Originally posted by sir_chancealot
Two carts of items from a "discount" store would come to about $150-$175. The last time I did that, they came to $350.
"There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws." -- Ayn Rand
Originally posted by Juggalo2313
Dude people are already snapping , anarcist societies are growing in number everyday exponentally, crime rates are skyrocketing like never before and the world is going to Hell in a hand basket.
Originally posted by ParaFreaky
It's all about status quo; it can't be shifted or everything falls outta place. I don't know why, but it's true.
Despite setbacks, the economy is ever expanding, its power is unparalleled, we are now spreading free market capitalism around the globe, bringing unimagined wealth and improvement to mud-level nations and countries sucked out by socialism, raising everybody, because that’s what capitalism does.
Has everybody been raised here?
Actually, with talk of equality written into this nation’s founding papers, the scenery never looks right. The contrast between rich and poor grows, and this year has been no exception. As an acquaintance on the street puts it: every year there are more homeless people and every year the limousines get longer.
If the stated goal of the system was to gradually create inequality, it might also claim success.
The numbers show a radically skewed society. Rather than pages of numbing statistics, I’ll sketch a couple of facts, the first from sociologist Steven Rose. If you drew a line on a building three stories high to represent the distance between the lowest and the highest family income, the average (median) income sits at only 10.5 inches off the ground and half the nation is clumped below that (5). Second, despite the prodigious numbers of poor, housing for them is so scarce that of the 3,141 counties in the United States, in only 4 can a person making minimum wage afford a one-bedroom apartment.
I believe this imbalance mauls the national psyche because the media repeatedly show us images of people and places from the beautiful upper stretches of that vertical line. In the comparison, thrown at us daily, most of us lose.
This nation equates decency with wealth and indecency with poverty. These media images also create floods of anxiety. Being “less than,” being poor, carries a stigma. Another sociologist thinks we are so materialistic, poverty now actually carries the shame that cowardice carried in earlier, warrior times.
And actually if the economy is on fire, we have some funny facts.
The dollar has dropped to a fraction of what it was worth thirty years ago. No amount of policy tinkering has been able to stop manufacturing’s chronic decline. The national trade deficit is at an all time high (meaning roughly, if it’s foreign made we want to own it). Personal debt has reached swaggering amounts. And bankruptcies have ballooned, now running 1.46 million a year - outstripping the divorce rate, also outstripping annual college graduations.
Defenders say, “but compared with dusty nation X or backward country Y - it’s so much worse elsewhere. We are the envy of the world.”
When we compare nations, we should keep in mind who we are comparing. Every third world nation has a middle class, no matter how small, with houses, and those folks are still better off than our hordes of homeless. And our wealth inequalities are so stark, poor people here are worse off than many of their foreign counterparts.
And if you start comparing nations, what about the quality of life? Are our 30 million citizens on antidepressants also the envy of the world? And our suicide rate, with suicide now the third leading cause of death among the young? Here lurks the question of how much life is worth living.
Nowadays, nobody seriously criticizes the rich. Criticizing the rich doesn’t make much sense if you think you’re going to be one. But it wasn’t always that way.
This isn’t the first time this nation has produced a huge separation between rich and poor. In the 1870s-1890s America actually had a brush with serious economic revolt. The trouble was started by common farmers in the hinterland - stake holders in the new frontier - dismayed that all their hard work didn’t deliver.
The Civil War’s aftermath was a time of immense capital growth for some and hopeless drudgery for others. Chicago and New York contained both wealth-aristocrats in frivolously decorated mansions that mocked European aristocratic manors, and on the other side, smoke-stained factories with legions of ragged workers. In the rural South rich plantation owners lived in white-columned country homes while paying barefoot field workers scrip they could only spend at the owner’s store – contract labor working in endless debt. This was the era of flamboyant corporation owners in top hats chomping on outsize cigars, also the era of steep child mortality rates, pestilences that swept the streets, misery and short life expectancies for the poor.
It was an era of unrestrained markets, the era of monopolists who collaborated with each other in setting prices; little was illegal.
Following the Civil War, there were a couple of different currencies in circulation, one sinking in value and less reliable.
City banks peddled mortgages widely on new farmland they had never seen. A new farmer could sign on in either currency. Then a national money contraction occurred, consolidating the two issues. Farmers took the fall. They were left owing the banks up to twice what they had signed for. Believing in the national promise that hard work brings wealth, they found they only worked and lost money on their slow-producing farms, then worked harder and lost more. Meanwhile, the banks flourished. They grew spectacularly. They argued they were only being patriotic.
