Everyone who gives any thought to their existence knows that polarization has reached crisis levels in the Western world. Things are broken and it is sometimes difficult to know what isn’t going to work next.
What’s going on? many wonder. It doesn’t seem to have been that long ago that there was at least a modicum of comity and civility here at home in the US and in most places abroad. There have always been notable exceptions, of course — Myanmar, Egypt, some of the South American countries, for example — but majority-wise there was a sense that if corrupt and evil leaders could be kept out of power we could work everything out ourselves.
That of course is not going to happen. About a third of the the human population is intractable in their determination to wreak havoc on the world. They are The Ignoble Third. They are highly susceptible to manipulation by demagogues and sleazy politicians who are quick to recognize an opportunity to grab and hang onto power.
The Ignoble third’s thirst for havoc is generated by feelings of resentment they feel toward certain factions and types within the general population.
Resentment is essentially anger, usually with complicated shadings. It is a complex combination of negative emotions that include disappointment, bitterness and hard feelings toward those whom they blame for their problems. Like people more successful then they, who have more, who earn more, or are in some way “luckier” than the resentful.
It is resentment of those who achieve by those who do not. Its a particular form of hatred by those who fail against those who succeed, by the unproductive against the capable. It is in some cases simply hatred of the privileged by those who feel they were somehow denied the same opportunities. For them denial is an art form polished to hide their own responsibility for their failures.
Inequality looms large because the malignancy of resentment has been given license by horrendously flawed leaders — Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Jair Bolsonaro, and about 42 other far-right populists around the world. They are the awful offal, the shit that rises to the top in struggles for power and control.
These democracy hating pieces of offal are highly skilled at getting and staying in power by manipulating The Ignoble Third. Without the myriad resentments of The Ignoble Third they would get nowhere.
Anger at inequality incites The Ignoble Third. (Fear of inequality arouses those on the left.) How many inequalities can the world fight at the same time? Multiple social mobilizations (Women’s March, #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo on the left) and Donald Trump on the righ raised awareness of American inequalities in ways not seen since the 1960s. On the right (perceived and real) inequality produced riots by those who resented being disposable and suddenly marginalized, seeking to bring back a retrograde world ruled mostly by white males.
The inequalities that are at the root of so much resentment are, in the main, of four distinct types: gender, race, income, and social status. These have tendrils that reach into every aspect of Western life: education, employment, taxation, and governance at every level.
Social hierarchies are exacerbated by inequalities of gender and sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability and disability, and age.
Most of the major causes of death and disease have social gradients. Between every rung of the social ladder there is a steady gradient in the rates of death and disease. The poorer you are the less healthy you are and the sooner you will die.
Once a society reaches the level of development that there is a surplus of goods and wealth, classes emerge. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a classless society for any culture above subsistence levels.
Class-based societies eventually reach a distribution of sociocultural values that looks suspiciously like a standard normal distribution of genetic predispositions. Ranging from liberal to conservative in every important area of thought and behavior, the spread can generally be observed as liberal/enlightened from the left to conservative/unenlightened on the right.
The idea that the development of conservatism and liberalism is genetically linked is more than a suspicion. Recent neurological findings show, with greater than 70 percent accuracy, that liberals have a larger anterior cingulate gyrus while conservatives have a larger right amygdala. These differences are demonstrated in early childhood, perhaps even earlier.
The anterior cingulate gyrus is implicated in mental processes related to taking in new information. It also impacts decision making and making choices. This comports with observations that liberals — on the whole but only up to a point — more willingly consider new information and prefer more, rather than fewer, options from which to choose. This is particularly evident in social and political thinking.
The right amygdala of the human brain is involved in the processing of emotional information, particularly fear-based information typically related to survival-related issues and whom to trust or not trust. This comports well with generalized observations of conservatives.
The more liberally inclined resentful often evince interest in socialism, while those more conservative tend to gravitate toward fascism. Those leaning toward socialism are expressing economic resentment. Those more inclined to fascism experience national, religious, or racial resentment.
A factor often overlooked in studies of malaise and social upheaval is overpopulation. My first awareness of this came in 1969 when I was a student in the psychology department at the University of Colorado. A professor named Harvey was conducting behavioral research with pigeons. He told me that pigeons, when overcrowded, began to engage in various forms of destructive behavior that would have the effect of lowering the pigeon population in his research setting. He was concerned that the human population was heading for overpopulation and would experience the same destructive behavior.
