Studies show that the wealthy are less empathetic than the poor, whether they’re driving a car or serving in Congress
I was polishing off some pancakes at Denny’s with a friend when our waitress dropped off the check. We paid the $11 bill, and my friend tossed a $5 tip on the table.
I tried not to look surprised. My friend worked as a caregiver and was raising two kids on less than $19,000 a year.
She read my face. “Look at her,” she said, cocking her head at our waitress, who was visibly pregnant and speed-walking from table to table with laden platters in the busy restaurant. “She’s been on her feet for probably six hours already and has three more to go, she’s got a baby on the way, you know she’s exhausted, and somehow she still took great care of us like she’s supposed to. She needs it more than I do.”
I felt my face turn red. I could afford an extra $5. Why hadn’t I thought of that? “You are something else,” I said finally.
“Nah,” she demurred. “But I used to be her, you know? So I know how it is. Besides, karma’s a b—- and you can never be too careful.” She winked and reached for her keys. “Ready to go?”
There’s little question that people find it easier to give when they see something of themselves in the recipient. It’s what motivates families of cancer survivors to participate so eagerly in fundraising walks and why my friend at Denny’s gave so readily to our waitress. It’s also why hedge fund manager John Paulson gave $400 million last year to Harvard University, his alma mater, and not to, say, Habitat for Humanity.
Proximity plays a role, too. We give more easily to the people and causes we see, often regardless of the magnitude of the need. Americans gave nearly $1 billion more to the approximately 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks than they gave to victims of the South Asian tsunami three years later, even though the latter tragedy killed more than a quarter of a million people. A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy showed that affluent people in homogeneously wealthy Zip codes are less generous than equally affluent people in mixed-income communities. If you never see a homeless person or a trailer park, it’s easier to forget they exist.
But a lot of it comes down to the sheer capacity for empathy — and it turns out that some people have more of it than others.
When shown photos of human faces with different expressions, lower-income subjects are better than their more affluent counterparts at identifying the emotions correctly, according to a study by Yale professor Michael Kraus. (This makes some intuitive sense — if keeping your job depends on reading your customers’ emotions, you’ll probably get good at it.) When University of California psychology professors Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner recorded behavior at four-way stop signs, they found that the drivers of Toyotas and other inexpensive cars were four times less likely to cut off other drivers than the people steering BMWs and other high-end cars. In a related experiment, drivers of more modest cars were more likely to respect the right-of-way of pedestrians in a crosswalk, while half the drivers of high-end cars motored right past them. In other experiments, lower-income subjects were less likely than higher-income individuals to cheat, lie and help themselves to a jar of candy meant for kids.
Strangely, even just thinking about money can make people act more selfishly. When University of Minnesota professor Kathleen Vohs primed study participants with images of money (showing them screensavers depicting floating cash, or asking them to unscramble lists of words that included terms like “cash” and “bill”), they were less likely to give money to a hypothetical charity. And when a research assistant dropped a box of pencils on the floor right beside them (pretending it was an accident), the money-primed subjects were less willing to help pick them up.
Does this mean wealthier people are inherently more selfish and self-absorbed, and lower-income people inherently more generous and empathetic? Or did being rich or poor make them that way?
There is “an obvious chicken-and-egg question to ask here,” Michael Lewis wrote in the New Republic in 2014. “But it is beginning to seem that the problem isn’t that the kind of people who wind up on the pleasant side of inequality suffer from some moral disability that gives them a market edge. The problem is caused by the inequality itself: It triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains.”
Indeed, when University of North Carolina researcher Keely Muscatell showed high- and low-income subjects photos of human faces with accompanying personal stories, the brains of the low-income subjects demonstrated much more activity in the areas associated with empathy than the rich subjects’ brains.
Similarly, when University of Toronto researcher Jennifer Stellar showed videos of children at St. Jude’s hospital bravely undergoing medical procedures, lower-income viewers exhibited more heart-rate deceleration — which scientists use as a measure of compassion — than their higher-income counterparts.