Bewildered, farmers actually started trying to understand what was wrong by reading books on economics. The result was a bitter understanding of ‘the money power,’ of lenders rights, of monopolistic control, and of American credit corporations as fortresses of wealth.
In desperation, farmers’ cooperatives started up. They aimed for debtors’ independence. They were made up of plain people seeking self expression. First in the South, this movement swept across Texas, then the Western plains states, attracting farmers by the thousand. Then they joined up with railroad workers who were desperate over low wages and ruinous equipment and who were striking. Eventually the National Farmers Alliance and Industrial Union spread far west and north, and at its peak had over a million members. The Populist Party was started. This new party was virulently anti-monopoly, and its hero was the opposite, the poor-but-good worker.
That era is remembered in history books. But it has been so diluted that Populism is described as an agrarian movement, a protest. Omitted are the rage, the oratory, the fires, the marches, the riots, the militia shooting strikers.
I believe some of the early conditions of that movement are reappearing. But today we are mute. We are back to the dogma that whatever the wealthy do is good for the poor.
Only a few modern writers like Christopher Lasch see that the detachment of our modern elites is actually betraying our democracy. Fewer writers, like Charles Derber, are saying the moral decay in this country starts at the top.
We live in a peculiar era. There is said to be no ideology.
What is ideology? It is a visionary assertion of values, goals and aims. It ties a people together, explaining what is bigger and more important than each of us. It is part theory, part speculation. It urges loyalty.
Daniel Bell wrote a book The End of Ideology which says that in the United States, ideology has dissolved.
Bell: Through the last century - at least through the belligerent period of the two World Wars and the 1950s Cold War - the United States had plenty to say about what it stood for, also what it hated. Ideology was sharp and it was national. But with the advent of peace, and especially with the decline of communism, there was suddenly less reason to deliver thunderous speeches about why we are here, what we are ready to die for - the speeches that bring urgency and purpose and meaning to people.
We have drifted since the Vietnam era without an ideological rudder. We exist in a kind of void, in which individualism flourishes, and narcissism, ego, materialism, the pursuit of self, wealth, status and greed - but nothing that moves the masses together.
Very rich people are hidden from us because they want it that way.
Naturalist Richard Conniff uses sociobiology to describe the upper class. He has patiently followed the superrich around (and these folks are above 'junior wealth' which is about $5-10 million) and has interviewed them in their natural environment.
This is the new fashion, to explain what humans do because of their genes and their evolution. The exotic customs of the moneyed class fill his book The Natural History of the Rich. Because he is a naturalist, he unflinchingly compares the people at the top with the alphas (top members) of other animal species.
Conniff says the superrich are an intensely narcissistic and competitive small group. They arrange their lives so that wherever they go (Aspen, Monaco, Paris) they see the same few hundred people. They are self-encapsulated. They regard the rest of us as "irrelevant, uninformed, even subhuman," and they don't like to talk to us. (One fabulously wealthy lady used her cell phone to call her chief-of-staff who was in another country to call her maid to tell the maid what to do next. The maid had a cell phone and was on the opposite side of the room from the lady).
Conniff reports that just like other top animals, the superrich are driven by the quest for status, mating opportunities and dominance - except that the human version constantly denies it.
Top-rungers also flout the basic rules of economics. While average folks purchase more stuff when it becomes less expensive (supply and demand), the leisure class prefers to buy stuff that is more expensive, even when comparable stuff is available for less. The object is to dazzle. Sociologist Thorstein Veblen identified that odd habit back in 1899 and termed it ‘conspicuous consumption.’ It’s waste in order to impress. Conniff points out animals do this too. The cascading tail feathers of alpha male peacocks have no useful function. They are there to impress other peacocks - in fact they are so conspicuous they practically prevent the bird from flying.
More biology: the way the superrich have isolated themselves for centuries now qualifies them as a "pseudospecies". By hanging out and mating only with their own kind, over many generations, they have effectively removed themselves from the gene pool.
Sociobiology is a fairly new division of biology. It’s been around since the 1970s. It holds that human behavior is genetically shaped, like animals which run largely on instinct. It says our behavior is evolved. Sociobiology has a younger sister, evolutionary psychology, which talks more about humans than animals, but in the same way. Evolutionary psychology holds that our daily routines and our choices are not nearly as spontaneous as we think because our behavior and our emotions are determined by the long tracks of natural selection. Both these disciplines are in their infancy. Both are busily looking for parallels between animal behavior and our behavior to show we are more instinct than we think.
