The New Plague: A lack of empathy infects ‘the haves’

Jan 7 • NEWS & VIEWS, ViewsNo Comments on The New Plague: A lack of empathy infects ‘the haves’

I have yet to make new year’s resolutions. No, I’m not perfect, I caught a virus during “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It set me back.

On the way to the doc, a pedestrian shouted obscenities at me. He (or she—I didn’t notice) was in a crosswalk. I guess I focus on what I want. I have no idea what that idiot was thinking or feeling.

When I arrived at the clinic, I was forced to wait. A nurse took a perfectly healthy looking woman that happened to be coughing up a little blood. I lodged my complaint with the receptionist and offered to pay cash. I even offered her $20. I know how things work—or should work. She refused.

“What’s the problem?” Doc asked.

“Where do you get these people?” I barked. “I could be dead by now.”

“So could the kid in room two,” retorted Doc.

“I’ll have you fired!” I snapped.

Doc asked one question: “What new year’s resolutions did you make for 2014?”

“Hey! I got where I am by being who I am,” I scoffed.
Doc placed his stethoscope over my left breast.
“You quack!” I shouted. “I’ll go to Duke or Harvard. Money is no object.”

Doc sighed. “Affluenza. A mild case of it. It should pass quickly.”

“Affluenza!” I chortled. “I’m not a drunk Texas 16-year-old blaming money for lack of morals! I know right from wrong. I’m right and you’re wrong. I got where I am by hard work and determination.”

“…the right parents, access to the right schools, exceptional teachers,” Doc yawned. He’d heard “The Bootstrap Delusion” before. He opined: “There’s a poverty line. Maybe there should be a wealth line.

If your net worth is greater than the GDP of Ghana, your moral judgment is suspect.”

Doc explained brief bouts of “Affluenza” can be triggered by movies glamorizing wealth and over-consumption. The condition has been known since Caligula, but the term dates to a 2001 book, “Affluenza,” and, according to author Oliver James, results from, “placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame.”

Doc’s seen more cases of “Affluenza” since TIME’s Person of the Year, Pope Francis, began blasting holes in a global economy based on predatory capitalism and the dogged pursuit of more—a system that inevitably leads to an economic caste system of haves and “leftovers.”

To quote the occasionally infallible Frannie: “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor.” “Affluenza” throws the delicate balance between external conditions and individual choices completely off-kilter.

When holes are blasted in a system from which they benefit, the upper caste protect themselves behind the walls of gated communities. From their point of view, they’ve earned every penny and privilege. It’s not that they consider the poor “untouchables,” it’s that they rarely consider them. Social psychologist Paul Piff showed even winning a rigged game of Monopoly erodes empathy and appears to make one behave rather heartlessly. That’s how Doc diagnosed my condition. My heart shrunk two sizes.

When the top caste does consider others, it’s usually to blame them for their plight. A CEO making 300 times his serf’s take provides budget pointers and suggests better planning will lead to personal prosperity. Health insurance companies change your plan to protect their profit and then blame the Affordable Care Act.

In the lower financial castes, poor thinking (poverty planning) often takes root. The upper echelons have the luxury of layers of planning; today, tomorrow, next quarter, summer vacations and beyond retirement. But let’s say I’m a minimum-wage serf and get a windfall $20 tip from a philanthropist. Will my “wealth management” guru (me) place it in my 401K, my kid’s college fund or blow the whole wad on fresh fruit instead of a Happy Meal? Regardless of how high my IQ may be, my planning is not likely to be layered and my event horizon extends only to dinner.

Doc walked me into treatment room two and prescribed I sit with an 11-year-old cancer patient until the social virus passed. It didn’t take long.

Will 2014 be the year we all start recovering from “Affluenza?”

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