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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2014 10:03 am 
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of Vinyamar
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http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_piff_does ... e_you_mean

Interesting talk. I'd like to have seen more interviews with the gamers after the fact, because I like to think my first reaction would have been "Well, the game was rigged, they never had a chance". In gaming (more so than life if I'm honest) I really dislike an uneven playing field. Whether I'm winning or losing I like the game to be close and competitive. Dominating a game is a lot more fun than getting destroyed, but not as much fun as a tense encounter that keeps everyone in the game till the last throw of the dice. In fact, one of my favourite games right now "Lords of Waterdeep" has hidden cards that are only revealed in the final scoring phase, so you don't know if you have won until the final tally is counted. I really have a fundamental dislike for games that provide an advantage to the winner in subsequent rounds. Games like Counterstrike give more money to the winning side in each round, who can then use that money to purchase better weapons and gear, which then gives them an advantage for the next round. That's a completely broken strategy to my mind. I prefer the old racing games where the player at the back of the grid had slightly better acceleration or speed, or, in the Mario Kart extreme, gets ridiculously overpowered power-ups to get them back in the game. Anything that makes the game more competitive is fun, and anything that makes it more uneven is not.

Of course, the real point of the talk was not about games, but about entitlement and advantage. Growing up in Ireland I guess I'm in the upper end of advantaged, but certainly not "wealthy". However, I'm significantly more wealthy than I was 20 years ago. And yet, I still seem to struggle to pay the bills every month. I think that's a different type of entitlement though. I go on more holidays, in more expensive places, and buy more expensive toys than I did when I was 20. Because I "work hard" and "deserve it". But the truth is that I don't really work that hard. Certainly not compared to someone doing manual labour, or someone who puts in 70-80 hours a week. And I'm under no illusion that my job and position, (and probably my wife and family) are directly attributable to the advantages I had growing up. There was never any question that I would be unable to go to University if I wanted. Under no circumstances, unless I became a drug addict or alcoholic, was I going to end up in anything less than a decent middle class job. Again, that's not cause my family were wealthy, cause they weren't, but because they were upper middle class, put a priority on us kids, and of course Ireland had heavily subsidised education. Even now, our Universities are technically free. There's a "registration" fee of a couple of thousand Euro, and your kids need to be supported financially for food/clothing/accommodation/travel/books etc, but nobody leaves University here with hundreds of thousands in student loans.

So, what about the article? Do I have less empathy for the poor? I guess to a certain extent. Like I say, education is "free" here so I have little time for those who claim disadvantage. But those kids may be raising their younger siblings in the home of an alcoholic parent. They may not be able to afford the books and accoutrements of that college course. Or indeed, they may not be able to afford not to be working at 17. Its not something I really consider, because its easier to assume that most people come from a similar background to mine. But did they? Or are they playing Monopoly with 1/3 the starting cash, and only one roll of the die.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2014 12:45 pm 
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A really interesting topic, and one I ponder often, probably due both to my background (working class) and my family situation (one child who may never have more than a Yr 10 education).

I am privileged - so very privileged to have achieved a tertiary education (my mother didn't finish primary school; not so sure about my dad as he died young and we were not in contact with his family much after that); so very privileged to be living in a four bedroom home with two bathrooms and three living areas in a very leafy, wealthy suburb close to the city (I grew up in a two bedroom flat, sharing a bedroom with my sister, and for a time, also sharing a bed with her in my mother's bedroom when she had to take in a boarder in the second bedroom to make ends meet).

I don't know that I take things for granted, but I know my kids do; they naively think that they will inherit this standard of living as a matter of course. I fear, on the other hand, that one of them will not. I don't think their generation will be able to maintain or extend their privilege in the way we did unless there is a fairly tremendous shaking up of the world (and I'm not a fan of tremendous shaking up of the world, as it too often has involved things like war).

The other worry for my family is the upsurge in antisemitism which we see and feel around us (literally; bomb scare at my son's school last week; antisemitic leaflet drop in my brother-in-law's suburb in Sydney). At the moment it feels like the privileged life we've had the great good fortune to live is a chimera, and I wonder whether my kids will have the opportunity to live in peace, prosperity and stability.

