Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"The Rich Are Different From You and Me"

Brian Alexander:
Psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner says the rich really are different, and not in a good way: Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish…. “We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way, and some work on compassion and it’s the same story,” he said. “Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.” … There is one interesting piece of evidence showing that many rich people may not be selfish as much as willfully clueless, and therefore unable to make the cognitive link between need and resources. Last year, research at Duke and Harvard universities showed that regardless of political affiliation or income, Americans tended to think wealth distribution ought to be more equal. The problem? Rich people wrongly believed it already was.
This can hardly be more a surprise than the results of the Milgram Experiment, revealing most human beings are conformist even when it makes them cruel, or Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, revealing the proneness of human beings to abusive and authoritarian behavior should institutional conditions conduce to it.

That human beings in the main are parochial, hierarchical, and prone to rationalize their errors and bad behavior has been well attested since at least Aristotle's Rhetoric recommended ways these frailties might be exploited and circumvented by politicians. Indeed, the whole of politics from an ethical vantage is the creation of a space of conviction and consent -- identified with the state -- the aspiration toward which ameliorates these tendencies, just as the whole of ethics from a political vantage is the creation of space of liberty and open futurity -- enabled by the state -- the experience of which makes sociality a blessing rather than a curse despite these tendencies.


jimf said...
Competent Elites
Eliezer Yudkowsky
27 September 2008

[T]he last news your readers want to hear is that this
person who is wealthier than you, is also smarter, happier,
and not a bad person morally. Your reader would much rather
read about how these folks are overworked to the bone or
suffering from existential ennui. Failing that, your readers
want to hear how the upper echelons got there by cheating,
or at least smarming their way to the top. If you said anything
as hideous as, "They seem more alive," you'd get lynched.

But I am an independent scholar, not much beholden. I should
be able to say it out loud if anyone can. I'm talking about
this topic... for more than one reason; but it is the truth
as I see it, and an important truth which others don't talk
about (in writing?). It is something that led me down wrong
pathways when I was young and inexperienced.

When you make it to the power elite, there are all sorts of
people who want to talk to you. But until they make it into
the power elite, it's not in your interest to take a chance on
talking to them. Frustrating as that seems when you're on the
outside trying to get in! On the inside, it's just more expected
fun to hang around people who've already proven themselves
competent. I think that's how it must be, for them. (I'm not
part of that world, though I can walk through it and be recognized
as something strange but sparkly.)

There's another world out there, richer in more than money.
Journalists don't report on that part, and instead just talk about
the big houses and the yachts. Maybe the journalists can't perceive it,
because you can't discriminate more than one level above your own.
Or maybe it's such an awful truth that no one wants to hear about it,
on either side of the fence. It's easier for me to talk about such
things, because, rightly or wrongly, I imagine that I can imagine
technologies of an order that could bridge even that gap.

I've never been to a gathering of the top-level elite (World Economic
Forum level), so I have no idea if people are even more alive up there,
or if the curve turns and starts heading downward.

But I'm pretty sure that, statistically speaking, there's a lot more
cream at the top than most people seem willing to admit in writing.

Such is the hideously unfair world we live in, which I do hope to fix.

Dale Carrico said...

Well, he's certainly what passes for the cream in the Robot Cult. What a clueless asshole.

jimf said...
Self-reliant people, entrepreneurs, people who prefer their
own company, loners, rugged individualists. . .
[P]rogressives tend to frame us as bad people because
we lack a sense of "empathy" and "community," we live
"selfishly" and so forth. . . [W]hen a progressive says
"empathy," he really means something like "paying higher taxes."
Individuals who can think of better uses for their
own money and vote accordingly therefore seem "narcissistic"
or "sociopathic" to progressives, especially if we also
mention that we've read Ayn Rand's novels and like some
of things she says.

This sheds light on what progressives really mean by "diversity":
They mean a diversity of physical characteristics like skin color,
but they don't mean a diversity of human minds (which probably
also accounts for their IQ denialism). . .