Does the powerful Paul Ryan feel empathy?

It’s hard to fight poverty when you can’t feel empathy. According to a report released earlier this year by the Center for Responsive Politics, for the first time in history, more than half the members of Congress are millionaires. Of the 534 members of the House and Senate, 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012. With all that money comes even more power for the already powerful members of Congress. And according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, all that power is literally going to their heads.

The study found that as people get more and more power, their brains actually change, affecting how sensitive they are towards others. In an op-ed published in The New York Times this weekend, the study’s authors write that, “...the bad news is that the powerful are, by default and at a neurological level, simply not motivated to care.”

Which, of course, is where Congressman Paul Ryan comes in. Ryan is one of the 268 millionaires in Congress. As of 2011, his projected wealth was around $4.9 million. Ryan is also one of the most powerful members of Congress. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a man with as much wealth and power as Ryan would propose a poverty plan that does very little to fight poverty, misunderstands the root causes of poverty, and totally fails to empathize with the millions of Americans suffering through poverty.

In fact, the entire poverty plan that Ryan released last week is based on the Conservative and right-wing media myth that poor people have chosen to be poor, and therefore need to be motivated - with both carrots and sticks - to change their "in poverty" behavior. For example, part of Ryan’s so-called anti-poverty plan requires low-income families to sign “a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success.”

Under this scheme, low-income Americans would be required to sign “contracts” if they want to stay eligible for social safety net programs like food stamps. Those contracts would include benchmark goals like finding a job, getting employment training, and even talking to “new acquaintances outside the circle of poverty.” There would even be bonuses for meeting those benchmark goals early, and “sanctions for breaking the terms of the contract.”

As New York Magazine’s Annie Lowrey put it, Ryan’s very condescending plan to tackle poverty in America, “threatens to punish the poorest and most unstable families for their poverty,” and, “presupposes that the poor somehow want to be poor; that they don't have the skills to plan and achieve and grow their way out of poverty.”

Ryan's plan is, in a word, stupid. But that really shouldn’t be a surprise. Back in March, Ryan blamed inner city men for causing America’s poverty epidemic, arguing that there was a “culture problem” that needed to be “dealt with.”

Of course, Ryan isn’t alone in thinking that poverty is a choice or a lifestyle that some people choose to live. He’s just echoing the views of the right-wing media. All across the right-wing media-sphere, conservatives have consistently blamed poverty on the people suffering through it, even going so far as to suggest that they're somehow not fully human, not like the rest of us.

Back in 2011, Fox So-Called News’ Stuart Varney said that, “The image we have of poor people as starving and living in squalor really is not accurate. Many of them have things -- what they lack is the richness of spirit.”

In February of this year, Rush Limbaugh argued that, “in many cases, speaking bluntly, the people that don't do well have only themselves to blame.” He added by advertising his ignorance about his own White Privilege by saying that, “The only limits in this country on anybody's advancement is their own limitation that they place on themselves.”

And, during an interview on Fox & Friends, New York Post conservative columnist Michael Goodwin said that “the sense of shame is gone” among poor Americans, which has led to an “explosion of entitlements.”

As much as Paul Ryan, his powerful millionaire colleagues in Washington, and right-wing media pundits might not like to admit it, poverty is far from a choice. Outside of a few mentally ill people - who themselves need services we're not providing them - no one chooses to be homeless. No one chooses to go hungry for days on end.

Today's widespread American poverty - worse here than in any developed country in the world - is a simple symptom of 33 years of failed Reaganomics policies that have helped the the rich get richer, the powerful get more powerful, and screwed over everyone else.

While Paul Ryan and his friends in Washington may not be able to feel empathy, or understand the plight of the millions of Americans who're struggling to survive day-to-day, surely Ryan and his buddies should be able to understand the real causes of poverty in America. Of course, acknowledging that in public would require him to leave the Republican Party, as its policies are responsible for so much American poverty.

And nobody is expecting multimillionaire Ryan to leave the millionaire's and billionaire's Party any time soon. After all, there are still more taxes to cut!


Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

A lack of empathy is one of the distinctions of a psychopath. And our Congress has been taken over by psychopaths. Have a nice day.

ckrob's picture
ckrob 8 years 43 weeks ago

So, to follow that point further, corporate czars show the same pathology. That may be why they work so well toward the same psychopathic goals. "I'm getting mine, to hell with the little folks!"

kloro's picture
kloro 8 years 43 weeks ago

I think that Thom may have it backwards. Also, he omits any reference to what is far more relevant research. Bottom line, sociopaths are born that way. And their lack of empathy frees them from conscience in regards to human beings. With this freedom they are able to gain the kind of destructive power over human beings which is one of their characteristics.

There is a book well worth reading on this subject: The Sociopath Next Door. It is written by a psychologist who has made a career of working with people damaged by emotional relationships with sociopaths. Her stories are invaluable for gaining an insight into the general relationship between human and sociopath. She also provides a good survey of the relevant clinical studies. Especially interesting are the studies which propose what is now almost universally accepted by researchers, i.e., that the sociopath is born without the neurological wiring necessary for empathy with humans. (It shd be said here that researchers also find that nurture has a role in determining how this lack will manifest itself, and that sociopaths sometimes turn out to be positive contributers to human society.)

I think one can reasonably argue that the sociopath is different from us as to species and is a predator of our species. I think with absolute certainty that the idea is a very good working hypothesis for dealing with them.

CASSIE COUNCIL 8 years 43 weeks ago

I AM going to concur with the previous comments based on the work done by Dr. Clive Boddy of Nottingham Trent Univ., 2011.The Corp. Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis. ...Scientists believe that 1% of the general pop. is psychopathic. Meaning that there are 3 ml. moral monsters among normal U. S. citizens. There is emerging evidence that this frequency increases within upper management of modern corp. ( I would venture this includes the Millionaires in Congress.) Normally we think of sociopaths as working in isolation, but power is very hierarchical in nature.... wealthy and powerful people believe you are automatically smarter, stronger, and better than others if you achieve worldly riches. By teaming up with the wealthy and powerful and accepting your position in the hierarchy, you can become even more wealthy and powerful. ( Birds of a feather.) I AM happy to recommend the book "THE SYNCHRONICITY KEY", chapter 5, " The Global Adversary" as my reference.

Scarabus's picture
Scarabus 8 years 43 weeks ago

Stout's book (yes, I've read it) was published over 8 years ago. Thom's referring to a study just completed.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 8 years 43 weeks ago

It really isn't necessary to consult neurological studies to know that the powerful aren't motivated to care. Anyone can see that when someone gains power their values change. It's simply a matter of convenience. Before you abhored unchecked, tyrrannical authority, now you like it.

That's why lefties become neocons when they finnish school, start careers, start making money and join the upper classes. That's why the Democrats and labor movement are victims of their own success. Workers started making money, entered the middle class (petit bourgeuoisie), started buying stock and voting Republican.

That's why Occupy was leaderless - so that they wouldn't plant, within their movement, the seeds of the next tyrranny like so many other revolutionary and reform movements before them had.

It's a cop out to refer to neurological studies, is someone now to say that it's necessary to be a neurologist to address philosophical questions? Neurology is ultimately irrelevant, it essentially doesn't tell us anything we don't already know about life and people - and that hasn't been known for generations since the dawn of humanity.

It reminds me of when I was a young undergraduate studying psychology and sociology and was absolutely enamoured with it, wanted to tell everybody about it and thought I knew better than everyone else because of it.

One time I was explaining something to an old man who'd worked hard hard all his life and never had much formal education. I don't remember just what I was explaining but it was one of those real obvious observations of commonplace phenomena that psychological and sociological jargon cause to sound so sophisticatedly theoretical and arcane. When I was done explaining the old man looked at me and said, "Boy, you sure don't go to school for nothin'!" and the whole room of older workmen busted out laughing.

Scarabus's picture
Scarabus 8 years 43 weeks ago

Two points. First, the key to what Thom's writing about is the relationship between nature and nurture. Yes, we're born with predispositions, but experience can modify the way those predispositions are realized. Think about Lakoff's work with cognitive mapping.

Second, might be worth remembering the book and documentary based on it, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, by Joel Bakan, Abbott, and Achbar. This is about, not the corporate or political kahuna, but the SCOTUS's "corporate person." The works ask the question, "If a corporation is a person, what kind of person is it?" The answer? A psychopath.

[The work was originally done over a decade ago. However, a special school version has just recently been completed.]

