Monday, March 11, 2013

When did it become acceptable to take money from old people? by Patricia Herrmann

When did it become acceptable to take money from old people? That's the question I have been asking. Because the truth is, it is not. And never has been. It is evil to hurt pensioners. It is evil to take money from people who have earned it. The pension is a life savings for years of hard work and study. It is earned, a kind of delayed wages.

So how is this happening? And maybe there is a glimpse of hope in the fact that there has been a delay in enacting the most hurtful legislation. We need to tap into that and celebrate that. We need to call out the leaders who advocate stealing from us. And we need to celebrate as heroes those who fight against a well-organized effort to officially steal from us, as the stealing is social and political in nature.

Go back to the first question. When did it become acceptable to take money from old people? And why is the step the legislature took this past week to limit the pensions of those making over $113,000 a year so dangerous to us all? It was stealing from those people, trying to divide us. But the biggest danger is a moral and social one of taking a small step toward what they want to do...steal from us all. They took a small step to steal from old people.

A good explanation is in a Ted Talk by Philip Zimbardo, a professor of psychology at Stanford University who studies the psychology of how ordinary people can end up doing evil things. There are three links I would like you to view. The Huffington Post has a "This Weekend's Idea."

A short video in the form of a Ted Talk: Journeying from Evil to Heroism,
or an hour video on YouTube: Journey from the Psychology of Evil to the Psychology of Heroism.

We have seen how the legislature is a social system with levels of authority and accountability that can do great harm. They have various official titles which diffuse responsibility. And last year they blindly and uncritically followed authority when they put a bogus measure on the ballot that no one could even explain to change the Illinois Constitution in ways that put power for all practical purposes into the hands of the leaders of the legislature controlling local institutions. And they all went along. Dangerous. Blind adherence to authority. Even the way the measure appeared on the ballot was a scam.

And last week the legislature in a "test vote" took a small step to limit the pensions of those who have earned pensions above $113,000. They made every effort to dehumanize the affected people, saying the measure was aimed at those who cheated the system by spiking pensions, painting their salaries as if they were unearned. But if you think critically about the measure, the measure does nothing to prevent the spiking of pensions. Nothing. And it plays to envy and resentment that some educators earn high salaries.

The measure pegged the pensions to Social Security which is an anti-poverty program, whereas pensions are a program based on earnings which constitute the life savings of real people based on their real work and their real achievement. But the most important feature of the action is that for those who would take from old people, it was a small step. It was 15 volts in a Stanley Milgram experiment, the experiment on obedience and diffusion of responsibility. And since it passed by overwhelming numbers, it diffused responsibility, another point in the march to the stealing from old people.

So they have the authority to control people.

• Taking the first small step.
• Diffusion of personal responsibility. They jump off the cliff together.
• Dehumanize others. Accuse them of being cheaters.

And last:

• Uncritical conformity to group norms.
By unilaterally changing and breaking contracts. Reneging on agreements. Stealing from old people. And who has changed the group norms? ALEC, The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, [the Civic Federation, Illinois Policy Institute] and their lackeys in the media.

—Patricia Herrmann

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