So what Conniff does is to illustrate the dominant posturing of top rats versus the belly-crawling of their subordinates, and the bluster of top baboons versus the rump-presenting submissiveness of subordinates - and compares it to the obsequious behavior of human underlings who attend to our superrich. Dominance patterns in this species fit dominance patterns in that. So for instance in both human and walrus communities, the top elite have more. They copulate more, they get more of what they want, and they guard more resources than they need. Conniff states: "Humans seem to be 'ethologically despotic,' like chimpanzees; that is, we have a natural predisposition to hammering other people into submission." Except that in human males this is expressed as a "single-minded determination to impose their vision on the world."
Why do the rest of us go along with this? We can’t help it. A stare from high authority throws us into rabbit-panic. Lower ranking humans throw themselves into submission, even sacrificing themselves for their high superiors. It’s all biologically evolved behavior.
Inequality is everywhere in the animal kingdom - even animals that can’t do much else, such as chickens, are expert at knowing the ranks of all other chickens. And a low ranking wolf will fight to the death for its pack even while its daily life is made miserable by cruel tormenting from the animals above it because belonging to a hierarchy is everything. According to sociobiologists, hierarchy chains us humans too. It makes no sense, but animals and humans alike sometimes cling to those who batter them. It's in the genes.
Along the way, it would be heartening to learn from sociobiologists that our top people are good people. That part is missing. The ultra rich are likely to have serious mayhem in the family history. Conniff traces this old saying to Balzac: ‘Behind every fortune there’s an undiscovered crime.’ Generations ago, many alpha families originally ascended by force and illegal conquest - and, in his interviews, often show themselves proud of it.
And what of our popular belief the wealthy are that way because they work very hard? Do they? Well, maybe. Conniff interviewed one extremely wealthy woman who told him, "I'm the most normal, normal person, I'm not like most rich people. I work really hard. Most rich people I know don't do anything but eat, drink, sleep, pardon the term, #, and have a good time."
Daniel Batson writes on this debate. At this point, sociobiology is new and unsure. It keeps issuing statements then correcting itself. Does natural selection exclude group selection? Yes; correct that, no. Does natural selection produce only selfishness? Yes; correct that, no. Actually this is not just a scuffle under the stairs among academics. Because of Darwin’s assumptions, all this threatens the very planks on which the theory of evolution rests. So a lot of people are watching this fight.
When these infant disciplines finally get their sea legs, they will bring home the bogeyman of all questions, because selfishness and altruism are not just behaviors, they are moral values. What’s really lurking behind all this work: is our morality controlled by our genes?
So the appearance of Conniff’s book waves a flag. Any alliance between biology and big money should keep us nervous. This alliance has a scurrilous history.
A contemporary of Darwin’s was English philosopher Herbert Spencer. Spencer was not only thinking on the same tracks, it was Spencer who invented the term “survival of the fittest.” Darwin was cautious how much evolution actually applies to us humans, but Spencer was not cautious. Spencer applied “the fittest” to the wealthy.
Spencer became very popular with the monied classes towards the end of the nineteen century. On the lecture circuit in America he said humans, like the animals described by Darwin, are all in a competition for survival. This was normal. For wealthy industrialists to exploit and discard hordes of the poor in their factories was also understandable. The poor were the unfit. Nature was ‘red in tooth and claw.’ The industrialist was just hastening nature’s way of weeding out the weak members. Spencer also said welfare - even charity - was a bad idea. It encouraged the poor, who would multiply and spread their unfitness. Overall, did the rich prosper at the expense of the poor? Of course - and in the long run, Spencer said, this was good for a nation.
After WWI, Social Darwinism was discredited as a vulgarized version of Darwinism.
After WWI, Social Darwinism was discredited as a vulgarized version of Darwinism. At the time, communist ideology was flourishing in Europe, and the argument that the workers were going to control everything was turning Russia inside out like a glove.
During this last century, of course, many things changed. Science itself made vast progress, reaching peaks, so that at 2000 it could point back at a moon walk, the atom opened, the defeat of plagues as points on its startling ascent.
Today science has tectonic credibility. It is unimpeachable. If a layman attacks science, nobody listens.
But this topic, Darwinism, will not sit down.
Among the few with credibility to question science are philosophers. Philosophers are carefully trained in logic.
Philosopher Richard Perry, in the staid journal Ethics, quietly walks up and kicks the struts out from under sociobiology.
Is it really science? Or is it a con?
Perry shows the logic under all sociobiology to be not the grid of deductive logic you would expect in science, but only a patchwork of analogies.
Now there is a certain use for analogies, but analogies do not prove anything, they only show likenesses. The best use of analogies is in the persuasive arts, oratory and poetry.
