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The Narcissism of the Entitled Rich, Our Dickensian World

We cannot use the Ruling Ring. That we now know too well. It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil. Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier power. The very desire of it corrupts the heart. – The Fellowship of the Ring

Scrooge Head Maquette / Peter L. Lee – flickr

And so another study shows that the more wealth one has, the more one feels entitled and becomes narcissistic; i.e., the more they become an arrogant prick.

“The studies in the paper measure narcissism in a whole host of ways, including measuring how likely someone is to stare at their reflection in a mirror (wealthier people do that more often). Even students who come from wealth, but have done little to create their own wealth (yet), report more entitlement. This suggests that wealth shapes an ideology of self-interest and entitlement that’s transferred culturally from one generation to the next.”

Piff conducted five experiments to investigate the associations between social class, entitlement, and narcissism.

The first experiment consisted of a survey that measured levels of entitlement and socioeconomic status. Piff found higher social class was associated with an increased sense of entitlement. Upper-class individuals were more likely to believe they deserved special treatment and feel entitled to “more of everything.” They were also more likely to believe that if they on the Titanic, they would deserve to be on the first lifeboat.

In the second and third experiments, Piff used other surveys with different measures of entitlement and socioeconomic status to confirm his initial findings.

In the fourth experiment, Piff discovered that upper-class individuals were more likely to look at their own reflections in a mirror, even when controlling for self-consciousness. The final experiment found that exposing upper-class individuals to egalitarian values reduced entitlement and decreased narcissism.

Of course we knew that wealth makes people more selfish and self-centered.

In a recent article in the New York Magazine[2], Lisa Miller describes how psychological research indicates that wealth erodes empathy with others. Miller cites one researcher who says that:

“The rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”

The correlation between money and insensitivity perpetuates itself, says Kathleen Vohs, a professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Vohs was inspired to study the effects of money on social behavior when she landed a job that increased her salary five times. Suddenly she was no longer asking her friends for rides to the airport. She hired a personal shopper. “I was becoming more independent and less interdependent,” she says. This led her to the next thought: “We need to understand at a theoretical level what happens to people’s minds in the context of wealth,” Miller writes.

This was the main theme to many – if not most – of Dickens’ novels and stories. Such as A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield, wherein Uriah Heep shows how the mere lust for wealth, and the power and privilege that goes with it, can corrupt one completely.  And how capitalism breeds this contempt for positive human characteristics such as compassion and charity and selflessness and humility.

We have learned from Professor Richard D. Wolff that one of the main problems with capitalism was the absence of democracy in the workplace. The accumulation of wealth and the bestowing of privilege on any who attain it is another, and to my mind, the biggest one.

Not only must we have democracy, but we must also eliminate the privilege and power that wealth brings.

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