Monday, June 13, 2022

#164 / Expected Behavior


I have long held that society is generally structured and sustained on the basis of a simple principle: Mostly, people do what is expected of them
If that is, in fact, an accurate description of how the world usually works, it is important that we expect the best. We need to expect the best of ourselves, and of everyone else, too. 
Pictured above is Amanda Taub, who writes for The New York Times. On May 13, 2022, Taub wrote a piece for The Times titled, "The Corruption That Keeps Putin in Power? Blame It on Democracy." That is the hard copy version of the headline. When you click the link, to read the article, you'll get something slightly different.

There are two reasons that I decided to highlight Taub's article for those who read this blog. First, I think it is very important that we really understand the power of that "people do what is expected" principle. Our "expectations" can provide us with a way to bend realities that appear to be fixed into the kind of realities we both want and need. Of course, our expectations can also do the opposite.

Taub's article, as the headline indicates, is about corruption (i.e., she is writing about how the "expectation" that everything is corrupt can lead to everything being, in fact... corrupt). Her article, thus, illuminates the fact that the power of expectations can have either a "positive" or a "negative" valence. 
Taub quotes Anna Persson, a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, to to the following effect: "What is different with systemic corruption is that it's the expected behavior." Taub details how it becomes very difficult, and perhaps actually impossible, as a practical matter, to be "honest" in a society that is based on the expectation that nobody is honest, and that everyone and everything is corrupt, from top to bottom.
Again, I believe that our collective "expectations" are one of the main reasons that things are the way they are. It would be hard to overemphasize, I think, how important it is to realize this. Changing our expectations for the better has revolutionary possibilities. I contend, in fact, that our expectations can serve, both individually and collectively, as a kind of societal "superpower," bending those apparently "unbendable" realities we see around us into something that conforms to our needs and deepest desires.
There is a second reason, however, that I wanted to draw attention to the Taub article. Again quoting Ann Persson, Taub says this: 

Corruption "serves as a regressive tax, it's like Robin Hood in reverse," Ms. Persson told me. "All the resources are moved to the top of the system, to the great cost of the majority of the population (emphasis added)."
Can't we think about this observation as providing us with a kind of "diagnostic tool" to evaluate whether or not systemic corruption exists in any particular society? If "all the resources are moved to the top of the system, to the great cost of the majority of the population," it should be clear that corruption is at work. We know that this is, in fact, the case in Russia, but what about in our country?

If we apply this analytical tool to an examination of the United States of America, the answer is pretty clear. Bernie Sanders isn't the only person who has noted that both wealth and income inequality typify the United States today. As Wikipedia tells us: "The U.S. has the highest level of income inequality among its (post-) industrialized peers." The Wikipedia article on "wealth inequality" is similarly damning. 

If it is true that "systemic corruption" is at work when "all the resources are moved to the top of the system, to the great cost of the majority of the population," then the wealth and income inequality that exists in the United States demonstrates that our current political, social, and economic arrangements are corrupt. Having looked into the numbers, we should all appreciate that we have a "corruption problem" in this country. 

If we don't think that the scene below is acceptable (and it's not), then we need to make some rather radical changes in our expectations, don't you think? 

People change their expectations when they see things happening in the real world that convince them that things can, in fact, be different. That means that changing our "expectations" will depend on the kind of political action that I am always talking about in this blog.

(1) - 
(2) - Gary A. Patton personal photo

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