A Psychological Explanation of our Political Mess
Empathy, Power, and Money
Squirrel Trapped accidentally in his quest for food
There are millions of factors that have led America to our current mess. There are thousands of valid explanations for why we are here. I have one point of view, a psychological one. Maybe you have one too?
Humans are a social species — we join forces to increase our efficiency. We are great at cooperating and dividing up work. A few individuals can hunt, while others farm, or others prepare meals.
Not only our minds, but the way we are constructed drives our social nature. For example, the chemical, oxytocin, helps us love our babies and our family. Secondly, we have connections in our brains, mirror neurons, that allow us to empathize with others. When someone is hurt, we come to their aid, when someone smiles at us, we smile back.
These are just some of the great functions that are built into our species and are, in part, responsible for our amazing success on this planet.
However, not everyone is born to be social. Sometimes sociopaths are created when genes malfunction and lead to individuals who do not experience anxiety or affection. And even some normal people who are born socially oriented, if given enough power, status, and deference, can lose their cooperative traits. You can read more about this process of becoming separated here.
While we are definitely social, we are also often tribal. We care more for our family than our neighborhood, and more for our nation than some other country with which we are not familiar. Our empathy is strongest to our children and less powerful towards an unknown stranger. These social biases become established over time since we see our families more frequently than people in other nations thousands of miles away. When social tendencies are handed down from generation to generation, through discussions or literature, they can become hardened prejudices.
OK, let’s zoom in and apply these basic principles to the United States of America in 2017.
For 200 years America has been wildly successful. Our standard of living, wealth, technology, education, industries are second to none. However, our political, judicial, legal, and economic systems are deteriorating and we need to fix them just as we would repair a road that has been frequently traveled.
In our society are enormously wealthy people who have amassed an immense amount of money and power. Many of these people are productive and kind members of society such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. Unfortunately, some of them are extremely non-empathetic and detached from our national tribe.
To distinguish these people from the empathetic super wealthy or from normal people who happen to be rich, I will call the ones with dampened mirror neurons and very low oxytocin, the “radical rich.”
So here we are, in a society with a handful of radical rich at the top who don’t care about other people. They have become numb, greedy, and aggressive. The radical rich only care about preserving their wealth, making more money, and grabbing more power. And they don’t feel bound by our social norms or laws. They believe they are special, entitled, destined to gather more and more.
For the last three decades, they have instructed others to help them amass more power. Today that means controlling our political process. While outright bribes are illegal in the USA, we have a loophole where, if you have the money, you can donate to any American politician’s political campaign or create Super PACs that feed money and influence to the politicians. And, of course, if the radical rich hire smart lawyers, they can, illegally, give money to politicians in off-shore accounts that cannot be traced.
The radical rich (billionaires mainly), donate vast sums of money to American politicians. While not all politicians are corrupted by this money and influence, you can identify the politicians who are associated with the radical rich by watching what they support. Are the politicians for the majority of the people, working to help the middle class, promote education, and looking out for our future? Or are they doing everything in their power to give money to the extremely wealthy?
Over the last ten years, these politicians have begun selling off parts of the US federal government: air traffic control, prisons, and federal land are on the chopping block in 2017. Social Security will be sold to profit-making companies in a couple of years. When companies control these resources, they make money. The federal government does not operate at a profit, so that extra money comes from your pockets, to the radical rich.
Our criminal politicians are now changing the laws that control air pollution and economic regulations. The radical rich will be able to run their business and factories any way they want without threat of lawsuits. Dirty air and predatory economic tactics are on the way.
Medicare and Medicaid make up 25% of our budget. The radical rich have instructed our politicians to cut that down to 17%, and give them the extra money in the form of $600 billion a tax break. The radical rich, the people of no empathy, will take money (that they will never spend) away from continued care for pregnant women, people in nursing homes, and the disabled. They think they are entitled to the taxes that all of us in society have paid to the government.
