When I was younger I thought psychology (and the closely related field of social anthropology) were twaddle, hokum, balderdash and other words which sound funny. And yet over the past few years I’ve become a fan of the fields. In another couple of years I’ll probably go back to “twaddle.”
(Psychology explains this as the “End of History” illuson, the belief that our current evolution represents our full and ultimate configuration — a delusion shared by people on a psychological level and politicians and (I use this term advisedly) Thinkers on the geopolitical one.)
But, for the moment, I do find it interesting to not just consider what people say and what they do, but why they say and do these things.
Our media is arrogant despite being remarkably unaccomplished. The professional left considers itself to be the fullest flower of humanity, despite having among them sophists, political pornographers, and outright terrorists.
Why? How can they not only think well of themselves, but think of themselves as so enlightened as to qualify as Buddhas on Earth?
A military psychiatrist, who used to screen draft-evaders on their various claims about being unfit to serve (feigned psychological disorders, feigned homosexuality), explains the vanity of the verbally-oriented classes.
…to the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher’s
smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to
offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the
official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons
of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how
this greater value entitled them to greater rewards. The wider market
society, however, teaches a different lesson. The greatest rewards do
not automatically go to the verbally brightest. Verbal skills are not
most highly valued… Schooled in the lesson that they were most
valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how
could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist
society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their
superiority “entitled” them? Is it surprising that what the schooled
intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus
that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons,
continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be
inadequate?…The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school
writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so
One can extrapolate from this a strong, strong preference for an classroom-like method of advancement whereby flattering and impressing one’s teacher or professor (and then one’s editor or publisher) is the key to success. “Success” is conferred upon one by a superior, who, due to his position (and therefore his assumed talents), is qualified to confer such meritocratic badges.
But a capitalist has no actual boss — there’s no one in the Office of Conferring Badges of Merit upon him. The capitalist’s success isn’t conferred; it’s taken. (Actually, of course, his success is conferred by a great many people choosing to give him business, but inchoate masses of people aren’t Wise Men in Black Robes as in the academic hierarchy.)
This is all too rough and crude for the Nice Schoolboy, who just doesn’t understand how someone can succeed without Pleasing Teacher, and strongly suspects that the crude capitalist’s success must, ergo, come from unfairness and victimizing someone (much as bigger, more daring boys’ social status came from victimizing more timid boys on the playground). True advancement can only come via a consensus of one’s merit-based superiors in the hierarchy. The capitalist may get rich, but not through merit.
He’s cheating. He must be. Why, he’s nothing but a exploitative exploiter who exploits (and also, lies for advantage — one wonders if Matthew Yglesias thought every businessman who ever lived was just lying about the initiative-squelching tentacles of bureaucracy before his own unhappy experience with the stifling system.)
I’ve just quoted a tiny little bit of it, but if you’re interested at all in psychological profiles and the dynamics of groupthink, you should Read the Whole Thing. I also spun off additional thoughts at my regular blog.