Tag: Greedy Bastards Hypothesis

Alpha Males, Psychopaths and Greedy Bastards,

Alpha Males, Psychopaths, Greedy Bastards.

In October 2016, during the United States presidential campaign, the Washington Post released a recording of Donald Trump made in 2005. Trump was heard to be making comments about women:

“I moved on her and I failed, I admit it. I did try and f*ck her, she was married…I moved on her like a bitch…you know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them…its like a magnet…grab them by the pussy. You can do anything” (BBC 2016).

Nigel Farage told Fox news that the remarks were ‘ugly’ but something “if we are honest that men do… this is alpha male boasting”. (BBC 2016).

The alpha male trope, its behaviours and traits, might be widespread (Ludeman and Erlandson 2006) especially among ‘alpha males’, those in the 1% and the plutocracy. Teller (2017) critiqued a Fox news article which argued that women’s success in the Boardroom are dooming their marriages, because they are “groomed to be leaders rather than wives…they become too much like men…too competitive…too masculine…too alpha”. Teller criticised the piece for its uncritical acceptance of an American trope – the leader as alpha male, which has ‘wormed its way’ deeply into the American subconscious. It is part of the American mythos in which great men accomplish great deeds with little help from anyone else and draws from a rich vein of rugged individualism as expressed by such as Ayn Rand (1957, 1964). It is in line with the ‘Great Man’ theory of leadership in which leaders are born not made, and great leaders will arise when there is great need, “Cometh the Hour, cometh the man”. Thomas Carlyle (1840) was an early exponent of ‘Great Man Theory’ in the 1840s stating: “The history of the world is but the biography of great men”.

In 2004, Ludeman and Erlandson painted a positive picture of Alpha males, arguing that the modern corporation is characterised by their presence, that indeed it would be difficult to think of the corporation without them. They also devised an instrument to develop ‘alpha profiles’, based on 1,507 individuals all of whom worked full time in the business world, 64% were male with an average age of 41 in 106 countries and in various industries. A significant finding was that alpha risks are closely related to alpha strengths, in general the greater the strengths, the greater the risks, see table below (Ludeman and Erlandson 2006).

The stereotype, or trope, exists probably not as result of biologically determined characteristics or superior innate traits. Rather it is probably the case that the ‘innate traits’ of ‘Great Man Theory’ are used as justification for aggressive, competitive, loud, selfish and often sexually dominant male behaviour. This justification harks back to Thomas Carlyle’s description; draws upon quasi pseudo-scientific principles of evolutionary biology’s ‘survival of the fittest’, and the individualistic rhetoric of neoliberal political economy (Goodman 2017) which is based on an erroneous utility maximising rational actor theory, i.e. ‘homo economicus’ (Persky 1995). It also has roots in the ‘objectivist epistemology’ of Ayn Rand (2007a, 2007b) whose 1947 and 1954 novels have gained current popularity among some of the most powerful people in the United States, and those who aspire to be the most powerful in the United Kingdom (Freedland 2017). Rand’s emphasis on, and the neoliberal rhetoric of, ‘freedom’ is a rallying cry used to mask the reality of exploitation (Monbiot 2017).

Not only is it a myth used by the erstwhile ‘masters of the universe’ in the City of London to justify their dominance, it is sexist and misogynist as it is ignorant of socially constructed gender roles; it is unscientific without any grounding in the natural sciences, it is anthropomorphic of animal behaviour, and it is simplistically individualistic as it shifts the explanations for status and power differentials away from issues of social structure onto biological inevitability and individual psychological characteristics. It is uncritically reflexive in its adoption of the ‘liberal human self’ ontology. It does so to avoid discussing, acknowledging and unmasking unequal social relationships based on class, gender or ethnicity.

Alpha male behaviour is a choice exercised by ‘those who can’ based on their privileged backgrounds and attributes, which are often white, male, heteronormative, educated and so called ‘elite’, over ‘those who have not been able to’. The latter have to overcome class, ethnic and gender barriers not faced by their privately educated competitors. The alpha male also ignores or dismisses our capacity for empathy, without which it truly is an alpha dog eat beta dog world. This alpha male ideology and actual behaviour assumes selfishness and self-interest are main driving forces for successful capitalist societies. The inequality it helps to sustain are, in this world view, necessary for success. Alpha males may also share some characteristics attributed to psychopaths.

What are ‘Alpha Males’?

The term comes from studies of animal behaviour (ethology), e.g. in chimps (de Waal 1982) and wolves (Mech 1999). It denotes the animal of the highest rank who achieves this status often through physical prowess. They often get to eat first and mate first, and in some species they are the only one allowed to mate. Sexual conquest is thus an important aspect of alpha behaviour. Animal behaviour, for some, provides models and explanations for human behaviour on the basis that we are evolved animals only differing from, say, primates because of our higher cognitive functions. It is thus tempting to extrapolate from primate behaviour to human behaviour on the basis that behaviour in human social groups are affected by evolutionary, and genetic, processes. We watch animal behaviour and are tempted to anthropomorphise and apply to humans. E.O Wilson’s ‘Sociobiology’ was term akin to ethology in that it was an attempt to explain social behaviour in humans such as altruism, nurturance, aggression,  by appealing to underlying evolutionary mechanisms and thus the theory has more than a whiff of biological determinism about it.

In humans, we label alpha behaviour often as that which is about ‘getting the girl’ due to confidence, charisma and competitiveness. Women are supposed to like this display and ‘swoon’ in the presence of an alpha. Whether this is true in sexual politics I leave to women to decide. However alpha characteristics, if seen as the basis for sexual success, can also be seen to be the basis of success in business and politics.

Ludeman and Erlandson (2004) describe the Alpha as ‘highly intelligent, confident, and successful (who) represent about 70% of all senior executives in the United States’. They are not happy unless they are the ‘top dogs’ – they are supposedly natural leaders, they get stressed when tough decisions don’t rest in their hands; they get a thrill when in charge. Ludeman and Erlandson also identify four breeds of Alpha: commanders, executors, strategists and visionaries. Alphas have ‘unique strengths as well as destructive ‘flip sides’.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Alpha leadership style.

It might be an interesting exercise to compare the traits with descriptions of psychopathy/sociopathy which according to Hirstein (2013) are:

  • Uncaring, Shallow Emotions, Overconfidence, Narrowing of Attention.
  • Irresponsibility, Insincere speech, Selfishness, Inability to plan for the future and Violence.
Alpha Attribute Value to Organisation Risk to Organisation
Self-Confident and Opinionated. Overconfident Acts decisively has good intuition Is closed minded, domineering and intimidating.
Highly Intelligent Sees beyond the obvious, takes creative leaps Dismisses or demeans colleagues who disagree with him. Uncaring
Action orientated Produces results Is impatient, resists process changes that might improve results. Narrowing of attention.
High performance expectations for himself and others. Uncaring Sets and achieves high goals Is constantly dissatisfied, fails to appreciate and motivate others. Uncaring
Direct communication Style.

Uncaring.

Moves people to action Generates fear and gossip filled culture of compliance. Uncaring
Highly disciplined. Is extraordinarily productive, finds time and energy for a high level of work and fitness Has unreasonable expectations of self and others, misses signs of burnout
Unemotional. Shallow emotions. Is laser focused and objective. Narrowing of attention Is difficult to connect with, doesn’t inspire teams..

(Ludeman and Erlandson 2004).  Words in italics are from Hirstein’s description of psychopathy.

Juni (2010) suggests 3 major types of psychopathy: Superego deficit, aggression driven and sadism while also acknowledging controversy over definition (Scott 2014). He does suggest that people with psychopathy have ‘pro social’ values who often pragmatically get by through complying with social rules and norms. They are able to manage relationships at an adequate, though superficial level. Interestingly they are able to advance in their careers through their interpersonal skills. In discussing ‘superego deficit’ Juni suggests that due to extreme emotional hurt or deprivation in childhood, ‘superego internalization’ is lacking. This means children fail to develop their own checks on what is acceptable and how they should treat others, and then rely on external repercussions to govern behaviour. They have a basic learned incapacity for interpersonal trust, meaning they never really learn to appreciate others and will essentially be ‘users’ as they exploit relationships for their own good. Others are expendable and exchangeable. Another aspect of this is ‘blunted affect’ in which the child has learned to distance itself from all forms of emotion. Past experiences of emotion were painful they learn to choke off feelings. There is a superficial veneer of emotion but internally they have renounced affect. These might be useful traits to have in leading certain corporations.

What would a Venn diagram look like?

Silvio Berlusconi displayed, or thought he did, alpha traits bringing Italian politics into the bordello by treating Italian voters like paying customers being screwed by the puttana of politics. Trump’s ‘pussy grabbing’ comments similarly betray a sense of unearned entitlement, objectifying women merely as playthings for his own narcissistic amusement. His dismissal of this as ‘locker room banter’ was an insult to many ‘locker rooms’ and in doing so he tried to use a veil of ‘irony’ to cover actual misogyny.

Those that consider themselves as alphas may earn more, compete more or attain higher social status than their beta brothers; they think of themselves perhaps as ‘Heroes, Rogues and Lovers’ (Dabbs 2000). Dabbs used this as a book title and discussed the role of testosterone, a hormone linked with alpha theory, further giving justification within our biology. He also linked it with violent crime and sexual assaults!