Analogy is the warp-and-woof of sociobiology. That’s what they do, says Perry. If you want to say humans are aggressive, describe the aggressiveness in rats – show the similarities. If you want to prove humans territorial, talk about the territoriality of mockingbirds - invite the similarities. And so on.
Perry says, but wait. Why these analogies in the first place? - There’s something odd about circling around one species to make pronouncements about another. Why are we studying animals to understand humans? Would you investigate houseflies by studying blue herons? Wouldn’t that distort what we already know about flies?
His article “Sociobiology: Science in the service of ideology” warns us the logic is so bad, sociobiology should be embarrassed. It is more like weaving a net with the study of animals and throwing it over humans. And it should tip us off to ulterior purposes. We should look for what else it does.
Perry urges us to decline trust in sociobiology. It is engaging reading. But it does what Herbert Spencer did. It tells us we don’t have to feel guilty if we are brutal with each other - animals do it. It gives comfort to perpetrators of social injustice.
The next point in this essay is that Social Darwinism, or some modernized variation, is rising again.
Supported as a science, our neo-Darwinism is fed by hours of exquisite photography on Discovery Channel where we repeatedly watch hungry leopards stalk innocent deer, fell them and gorge on their entrails hour after hour. (What car salesman hasn’t watched, and said to himself, that animal lives in me, I can use any method to drag down fleeing customers?)
Darwinism has a dangerous ally. Another twist in logic, which always gate-crashes the party and says, if it happens in nature, it must be right.
But the problem is, you cannot logically convert a fact into a right. (Example: it’s a fact some kids beat up other kids on the playground, therefore they have a right to do it).
Morality should step in.
It took a long time to get that right in western civilization. Because it’s a fact Charles Darwin reported on a species of slave-making ants, humans do not have a right to make slaves.
Then as now, using analogy as a justification for ignoring human pain and fear, or creating it, is a perversion.
Article 6, Clause 3:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Laissez-faire was the table-thumping cry of monopolistic big business in the 1860s through the 1920s – overlapping the Populist era, but on the capitalist side. From the businessman’s point of view, this was the Gilded Age. Will power was a virtue, expansion always seemed the way to go, and everything was believed to be better if it was bigger. (The Crystal Palace, the Eiffel tower, and the Titanic were industrial symbols). The concept traces back to 1825, and it means government abstention from interference with individual action, especially commercial action.
But it was found that if business was not restrained at all, the economy rose and fell in a cycle of peaks and destructive crashes. Second, it produced monsters that worked people to disease or death. During the laissez-faire era, people died or got maimed on the job in perilous mines, foundries and rail yards, getting no compensation (because, it was argued, they worked there by choice). This is what the Populists battled. The battle was rough and long, with repeated strike actions, and poverty and despair for workers.
Laissez-faire, the philosophy of robber barons, was eventually collared and muzzled, notably in Supreme Court decisions headed by Justice Brandeis who saw unfettered business practices as an eventual threat to democracy. It took many years to produce a real turn. The Seattle General Strike of 1919 was another attempt to break through.
Eventually both Social Darwinism and laissez-faire were abandoned.
Laissez-faire is rising again.
The Libertarian Party, formed in 1972, looks New Age-ish. Libertarians promises a bright new beginning, the kind of thing that always attracts young people with spirited talk about freedom from authority. In fact libertarians almost never stop talking about freedom.
Libertarians believe this: Individualism is what a society is all about. The promotion of self, and self-interest, life, liberty and property rights are important. Businesses and markets should also be free from restraint. Libertarianism hates constraint. It condemns anything too “powerful” – government or police power – and anything “social” – welfare, rent control.
Here are its founding assumptions. At heart, libertarians believe that all human relationships should be voluntary. They think there is a natural harmony of interests among people, and any society works by a sort of spontaneous order.
In politics, libertarianism claims to be against both the left wing and the right. It states opposition to fundamentalist religion as much as against any state agency - both threaten individual freedom.
How do we know the old ideology of laissez-faire is in here? Because a 1997 book which explains the basics, by David Boaz (executive vice president of the Cato Institute) called Libertarianism: A Primer, says so. It states that laissez-faire capitalism is the answer to everything because it brings incredible wealth to all. And it proudly champions Adam Smith’s ideas as its heritage.
Those founding assumptions are nonsense. First it’s obvious not all people are interested in harmony. Some are excessively greedy. Some people prefer power, which tends to corrupt. Second, world history books have shown few human societies working smoothly by spontaneous order.
