Social creatures – are we?
September 5, 2010 § 2 Comments
Research shows that today’s unequal societies are an exception that proves the rule, seen to our history and prehistory.
It’s our unique capacity for taking social responsibility that has made us to such a successful species.
The human being seems to have been developed for living in great equality, not the reverse.
The equal society has given us the capacity to experience self-fulfillment, not only by filling our own needs, but also through understanding and answering to other peoples’ needs.
Experiments show that human beings all over the world experience fulfillment from making other people happy.
We enjoy the appreciation we get from other people when we are contributing to the common wellbeing and that’s the reason why it was necessary for all in the group to act unselfish to be able to survive. Otherwise the group would founder.
Children growing up in strongly unequal societies where the adults can’t trust each other feel worse.
Researchers today know that stress early in life damages the child’s brain development and long-term stress can reduce the empathic capacity in the children, who are at risk of becoming aggressive.
When those children later are growing up they are further formed by the hard life in the unequal society, and when it’s time for them to get own children the high stress level is passed on to the next generation.
In this way a new round in the vicious circle starts, but this time from an even higher stress level.
In this way societies with growing inequality can become brutalized generation by generation.
Countries with greater differences in incomes are also plagued by more murders.
Violence is more common in unequal societies.
Inequality creates violent societies and violent people.
The school results are better in more equal societies too.
Research has shown that we human beings are learning most and best in stimulating environments where we feel that we have a good chance of being successful.
When we feel happy and self-confident the dopamine levels are increasing in our brains.
If we on the contrary feel threatened, helpless and stressed our bodies are filled with the stress hormone cortisol. The result is that we think worse and the memory fails.
This can be the explanation why students’ literacy is better in more equal societies. In countries where the social hierarchy isn’t so steep the schoolchildren can devote themselves to their studies without being so afraid of failing.
This makes that more are learning more.
In more unequal countries the time in school is more horror-filled because the social cost for failing studies – in form of lower wages and lower social status – can be very high.
The fear makes that more students are failing with their studies.
When politicians are talking about what needs to be done to raise the level of education in a society they never mention that equality has to decrease.
With increased equality people can breathe out and relax.
The economist Robert Frank is talking about a phenomenon called luxury fever. See for instance his article “Why Living in a Rich Soceity makes Us Feel Poor” and “The Income Gap Grows. The spread between the rich and the rest has been growing for decades. Current policies will only make it worse.”
Another economist, Richard Layard is purely talking about “income abuse”: the more we have, the more we feel that we need and the more time we spend on trying to get status increasing belongings. We are baited to sacrifice family life, relations and life quality. People in more equal societies even tend to see social status and economy as more important than love when they are choosing a partner.
From the blog Mind and Life Institute Blog:
“Lord Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, after discussing different situations where competition or cooperation would be more appropriate, talked about how increased wealth does not correlate with increased happiness.
Many people are stuck in a world of ‘social comparisons,’ where status is more important than being economically comfortable. He emphasized that while wealth is increasing, mental health is on the decline; and to combat this he introduced the Movement for Happiness to try to both increase happiness and reduce misery in the world.”
- The Spirit Level mechanism (stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com)
- The Spirit Level: how ‘ideas wreckers’ turned bestseller into political punchbag (guardian.co.uk)
- Adam Phillips on the happiness myth (guardian.co.uk)
- Christina Patterson: Heaven knows we’re miserable now (huffingtonpost.com)
- The Spirit Level: how ‘ideas wreckers’ turned book into political punchbag (guardian.co.uk)
- Does the happiness formula really add up? (independent.co.uk)
- Great Expectations (lifescript.com)