With gread power comes gread responsiblity
Jonah Lehrer wrote about an interesting study on power, and hypocrisy. Basically, people were split into high and low power groups. The high power group tended to cheat more (at dice) and simultaneously moralize more. In other studies people tended to behave the most like ‘assholes’ (and I quote) when they were in a position of power and isolated from other people, and thus empathy. Basically, power makes people more selfish, probably because they can get away with it without the usual social checks and balances. “Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner has found that, in many social situations, people with power act just like patients with severe brain damage.”
It’s an interesting article, I recommend reading the whole thing.
The scientists argue that power is corrupting because it leads to moral hypocrisy. Although we almost always know what the right thing to do is – cheating at dice is a sin – power makes it easier to justify the wrongdoing, as we rationalize away our moral mistake. For instance, when Lammers and Galinsky asked the subjects (in both low and high-power conditions) how they would judge an individual who drove too fast when late for an appointment, or whether it was acceptable to cheat on the income tax, people with power consistently said it was worse when others committed those crimes than when they did. In other words, the powerful people believe they had a good reason for speeding – they’re important people, with important things to do – but everyone else should follow the posted signs. We become the exception to the rule, which is the law.
This has interesting applications for our little island, where the law seems to apply disproportionately to those out of power.
To quote agin:
We live in an age when our most powerful people – they tend to also have lots of money – are also the most isolated. They live in gated communities with private drivers. They eat at different restaurants and stay at different resorts. They wear different clothes and skip the security lines at airports, before sitting at the front of the plane. We shouldn’t be surprised that they’re also assholes.