 

Justifications

Alpha males may conceive of their actions as originating in and being determined by and thus excused by evolution, often implicitly invoking the reptilian brain and the force of genes upon behaviour and traits. Many alphas from the world of politics, business and economics are not steeped in ethology or would be aware of its origins. However an appeal to evolution is nonetheless often present. Thus they have an essentialist understanding of the human. What is missed is that evolution has further acted upon the human brain and we now have the limbic brain and the neocortex which together, it is argued, constructs the ‘Triune Brain’ (MacLean 1990). In other words the reptilian territorial selfish brain has the empathic, communitarian brain and higher cognitive functioning brain to balance any primordial tendencies. Alpha also misses what epigenetics tells us, i.e. that it is the interplay between environment and genes and cultural life that influence behaviour. We are not as genetically predisposed to do anything, as much as we like to think we do. Appeals to some form of biological determinism for behaviour, is just stupid.

A modern exponent of essentialist determinist nonsense in the field of psychology is John Grey. His book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ exaggerates the differences and lends credence to theories based solely on biology. He recently explained the behaviour of ‘alpha males’ as resulting from testosterone. Men, he suggests, are hard wired for violence and polygamy. This relates to the workings of the reptilian brain. However, as already noted we also have the capacity to be ‘soft wired’ to be empathic and communitarian. Susan Gerhardt (2011) argues it is culture and child rearing practices that results on changes in brain function towards or away from empathy, violence and selfishness. This is based on neuro-scientific research, such as that carried out by Baron Cohen (2011). Hard wiring is a misleading term as it suggests a form of determinacy, reducing the possibilities for change.

Research now suggests that we are soft wired with ‘mirror neurons’, which results in our ability to experience another’s plight as if we were experiencing it ourselves (Rifkin 2009), we can then empathise with others. We are not hard wired for aggression, violence, utility maximisation and self-interest but soft wired for sociability, acceptance, affection and companionship. However, we have built up social institutions and economic structures as if the former were true. These selfish structures are going global. These structures are also designed and run by alpha males for alpha males and justified by appeals to human nature and the inevitability of violence, aggression, utility maximisation and self-interest as the engines for creative social development that capitalism has wrought.

Self Interest?

 

Alpha’s justifications imply an ‘essential’, often selfish human nature.  The idea of an essential human nature has a long track record. However, an essentialist view of human nature, if human nature indeed exists, does not necessarily mean that it includes a drive for naked self-interest and aggressive competition.  The modern confusion can be traced to some Enlightenment philosophers (e.g.  John Stuart Mill 1836,  Adam Smith 1776) and their modern interpreters, overplaying the selfishness and utility maximising aspect of behaviour. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan placed self-interest on the throne of human motivation. Adam Smith’s utility maximising rational actor merely reflected what was emerging under industrial capitalism rather than what could be in other more empathic civilizations (Rifkin 2009).

Human nature to Alphas, is ‘naturally selfish’. We were naturally rational actors seeking our own self-interest to maximise our utility in the market. This we now know to be nonsense. Economics cannot be seen to work in isolation from society, culture, politics and power. Its mathematical models have proved to be false by the Great Financial crash of 2008 and by everyday experience.

Self-interest has not been seen as the only drive for humanity. Alongside this drive is the ‘Will to Power’ associated with Friedrich Nietzsche, the ‘Pleasure Principle’ associated with EpicurusJeremy Bentham and with Sigmund Freud (Snyder, Lopez and Pedrotti 2007) and the ‘Will to Meaning’ associated with Frankl (1946/2006). Thus the quests for Power, Pleasure and Meaning are alternatives to economic self-interest as drivers for human action. Erich Fromm and Manfred Max Neef have also discussed fundamental human needs which could be thought of as drivers for human action. Self-interest for material gain does not feature anywhere near as prominent in their theories.

 

Miller (1999) argues that a different view of human agency acknowledges the power of other motives, such as public spiritedness, empathy, commitment, and justice.

 

Yet given this, somewhat admittedly white, colonialist and patriarchal divergence of views on what motivates us in contemporary societies, it could be argued that hegemonic neoliberal imaginary (Hall 2011) especially in the United States and the United kingdom since the 1970’s, rests on the idea of the rational actor, the ‘free, possessive, individual’, using his economic self-interest for ‘life liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

 

One aspect of rational self-interest is that of “principal-agent” theory: agents will perform best under high-powered financial incentives to align their interests with those of the principal (a business school thesis – Layard 2009). For example employees and managers (agents) will work for the same goals of employers and shareholders (principals) and not in their own self interest, if the goals are aligned, e.g. profits are shared. However, Daniel Pink argues that above a certain level of material reward, what motivates us is Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. Financial rewards start to become hindrances rather than benefits. Not that this insight affects the level of, and justification for, the ‘High Pay’ of many ‘fat cat’ CEOs.

 

John Stuart Mill (1836) argued:

[Political economy] does not treat the whole of man’s nature as modified by the social state, nor of the whole conduct of man in society. It is concerned with him solely as a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end.

 

Similarly, Adam Smith (1776) wrote:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

 

Smith (1759) however does express in ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ that self interest alone is not the sole motivator, men can act out of regard for others:

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it” .

 

This exposition of rational self-interest demonstrates that Smith accepted that what makes us human is not only based on unrestrained self-interest.

 

Ayn Rand (1943, 1957) in her novels and lectures taught ‘objectivism’ based on a belief that:

 

man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself”.

 

Rand insisted on the ‘virtue of selfishness’ and the ‘morality of rational self-interest’ which is congruent with the neoliberal creed of individual responsibility. This sounds close to Adam Smith’s rational self-interest of the market, whereas Smith described the invisible hand, Rand moralises it.

 

Yet Becker (2007) argues that moral leadership is exercised not solely based on rational self-interest, that business decisions are not made only on the economic conditions of the market. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is also an example of business principles being enunciated which go beyond the simple search for maximum profit.

 

However, the theory of self-interest allied to material reward remains strong as a description of ‘natural’ human behaviour. If it is ‘natural’ then human happiness is gained if self-interest is given its head. Self interest as ‘human nature’ can be seen therefore as the major drive which should be harnessed both for prosperity and happiness.

 

 

Alphas as Self-Interested Greedy Bastards

 

Graham Scambler, following on from Margaret Archer’s theory of ‘modes of reflexivity’, argues that we have entered an era where plutocrats and oligarchs (Alphas) have captured the levers of the State to rule as ‘Greedy Bastards’.

 

He constructed an ideal-typical sub-type of Archer’s ‘autonomous reflexive’ called the focused autonomous reflexive. Those who make up the ruling oligarchy, or the ‘greedy bastards’, are also ‘focused autonomous reflexives’. Scambler argues they have the following characteristics:

 

“Total commitment:  The focused autonomous reflexive exhibits an overriding engagement with accumulating capital and personal wealth/income. Nothing less will suffice: that is, any deficit in commitment will result in absolute or relative failure.

 

NIETZSCHIAN Instinct: Born of a Hobbesian notion of the natural human state, they betray a ruthless determination to cut whatever corners are necessary to gain an advantage over rivals. they are the ‘blond beasts’ of ‘noble morality’ whose values are constructed by themselves to serve their own interests.

 

Fundamentalist ideology: Commitment is not only total and Nietzschian but fundamentalist: it does not admit of compromise. It is an ideology – that is, a standpoint emerging from a coherent set of vested interests – that brooks no alternative.

 

Cognitive Insurance: While cognitive dissonance is a state to which none of us is immune, they are  able to take out sufficient insurance to draw its sting. Thus accusations of greed and responsibility for others’ suffering are rarely internalized. Such epistemological and ontological security is the exception rather than the rule in this era of financial capitalism.

 

Tunnel Vision: A concomitant of a total, Nietzschian and fundamentalist commitment is the sidelining of other matters and a reflex and frequently gendered delegation of these to others.

 

Lifeworld Detachment There is simply no time for the ordinary business of day-to-day decision-making. In this way focused autonomous reflexives rely on and reproduce structures not only of gender but of class, ethnicity, ageing and so on. Their Lifeworld detachment presupposes others’ non-detachment, i.e. other people service the everyday requirements of life”.

Graham Scambler’s typology requires empirical verification and is not meant to describe any one person in totality. Without studying the lives of the 0.01% and their ‘players’ (often to be found in the 1%), this cannot be verified. However, may we see indicators of their world views in their speeches and writings?

 

Societies have ‘myths’ – stories to explain phenomena and to bind the people together. Self Interest in free markets is an old story, an ‘anti-myth’, as it divides peoples based on negativity, rather than binds. It sorts a people into ‘winners and losers’, ‘top cornflakes‘, ‘skivers or strivers‘ and the ‘left behind‘. It is not based in the actuality of human experience or within philosophy over history, but has been imposed in the West as a guiding ideology especially since the Reagan-Thatcher Duopoly. The Autonomous Reflexives both in the political class and the corporate class of the 0.01%, have imposed: “there is no alternative” and ridden roughshod over other values and stories. Facts, evidence and reason have not worked against their neoliberalism to date. However we may be witnessing the challenge of Authoritarian Populism, which will either destroy or appropriate neoliberalism, as a new ‘anti-myth’. What we need now is a new story, to bridge this ‘myth gap’ (Evans 2017).