I'm not so sure I have more empathy than you because of these circumstances, though, and I think I could be more philanthropic. Do I see the injustice and imbalance in my own society? Yes, I think I do; I've lived nose to nose with it at some points. I see more the injustice and imbalance of the life lived in my country compared to that lived in neighbouring countries. Seeing the life of the average, educated Balinese was a revelation, for example.

Do I feel wealthy? Yes, I do. We live relatively frugally (no expensive holidays, no expensive clothes, we rarely eat out or buy 'entertainment' like theatre or movies or concerts etc) but we have all the comforts we require. But I truly believe that I could lose these things so easily - extended unemployment or illness would wipe us out. It feels tenuous. I wonder whether that is why I am not as generous I should be? (I think and feel that I should be.) I'm the child of immigrants who had to do it tough, and that leaves an imprint in one's soul. Marc even more so - his father's family left everything and ran from the Nazis (actually, his paternal grandparents and aunts were victims of the Nazis).

I guess it's not so much feeling wealthy as feeling so very, very fortunate, and experiencing that good fortune each day as a gift that must not be taken for granted.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2014 2:09 pm 
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One thing I've noticed as I've passed through life so far, is that "Class" in the UK is not automatically linked to how much money you have, but to attitude and outlook on life. I grew up in a single parent family where money was extremely tight for my mother, who in turn had grown up with her mother being a war widow with limited help from the government in the early days. By the time my grandmother retired she was actually comfortably off with 2 pensions from the government. Yet, having survived rationing, make do and mend was a way of life for her and she never splashed out on luxuries - nor threw anything away in case it might come in useful! We only got toys on birthdays and Christmas....one week's holiday away in the UK, subsidised by my grandmother who always came with us, or an occasional week where I would stay with my other grandparents 10 miles away. Clothes were handmade or from the local "Bring and Buy" sale - there were no charity/thrift shops in those days!

And yet, despite being a child of a broken home with a mother bringing my brother and I up on social security, I never got the impression that we were less than Middle-Class. When I met my husband, however, or more to the point, got to know his family who are inner-city, west country dwellers, and their attitudes seemed completely different to my family's. Such as normally entering the property via the back door, never the front! And talking about money constantly...particularly how much they'd spent on the latest purchase. Yes, we might talk about getting a bargain in the sale but it wasn't the normal topic of conversation!

I got a free university education, in the days when we still got grants over here, and with the family situation plus I was able to commute from home, I received free travel as well as all study fees paid. I can't say it was looked on as a privilege...just the logical step if your kids were bright enough. This, despite a grandparent who constantly asked wouldn't I rather get a nice job in a bank - that was the pinnacle of achievement for someone of her generation!

Living on maninly one income since having our family, (until my husband was made redundant in May 2009) I still maintain the values of thrift I was imbued with as a child. Charity shops have been a godsend for me clothing 4 kids, and they have grown up learning to spend their own pocket money there on second hand toys...even buying Xmas gifts on a budget for the family. The family adages of "look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves" and "neither a borrower or a lender be" still resonate soundly...I hope that my kids are learning the value of money in this way.

I contrast all this sadly with the attitudes and situation of my neighbour...re-mortgaged at least once, and up to their eyes in debt yet constantly living beyond their means...to look at the house it is immaculate and they have several breaks away each year. They are technically as poor as church mice, yet the kids (and mum) have never had to go without...either grandparents/aunt pays for it or it goes on the credit card!

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2014 3:46 pm 
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Quote:
I contrast all this sadly with the attitudes and situation of my neighbour...re-mortgaged at least once, and up to their eyes in debt yet constantly living beyond their means...to look at the house it is immaculate and they have several breaks away each year. They are technically as poor as church mice, yet the kids (and mum) have never had to go without...either grandparents/aunt pays for it or it goes on the credit card!


This situation doesn't happen unless someone is profiting from it, and I don't mean the neighbor. The House never loses money.

