“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
Now a new study, as reported in USA Today, confirms that power is a powerful corrupter:
Psychologists: Those in power more apt to ‘moral hypocrisy’
By Sharon Jayson
The moral compass of some public figures clearly went awry in 2009. Now new research better explains why some in the public eye don’t think like the rest of us.
Power increases “moral hypocrisy,” says Adam Galinsky, a behavioral psychologist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and co-author of a study published today in the journal Psychological Science.
Power does indeed go to your head, making those in the limelight such as celebrities, politicians, CEOs and athletes more prone to a double standard: They’re stricter in their moral judgment of others but are more lenient about their own behavior, the study suggests.
“We gave people the opportunity to cheat, and those in a position of power were more likely to cheat,” says Galinsky, who conducted the study with researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
A rogues’ gallery
Among the once-powerful who fell from grace this year amid what Galinsky calls moral hypocrisy are former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and U.S. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, with assorted violations of extramarital affairs or suspected misuse of public funds. Last year, those figures included the auto executives who flew in private jets while their companies cut employee benefits, and politicians, including John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer, who didn’t follow the values they espoused.
“It’s interesting to think about people in power and why they end up in scandals,” says Joe Magee of New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. “In their minds, they’re not being brazen. They forget there are rules governing what they do. They’re just pursuing their own desires.”
Magee and Galinsky are among a group of researchers across the country who, in the past decade, have focused attention on moral behavior, power and status.
“Power makes you kind of impulsive and self-serving and occasionally greedy,” says psychologist Dacher Keltner of the University of California-Berkeley. “We hold up people in positions of power to exacting standards. They should be more moral agents, when in fact, they are the opposite.”
Jennifer Overbeck of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles says her studies have found that ordinary people change when put in powerful position: “Just putting them in a position of power leads them to pursue their self-interest and things that they perceive are useful to them.”
In the new study, researchers conducted five experiments with about 350 subjects. They found that giving people power makes them feel entitled and causes a disconnect in their judgment. Those in high-power positions tend to judge morality of others while not practicing what they preach, Galinsky says. “If they want to impose strict standards on others while violating those standards themselves, that’s when they become a hypocrite,” he says.
David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston, says his research has shown that “the potential for hypocrisy is in all of us.”
“What you see is the same action: ‘It’s OK if I do it. but not if you do it,’ ” he says
As Bob Herbert points out today, the Senate-Obama health plan wants to decrease my access to healthcare and reduce my wages. For, you see, my health plan is on the verge of being one of those Cadillac plans that only workers get. and everyone knows that workers get too much of everything.
The Senate has decided that, rather than tax the wealthy, they will try and destroy the healthcare received by many of us. I live in Massachusetts. Healthcare costs are high here and rising rapidly. Our insurer, ever concerned about keeping costs down, raised the insurance rate 22% this year. My employer, suffering its financial problems of its own, decided to pass on all the costs. Fortunately, we could increase costs by only 15% by switching to a worse plan. But even that plan is so expensive it is on the verge of being a Cadillac plan, being taxed at 40%.
This is what Senate Dems and Obama call reform? If the final bill includes this awful tax, it will be a disaster for millions. Bob Herbert explains:
A Less Than Honest Policy
By Bob Herbert
There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate’s version of President Obama’s effort to reform health care.
The bill that passed the Senate with such fanfare on Christmas Eve would impose a confiscatory 40 percent excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, which are popularly viewed as over-the-top plans held only by the very wealthy. In fact, it’s a tax that in a few years will hammer millions of middle-class policyholders, forcing them to scale back their access to medical care.
Which is exactly what the tax is designed to do.
The tax would kick in on plans exceeding $23,000 annually for family coverage and $8,500 for individuals, starting in 2013. In the first year it would affect relatively few people in the middle class. But because of the steadily rising costs of health care in the U.S., more and more plans would reach the taxation threshold each year.
Within three years of its implementation, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the tax would apply to nearly 20 percent of all workers with employer-provided health coverage in the country, affecting some 31 million people. Within six years, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax would reach a fifth of all households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually. Those families can hardly be considered very wealthy.
Proponents say the tax will raise nearly $150 billion over 10 years, but there’s a catch. It’s not expected to raise this money directly. The dirty little secret behind this onerous tax is that no one expects very many people to pay it. The idea is that rather than fork over 40 percent in taxes on the amount by which policies exceed the threshold, employers (and individuals who purchase health insurance on their own) will have little choice but to ratchet down the quality of their health plans.
