family, asked me when I asked him to chip in for gas: “Why don’t you have your father give you a credit card, like mine does.” From his life experience how was he to know that my father couldn’t get a credit card for himself, much less give one to me. How then is someone born to great wealth able to understand what it is like to be born without their privileges? To someone like that poverty is merely an abstract concept.
Social Commentator Chris Hedges has even a more jaundiced view of the wealthy stemming from his childhood experiences living and going to school among them:
“Because we don’t understand the pathology of the rich. We’ve been saturated with cultural images and a kind of cultural deification of wealth and those who have wealth. We are being–you know, they present people of immense wealth as somehow leaders–oracles, even. And we don’t grasp internally what it is an oligarchic class is finally about or how venal and morally bankrupt they are. We need to recover the language of class warfare and grasp what is happening to us, and we need to shatter this self-delusion that somehow if, as Obama says, we work hard enough and study hard enough, we can be one of them. The fact is, the people who created the economic mess that we’re in were the best-educated people in the country–Larry Summers, a former president of Harvard, and others. The issue is not education. The issue is greed. And I, unfortunately, had the experience of being shipped off to a private boarding school at the age of ten as a scholarship student and live–I was one of 16 kids on scholarship, and I lived among the super-rich and I watched them. And I think much of my hatred of authority and my repugnance for the ruling elite comes from having been among them for so long.”
“People don’t understand the elite schools, even at the high school level, that they get–the kids get excellent educations, but they learn the whole culture of hundreds or thousands of years of how to rule. And a deep, rich understanding of it. Not only that and George Bush is a perfect example of that. Well, not so much an example of deep, rich understanding, but of how–you know, affirmative action for the rich. And I came–certainly my mother’s side of the family–from lower working class. I mean, people–one of my uncles lived in a trailer in Maine, and certainly people with no means. And I would juxtapose the world I was in with that world. And it was very clear that it wasn’t about intelligence or aptitude.
The fact is, if you’re poor, you only get one chance. If you’re wealthy like Bush, you get chance after chance after chance after chance. So you’re a C student at Andover, and you go to Yale, and you go to Harvard Business School, and you’re AWOL from your National Guard unit, and you’re a cokehead, and it doesn’t really matter. You don’t even really have a job till you’re 40 and you become president of the United States.
So that was what was particularly insidious, how those small, tight elite oligarchic circles perpetuated themselves and promoted mediocrity (because many of these people like Bush are very mediocre human beings) at the expense of the rest of us, and how with money they game the system. And, of course, now we live in an oligarchic state where we’ve been rendered utterly powerless, and the judiciary, the legislative, the executive branches all subservient to an oligarchic corporate elite. And the press is owned by an oligarchic corporate elite, which makes sure that any critique of them is never broadcast over the airwaves.” http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=11150
Chris Hedges is somewhat more polemical than I am. Although I come from a lower middle class background, with a father who had been in prison, I have had many wealthy friends in my life. Among them are people I still love and cherish. More than a few came from circumstances humbler than my own to achieve financial success in this world. Rather than begrudge their success I admire it and feel good for them. Some of my friends were born to moderate wealth, but have the insight to see that those less privileged than themselves are also deserving of consideration. Neither of those categories can be seen as representative of the “Rich” I’m discussing here. The fact is that I would have had no occasion in my life to meet, or become friends with people such as the Koch Brothers. The circles in which we travel are so completely different as to be analogous to different planets. In any event it is not my purpose to demonize those such as the Koch’s, but to understand their motivations so that their hold on power which has resulted in class warfare can be fought. An apt question for me would be, given the above, how do I differentiate between being wealthy and being rich enough to be beyond the reach of social norms? Being in fact wealthy enough to create one’s own social norms. My own rough dividing line, with some possible exceptions, is that if you are worth more than $100 million then you are in the league I’m talking about. However, even that standard deserves a caveat.
