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Morality Of Rich Vs. Poor


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Morality of Rich vs. Poor in America (Book Notes: The Cheating Culture)

In America, it almost doesn't seem to matter what you do to succeed: as long as you do succeed, people will praise you and, if necessary, make excuses for you. Failure, on the other hand, causes you to be condemned - even if your failure is arguably due to factors outside your control. Why is this?

In The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, David Callahan writes:


Americans tend to make moral judgments about people based upon their level of economic success. Everybody loves a winner, the saying goes, and nowhere is that more true than in America. Winners are seen as virtuous, as people to admire and emulate. Losers get the opposite treatment — for their own good, mind you. As Marvin Olasky, an adviser to President George W. Bush, has said: “An emphasis on freedom should also include a willingness to step away for a time and let those who have dug their own hole ‘suffer the consequences of their misconduct’.” Isn’t the question of who has “dug their own hole” and who is the victim of circumstances beyond their control the central question? If we assume that those in trouble are to blame, then perhaps they do need to accept the consequences — but how do we know this to be the case?


Part of the problem may be the fact that if we accept that people fall into trouble because of circumstances beyond their control, we also have to accept that people succeed because of circumstances beyond their control. The more likely and often the former happens, the more likely and often the latter will be true — and this means that we can’t take the same amount of pride and self-satisfaction in our own accomplishments.


Helping those in trouble because they don’t deserve to suffer for something that isn’t their fault would indicate, on some level, that we also don’t “deserve” what we have. There is something very Calvinistic about such an attitude — Protestant theologian Calvin taught that success or failure in the world was indicative of God’s favor or disfavor. If people did well, it suggested that they were among the elect who would go to heaven. Today, America is far more Calvinistic than any nation in Europe:


The prevalence of a sink-or-swim mentality in the United States is unique among Western democracies, as is the belief that individuals have so much control over their destiny. Elsewhere people are more apt to believe that success or failure is determined by circumstances beyond individual control. Scholars attribute the difference in outlook to the “exceptionalism” of America and, especially, to the American Deram ethos that dominates U.S. culture — an ethos at once intensely optimistic and brutally unforgiving. The belief that you can achieve something great if only you try can be very empowering — it’s certainly better than a fatalistic attitude that you can’t change or improve anything. Very often, a positive and winning attitude will indeed carry a person very far, becoming a more important factor in success than raw talent.


At the same time, though, this belief is as brutally unforgiving as Callahan says. If success really is determined by simply wanting it badly enough and working hard for it, then it follows that a person’s failure to achieve their goals — or even to be just moderately successful — necessarily means that they must not have wanted it badly enough and/or didn’t try hard enough.


Just a few moments of reflection will reveal that this can’t possibly be true. It’s a simple fact that not everyone can equally succeed. Even if we were to assume that everyone had the same natural talents, the same drive to succeed, and worked just as hard, there is no escaping the fact that not everyone will be admitted to the same colleges, not everyone will win the same awards, and not everyone will get the same jobs. Not everyone can become president. It’s not logically possible.


Thus, even if someone does want something badly enough and does work hard enough, there are many things well outside their control which may prevent them from achieving their goals. When we add in the fact that not everyone has the same talents and not everyone can be expected to, or are able to, work equally hard, then it’s easy to see why some will fall well short of lofty goals.


Given all of this, how can we possibly ascribe moral qualities to such failure? To what extent can we reasonably insist that such people deserve, in either a moral or epistemological sense, what they are experiencing?


All of this has troubling implications for our society’s ethics. Americans reflexively cut slack for those who are successful. We may admire winners whatever their sins. As sociologist Robert Merton wrote fifty years ago, the “sacrosanct goal” of wealth “virtually consecrates the means” — any means. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby is an iconic figure in this regard — he was irresistibly appealing despite the sordid origins of his fortune.


Real-life America as been filled with similar characters, ranging from Joseph P. Kennedy, who made much of his fortune illegally, to Michael Milken, who easily rehabilitated his image following his conviction for insider trading in the late 1980s. Even very nasty people who prevail in ugly mudslinging or backstabbing contests can win grudging respect — as Richard Hatch did when he triumphed on the reality television show Survivor. Callahan’s point here should cause some serious and sober reflection on American cultural attitudes. The traditional “American Dream” ethos has a lot of positive aspects to it, but if it leads people to value success as an end in and of itself, as something good regardless of the means used to achieve it, then that’s a pretty serious negative.


The connection is indirect, obviously, but the connection is there nonetheless. If it’s not a necessary connection, then there is hope of preserving the ethos while eliminating (or at least greatly reducing) the problems. If the connection is necessary, however, then we have to wonder what to make of the American Dream. Is it still a dream worth having?