These lower-value plans would have higher out-of-pocket costs, thus increasing the very things that are so maddening to so many policyholders right now: higher and higher co-payments, soaring deductibles and so forth. Some of the benefits of higher-end policies can be expected in many cases to go by the boards: dental and vision care, for example, and expensive mental health coverage.
Proponents say this is a terrific way to hold down health care costs. If policyholders have to pay more out of their own pockets, they will be more careful — that is to say, more reluctant — to access health services. On the other hand, people with very serious illnesses will be saddled with much higher out-of-pocket costs. And a reluctance to seek treatment for something that might seem relatively minor at first could well have terrible (and terribly expensive) consequences in the long run.
If even the plan’s proponents do not expect policyholders to pay the tax, how will it raise $150 billion in a decade? Great question.
We all remember learning in school about the suspension of disbelief. This part of the Senate’s health benefits taxation scheme requires a monumental suspension of disbelief. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, less than 18 percent of the revenue will come from the tax itself. The rest of the $150 billion, more than 82 percent of it, will come from the income taxes paid by workers who have been given pay raises by employers who will have voluntarily handed over the money they saved by offering their employees less valuable health insurance plans.
Can you believe it?
I asked Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., about this. (Labor unions are outraged at the very thought of a health benefits tax.) I had to wait for him to stop laughing to get his answer. “If you believe that,” he said, “I have some oceanfront property in southwestern Pennsylvania that I will sell you at a great price.”
A survey of business executives by Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, found that only 16 percent of respondents said they would convert the savings from a reduction in health benefits into higher wages for employees. Yet proponents of the tax are holding steadfast to the belief that nearly all would do so.
“In the real world, companies cut costs and they pocket the money,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America and a leader of the opposition to the tax. “Executives tell the shareholders: ‘Hey, higher profits without any revenue growth. Great!’ ”
The tax on health benefits is being sold to the public dishonestly as something that will affect only the rich, and it makes a mockery of President Obama’s repeated pledge that if you like the health coverage you have now, you can keep it.
Those who believe this is a good idea should at least have the courage to be straight about it with the American people.
My brother-in-law sent me this video. [Tells you something about my family!] It is posted here for those among my readers who share our love of mathematics. The rest of you can ponder what in the world they are singing about:
In their continuing purge of human rights advocates from the administration (think Greg Craig and Phillip Carter), the Obama administration together with the Democratic leadership in the Senate got rid of one of those advocates who never even got into Office. As a Christmas present to the right, the nomination of Dawn Johnson to head the Office of Legal Counsel was sent back to the administration without even a whimper, much less a fight . By all appearances, the administration had rapidly decided that it didn’t serve their purposes to have the principled Johnson as the ultimate legal authority for the government as they channeled George W. Bush in their legal policies on detention without trial, invasion of civil liberties, the creation of a wall of impunity for torturers, and the destruction of government transparency.
The Senate approved a unanimous consent request today to hold over several nominees for the second session of the 111th Congress, which begins in January.
But nominees to head three DOJ offices: Dawn Johnsen, for the Office of Legal Counsel, Mary L. Smith, for the Tax Division, and Christopher Schroeder, for the Office of Legal Policy, were returned to the White House before the Senate recessed for the holidays.
Johnsen, who was nominated in February, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in March on a party line vote.
Several Senate Republicans, joined by Democratic Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), have voiced concerns about Johnsen’s vocal opposition to the Bush administration’s national security policies and her past work for an abortion rights group.
The nomination of Dawn Johnsen to be the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at DOJ, a critical post, is now truly dead. If Ms. Johnsen is to serve, she will have to be renominated by Barack Obama and start over. She never got the up or down vote promised as soon as the Senate had done healthcare, she never got an ounce of support from the Administration that nominated her, and a year of her life was taken in what certainly appears to be a cowardly and demeaning political ploy.
There is a bit more than meets the eye to unpack here. Harry Reid held over several nominations for the return to session in January, but Dawn Johnsen was not one of them. The implication is that he could only do so by a “unanimous consent” approval by the Senate and that, golly gosh, he just could not get it. That does indeed appear to be the case from the Senate Rules on Nominations. Rule XXXI(6) provides:
Nominations neither confirmed nor rejected during the session at which they are made shall not be acted upon at any succeeding session without being again made to the Senate by the President; and if the Senate shall adjourn or take a recess for more than thirty days, all nominations pending and not finally acted upon at the time of taking such adjournment or recess shall be returned by the Secretary to the President, and shall not again be considered unless they shall again be made to the Senate by the President.