Robinson Cano, the All Star Second Baseman for the New York Yankees just signed a contract with the Seattle Mariners for $150 million. Alex Rodriguez the team’s putative Third Baseman in working on a contract that has earned him well over $100 million and the contract of Derek Jeter the shortstop is also in the $100 million range. Yet neither of these players will ever have the influence on world affairs of those who I am dealing with. The reason is that the equation of the “rich and powerful” must be tempered by social class considerations. In our society professional athletes may make fortunes, but they are never taken seriously for their wealth. Yet the owners of professional sports teams are taken seriously and even esteemed. This is proven by the public’s disdain by athletes who use their skills to bargain successfully for lucrative contracts. The sympathy of the public has been shown to be overwhelmingly against the athlete and for ownership. The reason is that the athlete is not considered by the general public to be in the same class as the multi-billionaire owner. The athlete is of the “blue collar” class, while the owner is considered a “patrician”. This is a real social distinction that cannot be discounted in examining this subject.
Another factor that I think needs to be taken into account when one looks beyond the “symptoms” of economic class warfare in this country is religion. We know that many of those of wealth who are the greatest antagonists in class warfare in this country are on the surface deeply religious people. How can some devout Christians for instance, based on Jesus’ teachings, believe that the poor and meek should suffer? Let us again turn to the example of Mitt Romney for guidance. Romney, the scion of a very prominent Mormon family was brought up in a world of privilege, living a quite blessed life. Is it any stretch of the imagination to believe that he sees himself and his class as being blessed by God? Why would Mitt doubt that it is through God’s intervention that he is living such a perfect life? Conversely, it is no strain of that kind of logic to see the poor as unworthy and unproductive because the evidence is that they have received little of God’s blessings. Thus when Romney was surreptitiously recorded telling an appreciative audience of people from similarly wealthy backgrounds that “47% of the people in this country are unproductive”, he was also connoting that they deserved their fates. With human’s pervasive tendency to be self-justifying it is quite natural to see the benefits you personally perceived as evidence of not only a “greater plan”, but as further evidence that you are someone who is “above” the ordinary individual.
The feeling that you as an individual have been “singled out” by God has real consequences in a person’s behavior, since if they have “God’s Blessings”, then their actions would be those condoned by God. The fact that almost all organized religion has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with wealth and power is also not to be dismissed, in that organized religion has long bestowed blessings upon those already privileged. Let’s look at some of the consequences of this today. For one writer the answer to the question of whether the wealth lie, steal and cheat more than the rest of us is:
“yes” — in certain circumstances. The research supporting this conclusion was not conducted by Occupy Wall Street, but at the University of California, Berkeley, where social psychologist Paul Piff and a team of graduate students devised a series of experiments to assess the effect of wealth on ethical behavior. Their paper, published at the end of February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the rich are more likely to cut corners than others when confronted with a number of ethical challenges.”
After detailing the studies the author goes on to write:
“The study also tested people’s willingness to accept better grades than they had earned, to lie to job applicants in order to earn a larger bonus, even to pilfer candy from a jar meant for children. In all cases, the wealthier you were the more likely you were to behave badly.
So what’s the deal — are the rich less ethical than the rest of us? Not necessarily, according to Piff. But they do have a greater sense of personal entitlement. If you have money, you come to see it as your due. The affluent view wealth as a virtue, and their own wealth as proof of their own hard work and innate worth. They are rich, in other words, because (in their own minds at least) they deserve it.
And because their feeling of self worth are tied to their ability to acquire wealth, the rich often feel driven to continue to do so — long after their most lavish material desires are met. The insane feeding frenzy on Wall Street prior to the crash may be less about greed than a species of machismo. Money, for the rich, is not just a medium to purchase things; it is a measure of status in that rarefied world where you are judged by the heft of your take home pay.
“It’s not that the rich are innately bad,” Piff said, “but as you rise in the ranks — whether as a person or a nonhuman primate — you become more self-focused.”
And also isolated, cut off from others and from the standards of the community at large, the study concluded. Unlike the poor, who have to rely on their network of friends, family and neighbors to help them get through tough economic times, wealth buys one a certain independence from others. The rich don’t have to make the same compromises and accommodations as the rest of us do. They are accustomed to getting their own way. They are also used to getting away with things. Witness the bafflement, then outrage on Wall Street when it was suggested that the big wheels there who had acted fraudulently should be held criminally accountable for their misdeeds.