 

A poor ‘quality of mind’ 

Alpha males lack a sociological imagination, a quality of mind that links biography and history and the relationship between the two in society. They are unable to link their personal stories to the structures of society at the time they live in. For them, continuing unemployment is simply a personal failure not a result of changing labour market structures; obesity is a personal and moral weakness unrelated to increasing fossil fuel dependence (car use) and the availability of cheap calorie rich foods and our ‘lock in’ to high carbon systems; the lack of female representation at the top is down to female unsuitability to leadership in market employment conditions rather than market conditions being designed by alpha males for alpha males; black people are poor because they lack a work ethic not because of institutional and cultural racism; countries are underdeveloped because they lack a capitalist ethic rather than as a result of past and current imperialism.

They seek always to blame the individual, emphasise personal responsibility and ignore power relationships and structures, which are rigged in one’s favour. Once one accepts the notion that success may be down to a combination of luck, individual effort and abilities, privileges and certain socio-economic conditions, then it becomes untenable to justify huge disparities in reward as being solely based on one’s work ethic and abilities. Empathy is a luxury for the weak in this context, for to empathise would mean examining the real reasons for success and failure in one’s ‘peers’ and the need to gain an understanding of the hopes and ambitions and the barriers to fulfilling such in an unjust world.


 

Freedom!

Alpha males behave in that way because we let them do so and because they have the power to do so. It is often a self-justificatory myth for boorishness and exploitation of the weak members of society. It has no scientific basis. It is theoretically vacuous, empirically wrong and philosophically infantile. We are not ruled by our hormones, our genes or our reptilian brains. However, alpha males have big sticks and they make the rules, but they can be forced to put the sticks down.  We can refashion society in a way that reflects more communitarian ethics and behaviour when we first counter their propaganda based on a singular value ‘freedom’. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought (Monbiot 2017). What they mean of course is freedom to do what they please, what they count , free from red tape, regulations of market stultifying laws.

Freedom from: Trade Unions; paying Tax; environmental protection legislation.

Freedom to: design sophisticated financial products that crashed the system in 2008; to buy and develop property that only plutocrats can own; lobby and receive from the state for a hand out on land they own; to ignore and bypass democracy….

Do Alphas exist?

Now it may be that the alpha male is a straw man, that in reality powerful men do not exhibit traits of dog eat dog über competitive, devil take the hindmost, who dares wins mentality. Step forward Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson, Alan Greenspan, Senator Rand Paul, Uber’s Travis Kalenick, Facebook’s Peter Thiel, Boris ‘Top Cornflake’ Johnson, Sajid Javid MP,  Alan Sugar… Kim Jong Un, Putin, Assad, Modi, Orban, Erdogan, Duterte….

Do alphas exist in real life? If an alpha is a highly rewarded individual, at the top of the social stratum and who justifies that position by reference to their own individual endeavour then we may suggest that the erstwhile masters of the universe may qualify as alphas.  Toynbee and Walker (2008) interviewed City ‘High Fliers’ in an attempt to understand their justifications for their salaries and bonuses. Their responses certainly indicate their attitudes as alphas, they objectively are high status and they control the reward structure. No doubt their access to females is unlimited. Competition and charisma would be prized characteristics among this group. It was clear from their responses that they saw that their success was down to them and their individual effort. Initially the reasons given for success was globalisation (a structural reason) but as Toynbee and Walker continued it became clear that personal moral reasons were the basis for success. They thought of themselves as ‘better’: “we work harder and aspire the most”, fairness is not a valid question, “it’s a fact of modern life that there is a disparity…people say its unfair when they don’t do anything to change their circumstances”, “people don’t want to achieve”, “you won’t find a teacher who works as hard as we do” (p27).

Empathy at the socio-political or corporate level is hard to find. Aspects of neoliberal capitalism and globalisation is pitting all against all as nations try to out compete each other in a race to the bottom in terms of wage reductions, pension reductions, flexible working (i.e. rotational unemployment) and extensions of working lives. Somehow we have accepted that working longer for less in a less certain world is a good thing because not to do so risks losing jobs to India and China (Jones 2011). The structures of globalisation are such that competition not cooperation rules social lives. We are now working for the economy rather than for the community. It is not the alpha males in Greece who have to bend the knee to austerity, they still have their yachts and villas. The existence of the odd rich alpha victim to globalised capitalism only serves to show that the system they operate takes no prisoners. Many of those who go down keep the riches they earned when in power.

The lack of an empathic civilisation and the rule by global elites is not natural or inevitable but we somehow believe it to be so. Meanwhile the alpha looks on, secure on his yacht or in his gated community in ‘Richistan’ (Frank 2007), laughing at the poor people while justifying his ‘right’ by ‘might’.

Because he can.     Because he’s ‘worth it’.

 

 

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Health and Capitalism again.

Health and Capitalism.

 

Resistance is futile” and if you heard those words uttered by the Borg, it often was. However, that did not deter the crew of the starship ‘Enterprise’ from carrying on resisting. And so it is with our current predicament on his planet. The Borg, for the global population, is the capitalist class executive supported by their political power elite. We could just call them the capitalist class or what Graham Scambler refers to as the “Greedy Bastards”.

 

One issue is the globalised ‘capital surplus absorption problem’ (Harvey 2010) which drives capital across the globe looking for profit and cheap labour. If capital cannot make a decent return it moves on, as it did in Cornwall’s mining regions in the 20th century.

The resistance to the current global capitalist system is legion (Hawken 2009), but it is disorganised, fragmented, unfocused, without a clear plan and often unsure of who or what the real threat actually is. Some of the resistance movement of course would misguidedly seek to replace one form of exploitation and crisis generation with another, but with a kinder social democratic or green face. But, while capitalism exists it never resolves its crises, it merely moves then around the globe.

 

I seek in to cut through the mess of analysis as to why we are heading for continued economic disaster which is in tandem with the ecological one, a disaster in which we are lied to by a feral elite as being ‘all in it together’, while the distribution of wealth remains in very few hands and is then turned to exploiting the planet’s natural and social capital with often deadly results.

 

This analysis has emotional elements to it, given what the science is telling us about the crossing of planetary boundaries, how could it not? It is not however based on an emotional analysis but an attempt to understand how social worlds change and upon what basis current societies are organised. It is a complex interdependence of economy and ideology shaping social relationships, which in turn shape who we are. In the coming together as individuals to trade, work, exchange, distribute, sell, buy, advertise we bring our hopes, values and ideals to that process and in turn that process shapes our hopes, values and ideals.

 

This is an agenda that brings together  ‘inequalities in health’ (Marmot 2010), the social determinants of health, Ecological Public health (Lang and Rayner 2014) and critiques of political economy. It is a realisation that education has failed us on a grand scale. It is a realisation that a few powerful men, and it is usually men, have been bought by men of wealth and have commandeered the levers of power for their own benefit, arguing as they do that it is for our own good. It is a realisation that only when populations wake up to the fact of this old fashioned class war and demand a better way of social organization that we will we have a hope of bequeathing to our children a better world. It is a realisation that well meaning individual action that does not challenge the fundamental driver is at best useless and at worse a distraction from the real battle.

It is a realisation that the war is very possibly already lost and the best we can hope for is managed decline in human welfare before restructuring of the social economy is forced upon us. There remains optimism of the will but pessismism of the intellect.

Some are more optimistic about our ability to use technology and our transformation of economic models. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate suggest that economic growth and combating climate change can be done together. In their “Better Growth, Better Climate “ Report (2014), the starting point for this “New Climate Economy” has been to see the issue from the perspective of economic decision-makers. By this they mean government ministers, particularly ministers of finance, economy, energy and agriculture; business leaders and financial investors; state governors and city mayors. None of these decision makers will be anti capitalist and probably have been schooled in either neoclassical economics or economic orthodoxy. I suspect few have read deeply or understood Tim Jackson, David Harvey, Steve Keen or Thomas Picketty, let alone volume’s 1 and 2 of Capital. I suggest that capital accumulation and the contradictions within capitalism is the base issue upon which climate change rests. Naomi Klein has recently (2014) linked these two and brought them into the public sphere in her book “This Changes everything. Capitalism vs Climate”.

Health

Upon what is human health based? It is largely social in nature, determined by the social relationships in a material world. No one lives alone and so it is in the coming together in communities and societies that we fashion the determinants of health. There is a biological basis for some individuals, and this may account for 30% of premature deaths. However genetic determinants (e.g. in cystic fibrosis) operate at this individual level and are manifest in a relatively minor way. This is not to deny that for the individual the medical condition is anything but minor, but health on population levels are not determined thus. Even genetic manifestations are at times made worse or better by the social conditions in which the individual finds themselves. Poverty has a knack of making underlying biological problems much worse.

 

Social Conditions and Relations

Marx (1859) wrote “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness”.

