When we think about the continuum of material wealth it is easy to identify problems encountered being at the low end of the continuum. Want, hunger, homelessness, lack of medical care…I’m sure all of us can add to the list. However, it is harder for most people to identify problems encountered being at the high end. Most of us think being rich would just solve a lot of our problems. However, most of us don’t give much thought to the problems of extreme wealth.
There are some of the obvious issues we can imagine; where to invest, what charities to support, how to avoid getting ripped off. Yet there are other issues, issues which are more deeply rooted in our psyche which many have probably not given much thought to. Which is interesting because even though we may not be rich, even if we’re at the low end of the continuum, extreme wealth is still affecting our lives.
Of course there’s the issue that we live on a finite planet with finite resources and whenever there is imbalance the fact that some have more is going to necessarily mean that some have less. But, although that’s a very real and ongoing issue, that’s not the issue I’m referring to. The issue I’m referring to is more subtle, less obvious and lies not within the realm of material goods but in the more ethereal world of the mind.
Yet the workings/implications of this issue manifest themselves in very real ways on every level of our existence. The issue is how we think about wealth and the associations we consciously or subconsciously attach to it.
What are the implications of wealth within the human psyche?
There undoubtedly are many. There seems to be one in particular, however, which has profound implications for society in general. That is the manner in which, as a culture, we seem to associate wealth with knowledge and wisdom. Not just knowledge and wisdom pertaining to the particular, demonstrable, actions and methods by which a person gained wealth, but knowledge and wisdom in general. As a culture, we seem to assign a much broader spectrum of knowledge and wisdom to a person who has accumulated wealth than any reasonable assessment of the evidence available about their life and background would support.
So what? There are at least two important ways that this can have a negative effect upon us. The first is obvious, we may find ourselves subscribing to ideas, values, opinions simply because they emanate from an individual, or group, which possesses inordinate wealth. The second is a little less obvious. Because the media and/or other people in our lives may be paying inordinate attention to individuals with inordinate wealth, being surrounded by an ongoing bombardment of this information and opinions can distract us from seeking information which may better serve us.
But there is a third, I think almost never considered, way that placing inordinate validity and/or importance upon the opinions of the inordinately wealthy can and does, ultimately, negatively affect us. That is by doing so, we are in effect giving feedback to those individuals about the validity or importance of their opinions that is out of proportion to the quality or value inherent in them. By doing so we may be inadvertently supporting skewed, inaccurate perceptions the inordinately wealthy may hold and any skewed, inaccurate opinions which result from those perceptions.
Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, the result may be that we are participating in supporting systems/cycles of thought and action that have profoundly negative consequences for us as individuals, as a culture and even for individuals who possess inordinate wealth.