Even assuming Harry Reid had no alternative but to return the nomination, the better question is how did it get to this point, and why has the White House and Senate been so disingenuous about it? The only rational conclusion at this point is that killing Johnsen’s nomination is precisely what the Obama White House desired. The White House intentionally left to rot, and then outright killed, their own nominee.
The evidence of this is pretty damning. Dawn Johnsen’s nomination had languished, twisting in the wind, for 280 days as of the time her nomination was killed by Harry Reid, far longer than any other Obama nominee. The only notable recent support for Johnsen from the White House came in a statement by White House Counsel Greg Craig on October 11, 2009, a weak statement saying only that the White House “would not withdraw” her nomination. Craig was subsequently fired and, hilariously, attempted to be scapegoated by Rahm Emanuel for – wait for it – not getting nominations like Johnsen’s confirmed.
A typical Rahm Emanuel backhanded opaque play; blame someone (Craig) interested in governmental transparency for not getting another official who favors openness and transparency (Johnsen) confirmed, and all the while Rahm and Obama are choking off openness and transparency. Use the Johnsen nomination as a bone to the liberals and simultaneously use it as cover to betray them with the opposite of what Dawn Johnsen stands for. A perfect political scam on the liberal base who was so thrilled with the nomination of a honest rule of law advocate for the Constitution like Dawn Johnsen. Liberals should have known better, but that is just not who Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel are.
Moreover, the bleating by Harry Reid and the Obama Administration that it is all the fault of mean old Republican obstructionism simply does not hold water. The Democrats hold a 60 seat caucus block, sufficient to overcome Republican obstruction. Of those, the Main Justice article is quite clear there were only two Democratic problem children, former Republican Arlen Specter and the ever whiny Ben Nelson, who never passes up an opportunity to betray his party. That means there were potentially only 58 Democratic votes for Johnsen’s nomination. But Republican Richard Lugar firmly supported Dawn Johnsen, so that makes 59 votes, only one shy of confirmation.
In addition to Lugar, both Republican Senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, have refused to rule out voting for Johnsen and were being lobbied hard by extremely influential women’s groups and liberal constituents. Both Collins and Snowe have a history of agreeing, when pressured, to allow up or down votes on Presidential nominees, even from Democrats.
Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel had 59 votes in favor of Dawn Johnsen’s nomination, a distinct possibility of picking up Collins, Snowe or both, and are more than aware Arlen Specter needs big help in his reelection campaign in Pennsylvania and that Ben Nelson can always be bought. And despite all of the above, the Obama White House did not ever request Harry Reid to call a vote. The only rational conclusion from this is the Obama White House did not want Dawn Johnsen, their own nominee, to be confirmed.
In the end, it is likely Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel and the servants of the status quo simply did not really want a true advocate for governmental transparency, a critic who excoriated Bush/Cheney policies on warrantless wiretapping, torture, indefinite detention, ignoring international treaties and conventions, and concentration of power in a unitary executive; all policies the Obama Administration has substantially co-opted as its own. So Dawn Johnsen was a pawn, a shiny object, catnip for a desperate liberal base; but in the end, as always, Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel just didn’t really care about their liberal base who put them in office.
There is a lot of detritus in the wake of the Obama White House duplicity on the Dawn Johnsen nomination. They humiliated Dawn Johnsen by letting her twist in the wind, wasted a year of her life, disrupted the faculty and student body of the Indiana University School of Law and sold out a huge block of liberal and progressive voters who were the very voters and ground organizers carrying Obama to election in the first place.
Barack Obama and Harry Reid owe an explanation to both Dawn Johnsen, and the voters who worked so hard to elect them, as to why they intentionally left Johnsen’s critical nomination out in the cold so long, and then killed it outright. The main media in the United States owe their readers the duty to ask the questions and demand answers. That much, at a minimum, is owed to the citizens.
This week, as James Cameron’s 3D cinematic science fiction saga dominates the American box office, and tie-in products permeate fast food franchises and toy stores, it is worth noting an interesting bit of cultural leakage tying our own real militarized state to Cameron’s virtual world of Avatar. Avatar is set in a world where the needs of corporate military units align against the interests of indigenous blue humanoids long inhabiting a planet with mineral resources desired by the high tech militarized invaders. The exploitation of native peoples to capture valuable resources is a story obviously older than Hollywood, and much older than the discipline of anthropology itself; though the last century and a half has found anthropologists’ field research used in recurrent instances to make indigenous populations vulnerable to exploitation in ways reminiscent of Avatar.