 

In other words, capitalism as an economic system is formed by particular social relationships which give rise to our laws such as private property, our political system and our ideas about how society should be. The current ‘mode of production of material life’ is capitalism in its various forms and is the basis for our social life and our social relationships. Simplistically, this means economic factors – the way people produce the necessities of life (mode of production) – determine the kind of politics and ideology a society can have.

If health is socially determined by social relationships, what are the current forms of social relationships that give rise to certain patterns of health, illness and disease? We know from studying inequalities in health that socio-economic conditions and relative social status determine populations’ health status including measurable outcomes such as life expectancy and the under 5 mortality rate. Other social relationships such as gender and ethnicity also affect health status. However, these are subservient social conditions to the socio-economic in the last instance. Thus material conditions and poverty are prepotent conditions for health. That is not to deny that affluent women and affluent BME’s may also experience ill health disproportionately in certain medical categories. However, the major driver for global health are the socio-economic relationships which are based on a certain forms of capitalist political economy.

Graham Scambler argues that a way to understand health is to see ‘asset flows’ operating throughout the life course:

“The noun ‘flows’ is significant here. People do not either have or not have assets positive for health and longevity, rather the strength of flow of these assets varies through the life- course”. So it is not about the static acquisition of wealth or material deprivation that is at work. It is about what assets flow in and out of people’s lives over the course of their life, and this is particularly important in childhood and older age.

The ‘assets’ are:

biological: your ‘genetic inheritance’, sex, your disabilities, your long term conditions. A healthy child born in Redruth in 1960 starts with good biological assets.

psychological: e.g. your self-efficacy, locus of control, learned helplessness. This same child grows up in social world in which she learns that female roles are pretty much limited, her belief regarding her ability to achive anything she wants is limited by the role models and messages around her. Her ‘self efficacy’ is thus reduced to acting within strict and socially moulded goals. Her self belief does not stretch to being Prime Minister. Her psychological asset is not weak but it is certainly not as strong as a young boy at Eton.

social:  family network, community networks, friendships. All her friends do not pass the 11 plus and so her network ‘learns’ a factory fodder secondary school education hell bent on training the local girls for the local textiles factory. Father drives a bus, mother works part time at the local electronics factory. No one goes to university out of the county. This girls position on the social gradient is not the worse but it is not the best either. Her social asset is low to medium.

cultural, your lifestyle choices such as smoking. Cigarette smoking is very common, all the adults around smoke, it is a rite of passage at school and fags are relatively cheap. A 20 a day habit is soon formed. This is a very weak cultural asset.

spatial: where you live, leafy Surrey or inner city Glasgow? Thankfully Camborne is a rural small town lacking the street and environemental dangers of a Toxteth or Lewisham.

symbolic: status as a ‘chav’ or as member of the elite. Thankfully growing up in rural Cornwall in the 60’s, the word ‘chav’ is not known, the demonisation of the working class has not started and there is no talk of benefit cheats and scroungers as the girl grows, she is spared this symbolic humiliation, but the ‘gippoes’ at Carn Brea are not.

material: income and wealth. As an adult, the girl ‘marries well’, her husband has a decent job and they live in a nice part of town. The house is not damp, they can afford to heat it and provide adequate food for the children.

In addition, Scambler suggests that we need to understand that:

  1. The strength of flow of material assets (i.e. standard of living via personal and household income) is paramount. This links with the material deprivation thesis explaining the link between health inequalities and socioeconomic status.
  2. Flows of assets tend to vary together (i.e. mostly strong or weak ‘across the board’);
  3. Weak asset flows across the board tend at critical junctures of the life-course (e.g. during infancy and childhood) to have especially deleterious effects on life-time health and longevity: a child born with a chronic illness, into the lowest decile of income distribution, in an abusive psychological and social environment, living in damp squalid housing in which both parents smoke, in an area of high unemployment and poor access to health care and a proliferation of fast food outlets, in a culture that demonises ‘chavs and benefits cheats’…….
  4. Weak asset flows across the board, and I daresay strong asset flows across the board, tend to exercise a cumulative effect over the life-course (negatively and positively respectively);
  5. The ‘subjective’ evaluation of the strength of an asset flow can exert an effect over and above any ‘objective’ measure of that flow (e.g. a symbolic asset flow perceived as weak relative to that enjoyed by an individual’s reference group can be injurious in its own right). That is, how we perceive how good or poor our ‘asset’ is, affects us even if that asset is not in itself injurious. This is the social comparison thesis or psychosocial hypothesis.

Scambler regards the material asset flow as vital or ‘prepotent’. Of all assets it is the material conditions of life that underpin much of our health outcomes. In this, Scambler is adopting a Marxist take on health inequalities. To argue that material conditions underpin all other asset flows is not to diminish their importance for health inequalities. This is only highlighting the key point of Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level, in that that action on the reduction in income inequality is a precondition for tackling health inequalities.

Danny Dorling (2014) points to the rising levels of inequality and argues that being born outside the 1% has a dramatic effect on a person’s potential – their asset flows – reducing life expectancy, limiting educational and work prospects and adversely affecting mental health. The ‘greedy bastards’ are of course not the 1%, they are part of it, but their wealth puts them more into the 0.01% of income earners.

What are the current dominant socio economic conditions therefore that give rise to the health and illness patterns we note, are affect the asset flows in people’s lives?

 

Political Economy.

A feature of modern capitalism, which in its neoliberal form especially has now gone global, is that it determines in the last instance forms of social relationships that are exploitative and unequal. The material conditions of life are shaped by these unequal and damaging social relationships. Thus, how much land you have to feed your family and where that land is, is determined by systems of private property, commodity prices and the rules of the state. The same goes for water and shelter. The fundamental building blocks of life, including eco systems services, e.g. fresh water, waste recycling, are subsumed within capitalist social relationships. Nature, the air, water, livestock et, upon which we depend has been fashioned into a mere instrument for human survival and development. There is very little ‘nature’ left untouched by human hand. All of nature has been turned into natural capital and is being used up as if it is limitless.

Capitalism has to continue to do what it does because of the ‘surplus capital absorption problem’ (SCAP). As surplus value accrues to the ruling class, those who own and control the means of production, it has to be reinvested or it is lost. Thus capital continually seeks new markets and new profits. It cannot stand still and so it looks to exploit more and more natural capital in the process. The drive for capital accumulation is the engine of this whole process.

When capital comes up against a barrier to this process e.g. strong labour organisations who demand living wages and pensions, it either designs a solution, e.g. strict labour laws that outlaw strikes and unions, or finds other investment opportunities. It takes manufacturing to countries where there is weak, cheap or surplus labour. This is one of the foundational contradictions of capitalism – the capital and labour conflict. An economy that is not returning 3% growth is seen as sluggish and, as we are experiencing in the UK, recessions which result from lack of aggregate demand and lack of surplus capital investment result in unemployment and social unrest.

Capitalism has proved to be dynamic and inventive. It has taken on many forms – mercantile, industrial and recently financial and consumer based. Apologists for capital accumulation argue it is good for societies, pointing to the jobs and wealth created while ignoring the social misery that often follows in its wake and various waves of ‘creative destruction’ as it comes up against barriers to accumulation and then seeks new forms. In this manner whole cities, e.g. Detroit, are nearly laid to waste as old forms of capital accumulation, e.g. car manufacturing, becomes unprofitable and shifts across the globe. In Cornwall, capital fled following its inability to make a profit from mining and engineering leaving a service and tourism sector characterised by low wages and precarious seasonal contracts. Camborne and Redruth are hollowed out towns still trying to recover from the creative destruction unleashed by the forces of globalisation that resulted in tin being cheaper in South East Asia.

Meanwhile whole populations have been ‘bribed‘ by the baubles and cheap credit that capitalism produces which, as the recent credit and consumer led boom and bust has proved, are merely will o’ the wisps. The phrase ‘wage slave’ resonates with many in so called ‘advanced’ societies who are trapped in alienating forms of work ameliorated only by the lures of consumer products and services. The promises of ‘you’ve never had it so good’ turning sour on sovereign and private debt while the ruling class run away with the spoils in ‘Richistan’.

 Wealth

We have heard the mantra “we are all in this together” which is supposed to reassure us that everyone in society is shouldering some of the burden of the consequences of the financial crash of 2008. We also hear that the UK’s debt has to be reduced quickly and that means cuts in public spending. This is an international phenomenon affecting the United States as well as Europe. Many other countries are not quite so indebted. Global capitalism is still working very well in certain localities and everywhere for the capitalist class.

Forbes has been reporting global wealth for 25 years and states that 2011 was a year to remember. For positive reasons. The 2011 Billionaires List breaks two records: total number of listees (1,210) and combined wealth ($4.5 trillion). This amount of money is bigger than the gross domestic product of Germany, one of only six nations to have fewer billionaires that year. BRICs led the way: Brazil, Russia, India and China produced 108 of the 214 new names. These four nations are home to one-in-four members, up from one-in-ten in 2006. Before 2011, only the U.S. had ever produced more than 100 billionaires. China in 2011 has 115 and Russia 101. While nearly all emerging markets showed solid gains, wealth creation is moving at an especially breakneck speed in Asia-Pacific. The region now has a record 332 billionaires, up from 234 in 2010 and 130 at the depth of the financial crisis in 2009. High performing stock markets are behind the surge. Three-fourths of Asia’s 105 newcomers get the bulk of their fortunes from stakes in publicly traded companies, 25 of which have been public only since the start of 2010.