Reading Libertarianism reveals something much more troubling. The book explains that freedom is so prime, it is more important than democracy.
Libertarianism is disinterested in democracy. Rather, libertarians believe in Natural Law, laws seated in ancient, even tribal, crude customs, which are hardly enlightened ways. There is actually a fringe element among libertarians, gaining momentum, which seriously wants to dismantle democracy in America which it interprets as mob rule.
While this style of business in the 1890s, for profits, freely harnessed uneducated millions of the poor into sweatshops and mills, at wages that always seemed to keep them frightened and hungry, all those problems are now forgotten by libertarians - as if the century had no shadow.
And without a twitch of embarrassment, a Chicago Tribune review on the dustcover of Boaz’s book Libertarianism explains that “these are ideas that are coming to dominate the thinking of government all over the world.”
But laissez-faire is critical for today’s aggressive corporations because they cannot operate at their gargantuan level without almost total freedom. Corporate businessmen cite as their biggest enemy, government. They see greed as a solution rather than a problem. They despise the push for equality as a death-knell. They refer to justice as something the envious dreamed up. For them, democracy is no more than a bright tinsel wrapping to be torn off the moment it poses any real constraint to their freedom.
Despite these concerns, our market economy is not weakening in any way.
The reverse. At this point in history, capitalism is just getting started on a second Big Bang. We are recently launched into another expand-or-die wave that dates back approximately to the fall of the Berlin Wall and is already showing geometric power. It’s being promoted by our massive gifts and loans to foreign countries and by our placing key capitalists in international banking. And, less benevolently, by the starting of foreign wars, which require repairs, for which we provide contractors, whose profits return to us.
This new wave is not powered by any single ideology. But this odd combination of Social Darwinism and laissez-faire is a soil mixture that produced the explosive capitalism and empire-building at the turn of the last century, and it will work again.
I say odd combination because these two theories are actually contradictory. Libertarians should look over their shoulders. Biology promotes the opposite point, that we humans don’t have much freedom because our behavior is controlled by our genes. Sociobiologists say even the functioning of our societies is constrained by our genes, so the idea of us choosing to expand our liberties is hilarious to them.
These two theories were also contradictory a hundred years ago. That didn’t stop monopolists then and it will not stop the high-octane business leaders of today - none of whom are exactly intellectuals.
Turn on the television and watch our national leaders talk policy. They explain we are bringing our way of doing business to foreign lands because capitalism brings democracy. We are the bringers of fortune, uplift, goodness, opportunity and freedom for all - the best destiny humanity has to offer.
Just because this argument is delivered from a podium bathed in rotating lights does not make it true. It is also broken logic.
One of the main events in capitalism is the creation of inequality.
We recall that the two basic values of democracy are freedom and equality. They are the two wings on which that exalted bird flies.
And we notice these official speeches on foreign policy promise freedom, but they never promise equality. We cannot export equality. You cannot give away what you haven’t got.
Second, a point always omitted from these speeches is that capitalism comes in different species. One type is authoritarian capitalism and it is decidedly undemocratic. A governing power, sometimes a military dictator, promises businessmen they will make astonishing profits if they just follow his orders. This - the melding of business and state - happens to be one of the elements of fascism. Another defining element of fascism is that inequality is a virtue.
But free market economics are being built everywhere. This is so powerful, it has the face of a titan.
The major musculature of our modern free markets is corporations. They deserve attention.
Corporations are collections of people doing business. Other types of business entities exist, sole proprietorships and partnerships, but corporations are surely the largest. (Some corporations are more wealthy than some countries). They inspire joy in some people, fear in others.
Corporations have been harshly attacked in several books by investigative reporters. For example, Mokhiber and Weissman’s Corporate Predators and Court’s Corporateering warn of the way corporations influence politics (by shifting massive capital around) as well as the way they take away our personal privacy and security. As a rule, they lack transparency. And they seem invulnerable surrounded as they are by walls of lawyers.
One book, however, written by a lawyer, may make a difference. It translates the stygian legalese and economics into common language. The book is no less frightening.
The author reveals the corporate Achilles heel.
Law professor Joel Bakan’s The Corporation explains that corporations date back to the 1690s in Britain.
From the start corporations were peculiarities, being bodies that are split into two parts. Directors and managers run the firms, but stockholders own them. And the stockholders are an ever shifting bunch, being owners today, sellers tomorrow.
Most stockholders have no interest in how the firm does business. They only look at the daily value of the stock. Since the only business of a corporation is to make profit, this is a recipe for corruption, because the stock's value can fluctuate on rumor and reputation, and a firm might grow wealthy on lies, or by overcharging, or by selling a dangerous product, or by not doing anything except issuing promises, and the stockholders are just as delighted. Stockholders don’t ask questions.
