With apologies to those who may have seen a similar post on my Facebook page yesterday, I am absolutely slack-jawed at the recent Supreme Court ruling lifting restrictions on the amount that individuals can contribute to political campaigns.  I predict there will be at some unknowable time in the future a violent response to the rise of the American oligarchy, just as there was in France in 1789, when key defectors from the military combined with “commoners” to start a popular revolt – what we now call the French Revolution – by storming the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789.

You can get a historical taste of that revolution (more a tragic aftertaste, actually) by coming to the performance on April 26 by the Burlington Choral Society of François-Jospeh Gossec’s “Grande Messe des Morts,” the piece that was performed to honor the fallen at the storming of the Bastille.  It’s an extraordinary piece.

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Shameless promotion of concerts I’m involved with aside, the Supreme Court ruling on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which removes most of the limits previously in place on the amount of money that an individual can contribute to candidates, committees, and political parties, is an egregious refutation of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Lincoln) for the reality of “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent” (David Koch).

Can we hope that people with lots of money will do good things with their money rather than bad things?  Well, yes, we can hope, because there are always inspiring examples of wealthy people being both generous and public spirited.  I am privileged to know some.  Not the super rich, perhaps, but people who are well off.

But Paul Piff, a social psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, writes “I have been finding that increased wealth and status in society lead to increased self-focus and, in turn, decreased compassion, altruism, and ethical behavior.”  I heard Piff speak on NPR’s “The TED Radio Hour” yesterday and commend his talk and interview to you.

His studies include running rigged games of Monopoly, in which one player is given twice as much money at the start of the game as the opponent and rolls two dice (as opposed to one die for the opponent) in order to advance around the board more quickly.  The player given the financial and speed advantage wins easily, of course.  But what is shocking and disturbing is that the winners credit their success to the employment of a better “winning strategy” rather than to the unfair advantage they were given at the start of the game.  The premise of the experiment – and the results reported by Piff – are so preposterous I can’t quite believe them, but listen yourself.

And try not to cry at what this country has come to.

 

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