This is, of course, not good news for a society with an inequality problem. If being richer makes people less empathetic toward the struggles of others, the people with the most power and resources will be the least inclined to help. And this seems to actually be the case: A 2014 study of Congress members found that while Republican lawmakers favored the same economic policies regardless of their personal wealth, Democratic legislators’ support for certain policies rose or fell in line with their bank accounts. Richer Democrats were more likely to favor lower taxes on the wealthy and decreased business regulation, while relatively poorer Democrats were more likely to support legislation to make college more affordable or increase the minimum wage.
But there are some positive findings. Even though rich subjects’ physiological changes suggest that they feel less empathy for others’ suffering, researchers in another experiment found that rich subjects began to act more empathetically toward others when shown a vivid, emotional video about kids in poverty.
What’s more, everyone, rich and poor, responds better to the plight of a single case than that of a whole group. (Social scientists even have a name for this: the “identifiable victim bias.”) Many Americans only vaguely aware of the Syrian refugee crisis were moved to help when they saw a photo of a dark-haired toddler in tiny sneakers whose body had washed up on the beach after a failed sea crossing. Thousands of strangers sent birthday cards to an autistic 12-year-old boy named Logan Pearson when his mother posted his photo and a plea on social media. A Detroit man named James Robertson received more than $300,000 in donations from strangers after the local newspaper reported that he walked 21 miles every day just to get to work. When a ponytailed 19-year-old in Ohio named Lauren Hill told a reporter that she dreamed of playing college basketball despite her diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, 10,000 people packed the arena to cheer her on.
These blooms of generosity are not replacements for policy-level action that can permanently change the lives of people on the darker side of the inequality spectrum, just as a big tip or a one-time holiday gift to a food pantry doesn’t fundamentally change the long-term arithmetic for a waitress earning $8 an hour.
But what they show is that almost everyone, including the well-off, can be moved to care about the less fortunate and less powerful, in spite of whatever effects wealth may have on them. Individual stories help. Exposure helps. Just paying attention — to the waitress, the person in the crosswalk, the cleaning staff in the corridor of the conference center — helps. Imagination helps, too.
I know a man who runs a large, urban affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit program in which low-income families build their own homes alongside community volunteers and then buy the houses at a reduced rate. On the first day of construction, he tells me, retired guys from the suburbs itching to break out their power tools show up to work with the future homeowner, often a working single mom with young kids who’s never been on a construction site in her life. “They have nothing in common and no idea what to do with each other,” he says.
But the weeks go by, and one guy shows her how to use a circular saw. Another man helps her perfect her swing with a hammer. They suffer together stapling up itchy pink insulation on a 100-degree day and freeze on the frosty afternoon they put up the siding. There is lunch, and laughter, and eventually a house. “And on the last day, when I stand on the front porch and look out over that same group that didn’t know what to do with each other only a few months before, it’s a completely different vibe,” he tells me. “It’s just — ” He pauses, like he knows this going to sound corny. “It’s just love.” She’s better off, and so are her kids. But so are they.
It’s an uphill battle for the well-off to fight the effects of wealth on their minds, to consciously step out of their circles and pay attention to the places where dinner is not certain, where keeping the lights on is a struggle, where a trailer park is a place real people live, not a punch line. Perhaps all of us who do not worry about where our next meal is coming from could stand to widen our lens.
At the very least, it bears remembering that the givers and the takers may not be who we thought they were.
As election 2016 winds to an end, it’s hard not to begin looking beyond Nov. 8. With Donald Trump behind in the polls and lashing out at the media, there is rampant speculation that Trump is laying the groundwork to launch his own media empire in the wake of his likely defeat. Yet, if he loses, Trump’s next move may well be less important than what’s in store for his supporters, whose long-simmering pain and rage have exploded into plain view.
It would be easy to dismiss Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” and simply move on. But while Trump has undeniably incited racism, misogyny and ugly behavior among his base, it’s critical to understand the context in which their fury has come to the fore.
