Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Helping the Rich Helps Me, Right?

So we constantly hear in political debates, whether from conservatives or libertarians or others, that pure capitalism without regulations or checks is the best way to increase wealth. But it increases wealth for who, exactly? The community, you and me, all of us together, or just the greedy hoarders at the top of the food chain? An article from Yahoo today:

Are Rich People Unethical?

. . . A new study published in the Proceedings of that National Academy of Sciences found that wealthier people were more apt to behave unethically than those who had less money.

Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley analyzed a person's rank in society (measured by wealth, occupational prestige and education) and found that those who were richer were more likely to cheat, lie and break the law than those who were poorer.

"We found that it is much more prevalent for people in the higher ranks of society to see greed and self-interest . . . as good pursuits," said Paul Piff, lead author of the study . . .

I've said it over and over: People are both giving, compassionate, and charitable and selfish, greedy, and self-centered. We need laws and regulations to make sure the one aspect doesn't overrun the other, to keep greed and selfishness from running rampant. In my mind, this article just reinforces the need for such, along with proper enforcement to stop the unethical from getting away with breaking the rules. And that, as you have probably already deduced, does not mean less government.

I think I've also mentioned before that I come from a Mennonite background, to which the Amish are related. Right before sitting down to write this post, I read (and shared on Facebook) an article about Mennonite and Amish distance runners in Pennsylvania. This quote from the that article might give you a bit of context for where I'm coming from: "Humility is important," says another Amish runner, a member of the victorious Ragnar Relay team. "When you start to elevate the individual above the community, that's a bad thing." I can't overstate the importance of that idea as an influencing factor in my identity and politics.

I've considered related ideas previously here, for instance:

Which Do You Fear More: Lazy-Selfishness or Greedy-Selfishness?
. . . Like most people, I have a mixed view of human nature. I know people are capable of great compassion and goodness and I trust that they will help those in need, but I believe there is a selfish limit to what they will give. They want their help to be personal, those they help to be known and trusted. They need there to be a face to their charity so they can believe in the good it will do. So the anonymous, unknown strangers without a network are those least likely to get help when they need it. The Old Testament refers to this category as the “widows and orphans.” The New Testament uses language like “the least of these.” I think people will always take care of their own, but there will also always be people who have no one. There has to be some kind of system in place to take care of those people, some way to insure that we don’t just share with those we know, but that we share systematically even with those we don’t know. Otherwise no one will help them. I fear that the greedy-selfish, who could easily afford to help them without much personal sacrifice, won’t. . . .

And here:

It's Only Water in a Stranger's Tears: Or, We Do Not Take Care of One Another
. . . So people are essentially going to do the greedy thing if left unchecked, and the more power you have the more harm you can do. So far, so good. I'm absolutely on board with that. Where we veer 180 degrees is the role of government in all of this. They seem to think that governments have all the power and are thus the greatest potential for evil. I believe a democratic government of and by the people is the greatest potential for limiting individual power and evil. Left to our own natures with no social constraints or rules, we'll compete for power and some individuals will come out ahead. I like to shorthand them as "big money," "Wall Street," "corporations," or "the rich." They will greedily take from the rest of us for their own benefits as much as they possibly can unless someone has the power to stop them. The only one with enough power to do so is all of us as a collective in the form of our representative government. I know reality shows government can be as corrupt as any other power, but I still feel on principal it is the right approach to take for battling our innate selfishness. It is the approach that is based on sharing instead of individuality. It is us all coming together to look out for each other and to make sure no one has the power to oppress us. . . .

Or writing about Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational, here:

Readers' Digest Irrationality

. . . The Context of Our Character, Part I: Why We Are Dishonest, and What We Can Do about It
I introduced this chapter here. Everyone lies, cheats, and steals in little ways. But we’re less likely to do so when reminded of the existence of things like the Ten Commandments or the MIT honor system. When we are removed from any benchmarks of ethical thought, we tend to stray into dishonesty. But if we are reminded of morality at the moment we are tempted, then we are much more likely to be honest. It has nothing to do with the likelihood of being caught, either; all that seems to matter is the reminder that it’s wrong.

The Context of Our Character, Part II: Why Dealing with Cash Makes Us More Honest
When we look at the world around us, much of the dishonesty we see involves cheating that is one step removed from cash. Companies cheat with their accounting practices; executives cheat by using backdated stock options; lobbyists cheat by underwriting parties for politicians; drug companies cheat by sending doctors and their wives off on posh vacations. To be sure, these people don’t cheat with cold cash (except occasionally). And that’s my point: cheating is a lot easier when it’s a step removed from money.

Do you think that the architects of Enron’s collapse—Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and Andrew Fastow—would have stolen money from the purses of old women? Certainly, they took millions of dollars in pension monies from a lot of old women. But do you think they would have hit a woman with a blackjack and pulled the cash from her fingers? You may disagree, but my inclination is to say no.

One example: He went into the MIT dorms and put things in student fridges: 6-packs of Coke and plates with 6 one-dollar bills. After 72 hours all the Cokes were gone and none of the money had been touched.

In the larger context, we need to wake up to the connection between nonmonetary currency and our tendency to cheat. We need to recognize that once cash is a step away, we will cheat by a factor bigger than we could ever imagine. We need to wake up to this—individually and as a nation, and do it soon. . . . the days of cash are coming to a close. . . .


At 2/29/2012 7:35 AM, Blogger CDL said...

You - trying to get through life, save the world.
Me - just trying to make it through a day at work. ;)


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