If that does not make you angry, then you should stop reading because you are dangerously low on empathy. But, if you are a bit outraged, then you might ask why would a politician would work against their constituents? They are supposed to represent us, right?
When the politicians, like the radical rich, become wealthy or want to become very affluent, they abandon a nurturing, social approach and focus on gathering more power and money. The more dollars they acquire, the less money for the rest of us, it’s called a zero-sum game.
Before summarizing, let’s digress and discuss tribes in 2017.
Let me show you how the black arts of tribal psychology can do great damage to our society. The politicians have been working on how to manipulate their followers for thousands of years. They know that they can pit one group in society against another. People are much easier to control when they are frightened or angry — divide and conquer.
To create hostilities, manipulative politicians exaggerate the existing rifts between conservatives and liberals, between blacks and whites, between Christians and Muslims, between men against women, between rural people and urban people. By using hate speech, devaluing the one group, showing the negative side of another group, and glorifying their groups, our politicians have successfully divided America with scientific precision. Here are a few extreme examples: some American conservatives hate liberals more than they hate Russia. Some Christians hate Muslims they have never met even though they worship the same god and Jesus admonished us to love one another.
Stoking hate and anger is a well-known malicious technique to control a tribe. People will usually follow their tribe, right or wrong, it’s where they belong.
Once the politicians make us hate the other tribe, we rationalize why that group does not deserve our respect, justice, or handouts. Have you noticed that the radical rich and the politicians are entitled to the best stuff, but many other tribes are given less?
And do the bad politicians care that America is becoming destabilized due to tribal warfare? No, anger and violence give them more control over the tribes that is overly passionate, and very irrational. Politicians can accrue even more power by leading tribes around by their anger.
Let’s see how the worst type of tribalism effects the psychology of the politicians who are paid by the radical rich.
Some chemical companies create compounds that cause cancer in people. The radical rich who own those factories want to sell their products, but these chemicals cause harm even to the environment.
You think that there is no tribe that wants cancer-causing chemicals, right? But, the radical rich and the wealthy politicians have their own small sub-tribe. They believe that they have so much money, they can live far away from the factories that pollute. They have so much money that they don’t have to buy the products that contain the cancer-causing chemicals. And there you have it, the 1% tribe can live free of that chemical, because they are rich. The don’t care if the others, you and I, are affected.
As you can see the politicians are happy to change the laws so they and their wealthy benefactors don’t worry about cancer, or lawsuits from pollution cases. They don’t live near it and don’t buy products with it.
Things should start fitting together now. There is a well-known human trait to be social and to cooperate with one another. However, through birth defects or enormous amounts of money, some rich people and politicians lose empathy for the rest of us. They live in isolated mansions, are surrounded by people who only say yes to them, and live a lifestyle completely separate from the rest of us. They have become powerful people who are accustomed to dominating others. With domination and seclusion comes a lack of empathy, the mirror neurons fail, the oxytocin stops, and their social nature fades away. They don’t care about America. They don’t ever think of us. The only desire they have is to make even more money and gain more power. As you can now surmise, this essentially a psychological disease, an addiction. They can never get enough money or power.
What should we do?
The United States of America is own by Americans. There is nothing sacred about a politician, they are not the government, they are only people who are representatives of the government. This is our country, we allow politicians to run it for us, but when they do not do their jobs, when they represent only the radical rich, it is still our country.
While change must be accomplished peacefully, we all know that politicians can be easily voted out of office. All that we need is to peacefully organize against them. If you use violence, they throw you in prison and they win.
There are many groups who are working towards non-violent change. Become a part of a group near you. Take your country back from the radical rich and the corrupt politicians, before it’s too late.
In closing, keep these two definitions of “politics” in your mind:
> Politics is a process by which a group, or tribe, determine who gets what (money, services, special treatment)
> Definition of Politics: from the Greek “poly” meaning many, and “tics” mean a blood sucking insect.
Originally published at https://medium.com on June 27, 2017.