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

"kloro"- Not only am I familiar with "The Sociopath Next Door" (having read it), but in the past I have recommended it. Thank you for mentioning it. I only wish the public would learn enough about these predators to stop voting them into office. - AIW

delster's picture
delster 8 years 43 weeks ago

Like Paul Ryan I grew up Catholic and attended a Catholic Grade School. In was influenced by stories of St, Francis of Assisi, and in the mid sixties influenced by the writings of Thomas Merton. As I remember the fifties and sixties it seemed there was an attitude or feeling of connection among common people. Yes times in my little town were financially challenging, and while self preservation was of paramount consideration, so was empathy for ones neighbor because we were all in it together.

uring the seventies a new philosophy began to emerge with a more pronounced notion of winners and losers. One was either a mover and shaker, or boehemian. Beohemians did not require new status symbols and took comfort in other persuits of happiness or comfort. Motivation to succeed financially, became an obsession while separating ones self from the "losers" was more evident by status in the community. It became despicable, even anti American to not excell maniacally. My parents were responsible caring people who worked hard, saved their money, and never used credit cards. They lived in the same house for 50 years and worked to keep it up. It was an old well kept and humble home that was neat and tidy but without all the stuff and my parents were looked down upon generally as being unambitious. What my parents were in reality were responsible and empathetic. They helped their neighbors when they needed to, kept their noses clean, and were ethical and conservative democrats who didn't feel the need to place excessive financial stress on themselves or encourage that sort of livesyle on others. No one ever envied their lives or their possessions, but lots of people should have.

I see where the attitude of winners take all and everyone else is a loser has had a negative impact on us all. We have created a negative, prejudice, condescending, society who are anything but empathetic. They beoieve they have a god given right to over consume resources, control public opinion and attitude, define objectives and goals based upon their own flawed opinions and beliefs, and determine who eats first at the table and the seating and serving order. We have set up a social system in this nation where success has alot to do with social class and attitude. If that philosophy is not WELLFARE than I don't know what is. No where in society does ther exist this system through media and hype where those who need help the least recieve it the most, and where those who are in the most need of assistance and opportunity are looked upon with destain. We really need to foster an attitude of inclusion to the American Dream but instead we have an attitude of exclusion. Paul Ryan most definitely considers himself and those like him exclusive. I consider Paul Ryan misguided.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 43 weeks ago
Quote Thom Hartmann:Ryan's plan is, in a word, stupid.

Indeed, the truth hurts! In fact, "stupid" perfectly sums up everything that comes out of the right. It is, after all, what the right is fertilized with. Let's take a moment to look at SAT/ACT scores and how they relate to red states vs blue states. First thing we see is that all red states, with the exception of Virginia, all average two digit IQ scores with Virginia barely breaking 100. All blue states, on the other hand, with the exceptions of Michigan and Oregon, are 100 or better. Michigan and Oregon also dipped down to 99. However, the chart linked to below shows the true dramatic difference in IQ scores per state. So we see a definite dumbing down with red vs blue states. Also, another correlation is between the percentage of college graduates per capita per state which is coincidentally directly proportionate to the percentage of Democratic voters per registered voter. Other interesting statistical data shows that red states also have a higher divorce rate and a higher percentage of the population per capita that is dependent on welfare.

So the facts do indeed show that people who vote Republican tend to be dumber, less educated, more unemployed, and come from a greater percentage of dysfunctional families then voters who tend to vote Democratic. It is no wonder that these people lack a basic understanding of society and economics when their basic understanding of themselves and the world is so limited and flawed. It is also no wonder that these people tend to repeat the same mistakes, elect the same representatives, and willfully believe anything they are told without the simplest rational questioning of authority. No wonder Republican leadership wants so desperately to destroy free education. Clearly, a well educated electorate is their greatest threat to power! Keeping their constituency dumb, uneducated, unemployed, and unable to improve themselves is their best bet to stay in office. It is a shame that their constituency doesn't have the wherewithal to see that for themselves.

Duncan MacLaren's picture
Duncan MacLaren 8 years 43 weeks ago

Thanks, Thom, for (as usual) putting Ryan's proposal in perpective. It is amusing to me that on the Sunday so-called-news programs, Ryan "sanitized" his proposal by concentrating on the consolidation of various programs, and trotting out the usual "the-states-can-do-this-better-than-the-Federal-Government" arguement.