Living in a bubble of extreme wealth also fosters what has been called “the compassion deficit.” As one gets richer, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify with those in need. Romney’s statement that he was not worried about the poor, because they are protected by the safety net is a case in point. As the income gap widens, many are losing their ability even to imagine what life might be like on the other side of the divide.” http://www.opednews.com/articles/Do-the-Wealthy-Lie-Cheat-by-Richard-Schiffman-120418-742.html
Yet another study bears out these findings as presented in the abstract from the study:
“Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.” (Note some of these studies are referenced in the quote above) http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/02/21/1118373109.abstract
Finally there is this abstract of a study published in “The American Journal of Psychiatry” about the psyches of the children of the super-rich:
“Because they have little parental contact, many children of the very rich lack self-esteem and clear role models, resulting in shallow values and pathological narcissism. Low self-awareness and the absence of great suffering work against therapeutic progress, as do the efforts of the parents, who may feel threatened, and countertransference feelings of envy or anger by middle-class therapists. A supportive psychotherapeutic relationship is the most likely means of developing trust and self-discipline in these patients.” http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleID=156685
Those who have ready many of my past guest blogs are quite familiar where I stand on the issue of class warfare. What I have been confronted with from some commenter’s in the past is well you’ve described the issue what should we do about it. This post is the beginning of my answering those questions because I think before suggesting solutions we must understand the real problem and spread that understanding as far and wide as possible. For further perspective on the need to spread the message I offer this perspective from an author who uses the love for Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and Schulz’s “Charlie Brown who keeps thinking that Lucy will hold the ball for him to kick” as metaphors for mistaken liberal beliefs on how to confront their opposition:
“Todayʼs liberals and progressives, comprising the Democratic Party, still believe the American conservative who espouses a free market-I got mine-you get yours philosophy can be changed if only shown the damage such a viewpoint engenders. They believe the Dickensian myth that care for others and love of social justice lies just below the surface of callous disregard for the common good. This Charlie Brown naivete pervades the political establishment on the left. Along with their profits, the conservative money-making machine takes this passive hopefulness to the bank, an asset in the painting of the left as creating an underclass of the lazy and dependent. The establishment left is manifestly afraid of conflict and believes that reason, carefully pressed in the service of political argument, can sway their opponents. When Harry Reid finally invoked “the nuclear option,” the reaction from the right was one of disbelief. The left was acting against its own myth of influencing change by reason and sentiment.
Despite Dickens, change did not come to mid-19th century English society through the conversion of the moneyed classes to altruism. It came about through struggle and vision of how economic and technological forces could be used to temper the power and greed of those who would hold onto wealth at the cost of a depressed and growing underclass. What did change Scrooge was his own loneliness in regard to his inability to convince others of the rightness of dismissing a concern for others in the pursuit of wealth. Without Marley to share his philosophy of greed, he became a victim of his own self-doubt. Perhaps Dickens, in fooling us into believing people change of their own accord, did point out a truth that the soft “Charlie Brown” like left could learn in dealing with money obsessed right. Do not be afraid to use power in isolating them in their own obsession. If you want change, then you must become the agent of change. Charlie Brown never did get this central fact of life. He goes on living with disappointment engendered by the hope Lucy will change. Lucy, in her craftiness, realizes she can go on enjoying her one-upping of Charlie Brown by enticing him to hope she will change and become cooperatively nice. She knows it is not going to happen. Change is the responsibility of the one wanting change.
The promise of hope and change proclaimed in the 2008 elections has been blocked by an unchanging minority in the legislative branch of government with the collusion of moneyed interests and gerrymandered voting blocs. Hoping for change will change little or nothing. It is the hopers who must change finding the courage to risk upsetting the recalcitrant opponents of a fairer and more just society. Take the ball away from the Lucy’s and use a tee or find someone else who can be trusted to hold the ball in place.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ron-cebik/ebenezer-scrooge-and-lucy_b_4434656.html
When it comes to confronting the reality of class warfare in the United States which is creating an ever widening gap between rich and poor I tend to agree with the author Ron Cebik above. Those who would create a feudal corporate society and turn most of us into serfs will not easily relinquish their power, since as I’ve tried to show they believe that they not only have a right to it, but that they are the only ones competent to hold it. If, as I do, you want to create a just society that feels and acts as if we are all inter-connected, then we all must confront the notion that wealth comes as a blessing from above and that because of that is sacrosanct. The sad seamy truth is that far too often the seeds of great wealth have been sown in a soil of corruption and the fruits of it are quite bitter. The super rich among us are not virtuous people, but unfortunately they do not have the insight to see this about themselves. We must disabuse them of their false notions by clarifying the nature of their game.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Further articles of interest on this subject: