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, fuck, and have a good time" But evolutionary psychology says many of our more complicated behaviors are partly genetic.
The implications ripple across our legal system. Think of the possibilities: Evolutionary psychology is deliberately pushing into public policy. The appearance of a new book Evolutionary Psychology, Public Policy and Personal Decisions shows its intended scope But two topics - we might not have guessed which - are keeping biologists agitated.
Are we run by selfishness? And how important is the individual, as opposed to the group? But the central issue being kicked around: Or does a species of animal also need another type of behavior, like cooperation or altruism, in which members help each other? One camp, the hard-nosed Darwinists, says yes to selfishness — that also means genes-powered greed, genes-powered waste-to-impress 28 — and no to altruism.
Selection between whole groups. Darwin said natural selection happens between individuals. But what about selection between communities and herds and flocks? This issue is so hot, arguments between sober academics almost read like kids having tantrums. The point is this: A group of only selfish individuals is weakened from within. And these two issues go hand-in-hand. 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. 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.
Who does this sound like? It would change the basic assumptions of both of their whole theories. And we get the hint that Charles Darwin and Adam Smith were singing off the same sheet of music.
Any alliance between biology and big money should keep us nervous. This alliance has a scurrilous history. 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.
For wealthy industrialists to exploit and discard hordes of the poor in their factories was also understandable. The poor were the unfit. 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. 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. Socialism was on the rise in Europe, and America decided to keep one eye on its poor.
Pro-worker feeling grew and between the World Wars, President Roosevelt built a more poor-friendly, worker-friendly atmosphere, and started Social Security. But it is now sixty years since WWII, and times have changed again. Science itself made vast progress, reaching peaks, so that at 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. 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. 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. Perry says, but wait. Why these analogies in the first place? Why are we studying animals to understand humans?
Would you investigate houseflies by studying blue herons? 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 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.
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. Morality should step in. It took a long time to get that right in western civilization. Then as now, using analogy as a justification for ignoring human pain and fear, or creating it, is a perversion.
Social Darwinism will be much harder to get rid of this time. If we are not vigilant, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology will set new standards of indifference. The implications are stirring. What if our politicians and policy makers, administrative agencies and bureaucracies, our military, our justice system, our legislators, watching, all believe that rich and poor, good and bad, winning and losing are in the genes?
Laissez-faire was the table-thumping cry of monopolistic big business in the s through the s — overlapping the Populist era, but on the capitalist side. 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 , 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. 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 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 , 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. 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. 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 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.
Justice in Two Pages. Those founding assumptions are nonsense. 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.
What does libertarianism say about exploitation? Next, its treatment of justice is negligible. And what does it say about equality? Just over one page is given to equality. Consider a modern concern. What about big-business abuse of the environment? Among other points in the book - to give environmentalists nightmares - is that libertarians see no contradiction between industry expansion and the environment. 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 36 which it interprets as mob rule. While this style of business in the s, 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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. So we cannot do it any harm, analyzing it.
We have plenty of time to pull up our chairs, and at our leisure examine its beating heart. The major musculature of our modern free markets is corporations. 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.
As a rule, they lack transparency. And they seem invulnerable surrounded as they are by walls of lawyers 38, Many corporations hire their own economists so they are also difficult to comprehend.
But these attacks have made no difference. 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. Bodies in Two Parts. 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.
And then return to do it again. 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.
Yes, there are some corporation CEOs who exercise morality and judgment. But they are not supported by Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, who believes the only moral duty of the corporation is to put profit over social and environmental goals and business guru Peter Drucker thinks likewise.
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. 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.
In corporate culture there is an emerging social order that is wide and dangerous, as dangerous as any fundamentalism, Bakan states.
I will return to this point in the later section on remedies Tens of millions of regular folks work in corporations, of course, which gives them the surface look of well fed averageness. But because of their aggressive business agenda, they also attract some odd personalities. 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. In corporate maneuvering they have no loyalty, virtually no emotion, and no conscience. Promiscuous in friendships as in sex, they start instantly and leave an alliance instantly it creates advantage. Their specialty is stirring and steering feelings in others without being touched themselves. Usually the epitome of self control, they are capable if cornered of sudden viciousness.