Professor Harvey also told me about similar results from overpopulation studies with rats. Since then there have been replications with other species of mammals as well. But the results from the rat studies might be most instructive because, while it is risky to try to predict human behavior based on rat studies, findings from genomic research [Scientists Compare Rat Genome with Human, Mouse, NIH: National Human Genome Research Institute, https://www.genome.gov/11511308/2004-release-scientists-compare-rat-genome] make it clear that they should not be dismissed out of hand.
Because Brown Norway rats, mice, pigeons, chimpanzees, and other tested mammals, begin to engage in reproductively-destructive behavior when living in over-populated situations, isn’t it likely that at least some of the destructive human attitudes and behavior we are now witnessing might also be triggered by overpopulation?
Whether it is or is not, overpopulation certainly generates a generous amount of resentment. Urban congestion and interminable commutes have become intolerable. National parks require reservations years in advance. Same is true for almost all public venues. Commercial aircraft have become packed torture chambers; I can remember taking flights that were far from full. That seldom happens anymore.
My favorite picnic area on the South Platte River around Deckers, in the mountains about an hour from Denver, is now a housing development.
No matter where you go in the United States it’s people, people, people. It stretches credulity to deny that many of America’s social and cultural problems are caused by crowding. Fifty years ago my mother was saying we (the young people of the day) didn’t know what we’d lost. That is even truer today.
Some of the most alarming changes of behavior exhibited by overcrowded rats was that some completely withdrew from any social interactions, while others engaged in the murder of fellow rats. We are witness the same phenomena in humans today. Many have withdrawn from social participation or any sign of caring about others — pandemic notwithstanding — and hardly a week goes by without a mass shooting somewhere.
Assault and murder rates rise in tandem with resentment. Mass shootings are fundamentally revenge murders.
These are threats to what is referred to as the American experiment. In the words of CounterPunch’s Paul Street:
It’s not even clear how many future generations will survive. And capitalogenic ecocide is intimately related to the fascist threat here and abroad, as Andreas Malm has shown: it promises to bring about precisely the kinds of material societal crises that are the breeding grounds for fascist movements and the consolidation of fascism-as-force regimes.”
If the bodies politic in America and Europe do not muster some serious and effective resistance to the current batch of neo-fascists, societal crises will not be far off at all. History is replete with examples showing that when resentment gains the upper hand in a population, its civilization declines and eventually perishes.
Body decoration such as tattoos and body-piercing hardware have a long tradition in all societies. In contemporary Western society the tattoo is often a symbol of independence and ownership of oneself. The need for such personal adornment is fueled in large part by resentment, a silent fuck you to a society that has taken away so many freedoms and liberties.
Just about everyone feels resentments of one kind or another; these are more or less common, every-day kinds of resentment.
But it is clear that in America today about a third of the adult population occupies far-right political and social positions. Another third is composed of liberals and progressives. The middle third is composed of moderates and libertarians.
Every politician who achieves democratically elected office appeals to the voters in one of those thirds. Not out of principle on the part of the politicians, but on cynical decisions looking for the greatest advantage. It has become clear that the rightist third, The Ignoble Third, is the easiest to con and manipulate.
Polls make it increasingly clear that a majority of Westerners believe that most politicians are corrupt. That they bow to the dictates of those who buy them is clear. For instance, Americans have despaired of ever changing the exorbitant, punishing costs of healthcare and pharmaceuticals. American politicians protect the extortionist profits of the pharmaceutical companies because they are the source of many political campaign funds.
Resentment grows apace as the price of everything inflates at outrageous rates. The cause is widely viewed as the greed of oligarchs, for whom too much is never enough, and huge corporations that have been allowed to get too large and powerful without competition. Plus a Federal Reserve Bank whose willful actions cause interest rates to go up, hurting the working man and protecting the assets of the wealthy.
A significant majority of the voting public in America want the rich to be taxed more, but will never come about in any meaningful way because those pluticrats whose taxes would go up won’t stand for it. And so public resentment grows.
Government in the US essentially represents the interests of the one percent, leaving everyone else to seethe in resentment. The biggest beneficiaries are the wealthiest of the wealthy, the one-thousandth of a percent who have more wealth than the bottom ninety percent of the population. It’s no wonder there is so much resentment. There is just so much to resent it is hard to find the time to get around to it all.
To my knowledge almost all of the governments of the Western world are de facto plutocracies where everyone is in essence ruled by the wealthy minority. The only possible exception I can think of is Estonia, and I’m not sure about them.
The compound resentment felt in minorities and in the poor can give them a special kind of power. That is the ability to engender guilt in those who have more than they. It is not difficult to show that the lower classes have poorer schools, fewer economic opportunities in life than the privileged, less healthcare, and many other areas of deficit. It does no good to point out that a long list of attempts to rectify these class- and race-related deficits have failed because of no small measure of indifference by those whom the efforts were intended to help.
Guilt leads to ridiculous demands by the oppressed, supported by the less-oppessed, like the demand for reparations to blacks for slavery.
It is suspected by some that the oppressed classes don’t want a solution because that would diminish or eliminate the one true power they have: the ability to generate guilt.
With their larger right amygdalas and smaller anterior cingulate gyri, The Ignoble Third of American voters are the most demonstrably resentful. Their genetic predisposition results in their opposition to such humanistic concepts as racial equality, free expression, true democracy, and universal healthcare. (To them universal healthcare is just another free ride for freeloaders who are too lazy to get out and earn enough to pay for what they need.)
The Ignoble Third are driven to disparage art and culture, and reject science, scientists, and scientific reasoning. This is true barbarity that emanates from the resentment against the esoteric and powerful knowledge of science, technology, and medicine. This stance began for most of them back in grade school when they developed a poisonous hatred of the wussie kids who make them look like the dunces they are.
The football team will always hate and bully the chess club.
It is easier for The Ignoble Third to accept the absurdities of pseudoscience than confront their own dunceness. For them, educated people are idiots, completely off base. For them it is the simple answers that are the most profound. They believe wholeheartedly in the existence of ghosts, angels, good luck charms, knocking on wood, and other superstitious tripe, and that any and all diseases can be cured by simple folk remedies or religious prayer. They assert the superiority of the uneducated, proud of their willful ignorance. They completely disdain the learning and accomplishments of eggheads.
The Ignoble Third is, in short, aggressively, militantly ignorant.
The Federal Aviation Administration is getting thousands of reports of unruly passengers. Aggression and even attacks against flight attendants who are trying to enforce mask mandates. Most of the FAA complaints involve midair mask disputes. Resentment can drive a lot of angry behavior.
The January 6, 2021 capital attack in Washington, DC, with its breakage and needless, mindless destruction, was a vengeful rampage. Photographs from the day show everywhere shirtless men in war paint and countless vestiges of what they probably thought presented them as noble savages.
Lurking behind the myth of the noble savage is a barely disguised hatred of all the better elements of civilization.
The Ignoble Third are more and more showing their hand these days. They would like to see civilization destroyed because it serves as a continual reminder of their shortcomings, which of course they deny to themselves. They wallow in fantasies that their brute strengths and warrior acumen (or that of their leaders) would make them gloriously free and dominant once anarchy has been brought about. Tear it all down to be rebuilt the way they want it.
Fact is, if they could actually bring that about, the only freedom they would gain is the freedom to do as they are told.
If you find yourself frequently angry by what you see going on in the world, you might find it instructive to ask yourself three questions:
- Who’s pulling my chain and why am I letting them do it? No one can force information on you. You are the one who chooses to pay attention, and it is your choice of whom to pay attention to. Taking a close look at your information sources can be highly instructive about yourself.
- Of the issues of race, politics, economics (including income and wealth), and social justice, which get me the most worked up? This shows where you hot buttons are so you can more effectively guard against letting them be pushed.
- How much does it actually affect me? Does the information that’s riling you up really have anything to do with your own welfare or circumstances? Or are you merely responding with conditioned responses because others (people you probably don’t even know personally) have said it is important?
This is not intended to get you to become like the overcrowded rats who completely withdrew from interaction with others. But you might want to revisit your thinking about the areas that are of most concern to you, decide if it has been you yourself or someone else who has been making the important decisions, and take another look at your choices and how you really want to think about things. A life driven by resentment does not bode well for meaningful achievement.