Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Arrogant and Oblivious

Ann Romney in an interview said, among other things, they (the Romneys) would not release any further information about their taxes because “You people already have everything you need to know.” By “you people” I assume she meant all of us “Little people” that actually have to pay our taxes (you will remember the notorious Leona Helmsley’s comment to her maid about the little people). The arrogance behind such a statement is obvious, as is the fact that “you people” are basically irrelevant and have no right even to ask about such things. This was an incredibly stupid thing for Mrs. Romney to have said, especially at a time when there is so much controversy over the 1% vs the 99%.

The interesting thing about this, I think, is that she did not say it after having thought about it, or even truly out of arrogance, she said it just as a matter of course, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for her to have said, which, unfortunately, it was. The fact is she, and others like her, are completely oblivious to the fact that we “Little people” might find it offensive. This attitude is an integral part of being wealthy, it is perfectly natural to them to feel as they do, to believe they are above the proletariat. They believe it is their due simply because they are wealthy, and they expect others to accept their presumed superiority without question, they demand, you obey, they say jump, you say how high. If you have ever worked in a position that involved serving the wealthy you will recognize this as true, they expect servility, and if you do not provide it you don’t last long. It is true that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This kind of behavior reached the most extreme form during colonial situations:

“The logic of colonial relations favored arbitrary and brutal conduct towards the natives, whether they were coolies, peasants, laborers, or white-collar workers. A European might believe he had the right to beat, sometimes fatally, a worker whom he perceived to be lazy or rebellious, or a random person who had not made way for him quickly enough or who had refused him his seat closer to the screen at the movies. The records are rich with incidents and even crimes that illustrate in a tragic and revolting manner the nature of the relations between the French and the Indochinese, despite the advice given to those considering emigrating to become colonists in Tonkin, to whom it was recommended to treat the ‘docile and hardworking’ laborers well and to ‘pay them regularly.;” (Pierre Brocheux and Daniel Hemery, Indochina An Ambiguous Colonization, 1859-1954: p. 193).

This was fairly mild compared to what happened in other colonial situations but is representative of what happened everywhere that the wealthy and powerful were in control. This seems to be a human universal, wealth and the power that goes with it, seemingly guarantees arrogance as a perquisite. It is an unusual person indeed that does not give in to the temptation to exercise their power over others, sometimes in the extreme, sometimes more restrained. I recall with some satisfaction once suggesting that new Assistant Professors not be allowed to take positions before spending some time on a remote island where they could be schooled in how to treat secretaries and other assistants, as this was a recurring problem in Universities where I was employed. You do not have to be wealthy to be a jerk, but it certainly helps.

I’m sure the Romneys do not think of themselves as jerks. I’m sure they do not think it untoward to have an elevator for their cars, or multiple homes, or expensive dressage horses, or wear thousand dollar blouses, and so on. Having been born into wealth such things are perfectly natural to them. That is why, try as they might, they cannot understand the lives of the have-nots. They don’t know such people, except as servants or people they can fire, they are oblivious to the fact that everyone cannot just borrow money from their parents to start a business, and to be unemployed and/or on food stamps or homeless represents failure. They just don’t relate, as they can’t. The lives of you little people are no more real to them than the elves and imps that are believed to frolic in the forest.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

Abraham Lincoln

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