The U.S. and global economies are in the midst of a tectonic shift. This election — along with Brexit and the spread of nationalism across Europe — has made it impossible to deny that millions of people are desperate for solutions and demanding to be heard. They are tired of being ignored by the elites who have failed them. For Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, the lesson of 2016 should not be that Trump voters are irredeemable. It should be that by paying more attention to the plight of blue-collar workers, and offering inclusive solutions to the great challenges roiling our country and the world, they have a real opportunity to expand the Obama coalition of minorities and young people who make up the Democratic base today.
Trump supporters disproportionately live in places where economic mobility is low and opportunities for young people in particular are scarce. Over the past two decades, the incomes of white men without a college degree — the one group Trump is winning by strong margins — have fallen dramatically in comparison to the incomes of their more educated counterparts. Meanwhile, as new trade deals increase foreign competition and technology continues to advance, the good-paying jobs that traditionally sustained the middle class in many parts of the country are disappearing forever. Disruption may be sexy in Silicon Valley, but it doesn’t look nearly as attractive from the factory floor.
As surreal as it may seem to some, Trump has convinced many working-class voters that he feels their pain. He has offered simple, albeit hollow, solutions (“we’ll build a wall!”) to their problems despite his own history of employing undocumented workers, manufacturing products overseas and importing Chinese steel.And of course, he has shamefully stoked racial fears and resentment in the process.
A serious progressive agenda should grapple with the grave challenges that many Trump supporters face. To that end, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who won strong support from working-class whites in the primaries — offered a useful blueprint. To start, we need a more progressive trade policy that gives priority to working people over corporate lobbyists and profits. As Roosevelt Institute fellow Mike Konczal argues, a truly progressive vision for trade would not embrace Trump’s retrograde protectionism but would strengthen workers’ rights and preserve the ability of countries to regulate multinational corporations. We also need debt-free college to increase opportunities for the next generation. And we need “Medicare for all” to create more security and flexibility as the traditional nature of work evolves.
While these ideas are represented in the Democratic platform, progressives should fight to ensure that Clinton and the party act on these ideas moving forward. Moreover, they will have to speak directly to communities that have been ravaged, with a message that truly recognizes and respects their anger and pain.
As University of California at Berkeley law professor Ian Haney-López recently wrote in the Nation, “Remaking our politics and economy depends on a broad coalition that must include substantial numbers of racially anxious whites. Ignoring their fears, or worse, pandering to them, further impoverishes all of us. Instead, we must have a unified message for whites as well as people of color: Fearful of one another, we too easily hand over power to moneyed interests, but working together, we can rebuild the American Dream.”
Whatever happens when the votes are counted in two weeks, it will be a political and moral imperative for Democrats to start paying attention to many of Trump’s supporters and working to advance an inclusive populism that gives them hope for their future. If they fail, it’s only a matter of time before a more polished, less toxic Trump emerges and threatens to drag us all back into the past.
© 2016 The Washington Post
SUNDAY, OCT 23, 2016 04:30 PM PDT
Purity culture slut-shame blues:
Christian abstinence teachings wanted me to fear sex and be ashamed of my sexuality. Dylan showed me another way
I was 10 years old when I sat through my first abstinence series at church. My parents had discussed its age-appropriateness, but had decided that my relative youth was a good thing. It meant my first introduction to sex would come within the safe, godly confines of our church. So I sat in the church sanctuary dutifully every week as various pastors took turns stressing the dangers of things like necking. I didn’t have any idea what necking was, but I made a mental note to avoid it.
Those first lessons in abstinence were downright confusing. I wondered why the French apparently kissed differently than Americans, and why their methods would be so much more provocative and potentially sin-inducing. To a 10-year-old, or at least to a 10-year-old who hadn’t even been allowed to watch kissing scenes in movies, kissing just seemed like slamming your face against someone else’s mouth; I couldn’t imagine there was a whole lot of technique involved.
Once I hit middle school, as others preteens were taking sex ed, beginning to learn about their developing bodies and eventually how to stick a condom on a banana, my mother assigned me to read books with titles like “The Bride Wore White,” “Passion and Purity” and “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” My home school sex ed curriculum sounded like one of the D.A.R.E. commercials I’d seen while watching Saturday morning cartoons: Just say no.
