“What Can You Do For Me?”
The Pathology of the Rich White Family
By Chris Hedges
May 18, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "Truthdig"
- The pathology of the rich white family is the most dangerous pathology in
America. The rich white family is cursed with too much money and privilege. It
is devoid of empathy, the result of lifetimes of entitlement. It has little
sense of loyalty and lacks the capacity for self-sacrifice. Its definition of
friendship is reduced to “What can you do for me?” It is possessed by an
insatiable lust to increase its fortunes and power. It believes that wealth and
privilege confer to it a superior intelligence and virtue. It is infused with an
unchecked hedonism and narcissism. And because of all this, it interprets
reality through a lens of self-adulation and greed that renders it delusional.
The rich white family is a menace. The pathologies of the poor, when set against
the pathologies of rich white people, are like a candle set beside the sun.
There are no shortages of acolytes and propagandists for rich
white families. They dominate our airwaves. They blame poverty, societal
breakdown, urban violence, drug use, domestic abuse and crime on the pathology
of poor black families—not that they know any. They argue that poor black
families disintegrate because of some inherent defect—here you can read between
the lines that white people are better than black people—a defect that these
poor families need to fix.
Peddle this simplistic and racist garbage and you will be
given a column at The New York Times. It always pays to suck up to rich white
families. If you are black and parrot this line, rich white people are overcome
with joy. They go to extreme lengths to give you a platform. You can become
president or a Supreme Court justice. You can get a television talk show or
tenure at a university. You can get money for your foundation. You can publish
self-help books. Your films will be funded. You might even be hired to run a
Rich white families, their sycophants opine, have tried to
help. Rich white families have given poor people numerous resources and
government programs to lift them out of poverty. They have provided generous
charity. But blacks, they say, along with other poor people of color, are
defeated by self-destructive attitudes and behavior. Government programs are
therefore wasted on these irresponsible people. Poor families, the sycophants
tell us, will not be redeemed until they redeem themselves. We want to help,
rich white people say, but poor black people need to pull up their pants, stay
in school, get an education, find a job, say no to drugs and respect authority.
If they don’t, they deserve what they get. And what the average black family
ends up with in economic terms is a nickel for every dollar held by the average
Starting at age 10 as a scholarship student at an elite New
England boarding school, I was forced to make a study of the pathology of rich
white families. It was not an experience I would recommend. Years later, by
choice, I moved to Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood when I was a seminary student.
I lived across the street from one of the poorest housing projects in the city,
and I ran a small church in the inner city for nearly three years. I already had
a deep distaste for rich white families, and that increased greatly after I saw
what they did to the disenfranchised. Rich white people, I concluded after my
childhood and Roxbury experiences, are sociopaths.
The misery and collapse of community and family in Roxbury
were not caused by an inherent pathology within the black family. Rich people
who treated the poor like human refuse caused the problems. Layers of
institutionalized racism—the courts, the schools, the police, the probation
officers, the banks, the easy access to drugs, the endemic unemployment and
underemployment, the collapsing infrastructures and the prison
system—effectively conspired to make sure the poor remained poor. Drug use,
crime and disintegrating families are the result of poverty, not race. Poor
whites replicate this behavior. Take away opportunity, infuse lives with despair
and hopelessness, and this is what you get. But that is something rich white
families do not want people to know. If it were known, the rich would have to
take the blame.
Michael Kraus, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner,
social scientists at the University of California, did research that led them to
conclude that the poor have more empathy than the rich. The poor, they argued,
do not have the ability to dominate their environments. They must build
relationships with others to survive. This requires that they be able to read
the emotions of those around them and respond. It demands that they look after
each other. And this makes them more empathetic. The rich, who can control their
environments, do not need to bother with the concerns or emotions of others.
They are in charge. What they want gets done. And the longer they live at the
center of their own universe, the more callous, insensitive and cruel they
The rich white family has an unrivaled aptitude for crime.
Members of rich white families run corporations into the ground (think Lehman
Brothers), defraud stockholders and investors, sell toxic mortgages as
gold-plated investments to pension funds, communities and schools, and then loot
the U.S. Treasury when the whole thing implodes. They steal hundreds of millions
of dollars on Wall Street through fraud and theft, pay little or no taxes,
almost never go to jail, write laws and regulations that legalize their crimes
and then are asked to become trustees at elite universities and sit on corporate
boards. They set up foundations and are admired as philanthropists. And if they
get into legal trouble, they have high-priced lawyers and connections among the
political elites to get them out.
