The most infamous proponent of the is view is David Brooks, who wrote:
It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.Yes, disciplined and productive, that describes our one-percenters all right. It's hard work lobbying politicians, looting the treasury and defending your wealth, after all. But it's interesting to note that Social Darwinism and eugenics are becoming all the rage once again now that inequality is at the same levels that they were at the first time Social Darwinism became the governing philosophy of the ruling elites. Coincidence? Then there is the obvious irony of a party whose policies are built around Social Darwinism, yet most of whose members actually reject Darwinian evolution. You'll see similar arguments often made by rightist intellectuals like Charles Murray and Tyler Cowen. As a commenter to the article below put it, "What's scarier to me than the rich thinking they're superior is the poor who agree with them."
The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.
Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.
...Say you’re in that top 0.01 percent—or even the top 50 percent. Would you want to admit happenstance as a benefactor? Wouldn’t you rather believe that you earned your wealth, that you truly deserve it? Wouldn’t you like to think that any resources you inherited are rightfully yours, as the descendant of fundamentally exceptional people? Of course you would. New research indicates that in order to justify your lifestyle, you might even adjust your ideas about the power of genes. The lower classes are not merely unfortunate, according to the upper classes; they are genetically inferior.Social Darwinism Isn’t Dead. Rich people think they really are different from you and me. (Slate)
In several experiments published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology...Kraus and Keltner found that the higher people perceived their social class to be, the more strongly they endorsed just-world beliefs, and that this difference explained their increased social class essentialism: Apparently if you feel that you’re doing well, you want to believe success comes to those who deserve it, and therefore those of lower status must not deserve it. (Incidentally, the argument that you “deserve” anything because of your genes is philosophically contentious; none of us did anything to earn our genes.)...Numerous researchers have found that upper-class people are more likely to explain other people’s behavior by appealing to internal traits and abilities, whereas lower-class individuals note circumstances and environmental forces.
There is a grain to truth to social class essentialism; the few studies on the subject estimate that income, educational attainment, and occupational status are perhaps at least 10 percent genetic (and maybe much more). It makes sense that talent and drive, some portion of which are related to genetic variation, contribute to success. But that’s a far cry from saying “It is possible to determine one’s social class by examining his or her genes.” Such a statement ignores the role of wealth inheritance, the social connections one shares with one’s parents, or the educational opportunities family money can buy—not to mention strokes of good or bad luck (that are not tied to karma)...The income distribution in the United States provides a good example. In 2012 the top 0.01 percent of households earned an average of $10.25 million, while the mean household income for the country overall was $51,000. Are top earners 200 times as smart as the rest of the field? Doubtful. Do they have the capacity to work 200 times more hours in the week? Even more doubtful. Many forces out of their control, including sheer luck, are at play.
Social class essentialism is basically inciting social Darwinism. This distortion of Darwin’s theory of evolution, in one interpretation, is the belief that only the fit survive and thrive—and, further, that this process should be accepted or even accelerated by public policy. It’s an example of the logical fallacy known as the “appeal to nature”—what is natural is good. (If that were true, technology and medicine would be moral abominations.) Social class essentialism entails belief in economic survival of the fittest as a fact. It might also entail belief in survival of the fittest as a desired end, given the results linking it to reduced support for restorative interventions. It’s one thing to say, “Those people can’t change, so let’s not waste our time.” It’s another to say, “Those people can’t change, so let’s lock them away.” Or eradicate them: Only four years ago, then-Lt. Gov. of South Carolina Andre Bauer told a town hall meeting that poor people, like “stray animals,” should not be fed, “because they breed.”
Kraus’ even more recent work, not yet published, goes beyond what high-status individuals believe in order to maintain the status hierarchy and explores what they do. Consider Congress. Members’ median net worth, in 2011, was $966,000. “They’re quite wealthy individuals,” Kraus says. “And because they’re wealthy they’re likely to engage in not only these essentialistic [mental] processes, but these people actually have power to enact laws to maintain inequality.” A top adviser to the U.K.’s education secretary just produced a report arguing that “discussions on issues such as social mobility entirely ignore genetics.” He claimed that school performance is as much as 70 percent genetic and criticized England’s Sure Start program as a waste of money. (As Scott Barry Kaufman, an intelligence researcher at NYU and the author of Ungifted, points out, “Since genes are always interacting with environmental triggers, there is simply no way to parse how much of an individual child’s performance is due to nature or nurture.”)
A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker.Rich People Just Care Less (New York Times)
A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain. In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful.
Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley, and Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have done much of the research on social power and the attention deficit.
Mr. Keltner suggests that, in general, we focus the most on those we value most. While the wealthy can hire help, those with few material assets are more likely to value their social assets: like the neighbor who will keep an eye on your child from the time she gets home from school until the time you get home from work. The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference. Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations — with those of the same strata, and the more powerful — than the rich are, because they have to be.
While Mr. Keltner’s research finds that the poor, compared with the wealthy, have keenly attuned interpersonal attention in all directions, in general, those with the most power in society seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power. To be sure, high-status people do attend to those of equal rank — but not as well as those low of status do.
In August, Science published a landmark study concluding that poverty, itself, hurts our ability to make decisions about school, finances, and life, imposing a mental burden similar to losing 13 IQ points.Your Brain on Poverty: Why Poor People Seem to Make Bad Decisions (The Atlantic)
It was widely seen as a counter-argument to claims that poor people are "to blame" for bad decisions and a rebuke to policies that withhold money from the poorest families unless they behave in a certain way. After all, if being poor leads to bad decision-making (as opposed to the other way around), then giving cash should alleviate the cognitive burdens of poverty, all on its own.
What have I learned from knowing both Mr one-glove and Takeesha? Here's my one-line answer:The wealthy 'make mistakes', the poor go to jail (The Guardian)
When you're wealthy you make mistakes. When you are poor you go to jail.
Yes, it is like comparing apples and oranges. That is the point though. We have built two very different societies with two very different sets of values. Takeesha was born into a world with limited opportunities, one where the black market has filled the void. In her world transgressions are resolved via violence, not lawyers. The law as applied to her is simple and stark, with little wiggle room.
Mr one-glove was born into a world with many options. The laws of his land are open for interpretation, and with the right lawyer one can navigate in the vast grey area and never do anything wrong. The rules are often written by and for Mr one-glove and his friends.
On 15 June, Ethan, 16, was driving with a blood-alcohol level three times above the legal limit. He lost control of his speeding pick-up truck and killed four pedestrians. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to serve in a high-priced California drug rehabilitation centre paid for by the parents, with no jail time and 10 years of probation.'Affluenza defence': Rich, privileged and unaccountable (BBC)
It's the court case that has made the "affluenza defence" a household word, as Ethan's lawyers successfully argued he had a diminished sense of responsibility due to his wealth, pampered childhood, and absentee parenting. Ever since the sentence came down, the media have been rolling in shock and outrage.
The judge "pretty much did what his parents had always done," writes Mike Hashimoto of the Dallas Morning News, "which is let him skate". It's an example of a two-tiered legal system in the US, he wrote, where the rich are treated better than the poor.