Even masturbation could lead to your virginity (AKA your worth as a person) being devalued. So when I was much older than I care to admit, I asked my mother: “How do women even have orgasms? How is that possible? What’s happening?” and “Why do people move around so much when they have sex? Can people have sex without all that moving?” Her reply: “You’ll find out when you’re married.” Even learning about my own anatomy was off limits, apparently, until I’d signed my name on a marriage license.
Meanwhile in church, my youth pastor, after pulling a slimy pink glob of bubble gum out of his mouth, asked: “Does anyone want this piece of gum?” The teens all gagged. “That’s what it’s like to marry someone who has already had sex,” he warned.
Other classy youth group metaphors involved comparing teens who’d already cashed in their V-cards to soiled snow, a licked candy bar, a white sheet dropped in mud, duct tape that could no longer stick, and a glass of water a bunch of boys had spit in that no one in their right mind would drink. Eventually, I would learn to recognize this kind of talk as slut-shaming, but at that point I just called it “God’s design for sex.”
Sex outside of marriage was dirty, depraved and sinful. Words like “perversion” were applied to sex out of wedlock. But what was worst of all was the attitude that if you went to bed before you were legally wed you’d become dirty, unwanted, a disgrace. As my youth pastor and the purity books my mother gave me liked to say, “There’s nothing more valuable than a girl’s virginity.” Sex was a dangerous force; it had the life-ruining power to snatch your very worth as a person right out from under your nose.
The message was clear: No Nice Christian Boy would want to marry a girl who had already done the nasty.
Throughout high school I wore a purity ring my mother had bought for me at the local Christian bookstore. I did this partly out of a desire to fit in (everyone else at youth group was doing it) and partly with the hopes that it might scare away any ill-intended men. Losing my virginity was one of my biggest fears, so I wanted to keep anyone who might pose a threat to it at bay.
However, once I graduated from high school all the silver band reading “True love waits” really did was bring up my lack of a sex life in awkward settings with strangers. “Are you married?” a guy would ask. Or, “What does your ring say?” I felt like with that neon I’ve-Never-Had-Sex sign strapped to my hand I was announcing that I was really just a child.
“I’ve decided not to wear my purity ring anymore,” I told my mother one day when I was 18. I’d gone swing dancing and in the course of one night had had two guys ask what my ring said, and I’d had enough. I didn’t want to talk about my lack of a sex life anymore. I didn’t want it on display. I took my ring off and shoved it in a box in my closet.
Mom tried to talk me out of it. “Maybe you could get a different ring if you don’t like that one anymore,” she’d suggested. She was worried. Maybe she feared this marked the beginning of a change. But taking off my purity ring wasn’t the beginning of my sexual revolution.
That started with Bob Dylan.
The same year I took off my purity ring I discovered Jack Johnson. But the fact that I’d mostly traded in my Christian praise-pop for “secular music” was no sign that I was now the wild tart I’d been warned against becoming. I mean, I still deleted all of the more blatantly sex-themed songs by Johnson so that they wouldn’t even accidentally show up if I was listening to my music on shuffle.
Jack Johnson was a gateway. I began to investigate more singer-songwriters, working backwards through music history until finally, luckily, I found my way to Bob Dylan. “Lay, Lady Lay” was one of his first Dylan songs I heard, and the sensuality of the song was far from subtle: “Lay, lady lay / lay across my big brass bed.” But I didn’t delete this one. Instead, I hit repeat.
In church and at home, sex outside of marriage had always been chalked up to rampant hormones, a lack of self-control, and lust. “Don’t be friends with non-Christian boys,” my youth pastor had once informed the girls at church. “All they want out of you is sex.” Unless a guy offered a ring and his last name, his desire for you was deplorable. But even if marriage was part of the package, sex wasn’t seen as all that important. “People put too much emphasis on attraction. Just don’t marry anyone who makes you go ‘ew,’” had been my mother’s advice.