Few will challenge them, sensing that underneath is their calculated enjoyment of the destruction and humiliation of others. 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. You may have one at your picnic; there was one in your classroom at school; at one time you probably tried to date one. Stout sketches a prototype sociopath growing up. He came from a privileged city family and stole from his parents. He was so intelligent he cruised through college almost without studying and, graduating with an MBA, he was quickly hired by a large corporation, where he proved he could sell anything.
He makes many millions of dollars for the company and enjoys his female subordinates as sexual plunder. Stout explains that the brains of sociopaths work differently. 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.
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. Wrap this all around in the ruthless ideology of Social Darwinism, and nobody is safe.
Democracy itself is not safe. What he often practices in the corridors and boardrooms is coercion and intimidation. Why is this type so successful? And the reason for that is that the system is malignant. History contains several examples of sociopaths who have flattened democracies. 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.
In her book Red Ink Behaviors she gives illustrations. 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. So the toxic atmosphere spread by these bullies is borne, and everybody dreads going to work Adam Smith never talked about these odd personalities.
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.
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. 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. That is why we are missing answers. 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: Actually the broader question stumps professional analysts. Others do it for money. But most of us do it because we have no other choice. 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. 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.
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. 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.
This is a dark pond into which nobody ever tosses a stone. 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. If we want to see better, we will have to scrape it off. And these topics do not make easy conversation with our co-workers. We verge on taboo. Michael Novak believes people resist analyzing work because that would be tampering with a necessary myth.
We might find contradictions. The value of hard, competitive work is our society, Novak says. 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. 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: 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. Nonetheless, as this person grows up he will stir the same myth in his own children.
This wreckage of myths is where we do not want to look. He interviewed workers of all kinds, from proofreaders to nurses, to stockbrokers, to hookers, to jockeys, to welders, to executives, to stone cutters, to accountants, to dentists. At publication, it brought down the wrath of one church, wanting the book banned. Its page collection of short narratives is an expose of our everyday work world, in the original language of the workers.
This is the introductory paragraph: It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all or beneath all , about daily humiliations.
To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us. So is it lies? If Terkel was the only writer, we might come away thinking he's a hothead. More recently a woman from the academic elite used a different method. In Barbara Ehrenreich, who holds a Ph.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. In America, therefore, the rich are better, the poor should be ashamed. Perhaps this will all fall into focus leaf by leaf. After decades of aggressively distributing credit cards to virtually anyone who can sign, lenders have worked themselves into a paramount position of power.
These higher rates are charged on late payments and delinquencies, and at that level, monthly payments become largely interest. Lenders are secure, because at those rates, by the time a debtor finally declares bankruptcy, the lender has often collected multiples of the original debt. Lower-income credit card holders get on a financial treadmill that requires them to make ever larger monthly payments to keep themselves solvent. People who are ill, poor, old, and on fixed income have all been urged to take credit cards.
Then they are largely sealed onto a wheel which never pauses. Debt payments are the scourge of the poor but this is a spreading problem and it now includes the middle class. Many countries have usury laws that control predatory interest rates.
In Europe these laws date back centuries. In the United States the laws vary from state to state. Public opinion is gathering against these lenders. Is collecting high interest rates on loans a hard-work method of making a lot of money? What about the people who declare bankruptcy? People usually go bankrupt because of severe misfortune.
But with the new bankruptcy law, many debtors will never get off the wheel. For the past few years our national leaders have encouraged us to believe our national destruction is imminent at the hands of an evil foreign enemy. Possibly before that, legal loan sharks will eat us out from within.
Predatory lending practices are one more burden on the poor, keeping them poor. It is very hard for the exploited to escape shame and inescapable debt is one reason for the melancholy that haunts the lowest regions of this society. Credit companies look resplendent in media commercials, situated high in wind-brushed, glass buildings with whispering elevators, manicured executives, and elegant beauties for receptionists. This industry is banditry.
If you can make wealth through hard work, you can also make it by getting others to do the work for you — even children get this insight. Getting other people to work for you is using them. Whether using people is immoral is a debatable question. If somebody is willing to change a flat tire for me, I am using that person. Nobody sees anything wrong. Actually, says ethicist R. Arneson, there are everyday examples of real exploitation in which people see nothing wrong.
Children exploit their parents for trips to the mall and money to spend. Parents exploit their children getting them to do household chores. So it seems exploitation is not always bad. Arneson says the word exploitation has two meanings 1 simply to use somebody — no problem, but 2 if you use them and mistreat them in the process, there may be a moral problem Further, for wrongful exploitation to exist, there should be two conditions.
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