Read More Book Notes from the Book Reviews on this site.


Sunday January 29, 2006 | comments (0)

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Hmm...I consider 'winning' to be succeeding through moral achievement and ones own efforts.


Circumstances beyond ones control does not create success, it just provides different avenues upon which to succeed or fail. It's other peoples perceptions that are irrational and awry and these perceptions need to be fixed.

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What do you think about this article?


I read the article and it was a good read. My comments as follows:


Even Bible God has stated basically, "If you can't endure to the end (as a Christian), fuck you."


So, as a Christian, if you do great things for God and so on, but blunder near the end, you get squat. Not only that, you get to burn as well! Oh well! Thank you for playing, but on "This Reality Sucks Ass", there are NO parting prizes!


My point being, you would think God would be the one who'd like a loser. You know, the guy you can call on when you are drowning in your own shit and everyone's taking a piss on you. But this is not true. NOBODY likes a loser. Losers are weak, stupid, ignorant, ect...


But if you WIN, even using evil, amoral methods, even 'good' people will give you a degree of respect. I've known this for years!


There is something about a winner that everyone likes, even...


GOD (huge echo)



Which makes me wonder why he's morally superior to any of us, if he exists as the Bible says. I made this point as the writer brings in Calvinism. Has this writer really read the Bible? What would you expect from a God who is represented by all the Bible books/stories? "Those evil Calvinists!" Hey buddy, they are just emulating the side of Bible God they want to! Duh! "Those 'name it and claim it' charismatics!" again folks, they are just emulating the side of Bible God they want to.




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The answer lies in what people consider "success". Too many are indoctrined to think "Success" means lots of money, a large family, pretty wife/sexy husband, lots of expensive material things, a house or two, a car or two, and going to a well-known Christian Church, having a lot of friends, especially influential ones. The "American Dream". That is what is considered "Success".


I'm not at all rich. I'm not even middle class. I am on disability and I work part time. I am successful. Why? because I succeeded in keeping myself alive, a roof over my head, feeding myself (even when the pain was so bad), working (and enjoying my job), I don't have a lot of friends but the ones I have are good people, and I enjoy a few hobbies. I don't have a lot, but what I do have is treasured by me. I enjoy my life. I live in a nice place surrounded by nice folks. I could not ask for better. I'm also doing (at work) what I've always wanted to do. I have the car I always wanted to have. Why? Because I didn't go for the "American Dream". Screw that. I went for my OWN dream and made sure I didn't raise my expectations too high so that I couldn't achieve my goals. Sure, I had to change them, and sometimes things inspired me to change them. But where I am now I'm happy.


Being content and happy in life should be "Success" and only the individual themselves can really determine if they are successful or not, not anyone else. Individual happiness should be the American Dream, and not how much you own and how many people you "own".


America really needs to get away from the ownership idea and more into the content-with-what-you-have idea. Then the poor would be rich because they have what they want and are happy with it.


I also noticed something else... you work hard for something then when/if you get the money to buy it you're too tired/busy to enjoy it after working so hard or having to continue to work that hard (especially to maintain a certain standard of living).


Dropping expectations down a few notches and thinking what you'd really like and dreaming up what types of lives you would like to live and how you could enjoy them and still maintain that standard of living would be I think the best strategy.


Who cares what other say? If they snub you then I guess they aren't really friends after all.

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Good stuff, Cyborg. I've been thinking that same way for a while now.


I really don't need a lot in my life. Give me a place to live, enough to eat, a decent vehicle to get me where I need to be and occasionally where I want to and a good gaming computer with a high-speed internet connection and I'm pretty well content. 'Course, in all honesty, I probably don't truly "need" those last two, but everyone has to allow themselves some indulgences, otherwise you're merely surviving (which is probably enough for some folks, but I enjoy living in the advanced western world in the 21st century, thank you very much :P ).


That's not to say I don't have ambitions in life. It's pretty well common knowledge around here that I want to live in and experience as many different areas of the world as I can within my lifetime, and I'm taking steps in my life now to enable me to do that. Until and while I'm achieving that, however, I want to keep the simple lifestyle I have now. I don't want to become some big business mogul or common household political name. It would actually suit me just fine if my name were never known outside minor localities I live in, and that only as a friend rather than someone "important." What I have works for me, and I get the feeling much more than this may well be more bother than it's worth.


Ultimately, success is what you make it.

