May 20, 2011

USA: Let's admit it - You’re full of envy – And scorn

WASHINGTON / The Washington Post / Blogs / May 20, 2011

The social impact of envy and scorn

By Susan T. Fiske

About this blog: All right, admit it: you’re full of envy – and scorn. You look with longing at those who have more than you, and you turn your nose down at those who have less. It’s the way we’re wired. But why is it and how does such behavior influence society?

Susan T. Fiske tackles these questions in her new book “Envy Up, Scorn Down: How Status Divides Us,” recently published by Russell Sage Foundation. Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton, has found virulent forms of status hierarchy can emerge as prejudice and cause dehumanization of certain social groups with devastating consequences in history – witness the Tutsis in Rwanda and the Jews in Europe. Here, she explores how scorn and envy worm their way into many corners of life, even into the debates over how best to reduce the deficit.

These days, most of us act as if the United States has just three kinds of people: the haves, have-nots, and have-lots. We’ve been hearing a lot about have-nots and have-lots during this spring’s deficit-reduction negotiations.

What divides us? What we should do with the low-income, have-nots (poor people, old people: deny them?) and the high-income, have-lots (rich people: tax them?). As a social psychologist, I find this a perfect example of how status always divides us from each other.

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By Susan T. Fiske

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