Second, the corporation has “a legal mandate to pursue, relentlessly and without exception its own self interest” and this “regardless of the harmful consequences it might cause others.” If along the way they have to pay some fines for damage they have done, this is calculated into business expenses. It’s all numbers. And since some corporations make massive profits, they don’t flinch at paying out very large sums to people and environments they have damaged very badly. And then return to do it again.
Anything that is an unfortunate byproduct of making profit, such as stress, lives lost, disease, broken laws, pollution, immorality, ‘collateral damage,’ grief, disruption, riots, is called an ‘externality’ - because it is outside the crisp equation for calculation profit and loss. Most of what we know as morality and humanity are externalities.
This breakage can have enormous effects on the world. Corporations are externalizing machines, says Bakan. Bulldozing through to more profits, they routinely break stuff wherever they go and this single-mindedness has produced what we have today, colossuses of indifference “of such power as to weaken government’s ability to control them,” so that “corporations now govern society perhaps more than governments do.”
Bakan goes further. He likens corporations to psychopaths (sociopaths). For his book he interviewed Dr. Robert Hare, a psychologist and expert on psychopathy, to get a list of personality traits that psychopaths exhibit (no empathy, asocial behaviors, manipulativeness, no conscience, no remorse) and then tries those out on corporations. They fit. For instance corporations return repeatedly to make profits from things they know are lethal and that strew grief - cigarettes, cars that catch fire in crashes, drugs with devastating side effects - because the money is there. Enough money gives them a “psychopathic contempt for legal constraint.” Or any constraint.
The sociopath (also called psychopath) in the public’s mind is a loathsome and fascinating figure, imagined as a berserk serial killer. Actually, most sociopaths couldn’t be more different. Suave and charming, manicured starters of conversations, many look like they come from the pages of GQ. (There are plenty of lissome women sociopaths too.) Consummate actors, you melt when they talk to you. They are smooth as glass. They exhibit a tapered arrogance. They are also “persistent, repetitive, remorseless violators of the rights of others, and the rules of society.”
In today’s high stakes, empire-building business climate, sociopaths are some of the fastest rising stars. In corporate maneuvering they have no loyalty, virtually no emotion, and no conscience.
This is not a new type of personality. But in modern culture, where success has become separated from honor, they thrive. The sole passion they have is to win. The particular combination of sociopathy and high intelligence is a prototype for business success.
Stout also says there is a genetic base. Sociopathy runs in families and is partly hereditary – she estimates about 50 percent of it is inborn.
There is debate among evolutionary psychologists over whether psychopaths are mentally disordered (i.e. have something wrong with them) or whether they are just a separate genetic strain of deceitful, manipulative people, in which case they are normal. If it is a disorder, psychopaths are notoriously difficult to treat (they don’t voluntarily come in for psychotherapy, and if required to, they don’t change). Either way, because of their “short-term, high mating effort strategies” they produce more offspring, and their genes will spread through the pool. From an evolutionary point of view, this type is becoming more common.
Our culture is unwilling to stop them. We furiously promote these smooth surfaced, antisocial people when they turn their talents to making money for the company. Then as CEOs and CFOs we give them extraordinary business power.
Democracy is something a sociopath loathes, because it represents public constraint by ‘little people’ on his autocratic power. And he doesn’t practice democracy inside corporate walls. What he often practices in the corridors and boardrooms is coercion and intimidation. Returning to Conniff’s observations: “Great fortune builders are also often great screamers [who use] the diatribe as a favorite tool…He calls meetings…at which he rages, growls and curses at his weary employees.”
Why is this type so successful? One possibility: because these malignant personalities are at home in the system. And the reason for that is that the system is malignant.
Large corporations sometimes hire high-ranking specialists and managers who come with personal problems which wear everyone down. These people are not just occasional curiosities; they can be found in every large organization. Company owners are aware of these scabrous personalities under the roof, but are startled to find out just how much they are draining the company since their styles affect many other people.
Hollands shows the owners the company they could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars more profit if they got rid of these misfits, but they don’t, partly because of the expense of firing and rehiring.
These personalities are not easy to confront. They are extremely judgmental, to the point of mild paranoia, and if confronted they turn rabid or wall themselves up in their offices which is devastating to company morale, creating ripples of anxiety across the cubicles. And because coworkers usually back away from them, the offenders interpret this as a win, and they do it again. Hollands points out that this event, “winning,” is highly valued in high-stakes businesses (sales, legal, brokerage) where competitive individualism is prized, so nobody is sure what to do. So the toxic atmosphere spread by these bullies is borne, and everybody dreads going to work.
