social commentator, Thomas Frank, has published an insightful article in the February, 2011 issue of Harper's magazine assailing the members of what he describes as the privileges class in America failure to exhibit empathy and understanding for the plight of the working and middle class. In the article, entitled "Servile Disobedience," Frank states, "The rich are different from you and me (T. Frank). They are ruder and less generous. They don't get what others are thinking and apparently they don't really care." In offering these comments, Frank echoes the thoughts offered many years before by the writer and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson saw the United States as being infected with "selfishness, fraud and conspiracy (Emerson)."
Frank in his article laments that, "We need the rich to be nicer. We need the rich to discover brotherly love, and fast." He recognizes that among the rich there are a number who embrace philanthropy such as Andrew Carnegie and modern day individuals like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates but these men are the exemption and not the rule. In his day, Andrew Carnegie endorsed the estate tax that would have limited the amount that the rich could pass on to their heirs and, in modern times, Warren Buffet has been quoted many times supporting an increase in the taxes of the very wealthy (Frank). Both men promote an approach that must be endorsed if the concept of a properly functioning democratic society is to succeed.
Frank is quite harsh in his treatment of the elite class. He finds their behavior as being inexcusable and he views the present system of bailouts and tax relief for the elite class as being ineffective and patently unfair to the remainder of society. In addressing such concerns Frank states, "We let them build a system of bonuses and executive compensation on the theory that it would be good for everyone if the people on top got to take home much, much more. And when it turned out that the theory was wrong & #8230;we promptly bailed them out. We allowed them to step up to the Fed's discount window and fill their pockets. We generously transferred their dumb investments to our balance sheet and we sent them off with little more than a request that they please do not do it again."
If Emerson were alive today he would certainly be distressed by what is occurring. Emerson viewed democracy as an attempt by the public to keep the elite class responsible. He thought it important that the public exercise its power in order to keep the power of the economic elite in check. Emerson would have viewed the corporate bailouts and huge tax breaks as socially and politically inappropriate and counter-productive to the interests of society at large. Commenting on this situation Emerson stated that the American society was infected with "selfishness, fraud and conspiracy" and that it was regulated by a capitalist "system of selfishness…of distrust, of concealment, of superior keenness, not of giving but of taking advantage."
The condition that Emerson warned about over two hundred years ago has come to fruition in America. A position strongly supported by Frank. The elite class in America has become detached from the other classes. In two separate studies, one in Psychological Science (Kraus) and the other in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (McCullough) the results found that higher status individuals tended to engage less frequently with others by looking at others when they are talking, laugh less, and use fewer gestures that would indicate a connection with others. Also, the studies found that lower class individuals turned out to display more prosocial virtues such as generosity, charity, and helpfulness. It is based on these studies that Frank argued that "the rich are different from you and me." Emerson warned against this occurring. He warned about the masses catering to the rich and glorifying them. He viewed such behavior as being undemocratic.
Emerson did not speak in terms of prosocial virtues but he did speak about the importance and application of altruism. An altruism that is badly needed in today's society. Altruism, or the concern for others, is a virtually universal value in all societies and it is an essential element in most of the…