Forbes argues that the reason they track this wealth is because these billionaires have the power to change the world. For example, Telecom billionaire and prime minister Najib Mikati supports the Lebanese government. Ernesto Bertarelli, is now focusing on saving the oceans from eco disaster. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have already traveled to three continents working to change giving practices among the ultra-rich. This is feudal ‘noblesse oblige’, the power of the divine right of kings by dint of wealth with little democratic control. Meanhwile the UK’s Candy brothers like to boast of their wealth and how little tax they pay in the context where “only the little people pay taxes” and in which the rich are winning the class war.

Meanwhile nearly half of the world – 3 billion people – live on less than $2.50 a day and 80% of humanity live on less than $10 a day (2008 figures from the World Bank Development Indicators).

In the UK, the inequality briefings report that  the richest 1% of the population have as much wealth as the poorest 55% combined; Oxfam report the 5 richest families are wealthier that the poorest 20% combined.

“We are all in this together”. Right.

Green thinking

One way to confront this machine is to get off the consumerist treadmill and hope that through collective consumer choices, i.e. not to buy stuff, that the ruling class will mend their accumulative ways, invest in health, education, the conditions of social life and design products that are ‘green‘ and ‘environmentally friendly’. This is already occurring. The plethora of products from hybrid cars to organic and locally sourced food products indicate that some companies are basing their business models with sustainability in mind. What this does not do however is change the underlying dynamic of the surplus capital absorption problem which demands growth in the economy and the overuse of natural resources.

This means there is a race on between developing goods and services that are carbon neutral and environmentally friendly and the supply of goods that are killing ecosystem services and wreck social relationships through alienating labour and growing inequality. This race occurs within the context of the SCAP which will seek to overcome any barriers to the investment of that surplus value and will not wait until all goods and services become eco friendly. If investment in eco friendly products can be found, and is profitable, capitalism will do so, but it is not fussy in this regard. Canadian tar sands exploitation is an example in which demand for oil and the chance for investing surplus capital to turn a profit cannot be overlooked.

Thus, living the good life runs up against globalised capital accumulation, especially in the form of the subsidized Fossil Fuel industry.

Green thinking is also a minority sport as it is up against other forces as well. The idea of human progress and technological advances to solve our problems runs in tandem with those who have the capital to invest. This also includes some forms of religious ideology, which affirms man’s right to dominate nature and an anthropocentric and dualist world view.

Greens need a critique of political economy or risk being sidelined in the Shire as Mordor advances its deathly grip.

So what?

It is unlikely that human populations under globalised capitalism will stop the SCAP dynamic. They don’t understand it. What they do understand is that there are winners and losers in the current system. If you win, you win big. Many also feel impotent to prevent the investment decisions being made by suits in the financial districts of first world countries. Politicians have let their electorates down or more likely could not deliver as they are merely apologists for the ruling class. Democracy is under challenge, more than ironic given that many are currently dying for a democratic ideal.

Many shrug and say ‘nothing can be done’. They may be right. The ruling class may have too powerful a grip and ‘enjoy’ too much of the spoils to change. Meanwhile the political economy of SCAP produces social relationships that determine our current unequal patterns of health.

To date, not enough people are discussing the underlying dynamic of capitalism that produces periodic crises and which may eventually allow Gaia to take revenge. We are locked into a cluster of high carbon systems underpinned by this capitalist dynamic and we don’t have a key. There is an urgent need to design one but our so called elite Universities are currently so wrapped up in producing technologies for capitalist production and equipping people with skills fit for capitalist purpose that they are ill placed to produce radical thinking, challenges and alternative plans. Education is not the solution, it is the problem. Politics is not the solution it is the problem. Ecology is not the solution it is the problem.

And as for a voice? In the UK it takes a comedian to rattle cages in tandem with a few commentattors such as Owen Jones.

“Philosophers have hitherto interpreted the world in many ways, the point however is to change it”.

That means confronting Capital. Changing the light bulbs ain’t enough and may give a false sense of ‘doing something’.

The ruins of Cornwall’s mines stand in silent testament to the destructive forces of globalisation, mirroring the ruins of people’s lives in the sunken inland towns of Cornwall’s backbone, connected together by a road that fails to take them to the golden reaches of England’s South Eastern metropolis 300 miles way.

So:

  • Join/start an anti capitalist social movement.
  • Use social media to connect for example 38 degrees.
  • Confront your elected representatives in writing.
  • Identify and contact the ‘suits’.
  • Find someone who knows what campaigning is all about and share skills.
  • Focus on your core skills, attributes and role and fashion a response that suits them.
  • Identify a sphere of influence and work within that.
  • Consider direct civic action, e.g. ‘Occupy’.
  • Read and understand the issues.

…or realise that no one gives a toss about any of this, go home and get pissed or pregnant.

 

Want to thank a War Veteran?

Most politicians in the established parties are merely the outward looking face of the 0.1% or, as Professor of Sociology Graham Scambler calls them, the “Capitalist Class Executive”. I prefer his other term for them: the “Greedy Bastards”. Politicians who currently support the activities of the GBs form part of the ‘Political Power Elite’ and are the public facing wing of the GBs. Obama et al in the US; Cameron, Clegg and Miliband in the UK; Abbott in Australia.  In the UK they form part of the ‘Establishment’ while the other parts of the Establishment merely acquiesce  and squabble among themselves about the size of the crumbs falling from the GBs’ table.

The real people to punch are the self satisfied, smug, post imperialist, authoritarian, narrowly educated but often from ‘elite’ universities, usually white and overwhelmingly male plutocrats and oligarchs, the ‘focused autonomous reflexives’ , embedded in globalised corporate networks who believe in their own propaganda about their innate superiority, achievements and right to rule over the underclasses, women, inferior ‘races’ and of course nature.

Their comic, and not so funny, face in the UK is Boris Johnson.

These men usually share an ‘autocratic father metaphor’ and base their politics around core beliefs:

1. The world is a dangerous place and always will be, because evil exists.

2. The world is hard and difficult because it is competitive.

3. There will always be winners and losers.

4. There are absolute right and wrongs.

5. Children are born bad, in that they only want to do that which feels good rather than that which is right.

6. Children therefore have to be made to do the right thing.

7. This world therefore needs a strong strict father who can: protect the family in a dangerous world; support the family in a dangerous world and teach children right from wrong.

Their wealth, they believe, gives them a superior position because they ‘earned’ it based on their own hard work and innate cleverness drawing often unconsciously from the assumptions above.  They are ready to defend it with other people’s lives and the desecration and destruction of the ecosystems on which the rest of us rely. Chapter 1 of Naomi Klein’s latest book is a chilling read and fleshes out some detail on the attitudes of many US CCE’s and their apologists, to climate change. Polly Toynbee and David Walker also illustrates their attitudes in a UK context.

These are the boys to make us think again. Their defence of their wealth and power is wrapped up in words about freedom and democracy and the “American way of life”. This acts as a smokescreen because in reality, as Klein shows, those who inhabit ‘Richistan’ are only concerned about themselves, their class, their privileges and are now actively protecting themselves against climate change, social unrest based in inequality and global jihad. They do so with the blood of others.

The soldiers you see above have been dragooned into this unholy class war.

Veterans are often the saps who, through necessity or through unexamined ideological traps, are the tools of the GB’s. Believing in higher motives such as camaraderie, or poorly thought through notions of democracy, they engage now in fighting the GB’s battles, suffering the costs at hourly pay rates the GB’s would not bother to raise their bloated carcasses out of bed to receive.

To add injury now to insult, we now have to face a medieval Caliphate, largely of our own making.

A young man near you may be sent to die for a cause he knows nothing about other than lies, distortions and false premises. Joining the British military always had its dark side, and apart from fighting Hitler has always been about establishing imperial power to allow extractive capital to freely go about its business. The UK now has a long established military culture, it’s loftier manifestation being the ‘heroes’ trope, and a more base manifestation is our infantile clinging to nuclear weapons.

I met two young boys on the Dover-Calais ferry who had just joined the army, what else is there for them? Without privileged networks, or education, or wealth, their chances of getting ahead in civilian occupations are greatly reduced as they metaphorically jostle with sharper elbowed upper middle classes and the children of the elite who have a stranglehold on plum careers. They also compete with the Precariat, ‘Gringo’s and ‘Endies’ who fill the employment figures making the recession seem better than it actually is.

These two had been sent on a tour of the WW1 battle fields and cemeteries. They were learning military history as part of their basic training. Writing up their notes, one commented on the virtues of discipline in the trenches. I don’t think he’d seen ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’. So, with the best of motives and the least of opportunities, we are preparing two very young men to face lunatics with scimitars, or “ten thousand Watutsi warriors armed to the teeth with kiwi fruit and dry guava halves at Umboto gorge”. Fresh faced and poorly educated they might become veterans relying on a non existent mental health service to sort out their PTSD while their Etonian educated ‘superiors’ worry about the stock market and the price of a bottle of Chateau Lafitte.

Want to thank a veteran? Give, not ‘loan’,  an education, provide some proper mental health services and an economy orientated to the needs of the many not the few.

