At the time of this writing we are watching the Republicans in Congress trying to pass a tax law that, to this writer anyway, seems like one more chapter in the story of the rich getting richer.
We tend to think of such plays for greater power as simply an exercise in greed, but I think there is something more sinister afoot.
It is not greed. It is sadism.
A psychologist friend of mine once told me, when a human being becomes socially disconnected, they seek solace in seeking a state of relative superiority to others.
For example, if no one loves you and you aren’t invited to any parties, you might seek solace in telling yourself that you are either intellectually or morally superior to these people. You are not connected, but at least you are superior.
The trouble with having a lot of money is that, it creates a kind of social isolation, as you no longer share in the common experience of most of humanity. Sure, having all that money is fabulous (I assume), but beyond a certain point, it loses its meaning. Once you have enough money to eat in the best restaurant and drive the best car and fly around in a private jet, what’s left? If you have these material goods but you are starved for the most precious and valuable things in life, i.e., a sense of purpose and a feeling of connection to other human beings, what do you do?
If you lack connection and thus, like my psychologist friend says, you are forced to seek the second best option, which is a feeling of superiority to others, how can that consolation prize best be achieved?
Well . . . since having more becomes meaningless after a point, the next obvious step is to see to it that others have less.
It is rationalized as a logical action of increasing wealth, but it’s really just a wounded soul falling down the rabbit hole of sadism, i.e., achieving a sense of connection by being the cause of pain in another person who otherwise does not respond to your presence. The pain you cause them forces them to acknowledge your existence. It is a state of connection, albeit one based on pain. Better than nothing.
I don’t want to point too many fingers here, because this is something that any one of us is susceptible to. Having a lot of money is like being a prison guard in a Stanford prison experiment. Possession of power is delicious, and what’s the point of having it if you can’t exercise it over another human being now and again, and maybe take out some of your general anger by dumping some of it onto someone who has to take it?
One of the great failings of the progressive movement is a general lack of understanding of the nature of the opposition. It is naive to think we are dealing with mere greed. Greed actually has a grain of rationality to it. It’s not about getting more, there is no systemic economic logic to it. It’s about miserable people who want to make themselves feel less miserable in a purely relatively way, by making other people even more miserable than themselves.