Avatar draws on classic sci-fi themes in which individuals break through barriers of exoticness, to accept alien others in their own terms as equals, not as species to be conquered and exploited, and to turn against the exploitive mission of their own culture. These sorts of relationships, where invaders learn about those they’d conquer and come to understand them in ways that shake their loyalties permeate fiction, history and anthropology. Films like Local Hero, Little Big Man, Dersu Uzala, or even the musical The Music Man use themes where outsider exploitive adventurists trying to abuse local customs are seduced by their contact with these cultures. These are themes of a sort of boomeranging cultural relativism gone wild.
Fans of Avatar are understandably being moved by the story’s romantic anthropological message favoring the rights of people to not have their culture weaponized against them by would be foreign conquerors, occupiers and betrayers. It is worth noting some of the obvious the parallels between these elements in this virtual film world, and those found in our world of real bullets and anthropologists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since 2007, the occupying U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed Human Terrain Teams (HTT), complete with HTT “social scientists” using anthropological-ish methods and theories to ease the conquest and occupation of these lands. HTT has no avatared-humans; just supposed “social scientists” who embed with battalions working to reduce friction so that the military can get on with its mission without interference from local populations. For most anthropologists these HTT programs are an outrageous abuse of anthropology, and earlier this month a lengthy report by a commission of the American Anthropological Association (of which I was a member and report co-author) concluded that the Human Terrain program crossed all sorts of ethical, political and methodological lines, finding that:
“when ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment – all characteristic factors of the HTT concept and its application – it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology.”
The American Anthropological Association’s executive board found Human Terrain to be a “mistaken form of anthropology”. But even with these harsh findings, the Obama administration’s call for increased counterinsurgency will increase demands for such non-anthropological uses of ethnography for pacification.
There are other anthropological connections to Avatar. James Cameron used University of Southern California anthropologist, Nancy Lutkehaus, as a consultant on the film. I recently wrote Lutkehaus to see if her role in consulting for Cameron had included adding information on how anthropologists have historically, or presently, aided the suppression of native uprisings; but Lutkehaus wrote me that her consultation had nothing to do with these plot elements, her expertise drew upon her fieldwork in Papua New Guinea to consult with choreographer, Lula Washington, who designed scenes depicting a gorgeous coming-of-age-ritual depicted in the film.
Among the more interesting parallels between Avatar and Human Terrain Systems is the way that the video logs that the avatar-ethnographers were required to record were quietly sifted-through by military strategists interested in finding vulnerability to exploit among the local populous. Last week a story in Time magazine quoted Human Terrain Team social scientist in training Ben Wintersteen admitting that in battlefield situations “”there’s definitely an intense pressure on the brigade staff to encourage anthropologists to give up the subject..There’s no way to know when people are violating ethical guidelines on the field;” and the AAA’s recent report found that “Reports from HTTs are circulated to all elements of the military, including intelligence assets, both in the field and stateside.” Like the HTT counterparts, the Avatar teams openly talked about trying to win the “hearts, mind, and trust” of the local population (a population that the military derisively called “blue monkeys”) that the military was simply interested in moving or killing. And most significantly, the members of the avatar unit had a naive understanding of the sort of role they could conceivably play in directing the sort of military action that would inevitably occur. Sigourney Weaver’s character, the chain-smoking, pose striking, tough talking Avatar Terrain Team chief social scientist, Grace Augustine, displayed the same sort of unrealistic understanding of what would be done with her research that appears in the seemingly endless Human Terrain friendly features appearing in newspapers and magazines.
Past wars found anthropologists working much more successfully as insurgents, rather than counterinsurgents: in World War II it was Edmund Leach leading an armed insurgent gang in Burma, Charlton Coon training terrorists in North African, Tom Harrisson arming native insurgents in Sarawak. These episodes found anthropologists aligned with the (momentary) interests of the people they studied (but also aligned with the interests of their own nation states), not subjugating them in occupation and suppressing their efforts for liberation as misshapen forms of ethnography like Human Terrain.
Anthropologically informed counterinsurgency efforts like the Human Terrain program are fundamentally flawed for several reasons. One measure of the extent that these programs come to understand and empathize with the culture and motivations of the people they study might be the occurrence of militarized ethnographers “going native” in ways parallel to the plot of Avatar. If Human Terrain Teams employed anthropologists who came to live with and freely interact with and empathize with occupied populations, I suppose you would eventually find some rogue anthropologists standing up to their masters in the field. But so far mostly what we find with the Human Terrain “social scientists” is a revolving cadre of well paid misfits with marginal training in the social sciences who do not understand or reject normative anthropological notions of research ethics, who rotate out and come home with misgivings about the program and what they accomplished.