An unachievable utopia in nursing practice? Utopia will not be paid for by the ‘Greedy Bastards’

The Politics of Nursing: Care is expensive: get used to it.  

Introduction

By now many nurses will be feeling a mixture of despair and insult they have received following the many reports into poor quality care. These feelings can lead to disenchantment, disengagement and disillusionment with both politics and health care delivery. Jane Salvage (1985) suggested that nurses ‘wake up and get out from under’ and while recognising that for some this past entreaty to engage politically may further entrench those feelings, the need for nurses and nursing to do so has not diminished. As Stuckler and Basu (2010) argue, government policy becomes a matter of life and death as ‘Austerity is killing people’. Nurses are part of the front line in promoting health and caring for those who are ill or living with chronic conditions. Their work is therefore framed by politics and political decisions. The bottom line is that there is a ‘bottom line’ to care, societies prioritise resources depending on their values, however there is not a level playing field in this regard. Care is under resourced, undervalued and often invisible. As millions of people in the UK, and billions across the globe, experience a daily struggle to both give and receive care Nursing must ally itself with the progressive forces which seek to redress the balance forces of power which currently results in gross inequalities in health and poorly funded care provision. In this article I wish to remove the ‘flowers from the chains’ so that we more clearly see what holds us back from progress in care giving.

The Politics of care

This summary of a recent article by Curtis (2013) is worth reading as it sets up what some are experiencing as they struggle to reconcile care and the cultures that surround it:

“Nursing faculty are facing challenges in facilitating student learning of complex concepts such as compassionate practice. There is currently an international concern that student nurses are not being adequately prepared for compassion to flourish and for compassionate practice to be sustained upon professional qualification…..nurse teachers recognise the importance of the professional ideal of compassionate practice alongside specific challenges this expectation presents. They have concerns about how the economically constrained and target driven (my emphasis) practice reality faced by RNs promotes compassionate practice, and that students are left feeling vulnerable to dissonance between learned professional ideals and the RNs’ practice reality they witness”.

A key point made in the article is that of the requirement for strong nurse leadership in clinical practice to deal with those factors that make care and compassion difficult to practice fully. That being said, no amount of good leadership will address the basic problem of the cost of caring: ‘who pays?’ Poor quality care is the fault of the person giving it, personal accountability for neglect and abuse cannot be sidestepped. However, we need to bring our sociological imaginations to bear so that we can more fully understand the antecedents to abusive institutional care. These include poorly funded care provision for a low status Cinderella service.

Too much of the discussion of the failings in care do not take into account the political economy of care in societies and the historical antecedents that have brought us to where we are. Instead, we get discussions around changing ‘cultures’. Reconciling professional ideals to actual practice is very difficult given the organisational cultures many nurses work in, and the almost grudging support given to nurses by the political system set up by what Graham Scambler (2012) calls the Corporate Class Executive (CCE) and the Political Power Elite (PPE). The bottom line, and that is a phrase the CCE recognise, is that care costs money. One of the critiques of the Mid Staffs tragedy was that corporate self-interest was put ahead of patients’ safety (Francis (2013).

There have been many reports regarding the health and social care of elderly people and it seems to be that their needs are outstripping both private and public provision for them. J K Galbraith coined the phrase ‘private affluence-public squalor’ to describe the mismatch between what is resourced in the private sector and the public:

There’s no question that in my lifetime, the contrast between what I called private affluence and public squalor has become very much greater. What do we worry about? We worry about our schools. We worry about our public recreational facilities. We worry about our law enforcement and our public housing. All of the things that bear upon our standard of living are in the public sector. We don’t worry about the supply of automobiles. We don’t even worry about the supply of foods. Things that come from the private sector are in abundant supply; things that depend on the public sector are widely a problem. We’re a world, as I said in The Affluent Society, of filthy streets and clean houses, poor schools and expensive television. I consider that contrast to be one of my most successful arguments”. (interviewed in 2000).

Galbraith first wrote about this process in 1958.

As governments embrace austerity policies, this tendency for capitalism to funnel resources, research and development into goods and services that make a return while ignoring public provision for those things that do not have immediate impacts on improving shareholder value or the price of stocks, increases. Care is seen as a cost and not a benefit to those who decide where the investments should be made. Private care companies will provide care with an eye to the balance sheet. This results in hiring under educated and poorly trained staff who too often lack supervision and development in high patient to staff ratios (Salvage 2012). The NHS is no different, but is also now handicapped by various factors making its provision seemingly expensive for society. While the current (2013) Chancellor states that NHS spending will be ringfenced, the true position is that care straddles both health and social care sector provision and is thus characterised by means testing.  It is accepted fact that our population is ageing with forecast increases in dementia and diabetes, health and social care services will experience increased pressures as demands and frailties rise. The argument is about who is going to pay for the provision of care?

Frail elderly people need a lot of care and that care is expensive. Let us not forget our history – why the NHS was set up (Abel Smith 2007), who struggled to get it in into place and why, and the functions women especially played in the private sphere (Elshtain 1981) of care both for children and the elderly. Modern Industrial society was both capitalist and patriarchal with care firmly in the private domain. No state funding as we would recognise it was provided because this was expensive. Patriarchal attitudes would not define it as ‘proper’ work and so could be left to women. The Parish, Poor laws and workhouses were the backstop for those unable to fend for themselves, for those without the family, and that often meant women, looking after them. The working class had to struggle to get health and education properly funded. Enlightened Victorian philanthropists and entrepreneurs realised that if they wanted workers to keep working then recreation and education had to be provided. This provision was despite the capitalist dynamic for profit, not because of it.

We have come a long way as social democratic pressures finally provided the NHS and Education, as the elites also were won over to the need to provide care. The ‘One nation’ Tories at least understood that a prosperous society had to take care of all of its members, of course there was some self interest in this – we needed soldiers who were fit for the battlefield, and we needed healthy workers for the factories. This is a simplistic history as it is more nuanced than this. However, over the last 30 years or so we have seen reversal of this enlightened social democratic outlook on care and public health and care. The need for care is increasing but this is occurring just when the elites are pulling back from their responsibilities. They look at what state provision will cost for high quality elder care and are frightened.  They also have a visceral loathing of state provision…because it costs them money through taxes they do not want to pay. They say it is because the state is inefficient and anti-democratic, that state provision is the road to serfdom. Suffice to say that the current involvement of the CCE with the PPE is extremely antidemocratic but their right wing press cheerleaders have not spotted it or prefer to ignore it.   Seamus Milne  has eloquently exposed how corporate power is corrupting politics.

The neoliberal capitalist agenda (Crouch 2011) requires the state to pull back from earlier involvement on education and health. The CCE and the current PPE have swallowed an ideology that simply accepts private provision = good, public provision = bad. This is why we are seeing the conditions of an affluent society being characterised by a hugely increasing wealth gap. This agenda also allies itself with patriarchal views on the proper role for women – get back in the kitchen girls and look after the kids…and now, of course, Gran as well.

Austerity is now the smokescreen for dismantling of the state provision for care. Does this mean that lack of compassion is directly related to neoliberal policies?  To accept that is to think in an overly simplistic cause effect relationship. Societies are more complex than that.  Of course poor quality care pre dates capitalism and the NHS, however capitalism (and its often hidden twin patriarchy) sets the agenda and the organisational forms and institutional arrangements in which care takes place. This now means as budgets get cut and savings asked for, nurses will be asked to provide more for less. This has been always the case; nursing work as womens’ work (Hagell 1989) has largely been invisible emotional labour (Smith) which has been poorly paid and supported, instead their rewards have been patronising labels such as ‘Angels’. Nurses know what they need to provide care and they can do it if given supportive organisational cultures and the power to actually direct, organise and manage care properly.

As Roy Lilley argued on nhs.managers.net:

(The Francis report 2013) talks about ‘culture change’. Effectively making the people we have make the services we’ve got, work better. On that basis Francis fails. What we’ve got doesn’t work. Never will.  Think about it; nearly all the quality problems the NHS faces are around the care of the frail elderly. Why? Because the NHS was never set up to deal with the numbers of porcelain-boned, tissue paper skinned elderly it is trying to cope with. The NHS’ customer-base has changed but the organisations serving them have stood still.

and…

“Fund the front-line fully, protect it fiercely, make it fun to work there, that way you’ll make Francis history.”

And there you have it. Do the austerity addicts think it is the proper role of the state to fund the front line. No, they hanker after a US style private provision with the family, the big society volunteers and women to take up the slack. That will not wash in a hospital ward or a care home full with frail elderly patients.

Nurse educators and their students do not work in a socio-political vacuum. However, one would think that they do if the content of curricula and the learning experiences planned are anything to go by. Indeed any discussion around political economy, patriarchy and capitalism is liable to be met with surprise, apathy, disdain apart from those engaged in teaching the social sciences in nursing. I would argue that nursing cannot shy away from addressing these questions. Nurses as women, who experience the requirements to care in both their domestic and public lives, bear the brunt of the demands of a society which needs that care to be done but is unwilling to fully fund it. It might be fair to suggest that since about the 1980’s both feminism and social democratic politics took their eyes off the ball or felt that because progress had been made the struggle was nearly over.  It is not. We need to argue for the social value of care and against privatised individualised provision which falls unfairly on the shoulders of those who often do not have the resources to provide it.