One line in particular from “Lay, Lady Lay” I wanted to hear again and again, until it began to echo in my brain: “I long to see you in the morning light / I long to reach for you in the night.” It took my breath away. I’d always imagined a guy expressing his desire to sleep with me sounding more like: “Hey, baby, I want in your pants,” like random strangers rolling down their car windows to call me a bitch or a whore and yell that they wanted to fuck me as I walked down the sidewalk.
But Dylan inviting a woman to come lie down next to him so that he could see her in the morning light wasn’t harassment and it wasn’t crass; it was art.
To my surprise, I realized that if a significant other ever said something similar, I’d be flattered.
I privately continued to listen to Dylan in college, keeping my ear buds in to prevent my mother from hearing. I created a special playlist called “sexy songs.” It was the first time in my life I’d written the word “sexy” and meant it positively.
Every time I listened to “I’ll be Your Baby Tonight” I’d close my eyes, imagining the scene and taking in every word.
Close your eyes, close the door
You don’t have to worry anymore
I’ll be your baby tonight
Shut your eyes, shut the shade
You don’t have to be afraid
I’ll be your baby tonight
One by one Dylan’s songs taught me about sex. While he might not have given me IKEA-style instructions, complete with stick figure illustrations regarding the mechanics of sex or how to properly use a condom or when to apply lube, Dylan taught me the thing I needed to know more than anything else about sex. He showed me sex was something I’d never known it could be before: beautiful.
In “Tangled Up in Blue,” Dylan sings about how a woman opened up a book of poems “And handed it to me / Written by an Italian poet / From the thirteenth century / And every one of them words rang true / And glowed like burnin’ coal / Pourin’ off of every page / Like it was written in my soul.” Every time I replayed my scandalous, secret playlist I felt like every word Dylan sang was being written in my soul, healing the broken parts of me and slowly eroding the negative, shaming things that I’d internalized about my sexuality.
I was 23 when I finally got the chance to see Dylan perform live at Seattle’s Bumbershoot music festival. It was originally going to be a date, but my mother had invited herself along because as she’d put it, “Seeing Dylan is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” And I hadn’t had the heart to deprive her of such an opportunity by pushing back.
At one point during the show I leaned against my boyfriend Ian and he slid his arm around my waist, pulling me in closer as we watched what looked like a miniature Bob Dylan performing up on stage. In response, my mother stood up dramatically to go watch the show from somewhere else. She was clearly angry — the dagger eyes were a dead giveaway — and the next day she locked herself in her bedroom for hours to sob about how her daughter had gone astray. “I don’t even want to think about what you’re doing when I’m not around!”
Seeing Dylan live was one of the most romantic moments of my life. After my mother stormed off, Ian wrapped his other arm around me and we swayed together among a sea of humanity and the glare of stage lights. The guy I’d fallen in love with was holding me close as I sang along with every word of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”
Eventually Ian would tell me in his own way that he longed to see me in the morning light, to reach for me in the night. And eventually he would. Dylan may have won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for having created new poetic expressions,” but I would give it to him for showing me the beauty in one of the oldest poetic expressions of all.
By Barry Grey
24 October 2016
AT&T, the telecommunications and cable TV colossus, announced Saturday that it has struck a deal to acquire the pay TV and entertainment giant Time Warner. The merger, if approved by the Justice Department and US regulatory agencies under the next administration, will create a corporate entity with unprecedented control over both the distribution and content of news and entertainment. It will also mark an even more direct integration of the media and the telecomm industry with the state.
AT&T, the largest US telecom group by market value, already controls huge segments of the telephone, pay-TV and wireless markets. Its $48.5 billion purchase of the satellite provider DirecTV last year made it the biggest pay-TV provider in the country, ahead of Comcast. It is the second-largest wireless provider, behind Verizon.
Time Warner is the parent company of such cable TV staples as HBO, Cinemax, CNN and the other Turner System channels: TBS, TNT and Turner Sports. It also owns the Warner Brothers film and TV studio.
The Washington Post on Sunday characterized the deal as a “seismic shift” in the “media and technology world,” one that “could turn the legacy carrier [AT&T] into a media titan the likes of which the United States has never seen.” The newspaper cited Craig Moffett, an industry analyst at Moffett-Nathanson, as saying there was no precedent for a telecom company the size of AT&T seeking to acquire a content company such as Time Warner.