BARBARA NECKER 8 years 43 weeks ago

"Are there no workhouses," asked a miserable & miserly Ebenezer Scrooge.

goat-on-a-stick's picture
goat-on-a-stick 8 years 43 weeks ago

Paul Ryan actually benefitted from those "entitlements" earlier in his life. What else cements conservative's mantra of "I deserve it, you don't" more so than that?

N Z Sarah's picture
N Z Sarah 8 years 43 weeks ago

Another place to suggest Equal Gender Governments, if its empathy you want.

Johnnie Dorman's picture
Johnnie Dorman 8 years 43 weeks ago

I enter my letter here as well as on my blog.


Every time you hear, “Mexicans are taking your jobs,” just remember that this statement, that I call “the big lie,” is coming from fascist corporations, and the politicians that these corrupt corporations support, who have been and are still getting tax write-offs for sending our jobs overseas and to Mexico.

If they are so worried about our jobs being taken by illegal aliens, why are these fascist corporate thugs so against labor unions, the very entities that protect our jobs from non-union workers that undercut our pay, our retirement and medical benefits? Before the labor unions were weakened by Ronald Reagan and his Neo-Confederate brethren, the unions kicked off any workers on all jobs sites that were not union members.

During the reign of Nazi Germany, Hitler’s propagandist, “Joseph Goebbels,” said, “tell the big lie often enough and people will believe it.”

At this time, there hasn’t been more of an income gap between the rich and the poor, not since over a hundred years ago. When you hear the right wing’s propaganda machine telling us that their “right to work” nonsense is a good thing, which should be called, “right to be slaved via slave wages,” just remember that it’s the fat cat fascist corporations that this kind of hogwash is coming from.

President Obama is trying to make a law that makes it so that corporations that keep our jobs and industry here in the United States will instead get the tax breaks, while our house speaker, “John Boehner,” constantly regurgitates his moronic question posed to the president, “where are the jobs, Mr. President?” Well, I’ll tell you where are jobs are, Mr. Boehner, they are where you and your Neo-con corporate buddies sent them, and that’s everywhere but the U.S.

Being that John Boehner and all his right wing fascist cohorts are subsidized by the American pie hogging corporations, nothing that comes from their lie filled mouths should be believed by the American people. The Neo-cons, just like the Nazis did, appeal to the lowest common denominator among us, which is hate and bigotry.

I appeal to the American citizenry, don’t let these fascist Neo-con pigs use you as puppets. Get wise to them and vote Democratic. Most importantly, VOTE!

Vegasman56 8 years 43 weeks ago

Definition of a Sociopath, See Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan is a sociopath and should not be a member of Congress. Does he not know that book that he worships, Atlas Shrugged, written by Ayn Rand, that she is Psychopathic Atheist, that it is fiction!

He is with the Republican Party creating great inequality in this country, wHow does he consider himself as a Christian! How can he justify his actions as being a Christian! The basic message from Jesus is to feed the hungry, healed the sick, help the weakest among you, and not to pray on the corner, but go into your room and pray in private. Congressman Ryan should really consider the true meaning of being a Christian, and start practicing Christianity.

Congressman Ryan is with the Republican Party creating great inequality in this country, which could lead up of to the destruction of America greatness, down to a divided country of a developing nation, and a developed nation. That the vast majority will be the working poor unable to sustain quality of life that this country was once used to have for the middle class. Our breaking point will be starvation, if they take food stamps away the country will change, and maybe violently. It has happened before France had a large military to support our country’s independence from Great Britain, which created a massive debt for them, as our government is doing today. They had a population explosion to a point where the food became scarce, which reshaped their country’s government at the expense of over 17,000 removals of people’s heads.

This country seems to be headed down that road of great inequality, that Congressman Paul Ryan and his Republican Party is driving this country to. We must stop the Republican Party before they destroy this great nation of ours any further.

In this midterm election go out and vote, get your friends to go out and vote, get your relatives to go out and vote, and less vote out the Republican Party, for we can bring back this country’s greatness once again.

