Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bankster Corruption: It's All in Your Mind... er, Your Brain

Senior bankers are power-hungry, greedy bastards because of evolution... or something.
Senior bankers hold enormous power, greater than that of many elected national leaders. Largely unaccountable except to occasional shareholders meetings and often quiescent boards, their power is much less constrained than that of democratically elected leaders. And given that power is one of the most potent brain-changing drugs known to humankind, unconstrained power has enormously distorting effects on behaviour, emotions and thinking.

The "masters of the universe" who have arisen out of a deregulated world financial system were given unprecedented power that inevitably must have caused major changes to their brains. While power in moderate doses can make people smarter, more strategic in their thinking, bolder and less depressed, in too-large doses it can make them egocentric and un-empathic, greedy for rewards – financial, sexual, interpersonal, material – likely to treat others as objects, and with a dulled perception of risk.
So perhaps the answer to this is to nationalize banking. Put it back, nominally at least, in the hands of the people. The author writes about a neurological state called "approach mode." "Approach mode," akin to the "fight" reflex in the "fight or flight" mode, is where the brain "biases attention, memory, action and emotions towards thoughts and feelings linked to success and conquest." The other mode, "avoidance mode," is akin to the flight mode and "mood is low and anxiety high because of worries about threats and future uncontrollable events."

The authors of the original academic paper How Power Influences Moral Thinking, Joris Lammers and Diederik A. Stapel, conducted 5 studies looking at how power affects cognition and action.
The first 3 experiments show that thinking about power increases rule-based thinking and decreases outcome-based thinking in participants’ moral decision making. A 4th experiment shows the mediating role of moral orientation in the effect of power on moral decisions. The 5th experiment demonstrates the role of self-interest by showing that the power–moral link is reversed when rule-based decisions threaten participants’ own self-interests.
Returning to the original article, we see, in part, the origins of some of our big banker problems: Deregulation and Bonuses.
The problem with several decades of financial deregulation and rising profits and bonuses is that the brains of an entire financial industry became locked into the neurological "approach mode" and it became difficult for them even to conceive of the downside. It is a feature of these mental modes that even remembering events or facts which run counter to the prevailing mood is hard – hence depressed, anxious people find it difficult to remember good things that have happened to them, making it even harder to escape the depression. Significantly, those in a buoyant "approach" mode of thinking, find recalling negative events and facts difficult.
I believe we see many of these same characteristics in our elected officials (I'm looking at you, Paul Ryan and Scott Walker!) The old adage holds true:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton
Or, in its more familiar formulation:

Power Corrupts.
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.

It is, in the end, all in your brain.

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