Caring is not sexy – it is not fancy infrastructure projects, it does not make millions at the click of a mouse;  hedge funds and private equity firms don’t crack champagne bottles over the needs of the frail elderly. Care is unglamorous emotional labour, involves often dirty body work, offering little in the way of recognition and prizes – there are no Golden Globes, Oscars or Baftas. There is no end point, no project that is completed and shown off, no bonuses to be earned. ‘Top’ Universities show off their ‘top’ professions: law, medicine, business and science whose courses are oversubscribed due to professional closure and the high salaries they attract. The children of the elite are groomed and public schooled to ensure they attend the ‘right University’ and study the ‘right’ subject while eschewing nursing, which struggles to gain academic credibility and value among society and Russell group elites, while its core concept is seen to require no education at all.

Nurses are in a political struggle whether they realise it or not. For the sake of all us who will require care, don’t let the greedy bastards grind us down

 

 

 

 

 

References:

Abel Smith, B. (1992) The Beveridge Report: its origins and outcomes. International Social Security Review 45 (1-2) pp5-16

Curtis, K. (2013) 21st Century challenges faced by nursing faculty in educating for compassionate practice: Embodied interpretation of phenomenological data.   Nurse Education Today, http://www.nurseeducationtoday.com/article/S0260-6917%2813%2900170-6/abstract

Elshtain, J. (1981) Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Scambler, G. (2012) Elements towards a Sociology of the Present. December 6th http://grahamscambler.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/elements-towards-a-sociology-of-the-present/

More greedy bastards

The Greedy Bastards Hypothesis (GBH).

 

Since the financial crash of 2008, populations became aware of what a certain class of people were up to. The word class itself however had fallen out of fashion as many commentators had pronounced the death of class politics preferring instead to think of us all being concerned with various ‘identities’. So, although many people understood that ‘rich’ people had advantages this did not lead to a ‘crisis of legitimation’ – many people either agreed with Peter Mandelson’s quip ‘“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes.” ,  or at least ignored it as the consumer and housing bubble kept inflating. People forgot that class relations still operate whether one ignores it or not.

Graham Scambler (2012a) has not forgotten.

The hypothesis asserts that there are:  “strategic behaviours at the core of the country’s capitalist-executive and power elite. The ‘capitalist-executive’ are a core ‘cabal’ of financiers, CEOs and Directors of large and largely transnational companies, and rentiers. These individuals were perfectly capable of ‘conspiring’ but despite being involved in fierce competition rarely had a need to do so in the post-1970s neo-liberal era of financial capitalism. This cabal has come to dominate the political class”.

As it turns out, the filthy rich are not even paying their fair share of taxes. Tax cuts have not reduced deficits, the GB’s have stashed them away. The banking ‘elite’ enjoy lifestyles beyond the dreams of avarice and threaten to leave the country if we cap bonuses.

So, in effect, democratic politics has been hijacked to serve the interests of a very select few.

Scambler also listed individuals who make up this cabal in 2009.

While Liam Fox calls for a freeze on public spending for three years and a reduction in capital gains tax to 0%, and while Osborne and Ian Duncan Smith continue to take money away from poorly paid working people, the richest 1000 people in the UK have increased their wealth in the last three years by £155bn, and the global elite sit on £13 trillion in offshore accounts. Austerity is only for the ‘little people’.

Scambler (2012b) also cites how private companies will be profiting from the re commodifying of the NHS and health care, as a result of the Health and Social care Act 2012. This he says is evidence of policy based evidence rather than evidence based policy and comes about as a result of corporate interests coming before individual health. This is what Lansley meant when he talked about taking responsibility for health…i.e. take out insurance. The current ConDem coalition is pushing through ideologically driven agendas while Labour sleeps. Maybe Miliband and co. know just how complicit Blair and Brown were in furthering class interests.

GB’s are what Scambler calls ‘Focused Autonomous Reflexives’ (FAR). That is to say that the ‘inner conversations’ these people have concerning social action tend to be self-referential, the inner conversation requires no confirmation by others, they are self-sustained. They have a ‘lone inner dialogue’ which then leads to action. If this is dominant then the person will not need to seek or require the involvement of others, he knows that the correct course of action does not need others to confirm that it is so.

Scambler (2013) has developed an ideal type of the FAR whose ‘mode of reflexivity’ has various 6 characteristics:

Firstly there is total commitment. The FAR’s overriding aim in life is increasing capital accumulation and personal wealth. Nothing less will do and any drift from that commitment is relative failure. Secondly there is a Nietzschian instinct based on Hobbesian view of human nature as nasty, brutish and short in a dog eat dog world, that does not quibble about cutting corners in a ruthless determination to succeed and gain advantage. Thirdly a fundamentalist ideology underpins action, there is no room for compromise “there is no alternative”; it is a standpoint born of vested interests. Fourthly there is cognitive insurance which nullifies any cognitive dissonance that might arise. Criticism that greed and responsibility for others suffering will not be internalized, for to admit that this might be the case would otherwise begin to sow the seeds of doubt that arise from cognitive dissonance.  Fifthly there is tunnel vision; the commitment to making money sidelines other matters often in gendered delegation of these matters to others. Finally what is known as lifeworld detachment. The ‘lifeworld’ is that area of everyday life where taken for granted day to day decisions are taken. For the FAR there is simply no time for the ordinary business of day to day decision making.

This is an ideal type and in the real world men will vary in their modes of thinking which direct their action. Those who rub shoulders of the GB’s can draw their own conclusions, however their ideological bias may prevent critical self-reflection of the results of their actions as they seek to shift the blame for financial collapse and budget deficits onto the ‘feckless poor’, the benefit cheats and the skivers.

Warren Buffet once stated “There’s class warfare, all right….but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

 

References.

Scambler. G. (2012b)  The Assault on ‘our’ NHS ! November 30th 2012 http://grahamscambler.wordpress.com

Scambler, G. (2012a) GBH Greedy Bastards and Health Inequalities November 4th   http://grahamscambler.wordpress.com/page/3/

Scambler, G. (2013) Resistance in unjust times: archer, structured agency and the Sociology of health inequalities. Sociology. 47 (1) 142-156

Secret funding by Billionaires against progressive causes

 

George Monbiot is a well known left leaning environmentalist. He writes for the Guardian. So you may dismiss his views or accept them according to your prejudices. “Comment is free but facts are sacred” – make of this what you will. However uncovering secret funding by vested interests should be of interest to those who think democracy should be exercised on the basis of truth. What George reveals in the article is a list of organisations funding right wing, anti progressivist positions. You may check the sources, you may think that this activity is a good thing. You should however at least know what is going on. One example is the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA). This organisation has charitable status and is often quoted on the BBC as if it was independent of right wing funding and policy making. Democracy becomes debased when powerful groups, who can spend billions supporting their cause and often in secret, can set the agenda and the frame of reference for debate for billions of citizens. Like mushrooms, we are being fed shit and kept in the dark.

 

 

Empathy, Capitalism and the myth of the ‘alpha male’.

Empathy, Capitalism and the myth of the ‘alpha male’.

 

The alpha male stereotype is widespread among, well, alpha males, and exists not as result of biologically determined characteristics but as a justification for aggressive, competitive, loud, selfish and (often sexually) dominant male behaviour. This justification is based on quasi pseudo-scientific principles largely drawing from evolutionary biology ‘survival of the fittest’ philosophy and outdated political economic theory misapplied to social life. Not only is it a myth used by the erstwhile ‘masters of the universe’ in the City of London to justify their dominance, it is sexist (ignorant of social roles in matriarchal societies), unscientific without any grounding in empirical work and simplistically individualistic as it shifts the explanations for status and power differentials onto biological inevitability and individual characteristics, rather than unmasking unequal social relationships based on class, gender or ethnicity. Alpha male behaviour is a choice exercised by ‘those who can’ based on their privileged backgrounds and attributes (often white, male, educated and elite) over ‘those who have not been able to’, who have to overcome class, ethnic and gender barriers. The alpha male also misses our capacity for empathy, without which it truly is an alpha dog eat beta dog world. It is this last that is the most damning critique, as it assumes selfishness and self-interest are the only driving forces for successful (capitalist) societies.

 

What are alpha males? The term comes from studies of animal behaviour (ethology), e.g. in chimps (de Waal 1982) and Wolves (Mech 1999). It denotes the animal of the highest rank who achieves this status often through physical prowess. They often get to eat first and mate first, and in some species they are the only one allowed to mate. Sexual conquest is thus an important aspect of alpha behaviour. Animal behaviour in animals, for some, provides models and explanations for human behaviour on the basis that we are evolved animals only differing from, say, primates because of our higher cognitive functions. It is thus tempting to extrapolate from primate behaviour to human behaviour on the basis that behaviour in human social groups are affected by evolutionary, and genetic, processes. E.O Wilson’s ‘Sociobiology’ was term akin to ethology in that it was an attempt to explain social behaviour in humans (altruism, nurturance, aggression) by appealing to underlying evolutionary mechanisms and thus the theory has more than a whiff of biological determinism about it.