My congressman's name is Joe Heck, he is also a Republican, and I'm going to do everything I can to vote him out of office. I'm going to everything I can to fire Joe Heck

RFord's picture
RFord 8 years 43 weeks ago

I've been tracing my roots and the other day I found the will of my g-g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, Joseph Fowler, dated 1782. In his will he left certain "Negroes" to certain members of his family. I posted it on facebook and commented " This is an example of how the mind of mankind can do something so very wrong and completely justify it when it is of personal benefit. Oh, there are many many examples of this kind of behavior today. Youn don't have to look far. Look at Paul Ryan. He doesn't even try to imagine what poor people go through to survive. He doesn't care. He doesen't try to help. That's just completly wrong, especially for a US senator. but in his own mind he justifies it just like Joseph Fowler did in the 1700s so he can get re-elected.That's his benefit.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

Johnnie Dorman, I always get off on your posts; not only because they are so angry, but because that anger is never misdirected. You always aim it at the right targets and manage to hit the bull’s eye! Keep ‘em coming, brother.

Vegasman, I hope you don’t mind if I point out that some of us atheists “practice Christianity” more than most Christians. Outside of that, I find your assessments spot-on. Good luck firing Joe Heck the right-wing hack!

There’s just something about the word “powerful” next to a name like “Paul Ryan” that rubs me the wrong way, because they don’t belong together. He’s such a pampered little no-count pip squeak. - Aliceinwonderland

Vegasman56 8 years 43 weeks ago

Alice you can always use a Christian tactics against them, to defeat your enemy you have to know them. Your American born again Christian will justify the Scriptures to suit their situation. When confronting a Republican/Conservative using Christian tactics you can ask them, are you referring to the Republican Jesus or are you referring to Jesus of the New Testament, then say to them, because sometimes it is confusing. However, never admit your own religious beliefs, no matter what they are, or your un-beliefs!

Have you ever read any of my blogs, like the latest one fire Joe Heck? I really respect your concept on the functions of government; you can articulate your thoughts and desires of the subject to a point of understanding that is acceptable and reasonable. I would appreciate your thoughts on life blogs. If you find a suitable, would you please help spread it around as in your Facebook and Twitter accounts please? I am not gaining any financial assistance from this block at all, is just for fun.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 43 weeks ago
Quote Aliceinwonderland: Vegasman, I hope you don’t mind if I point out that some of us atheists “practice Christianity” more than most Christians.

Aliceinwonderland ~ So very true!

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 43 weeks ago

Hey There 4 ~ As always, great work. Thanks for sharing!

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 43 weeks ago

Johnnie Dorman ~ As always, you rock!

Vegasman56 ~ I'd love to read your blogs. Could you post the links?

Vegasman56 8 years 43 weeks ago

Will you please let me know if it’s any good DAnneMarc < just click here >

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

Vegasman, I tried to honor your request. I clicked on your link and added my comment. Then they wanted a password. Since this is a new blog, I made up a new password, which was promptly rejected (i.e.“incorrect”). So then the question is, what is the “correct” one? I’ve got two pages full of passwords; you can’t even fart without a password in cyberspace! Out of the dozens & dozens of passwords in my list, which password do they want? It took us about a half hour to figure that out. So I tried posting my comment again, only to find it stuck in the preview box with the following request: “Please prove you’re not a robot.”

Sorry Vegasman, but I give up. This is too much work, and it is bloody infuriating. It is the barrier that keeps me off most blogs. And the longer grows my list of fucking passwords, the harder it gets.

What follows is the comment I submitted, for what it’s worth. You can add it to the blog if you wish. - AIW

"Without simple necessities like healthcare, food, housing and a safety net, there is no “happiness” worth pursuing. Thanks to Republicans like Joe Heck, you can’t be happy in America unless you’re rich. Is that the kind of America we want? "

Vegasman56 8 years 43 weeks ago

i will work on trying to remove the password, I do not know if i can, but i did take your comment and did post, thank you, you might have to get a google account

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 43 weeks ago

I've already got a google account. Didn't do me much good. (Grrrrrrrr!!!!)

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 43 weeks ago

Vegasman56 ~ It looks good to me. I like the way you used the Declaration of Independence to frame your argument. I've even bookmarked it for future reference.

It's high time our elected representatives learn that they are directly answerable to We the People. I think that it is also high time that We the People acquired the tools to unceremoniously and peaceably remove any representative from office who displeases a simple majority of the electorate. It would be healthy for the country; and, also, an eye opener for other officials to keep in mind while in office that they could be removed at any time. It would certainly motivate them to keep their ears open at all times. As John Lennon said, "Power to the People!"

(I'd be honored if you would post that last paragraph above as a comment on your blog too.)

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