You have to hand it to rich white families. They steal with
greater finesse than anyone else. If you are a poor black teenager and sprint
out of a CVS with a few looted bottles of shampoo, you are likely to be shot in
the back or sent to jail for years. If there were an Olympiad for crime, rich
white families would sweep up all the medals; blacks would be lucky to come
within a mile of the first elimination trial. I don’t know why black people even
try to compete in this area. They are, by comparison, utter failures as
criminals. The monarchs of crime are rich white people, who wallow in their
pilfered wealth while locking away in prisons a huge percentage of poor men of
Rich white families are also the most efficient killers on the
planet. This has been true for five centuries, starting with the conquest of the
Americas and the genocide against Native Americans, and continuing through
today’s wars in the Middle East. Rich white families themselves don’t actually
kill. They are not about to risk their necks on city streets or in Iraq. They
hire people, often poor, to kill for them. Rich white families wanted the
petroleum of Iraq and, by waving the flag and spewing patriotic slogans, got a
lot of poor kids to join the military and take the oil fields for them. Rich
white people wanted endless war for the benefit of their arms industry and got
it by calling for a war on terror. Rich white people wanted police to use lethal
force against the poor with impunity and to arrest them, swelling U.S. prisons
with 25 percent of the world’s prison population, so they set up a system of
drug laws and militarized police departments to make it happen.
The beauty of making others kill on your behalf
is you get to appear “reasonable” and “nice.” You get to chastise poor people
and Muslims for being angry fanatics. You get to spread the message of tolerance
with a cherubic smile—which means tolerating the crimes and violence of rich
white people. Compare a drive-by shooting in Watts with the saturation bombing
of Vietnam. Compare a gangland killing in Chicago with militarized police
shooting a person of color almost every day. No one else knows how to churn out
corpses like rich white people. One million dead in Iraq alone. And the rich and
powerful kill staggering numbers of people and never go to prison. They can
retire to a ranch in Crawford, Texas, and paint amateurish portraits of world
leaders copied from Google Image Search.
There is no decadence like the decadence of rich white people.
I knew a billionaire who in retirement spent his time on a yacht smoking weed
and being catered to by a string of high-priced prostitutes. The children of
rich white families—surrounded by servants and coddled in private schools, never
having to fly on commercial airlines or take public transportation—develop a
lassitude, sometimes accompanied by a drug habit, that often leads them to idle
away their lives as social parasites. Mothers never have to be mothers. Fathers
never have to be fathers. The help does the parenting. The rich live encased in
little kingdoms, one guarded by their own private security, where the real world
does not intrude. They are cultural philistines preoccupied with acquiring more
wealth and more possessions. “Material success,” as
C. Wright Mills
wrote, “is their sole basis of authority.” They meld into the world of
celebrity. And the organs of mass media, which they control, turn them into
idols to be worshiped solely because they are rich. Public-relations specialists
manufacture their public personas. Teams of lawyers harass and silence their
critics. Acolytes affirm their sagacity. They soon believe their own fiction.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 wrote
what is known as the Moynihan Report, or “The Negro Family: The Case for
National Action.” The report concluded that “at the heart of the deterioration
of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.” The
oppressed were to blame for their oppression. Social programs alone could not
save the poor. The report offers a classic example of a neoliberal economic
model repacked as an ideology.
The pathologies of the rich will soon drive us over an
economic and ecological cliff. And as we go down, the rich, lacking empathy and
understanding, determined to maintain their privilege and their wealth, will use
their Praetorian Guard, their mass media, their corporate power, their political
puppets and their security and surveillance apparatus to keep us submissive.
“The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime
that has never been discovered, because it was properly executed,” Honoré de
Balzac wrote of the rich in his novel “Le Père Goriot.”
The rich executed a coup d’état that transformed the three
branches of the U.S. government and nearly all institutions, including the mass
media, into wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. This coup gives
the rich the license and the power to amass unimaginable wealth at our expense.
It permits the rich to inflict grinding poverty on growing circles of the
population. Poverty is the worst of crimes—as George Bernard Shaw wrote, “all
the other crimes are virtues beside it.” And the ability of a rapacious power
elite to let children go hungry, to let men and women suffer a loss of dignity
and self-worth because there are no jobs, to abandon cities to decay and
squalor, to toss the mentally ill and the homeless onto the streets, to slash
the meager services that give some hope and succor to those who suffer, to lock
hundreds of thousands of poor people in cages for years, to wage endless war, to
burden students with crushing debt, to unleash state terror and to extinguish
hope among the least fortunate exposes our wealthy oligarchs as the most
dangerous and destructive force in America.
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