Adam Smith never talked about these odd personalities. Adams Smith’s main point is that humans are naturally self-centered, and if you allow all people to work in their self-interest, the nation will benefit.
But individual self-interest will not explain everything. You cannot build a successful economy with something like self-interest any more than you can toss a bunch of boards in the air and expect them to come down in the shape of a house. Much is missing.
Which means a search. Requiring a long journey through rarified concepts? No, I believe the search will take us places we already know. And I am swayed by Nietzsche and his habit of scorning academics who want to make things complicated. The great problems of this world, he said, are not in misty metaphysics. They are in the street. Particularly they are in places we don't expect.
We don't care to look down. Is it because that direction is filled with nothing interesting?
The media seems to affirm that. Apparently, time spent on the lives of workers would be gilding a vacuum. If we follow the media, we will always look up.
A tree’s height and its depth are connected. Everybody accepts that because the tree is an organic whole. A building is another kind of organic whole, and if the building is built taller, its foundation must go down. But libertarian economists refuse the heights and depths of our own society to be connected – yes, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, but that is somehow a coincidence because everybody is free.
In the life of a tree, what happens below determines what happens above. And I believe if we want to understand how an economy creates such high levels of wealth, we will need to look at its soil, and below, even if it is not pretty where the roots are coiling and clenching the rubble.
What do we hear when we hold our ear to the soil?
We can start with the broad question. Why do we work? It is a fair question.
We want to jump in: “To earn a living,” “To support the family,” “To get ahead.” - All partly true, or true for some people.
Actually the broader question stumps professional analysts. The cover story of a 2003 issue of US News and World Report titled “Why we work” wanders around for several pages and is simply evasive, but says: “Some do it for love. Others do it for money. But most of us do it because we have no other choice.”
That doesn’t sound like the freedom shouted up by libertarians.
The goal of businesses is product and profit. If American all produced something new in their work, we would be a prodigious and much happier society. In fact, worksites are often not what we would expect. Huge amounts of work effort are spent overcoming inefficiencies. What inefficiencies? Workers often spend hours trying to find, cleaning up, checking, losing, leaving messages, not connecting with, misunderstanding, delivering to the wrong place, catching up, waiting, repairing, clarifying miscommunications, correcting mistakes - myriad forms of blather and delay – and all exhausted at the end of the day.
So answers to the question “why do we work?” like, to make, or to produce, are part of the myth of work, but to get a little more reality we need to look at things the textbooks don’t talk about.
A part of the answer is supplied by what happens at work.
One thing that never fails to happen on the job is hierarchy. Hierarchy is ever present in manufacturing, service, private, government, military, civilian, inside-work, outside-work, unsuccessful, successful, full time, part time, day, night, sea, land, intense and indifferent jobs. It is much more predictable than - much more reliable across worksites of different kinds than - money, motivation, service, satisfaction, effort, efficiency, profit or product, which vary.
What hierarchy ensures is control. (The US News article does point out that although more workers are using their homes, it is no escape from hierarchy - and the phone and emails don’t stop after 5:00 p.m.)
So if I go to work for someone, I will enter some sort of hierarchy. And if I go to work for someone, somewhere, I am also selling my personal freedom for a wage.
So most work sites create the opposite of the two basic values of democracy, which are freedom and equality.
Should we say, the more people working, the more satisfied the nation? That would be nice. But realistically, the more people work, the more people are enmeshed in a system of control which is nondemocratic. That’s not such a cheery thing to say, but we are tired of having the world made cheery by the method of painting our windows blue. If we want to see better, we will have to scrape it off.
Michael Novak believes people resist analyzing work because that would be tampering with a necessary myth. We might find contradictions. Any contradiction would threaten society’s foundations. The value of hard, competitive work is our society, Novak says. It is painstakingly reinforced from birth and “without that myth our society is inconceivable.”
The origins? Generation after generation of young persons are taught that work is the route to personal dignity and worth. For each child this is repeated in one form or another through school and a light is turned on. Success and failure is everything; no ambition is too high. These myths take a deep hold; they have the spiritual power of hope, and by the time a school graduate enters the workforce he is ready for something momentous to happen.