In answer to Al's original question: I don't think money makes you mean. I think being mean--which is really a polite way of saying psychopathic--is an advantage in the money-making game. There's a reason CEOs have the highest proportion of psychopaths as a "profession."

Psychopaths don't have to be ax-murderers. Look at the Wikipedia definition:


Quote:
Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has been variously described as characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial character, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.


Which brings us back around to those neighbors...who are enabled to act as they do by a system run by people who think it's okay if you can get away with it, and who have rigged the system both so they CAN get away with it, wholesale, while pointing an accusing finger at anyone who does it at the retail level. Thus people who kite checks to pay for things they didn't need go to jail, while people who collapse economies...pay a fine or two, if that.

Societies discourage psychopathy--unless you're really, really good at it.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2014 5:08 pm 
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axordil wrote:
Which brings us back around to those neighbors...who are enabled to act as they do by a system run by people who think it's okay if you can get away with it, and who have rigged the system both so they CAN get away with it, wholesale, while pointing an accusing finger at anyone who does it at the retail level. Thus people who kite checks to pay for things they didn't need go to jail, while people who collapse economies...pay a fine or two, if that.


Quite...those neighbours (well, one half) told me that they are investigating getting an IVA to help manage their debts. The inference I got from the conversation was that if they manage to pay x amount monthly for a couple of years then their debts would be written off. I'm like, what?????

The crazy thing is, that when I talk about my frugal upbringing she nods and says her parents weren't that well off either and they watched the pennies...it seems in to me in these situations you can either carry through your inherited ethics, or you go completely the other way, and think, just because I went without, doesn't mean my kids have to... <shrug>

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2014 12:00 am 
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My son and I had a discussion about this as I was driving him to school this morning. *

I mentioned the TED talk and the experiment with Monopoly, and he immediately interrupted to disagree with the underlying premise of the entire experiment, and quite rightly. If people are told they are to play a game (of Monopoly, of cards, of bang-bang-shoot-'em-up), they enter the situation from the start with a competitive attitude and they will be more cold-hearted, less compassionate, less merciful than they would be in life...because the purpose of a game is to win. Also, a game doesn't matter (unless it's the Game of Thrones ;) ) in terms of real life; it's supposed to be play.

So one can't really extrapolate from that induced competitiveness how people will react in the flow of life to those with whom they are not in friendly (or hostile) competition.

Also, conflating psychopathy with competitiveness (particularly in a gaming context) doesn't work. There are indeed psychopaths walking amongst us (I've worked with some), but I believe most people try to do the right thing and live by their internal moral compass (which may differ from my moral compass). The psychopaths do tend to percolate to the top, though (unless they're not very clever, in which case they percolate to gaol).

* Brings up the point that we are a two-car family and the kids expect us to come to their aid when running late for school. As a rule, our position is that Jarrah can take public transport or cycle to school (though he can't cycle currently with a healing clavicle). Public transport is easy - pick up the tram literally 25 metres from our door, and get off the tram across the road from the school 20 minutes later - yet a lift to school is always preferred and angled for at least once a week. It's cushier; warmer; easier, somehow, although it takes longer to drive than the tram. I didn't have this option because we had no car when I was growing up - bus, or a 35-minute walk were my alternatives. I think the change in attitude is certainly the outcome of privilege, but also a sign of and attitude of entitlement.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2014 3:53 pm 
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Ax says something I also think. There's a money-making game that rewards meanness in this world. And by itself it feeds itself - greed makes people want money, money can be made by being mean, and so it begets meanness in that sense for individuals predisposed to it.

And that's something I want to touch a bit on more.


My parents grew up poor and dirt poor, respectively. Occasionally, growing up, there'd be talk about how rough they had it. My dad was quick to remind my mom that her dad's farm was more successful than his - having a family car, even if it was a beater, meant they were something. My dad and his eight siblings had to walk to school as there was no car, and as the youngest boy the hand-me-downs were worn to shreds before they got to him, so he had to go to school in shirts his mom sewed from flour sacks. I remember him stoic at his mother's funeral until his older brother, in the eulogy, mentioned that as part of sketching out how my grandmom did everything she could for her kids. My dad never cried but his sobs drove home the pain of poverty in a way that never left my heart.