On the big screen the transformation of fictional counterinsurgent avatar-anthropologists into insurgents siding with the blue skinned Na’vi endears the avatars to the audience, yet off the screen in our world, this same audience is regularly bombarded by media campaigns designed to endear HTT social scientists embedded with the military to an audience of the American people. The engineered inversions of audience sympathies for anthropologists resisting a military invasion in fiction, and pro-military-anthropologists in nonfiction is easily accomplished because the fictional world of a distant future is not pollinated with the forces of nationalism and jingoistic patriotism that permeate our world; a world where anything aligned with militarism is championed over the understanding of others (for reasons other than conquest).
Every year at this time I post a version of Christmas in the Trenches, that great song by John McCutcheon that suggests the possibility of peace in the midst of war. This year I post a brand new version by Gabriel Donohue:
I also post each year the following article I originally wrote in 2005 on the Christmas truce:
The 1914 Christmas Truce and the Possibility of Peace
A new French film, Joyeux Noel , brings the 1914 Christmas truce, that moment when a world of peace could be imagined, to a wider audience.
An article on the truce and the film from the Telegraph has this nugget:
Some viewers might find a certain sentimental excess in the scene in which a Scottish bagpiper spontaneously joins in when German soldiers began singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night). There are records of such an event. “All the acts of fraternisation had one thing in common: music and song,” says Carion. “I loved the idea that these could stop a war for a few hours.”
Perhaps we should learn something from this experience about the importance of music to peace. After all, the 60’s peace movements were infused with song, whereas today’s movements are silent. Music and song can unite, they can inspire, but they also can soothe. Movements for peace need all three.
The Telegraph article continues to point out that the reality of peace is beyond what audiences can believe:
The film also features a foraging ginger cat adopted as a mascot by both the French and the Germans. The cat existed, and, in real life, it was arrested by the French, convicted of espionage and shot in accordance with military regulations. “It was an era of madmen,” says Carion, who filmed this scene – to the great distress of his extras – but decided not to include it in case his audience didn’t believe it.
A Scottish bishop’s sermon, which includes references to a “crusade” and a “holy war”, seems like a thumpingly obvious effort to find parallels with more recent discourses about Iraq. In fact, these words were, Carion says, taken directly from a sermon preached by an Anglican bishop at Westminster Abbey. Here, too, the truth was toned down: Carion excised the real bishop’s references to German soldiers “crucifying babies on Christmas Day” in order to make it credible.
Perhaps the propensity toward war is aided by our unwillingness to imagine the depths to which people can sink when captured by the lure of war, the fantasy of perfect union with the state, that idealized perfect mother, and the ability to extrude all evil onto the enemy, that poisonous cannibalistic bad mother. As Christopher Hedges points out in War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, in more normal times we disown this desire for union and extrusion and cannot remember or imagine how destructive it can be.
Perhaps this dynamic also helps explain people’s passivity toward the threats to democracy facing us in the United States today. For those identified with their country, to truly accept the danger puts the evil, the bad, inside the union, where it is especially terrifying.
A resolution for many is the demonization solution, to view George W. Bush and his administration as absolute evil, destroying the country and the world. While tempting, and certainly not without evidence, the problem with this outlook is that it is the mirror image of that attitude which leads us into the nightmare. To those adopting this view, evil resides in Bush, in Cheney, in the Republicans. If only they could be removed, impeached, tried, the world would be saved. The problem with this notion is that it encourages only destruction of the enemy, not construction of something better. History has repeatedly demonstrated that movements guided by hatred do not end up producing a better world.
The Christmas truce, in its magnificence, gives us a tiny glimpse of a true alternative, a world in which we are all simply human, in which that which we have in common is greater than that which divides us. For the brief moment of that truce, lasting days or weeks, the soldiers on all sides embodied the wisdom of peace through union, a union without an all-bad enemy (though the officer class trying so hard to restore their respective killing machines surely could have qualified). A union of fun, of games, and of song. A world dominated by eros.
The challenge, so far unsolved, is how to take such a moment and make it last, or at least not turn into its opposite, a renewed carnage of destruction. This challenge, as pacifists and nonviolent activists have repeatedly discovered, requires us to find a way to accept and tame the capacity for destructiveness in each of us, so as not to need to attribute it to an enemy. At the same time, we need to find a way to continue peace and unity in more normal, less extraordinary times, beyond the moment of fusion. For eventually the excitement fades and we remember all our irritations, our gripes and our fears. To bring peace into daily life is the need upon which the future of the human race may well depend.
Howard Dean seems to hae changed his mind and is now suggesting that the healthcare bill should pass. Frankly, I think Dean owes the public more than the glib explanation he has far provided for his change.