Greed and gluttony are sooooo second millenium! Here are the seven new sins that will destroy our civilization.
We all know self-righteous people. (And, if we are honest, many of us will admit having wallowed in this state ourselves, either occasionally or in frequent rhythm.) It is a familiar and rather normal human condition, supported -- even promulgated -- by messages in mass media. While there are many drawbacks, self-righteousness can also be heady, seductive, and even... well... addictive. Any truly honest person will admit that the state feels good. The pleasure of knowing, with subjective certainty, that you are right and your opponents are deeply, despicably wrong. Sanctimony, or a sense of righteous outrage, can feel so intense and delicious that many people actively seek to return to it, again and again. Moreover, as Westin et.al. have found, this trait crosses all boundaries of ideology. Indeed, one could look at our present-day political landscape and argue that a relentless addiction to indignation may be one of the chief drivers of obstinate dogmatism and an inability to negotiate pragmatic solutions to a myriad modern problems. It may be the ultimate propellant behind the current "culture war."2. Tribalistic self-absorption.
"I am part of/was born into Group X, and Group X -- my group -- is better than all others yet treated so very unfairly." This claim persists -- indeed, is often intensified -- even when Group X is clearly the strongest, most privileged and most favored group. So intense is their need for self-victimization -- so inebriating is their self-absorption and so lacking are they in any capacity for empathy -- that, for all the noise and rhetoric, the arguments they make virtually always have this tribalistic self-absorption at its core.3. Clinging to outmoded and long-debunked worldviews.
These four combating worldviews have little to do with all those superficial slogans that people have let themselves get lathered about in this century. Things like communism, capitalism, Islam. We have seen wars and death aplenty, but they weren't fought over such simpleminded ideologies. Not really. Rather, I am talking about deeper themes that pervaded human psychology since the dawn of time. All four of the antagonistic memes that I'm about to describe can be shown to have appeared in all historic cultures, sometimes coexisting under conditions of high tension. Or else they have taken turns, dominating or setting the tone for entire civilizations.4. Obsessive reliance on following the herd.
Birds do it. Bees do it. Even wildebeests do it. One by one they gather in big groups - and think and act as one. What is herd mentality? "It's the idea that the individual members of a herd relate, behave in a similar fashion," said Pat Thomas, general curator at the Bronx Zoo. "And that's so that they don't stand out and appear different than their group mates." "If they act too much out of the norm, more often than not they're singled out and identified by a predator - and don't survive very long." Herds can be awesome, moving and flowing in masses, reminding us that in nature there's the quick - and the dead. And those who stay scared are more likely to stay alive. Fear: It makes animals run in herds. Could it also cause otherwise thoughtful people to stop thinking for themselves and follow the crowd?5. Seeing yourself as a persecuted and oppressed minority when you are, in reality, part of the "persecutor and oppressor" group.
Indeed, sometimes it feels as if it is no longer defined by principles at all, nor by energy and ideas, but rather, by a limitless ability to feel put upon and slighted. To be a conservative these days is, or so they would have you believe, like being black in Birmingham in 1952. It is to be the victim of media, culture and law, which hate you just for being. Your first thought is to reason them out of it, but it is notoriously hard to reason people out of victimology because it: a) feels good, b) demands deference, c) relieves them of any responsibility for their own fouled-up condition. Victimology is as addictive as crack – and as mentally damaging.6. God is dead, so you get to be god, part 1: I'm infallible and you aren't.
It's known as the "M.D.eity syndrome" – that particular sense of invulnerability that a physician’s practice and training can aggravate. And it can make the denial that is part and parcel of addiction especially acute. Aldren exemplifies that arrogance – in the early stages of treatment he'll employ his considerable intelligence to sabotage the recovery process. He'll rationalize, evade, lash out at the colleagues who've confronted him about his addiction and the doctors who work to help him heal. In time, however, he'll turn that intelligence – and the sense of duty and care that marks all good doctors – inward, and from an epiphany of realization, will begin to heal himself.7. God is dead, so you get to be god, part 2: If I believe it then it's true, because I'm omniscient.
What Greenspan missed repeatedly over the years -- and still misses today -- are the corrosive impacts this bubble had in fostering the imbalances and excesses of an asset-dependent U.S. economy. Unprecedented consumer leverage is only part of the problem. So, too, is the failure of an aging U.S. population to save precisely when it needs to prepare for retirement. Global imbalances are also an outgrowth of this era of excess -- underscored by America's massive external deficit and, by the way, the protectionist fires it stokes. Alas, these fault lines were made all the deeper by the Fed's regulatory laxity in an era of unprecedented financial innovation -- a laxity made all the more dangerous by the cheap borrowing costs of a Fed-induced credit bubble. This dangerous combination undoubtedly played a key role in fueling voracious investor demand for opaque and increasingly toxic financial products. It didn't have to be this way. Just saying no to asset bubbles was always an option. A variety of anti-bubble tools -- the bully pulpit of jawboning, more disciplined regulatory oversight, and, ultimately, a tighter monetary policy -- could have prevented disaster. Yes, economic growth would probably have been slower, but that shortfall likely pales in comparison to the post-bubble carnage now before us. Too bad Greenspan couldn't bring himself to follow the sage advice of one of his predecessors at the Fed and "take away the punch bowl just when the party was getting good."