 

In humans, we label alpha behaviour often as that which is about ‘getting the girl’ due to confidence, charisma and competitiveness. Women are supposed to like this display and ‘swoon’ in the presence of an alpha. Whether this is true in sexual politics I leave to women to decide. However alpha characteristics, if seen as the basis for sexual success, can also be seen to be the basis of success in politics and economics. Silvio Berlusconi displayed, or thought he did, alpha traits bringing Italian politics into the bordello by treating Italian voters like paying customers being screwed by the puttana of politics. Those that consider themselves as alphas may earn more, compete more or attain higher social status than their beta brothers.

 

Alpha males may conceive of their actions as originating in and being determined by (and thus excused by) evolution, often implicitly invoking the reptilian brain and the force of genes upon behaviour and traits. Many alphas from the world of politics, business and economics are not steeped in ethology or would be aware of its origins. However an appeal to evolution is nonetheless often present. What is missed is that evolution has further acted upon the human brain and we now have the limbic brain and the neocortex which together, it is argued, constructs the ‘Triune Brain’ (MacLean 1990). In other words the reptilian territorial selfish brain has the empathic, communitarian brain and higher cognitive functioning brain to balance any primordial tendencies. Alpha also misses what epigenetics tells us, i.e. that it is the interplay between environment and genes (and cultural life) that influence behaviour. We are not as genetically predisposed to do anything, as much as we like to think we do.

 

Alpha theory suggests an ‘essential’ human nature based on genes and evolutionary biology.  The idea of an essential human nature has a long track record. However, an essentialist view of human nature (if it exists) does not necessarily mean that it includes a drive for naked self-interest, and aggressive competition.  The modern confusion can be traced to some Enlightenment philosophers overplaying the selfishness and utility maximising aspect of behaviour. The Hobbesian ‘nasty brutish and short state of nature’ and Adam Smith’s utility maximising rational actor merely reflected what was emerging under industrial capitalism rather than what could be in other more empathic civilizations (Rifkin 2009). Human nature was invoked to be naturally selfish. We were naturally rational actors seeking our own self-interest to maximise our utility in the market. This we now know to be nonsense. It is a fact that modern adherents to Smith’s views on the workings of the market forget that in his ‘theory of moral sentiments’ that Smith understood that men could still feel empathy for their less fortunate fellows. The actual selfishness of the capitalist was mistaken for inevitability based on an essentialist view of human nature and the invisible hand of the market rather than as a result of a particular form of social relationships, which had evolved at that point in history in that society (i.e. the industrial revolution of the West).

 

An modern exponent of this determinist nonsense in the field of psychology is John Grey. His book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ exaggerates the differences and lends credence to theories based solely on biology. He recently explained the behaviour of ‘alpha males’ as resulting from testosterone. Men, he suggests, are hard wired for violence and polygamy. This relates to the workings of the reptilian brain. However, as already noted we also have the capacity to be ‘soft wired’ to be empathic and communitarian. Susan Gerhardt (2011) argues it is culture and child rearing practices that results on changes in brain function towards or away from empathy, violence and selfishness. This is based on scientific neuro-scientific research, such as that carried out by Baron Cohen (2011). Hard wiring is a misleading term as it suggests a form of determinancy, reducing the possibilities for change.

 

Research now suggests that we are soft wired with ‘mirror neurons’, which results in our ability to experience another’s plight as if we were experiencing it ourselves (Rifkin 2009), we can then empathise with others. We are not hard wired for aggression, violence, utility maximisation and self-interest but soft wired for sociability, acceptance, affection and companionship. However, we have built up social institutions and economic structures as if the former were true. These selfish structures are going global. These structures are also designed and run by alpha males for alpha males and justified by appeals to human nature and the inevitability of violence, aggression, utility maximisation and self-interest as the engines for creative social development that capitalism has wrought.

 

Alpha males lack a sociological imagination. They are unable to link their personal stories to the structures of society at the time they live in. For them, continuing unemployment is simply a personal failure not a result of changing labour market structures; obesity is a personal and moral weakness unrelated to increasing fossil fuel dependence (car use) and the availability of cheap calorie rich foods and our ‘lock in’ to high carbon systems; the lack of female representation at the top is down to female unsuitability to leadership in market employment conditions rather than market conditions being designed by alpha males for alpha males; black people are poor because they lack a work ethic not because of institutional and cultural racism; countries are underdeveloped because they lack a capitalist ethic rather than as a result of past and current imperialism. Seek always to blame the individual, emphasise personal responsibility and ignore power relationships and structures, which are rigged in one’s favour. Once one accepts the notion that success may be down to a combination of individual effort and abilities, fortune and socio-economic structures, justifying huge disparities in reward as being based on one’s work ethic and abilities without addressing socio-political structures, becomes untenable. Empathy is a luxury for the weak in this context, for to empathise would mean examining the real reasons for success and failure in one’s ‘peers’ to gain an understanding of the hopes and ambitions and the barriers to fulfilling such in an unjust world.

 

 

Alpha males behave in that way because we let them do so and because they have the power to do so. It is not inevitable. It is often a self-justificatory myth for boorishness and exploitation of the weak members of society. It has no scientific basis. We are not ruled by our hormones, our genes or our reptilian brains. We have culture and society to civilise ourselves. Culture and society are human constructions and are therefore open to change.  Alpha males have big sticks and they make the rules, but they can be forced to put the sticks down and we can refashion society in a way that reflects more communitarian ethics and behaviour.

 

Now it may be that the alpha male is a straw man, that in reality powerful men do not exhibit traits of dog eat dog über competitive, devil take the hindmost, who dares wins mentality. Tony Soprano may have exhibited love and empathy for his children but everyone else became merely pawns in his acquisitive game but Tony Soprano is still a fictional character.

 

Do alphas exist in real life? If an alpha is a highly rewarded individual, at the top of the social stratum and who justifies that position by reference to their own individual endeavour then we may suggest that the erstwhile masters of the universe may qualify as alphas.  Toynbee and Walker (2008) interviewed City ‘High Fliers’ in an attempt to understand their justifications for their salaries and bonuses. Their responses certainly indicate their attitudes as alphas, they objectively are high status and they control the reward structure. No doubt their access to females is unlimited. Competition and charisma would be prized characteristics among this group. It was clear from their responses that they saw that their success was down to them and their individual effort. Initially the reasons given for success was globalisation (a structural reason) but as Toynbee and Walker continued it became clear that personal moral reasons were the basis for success. They thought of themselves as ‘better’: “we work harder and aspire the most”, fairness is not a valid question, “it’s a fact of modern life that there is a disparity…people say its unfair when they don’t do anything to change their circumstances”, “people don’t want to achieve”, “you won’t find a teacher who works as hard as we do” (p27).

 

Empathy at the socio-political or corporate level is hard to find. Aspects of neoliberal capitalism and globalisation is pitting all against all as nations try to out compete each other in a race to the bottom in terms of wage reductions, pension reductions, flexible working (i.e. rotational unemployment) and extensions of working lives. Somehow we have accepted that working longer for less in a less certain world is a good thing because not to do so risks losing jobs to India and China (Jones 2011). The structures of globalisation are such that competition not cooperation rules social lives. We are now working for the economy rather than for the community. It is not the alpha males in Greece who have to bend the knee to austerity, they still have their yachts and villas. The existence of the odd rich alpha victim to globalised capitalism only serves to show that the system they operate takes no prisoners. Many of those who go down keep the riches they earned when in power.

 

 

The lack of an empathic civilisation and the rule by global elites is not natural or inevitable but we somehow believe it to be so. Meanwhile the alpha looks on, secure on his yacht or in his gated community in ‘Richistan’ (Frank 2007), laughing at the poor people while justifying his ‘right’ by ‘might’. Because he can. Because he’s ‘worth it’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baron-Cohen, S. (2011). The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. New York: Basic Books.

 

de Waal, F. (1982) Chimpanzee politics: power and sex among Apes. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore

 

Frank, R. (2007) Richistan, A journey through the wealth boom and the lives of the new rich. Random House.

 

Gerhardt. S. (2011) The Selfish Society. Simon and Shuster. York .

 

Grey, J. in McVeigh, T. (2011) What drives alpha males to keep on having affairs? http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/22/alpha-males-sex-scandals

 

Jones. D. (2011) Fixing Britain. The business of reshaping our nation. Wiley. Chichester.

 

Kryznaric. R. (2012) Six habits of highly empathic people. RSA Events. http://www.rsablogs.org.uk/2012/socialbrain/habits-highly-empathic-people/

 

MacLean, P. (1990) The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role of Paleocerebral Functions, Springer.

 

Mech, L. D. (1999). Alpha status, dominance, and division of Labour in wolf packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology 77: 1196-1203.

 

Rifkin. J. (2009) The Empathic Civilisation. The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. Polity Cambridge.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Empathic_Civilization  and at RSA events    http://www.thersa.org/events/video/animate/rsa-animate-the-empathic-civilisation

 

Toynbee, P. ad Walker, D. (2008) Unjust rewards. Granta, Cambridge.

 

Wilson. E.O. (1975) Sociobiology, the new synthesis. Harvard University Press.

  

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