Superior cornflakes and the Holocaust

THIS week is Holocaust Memorial week and the sight of Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson reading out an excerpt from Primo Levi’s If not now, when at a ceremony in London’s City Hall prompts another look at the pernicious “master race” philosophy that leads to some people thinking themselves inherently superior — and therefore others must be inferior. This is what led ultimately to the Holocaust, the industrial scale mass murder of those deemed to be “useless mouths”.

Not long ago Boris Johnson, commenting on the effects of the growing polarity of wealth in this country, declared that “the biggest cornflakes always rise to the top of the box” — implying that the filthy rich one per cent at the top of the capitalist ruling class got there because of their inherent superiority as human beings.

Recently a group of scientists in Berkley University, California conducted a series of role-playing experiments about the influence of wealth on people’s self-esteem. Psychologist Dacher Keltner, with fellow researchers Paul Piff and Paul Solman began by noticing that lower priced cars are more likely to stop and let people across at pedestrian crossings that very expensive cars.

“In California, you’re supposed to stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk. And, in a recent study, some 90 percent of drivers did, except for those driving luxury cars, like this BMW. They were almost as likely to run the intersection as wait for the person to cross the street,” Solman said in a recent interview with PBS News.

In an experiment they interviewed a lot of people but in the waiting room left a bowl of sweets. The subjects were told the sweets were for children but they could help themselves to one or two. Wealthier participants took twice as many sweets from children as did poor participants.

They found that wealthier people were likely to think of themselves as more important and more intelligent than others. And it’s a view that can take hold very quickly.

The researchers took people of roughly the same income level and set up games of monopoly, where in each game one started with twice the money the other had and was always allowed two rolls of the dice.

The ones given the advantages of course won far more often than the others. But they invariably attributed this to their own playing skills. And they were more likely to help themselves to bowls of snacks left on the table.

Even more disconcerting, those who were disadvantaged lost confidence and thought they were poor players. In discussions after the games they would defer to the opinions of the “wealthy”.

This is how we get our filthy rich ruling elite thinking they are entitled to all the wealth they can extract from others and to keep it, while depriving working people of jobs, homes and welfare benefits. And why we get people like Edwina Curry declaring that people who are now forced to use food banks “spend all their money on dog food and tattoos”.

The ruling class kid themselves that people who are now suffering from the effects of their greed are really inferior people who were going to end up in the gutter in any case. And the right wing press is pushing out this message very day, vilifying and demonising working class people and especially those, who through no fault of their own, need social benefits.

Our task as communists is to convince those working class people that they are not inferior, to give them confidence to fight for and defend what is theirs. And we cannot use the simplistic arguments of the old-fashioned religions which condemn greed and selfishness. We have to explain in Darwinian terms that this huge polarisation of wealth is endangering the whole human race and the future biosphere of this planet.

Human beings are naturally social beings; we all depend upon each other; when we work together we stand a far better chance of survival than when we fight each other. The wealth of the filthy rich is created by the sweat and toil of the workers. They are entitled to share in the wealth they create. The rich parasites who contribute nothing are not.

To us communists this is stating the obvious. But we have to be very aware that the delusions of elitism and that some humans are inherently superior to others are up and running again and need to be defeated vigorously before we find ourselves in another holocaust.