Have vs Have nots and on signalling cooperation

This old letter (Diary of a Reformed Elitist) came up recently in my fb feed. On first read I think, wow, they are wondering why we are poor, and I wonder how they got rich. On further thinking, it reflects generally the world we are in.

Haves (those who are rich or have some innate abilities) do get offered a lot more exposure and opportunities. Conditioned by such an environment, it is natural for Haves to think that anyone can just reach out to grab the chance. Have Nots (everyone else) generally are given less exposure and opportunities. So the Haves won’t understand why the Have Nots don’t help themselves and the Have Nots don’t understand how they got so rich.

Actually, this letter reminds me of reading an article on overcoming bias that people who have innate abilities will say stuff like ‘do what you love’ because for them the cost of switching is low. In this instance, the cost of switching to this view is very low and it allows the holder of this view to signal compassion – a virtue. A person who is less well to do and requires a lot of cooperation from others to ensure that their livelihood is not threatened will not hold views that without empathy or compassion even if given continual evidence to show that there are opportunities to be taken. The cost of switching to a less compassionate view will take away the cooperation that is required to defend his livelihood. So when you see particularly compassionate people on discussion forums and newsgroups getting angry about the lack of empathy and compassion in the community is really just another signal to create a ‘us vs them’ culture.


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