So each worker starts out on a personal quest. If he talks to other workers about his dreams of growth and expansion, they smile, and later he notices old workers at his job doing much the same work and he starts to think, and to keep his inner visions quiet. Gradually he sinks into routines. He dodges the inanities and politics of the workplace. After many years, that inner light, once supple and strong, is changed. Work doesn’t change much. If the child originally dreamed of being in the NBA or being an explorer, working in an office will feel like a cul-de-sac. But he does the work. He becomes a watcher-of-others. Later perhaps he still has hope, but it is in a different form: now he is darkly working on a distant hope of vindication. Even later he changes again. Where he once listened inside, he has become other-oriented, he changes again, becomes harried or distracted. He works because of obligations, or for security, or for the company. If the light goes out, this is the way he will finish his days, in routines, swimming with all the others, in these vast pools of irrelevant direction.
He was from the start harnessed to somebody else’s dream.
Nonetheless, as this person grows up he will stir the same myth in his own children.
In 1999 Barbara Ehrenreich, who holds a Ph.D. in Biology, tried an experiment. She changed her clothes and climbed down the social ladder to be a person living on minimum wage. This level of society is called the working poor. Being trained as a scientist, she took careful notes. She detailed her experiences in the book Nickel and Dimed. One after another she took six jobs, for a minimum of a month each, including waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aide, and WalMart salesperson. She drove a car, but made herself live each month only on what she could earn – mostly at $6 and $7 an hour. This meant living in the cheapest lodgings (trailer parks, motels, downtown hotels) and eating on a narrow, bland diet.
The jobs were available. Once on the job she was an exemplary worker. But her first finding was that it is almost impossible to work for those wages and survive. For instance, monthly earnings as a waitress in Florida were $1,039. The cheapest rental she could find was a $500 efficiency, and food, gas, laundry, utilities and phone and toiletries came to another $517, leaving her $22 for everything else. She moved to Maine, hired out as a house cleaner, scrubbing young yuppies’ houses, making $6.65, and paying $480 rent for a room, and so on.
Her second finding was that the jobs often involved exhausting effort, and overtime, and in some jobs she literally worked by the sweat of her brow so that all she wanted to do at night was watch TV over her dinner and then fall asleep.
She became socially invisible - interacting with nobody except her immediate supervisors and coworkers; she felt ‘disappeared’ from society. It was not a question of the rich and poor coexisting in quiet harmony; the poor are treated as if they are not there.
She endured humiliation, abuse, and routine violation of privacy, and sometimes had to surrender basic civil rights. As a waitress she was told that her purse could be searched at any time by management. There were rules against talking on the job. Constant surveillance, being written up by the shift supervisor, and being ‘reamed out’ by managers were all customary parts of the job, also being subjected to drug tests (which in some cases included stripping to underwear and urinating in presence of a specimen collector.) After a while, she felt she was not just selling her labor but her life.
Ehrenreich muses that since the people she was around were all hard workers, there seemed no purpose to the authoritarianism of managers except to create a culture of extreme inequality. Demeaning employees sometimes seemed attractive for employers. The repressive management style also produced the feeling of failure and shame, which, she suspects, keeps down wages because eventually workers think so little of their own worth that they accept the low pay.
Ehrenreich is one writer who has paused by this thought. We have a massive cultural contradiction. "We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world’s preeminent democracy, after all, if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship.”
To our Western minds, some kinds of inequality are less tolerable than others, less ‘fair.’
Actually there is no human society with perfect equality. All cultures contain some inequality and the big question is the criterion, because some reasons for inequality are seen as unjust. For instance America thinks monarchy and inherited aristocracy are wrong, but in neighboring Canada they are accepted. In some communities, rank is based on brute strength, in others, pureness-of-heart. Nobody likes to be low in any hierarchy.
Societies with inherited rank also find it’s inefficient. The British, for instance, used to give all their top government jobs and high offices to relatives of nobles. The problem was a lot of the nobility and their relatives are not very bright. As a society grows more technological it needs more pure intelligence to run it. So a century ago, the British started awarding important positions by qualifying exams and educational achievement, open to anybody.
But there’s a benefit to being in a hierarchy by birth: being low is not your fault, and it’s not a moral problem.
In America the idea that anybody should be able to rise is old, and a person’s position has always depended more on ability and accomplishments. This is meritocracy. Meritocracy seems more democratic. It is appealing because it seems to be all about self-steered destiny.
But by the same token, meritocracy introduces blame for low rank. If you haven’t accumulated accomplishments during your life, your low rank is a moral problem because you were free and you had the chance.
In America, therefore, the rich are better, the poor should be ashamed.
All this creates a special set of fears called “status anxiety” by de Botton and “fear of sinking” by Kilmer, an obsessive concern with social status.