In South Africa I saw crushing poverty on a daily basis even as I lived in a privileged middle class enclave. My heart was a lot harder then. Maybe because my grip on my living was much more tenuous. Maybe because I was brought up to be hard. And maybe because when you see what want looks like on a daily basis, it seem as if it will either scare you into meanness, or soften you into compassion. I am ashamed to say I went the first way when younger.

Then, through a string of small things, I ended up in trouble myself. I had a roof over my head and nothing else. I walked through grocery isles, literally salivating at seeing all the food I couldn't buy. Walked way to the back to check the bargain bin for expired meat, then back to the front to spend my only grocery money for the month on 40 pounds of potatoes - the kind that comes sandy and full of black spots in a huge paper sack.

At work I made tea and snuck extra milk into the cup for breakfast. For lunch I microwaved a potato and ate it plain. Sometimes somebody left those little butter packets from fast food in the break room and I could feast on a slightly buttery potato. I had nothing for dinner. I visited my parents once a week for Sunday dinner just to be fed a good meal. I could never ask them for help. My dad was a hard man with his money back then. Growing up poor didn't make him soft when he made it, it made him hard. We were brought up knowing we were masters of our own fate, and if we sank our ships, we were to sink with it. My mom knew, but she couldn't do anything. My dad controlled her money too. She could give me nothing, except to sometimes sneak me a package of frozen beef from the freezer, or some vegetables, after the visit.

I managed to escape from that hole. I'm very comfortably off now. I am quietly grateful, forever, for that. I do not take all the credit for that. Yes, I worked hard and took advantage of opportunities. But I had a foundation on which to rebuild. Many don't.

And over the years, exposure to different viewpoints and quiet reflection has completely changed my stance. I could ramble on and on about it, but no. By the way, the years have worn away my dad's hard shell, too. Maybe he felt the pressure of bringing up kids and once that noose loosened, his own fear slowly loosened with it until he is almost generous, now.

So, from personal anecdote: I do not think it is money that makes people mean, despite the fact that my dad was very mean with his money.

I think it is who you are - or more so than that, what you have felt in the world - that turns you mean or not.

Money is only an amplifier for what is in your makeup at any point in time. You have control over what you let into your head and how you think, unless you are an edge case.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 8:30 am 
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I'm thinking this topic is also pretty relevant to the forthcoming last instalment of The Hobbit, where we will see Thorin succumb to the "dragon-sickness." Whereas for Tolkien, this was a simple euphemism for "greed" in a child's moral tale about getting your values and priorities in life in order, in the movie version it seems that with Thorin being set up as a tragic-heroic figure, the writers felt this very human flaw might not be believable enough to audiences...thus we have Thorin apparently inheriting a mental disorder which is exacerbated by the gold. Are we to believe that such a decent person as movie-Thorin could not simply turn mean when asked to share some of "his" treasure? Far easier to believe it in the book, I suppose, from the pompous, arrogant Thorin. Of course, Tolkien later explained that all Dwarves have a great love and desire for gold which Sauron was able to play upon with devastating consequences with the gift of the Seven rings. Should we not be able to admit that this weakness is inherent in any of us, not just those with a "sickness of the mind"?

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 3:40 pm 
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PJ is big on hereditary sin. Movie Aragorn was all bummed about being Isildur's heir, "same blood, same weakness." Book Aragorn name-dropped Isildur as a status statement.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 5:04 pm 
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I see Thorin as much more a type for Denethor, as Bard is for Aragorn. Thorin's deepest issue is not greed, but pride--especially the pride that comes from believing one's struggle makes one stronger and more noble.

In that respect the wealth of Erebor is Thorin's palantír: the object that reveals that sometimes struggle just leaves one feeling at once embittered and entitled.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 30, 2014 10:33 pm 
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Would anyone mind if we kept the Tolkien aspect out of this thread? I don't want it to Osgiliate into a PJ vs Tolkien Morality code discussion.

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