Bad: Apples or Barrels? On Civilization

It is not just a few bad apples, it is a bad barrel. This from Philip Zimbardo in his book, The Lucifer Effect.

The social contract which produces politicians like those running for the Republican presidential nomination has always mystified me, until I considered it in the context of Zimbardo, the Stanford Prison Experiment; Abu Ghraib; and even the “mask” scene in Lord of the Flies (William Golding).

The social contract that produces the like of Conrad Black, who points to the security camera he thinks is out of order, while defying a court order, similarly mystified me.

The cynical federal government, which is willing to spend money on planes we don’t need, prisons we don’t need, while claiming that social security needs to be damped down, is a similar problem.

In all cases one might ask oneself:

  • How did these people get in control (wealth, power) with their apparent lack of empathy, and in some cases, common sense?
  • What makes them so casual about the 99 or 99.9 per cent of us?
  • What makes them so insatiable for more (wealth, power) no matter how much they control?
  • What could make them more socially responsible, perhaps almost caring of those they buy/sell hire/fire fund/impoverish at whim?

The Unabomber’s answer to this set of questions was (in the same order) approximately, this from memory:

  • Power is in a sense inherited. The rich/wealthy keep themselves and their offspring rich/wealthy
  • They are they and we are we. The Mask (Golding). The Uniform (Zimbardo).
  • This seems to come with civilization. Perhaps civilization never arises unless, at every moment, someone can profit from some aspect of it.
  • Probably nothing. Nothing short of major upheaval.

I suggest the following set of answers, also in the same order:

  • Civilization is a bit like monopoly. Somebody begins to win, and is then likely to continue to win, at the cost of everyone else. Winning in this civilization allows one to change the rules of the game (lobbying, for example) and steepen the acquisition rate. Then you try to own the game for your relatives and friends.
  • They are they and we are we. W.D.Hamilton. Golding. Zimbardo. They do not see us as friends, equals, or as much more than inconveniences or tools.
  • same answer. Joseph Campbell: since the first city state: Greed for more than one’s share.
  • Change the barrel. Like forced integration in the USA, make them live with us and live like us. Make them stand in the rain when our roofs leak. Make them stand in line at a food bank when we are broke. Make them ride in the back of an airplane, sometimes.

They are not a few bad apples. They are in a bad barrel. That they perpetuate this barrel is understandable. However, it may not be sustainable. They are well under one percent. One ten-thousandth of the USA population spends almost one quarter of all campaign donations. If they are .1% or .01%, then they are outnumbered by 1000 or 10,000 to one. It does not take one thousand disaffected individuals to do very bad things.

I suggest taxation of the rich. I suggest taxation of idle cash kept by companies. I suggest taxation of large funds transfers and all speculative deals (e.g. oil futures). I suggest penalties for moving jobs out of the country.

I suggest real town hall meetings. The skyscraper and suburb have made it possible for the elite to travel through life like heads of state, never meeting a commoner except for a photo-op.

I suggest budgeting for social services, and adjusting the taxes above to pay for them.

Meanwhile, if you are one of those bad apples, think of how it must have felt to be one of the elite during the French Revolution. Realize that you are in a bad barrel, and with the Internet, we 99.9% are beginning to recognize who you are, how you tilt the very floor to get what you want, and how many of us are suffering for your greed – greed for far more than your share.

Change the barrel, or get out of it. For all our sakes.

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