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I agree. And as for computers, me too. I live in the machine. :)


I have all I need. I did grocery shopping yesterday, did my laundry today. Did some games I subscribe to. Worked. Made progress. Overall a very nice day. Even if I didn't get up and showered until nearly 1pm. So what? As long as I have the necessities and a couple things to occupy my mind and be happy, it's all I need.


Others try to pity me or "challenge" me to be a "better person". They are the short-sighted ones. And people I keep out of my life in any way I can.

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I'm not sure if this is a Regional difference or what, but my life experience has suggested the opposite to be true.


If both your parents are still married (to each other) by the time you reach high school - you are sneered at as an abnormality.


If you are working your way through college, and don't have any student loans - you are abnormal. If you have scholarships or grants - you really get some shit from students (usually the ones on loans).


If you are a woman making more money that your BF....you get passive aggression from HIM, and he get's teased by others.


Here is some of the social heirarchy of parts of Anchorage - People in Mountain View and Fairview (lower income housing mostly) gripe about all those "rich" people on the Hillside. The Hillside folk are actually a mix of "classes", but the Mountain View and Fairview folk wouldn't know that because they never drive up there. The perception of the Hillside is "rich", and if you live there, you can expect to be derided behind your back, and even occassionally to your face by someone who lives in these two lower income areas. This derisiveness doesn't go the other direction. I never hear Hillside people insult the other two areas.....and there is a reason why. Most of the people who live on the Hillside once lived in one of those two other areas! This city is young enough to have a lot of upward mobility opportunites for those people willing to do the work. They move out of Fairview, and their place in Fairview is taken by someone new to the State, and they get their social "education" from the neighbors who have hangups that impede their own motivation (too many drugs, or too much alcohol). Newbies either lose motivation and copy their neighbors, or they figure out the real deal and move when they have the assets.

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White Raven, you sure hit the nail on the head. I've just stopped worrying (most of the time) about what others think of me. I live my own life my own way. I consider myself successful no matter that I am in debt over my ears. I love what I'm doing. Now if only I can figure out how to get paid to do it--whoopee! that would be success in the real sense of the word. Most of my siblings have their own homes and consider me a loser. But I wouldn't live their lives for anything. Each to his/her own is what I say. Unless I win the lottery one day I will never own a home. Nor do I want the responsibility. I like my present arrangement. I live in a private home in the basement, but it's not totally private. I can hear the family upstairs, and I can hear them coming and going. Last summer they were gone for most of a week and I started getting lonely and depressed. It's crowded, cozy, and comfy. I like it. Some of my siblings have kitchens the size of my entire apartment. Let them have it. I like this.

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I hate it when my Christian cousins throw thier wealth in my face. They would say when we were growing up "Oh how Jesus loves me! Look at the new coat my daddy bought me, and we went on vacation in ( put exotic locale here)." As my mother is disabled my grandparents worked to help us out when I was a child so we could never afford the same stuff like my cousins. I was always feeling like shit as they seemed to brag about how they grew up in a two parent family and how blessed they are to have so much money. It's like they see my immediate family as a moral failing because my sperm donor left when I was one and my mother never remarried as she didn't want to be one of those single mothers who get too busy looking for another guy that they neglect thier kids.


After I worked so hard in homeschooling and got my G.E.D. I thought my problems were over and it would be easy to get a job. Sadly I struggled for several years in minimum wage jobs while my xtian aunt and uncle would ask in letters "Why haven't you got a job yet? Your cousins are working and getting $8.00 an hour, we hope gawd can bless you soon with a job." These cousins of mine were not even out of highschool (one had his diploma) and they got jobs in a snap so I felt my aunt and uncle thought I must not be right with God as I was in dire poverty. Well they lived in another state while I live here in California, and when this happened there was a recession going on here so I had to take any job that came around no matter how shitty it was. Also most places that payed a high wage wouldn't give me a part time job though I explained that I cannot let all the support of my disabled mother be left to my grandparents. Luckily in the past couple of years Mom has been well enough to be more independent and goes to school part time.


I am fortunate that a job agency counseler gave me some appitude tests and told me I am college material. She saw that I was actually working below my potential and it would be better I go to college and work part time to support myself. As I had been homeschooled she told me that colleges are always seeking homeschoolers as they are disciplined students and that it wasn't true that I couldn't get financial aid because of not going to public school after the seventh grade. I discovered that I wasn't doing well in life because I was listening to the wrong people (telling me that homeschooling won't get me anywhere in life) not because of any moral failing. Now I think I'm doing a great job at going to school, working 20 hours a week, and helping my mother and grandmother out around the house.


I'm sorry for such a winded post as I just needed to get some stuff off of my chest. :ouch:

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