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The Sociopathology Of Wealth

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a drought in California, and there are only a years worth of water reserves on hand. As a result, water prices have skyrocketed and residents have been asked (nicely) to reduce their consumption by 25%. Since that request to lower water consumption came from the governor, a charming town in southern California called Rancho Santa Fe has increased its water consumption by 9%.

Why? Because they have golf courses that need to stay lush and green, and a population who feels they’re entitled to live in the pretty, green place they signed on for. You may have guessed by now, that this is a very affluent area, where the median income is $189,000 per year (compared to the national median income of $50,000 a year). Earning four times more than the average American isn’t enough to keep the residents of Rancho Santa Fe happy if they can’t have all of the water in California too. They feel that, since they can afford to pay for all the water they need, they shouldn’t have to conserve a drop.

Steve Yuhas, a charming resident of  Rancho Santa Fe says, “If you can pay for it, you should get your water.” He’s impervious to being shamed for his flagrant disregard for his state’s state of water emergency because, “[people] should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful”. He said something that particularly inflamed my bitchy muscle, but let’s hear what some other people had to say before I get to that.

Gay Butler (another resident of Rancho Santa Fe) said (from atop her show horse), “I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world. It angers me because people aren’t looking at the overall picture. What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”

Awwww, you poor baby with your four acres.

Brett Barbre, who lives in a very affluent part of Orange County said, “I call it the war on suburbia”.

No asshole, it’s called a drought.

Because that last comment wasn’t douchey and clueless enough, he added, “California used to be the land of opportunity and freedom. It’s slowly becoming the land of one group telling everybody else how they think everybody should live their lives.”

Let me repeat; it’s called a drought, you idiot.

Jurgen Gramckow, a farmer in Ventura county agrees with Barbre’s douchey assessment and adds (comparing water to buying gasoline), “Some people have a Prius; others have a Suburban. Once the water goes through the meter, it’s yours.”

Until the water runs out because of the drought, asshole.

Let’s get back to Steve Yuhas, the first douche in this piece. Here’s another gem from him:

“I’m a conservative, so this is strange, but I defend Barbra Streisand’s right to have a green lawn. When we bought, we didn’t plan on getting a place that looks like we’re living in an African savanna.”

So much douchey in just two sentences. First of all, if you think that defending someone with different political beliefs than yours is strange, you have a humanity problem that you need to deal with immediately. Secondly, she has cut back her water usage because she’s capable of feeling shame and (I hope) recognizing that she’s part of a larger community, so you’re defending nothing other than your own abhorrent behavior. Thirdly, people whose homes are hit by tornadoes didn’t sign up for being the proud owners of a pile of rubble, but nature happens and grownups deal with it. Petulent children whine about their entitlement.

But here is the most obnoxious thing that Yuhas had to say;

“We pay significant property taxes based on where we live. And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

I’m not going to address the second sentence in that pile of poop he hurled at us. But that first part about the property taxes really steams my beans. Since that asshole lives in California, he’s getting away with property tax highway robbery because of Prop 13. This motherfucker’s property tax rate is capped at 1%, and his increases are capped at 2% regardless of the valuation of his estate. Compared to NJ, where property taxes are 1.89%, NH, where they’re at 1.86% or Texas, where they’re 1.81%.

So spare me the whining about how much you’re being taxes, you greedy fuck. You live in a mansion, and you have a great public education system funded by your property taxes (has anyone ever heard of a failing public school in a wealthy neighborhood?). You’re getting more than what you’re entitled to.

But let me move on before I get myself too worked up. I have a point here, beyond putting rich assholes on display. In listening to them and hearing what they think, it’s clear that there really are two Americas, and that these people don’t feel like members of society at all. There’s no sense of community and no sense of duty going on among the rich. They really live in a dog eat dog world where nothing matters beyond their desires. There is a fucking drought happening in their state, and they really think that if they’re paying for the water, they can use all of it they want. The less water the state has, the more everyone will be paying for it. That means that the cost also goes up for households making $15,000 a year.

The rich don’t care about their state, country, or community beyond protecting what they feel they’re owed.

In a study published last year, The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that wealthy people give less (as a percentage) of their income than low income people do, especially in times of recession. Here are the key points (from the Forbes article);

  • Americans who earned at least $200,000 gave nearly 5% less to charity in 2012 than in 2006.
  • Unlike their wealthier counterparts, low- and middle-income Americans — those who made less than $100,000 — gave 5% more in 2012 than in 2006.
  • The poorest Americans — those who took home $25,000 or less — increased their giving by nearly 17%.

Why? Because when times are tough, people with less think about their communities and others who may be suffering. Wealthy people think less about their communities and more about hoarding. Dog eat dog.

Studies have shown that wealthy people are less compassionate. From the article;

The researchers asked participants to spend a few minutes comparing themselves either to people better off or worse off than themselves financially. Afterwards, participants were shown a jar of candy and told that they could take home as much as they wanted. They were also told that the leftover candy would be given to children in a nearby laboratory. Those participants who had spent time thinking about how much better off they were compared to others ended up taking significantly more candy for themselves–leaving less behind for the children.

This is the psychopathy of entitlement.

More from the article;

In a second study, participants were asked to watch two videos while having their heart rate monitored. One video showed somebody explaining how to build a patio. The other showed children who were suffering from cancer. After watching the videos, participants indicated how much compassion they felt while watching either video. Social class was measured by asking participants questions about their family’s level of income and education. The results of the study showed that participants on the lower end of the spectrum, with less income and education, were more likely to report feeling compassion while watching the video of the cancer patients. In addition, their heart rates slowed down while watching the cancer video—a response that is associated with paying greater attention to the feelings and motivations of others.

This is a text book demonstration of psychopathy:

psy·chop·a·thy

a mental disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc.

Greed is good. More from the article;

But why would wealth and status decrease our feelings of compassion for others? After all, it seems more likely that having few resources would lead to selfishness. Piff and his colleagues suspect that the answer may have something to do with how wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused. Another reason has to do with our attitudes towards greed. Like Gordon Gekko, upper-class people may be more likely to endorse the idea that “greed is good.” Piff and his colleagues found that wealthier people are more likely to agree with statements that greed is justified, beneficial, and morally defensible. These attitudes ended up predicting participants’ likelihood of engaging in unethical behavior.

Given the growing income inequality in the United States, the relationship between wealth and compassion has important implications. Those who hold most of the power in this country, political and otherwise, tend to come from privileged backgrounds. If social class influences how much we care about others, then the most powerful among us may be the least likely to make decisions that help the needy and the poor. They may also be the most likely to engage in unethical behavior. Keltner and Piff recently speculated in the New York Times about how their research helps explain why Goldman Sachs and other high-powered financial corporations are breeding grounds for greedy behavior. Although greed is a universal human emotion, it may have the strongest pull over those of who already have the most.

This disconnection from society is why wealthy people are seen as pariahs. Because they see themselves that way. People don’t hate the wealthy for being rich. People hate the wealthy for being entitled and selfish, particularly when that wealth was gained by winning the lucky sperm lottery.

If rich people would stop being so douchy, and start giving a damned about the society that makes their wealth possible, the chairman of Cartier wouldn’t have to worry about the poor rising up and starting a class war.

I’m sorry, did I say starting? I meant finishing.

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