“A [telecom company] owning content is something that was expressly prohibited for a century” by the government, Moffett told the Post.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in keeping with his anti-establishment pose, said Saturday that the merger would lead to “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” and that, if elected, he would block it.
The Clinton campaign declined to comment on Saturday. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, speaking on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” on Sunday, said he had “concerns” about the merger, but he declined to take a clear position, saying he had not seen the details.
AT&T, like the other major telecom and Internet companies, has collaborated with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its blanket, illegal surveillance of telephone and electronic communications. NSA documents released last year by Edward Snowden show that AT&T has played a particularly reactionary role.
As the New York Times put it in an August 15, 2015 article reporting the Snowden leaks: “The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.”
The article went on to cite an NSA document describing the relationship between AT&T and the spy agency as “highly collaborative,” and quoted other documents praising the company’s “extreme willingness to help” and calling their mutual dealings “a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”
The Times noted that AT&T installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs based in the US, provided technical assistance enabling the NSA to wiretap all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a client of AT&T, and gave the NSA access to billions of emails.
If the merger goes through, this quasi-state entity will be in a position to directly control the content of much of the news and entertainment accessed by the public via television, the movies and smart phones. The announcement of the merger agreement is itself an intensification of a process of telecom and media convergence and consolidation that has been underway for years, and has accelerated under the Obama administration.
In 2009, the cable provider Comcast announced its acquisition for $30 billion of the entertainment conglomerate NBCUniversal, which owns both the National Broadcasting Company network and Universal Studios. The Obama Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission ultimately approved the merger.
Other recent mergers involving telecoms and content producers include, in addition to AT&T’s 2015 purchase of DirecTV: Verizon Communications’ acquisition of the Huffington Post, Yahoo and AOL; Lionsgate’s deal to buy the pay-TV channel Starz; Verizon’s agreement announced in the spring to buy DreamWorks Animation; and Charter Communications’ acquisition of the cable provider Time Warner Cable, approved this year.
The AT&T-Time Warner announcement will itself trigger a further restructuring and consolidation of the industry, as rival corporate giants scramble to compete within a changing environment that has seen the growth of digital and streaming companies such as Netflix and Hulu at the expense of the traditional cable and satellite providers.
The Financial Times wrote on Saturday that “the mooted deal could fire the starting gun on a round of media and technology consolidation.” Referring to a new series of mergers and acquisitions, the Wall Street Journal on Sunday quoted a “top media executive” as saying that an AT&T-Time Warner deal would “certainly kick off the dance.”
The scale of the buyout agreed unanimously by the boards of both companies is massive. AT&T is to pay Time Warner a reported $85.4 billion in cash and stocks, at a price of $107.50 per Time Warner share. This is significantly higher than the current market price of Time Warner shares, which rose 8 percent to more than $89 Friday on rumors of the merger deal.
In addition, AT&T is to take on Time Warner’s debt, pushing the actual cost of the deal to more than $107 billion. The merged company would have a total debt of $150 billion, making inevitable a campaign of cost-cutting and job reduction.
The unprecedented degree of monopolization of the telecom and media industries is the outcome of the policy of deregulation, launched in the late 1970s by the Democratic Carter administration and intensified by every administration, Republican or Democratic, since then. In 1982, the original AT&T, colloquially known as “Ma Bell,” was broken up into seven separate and competing regional “Baby Bell” companies.
This was sold to the public as a means of ending the tightly regulated AT&T monopoly over telephone service and unleashing the “competitive forces” of the market, where increased competition would supposedly lower consumer prices and improve service. What ensued was a protracted process of mergers and disinvestments involving the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs, which drove up stock prices at the expense of both employees and the consuming public.
Dallas-based Southwestern Bell was among the most aggressive of the “Baby Bells” in expanding by means of acquisitions and ruthless cost-cutting, eventually evolving into the new AT&T. Now, the outcome of deregulation has revealed itself to be a degree of monopolization and concentrated economic power beyond anything previously seen.