The quote from Orwell leads in to today's focus on how our social class shapes what we see and do. If seeing what is front of our noses requires a struggle, when will we choose that struggle? When we need to? Does wealth lessen the need? If so, then when we are materially successful, climbing the ladder of social class, will we stop looking in front of our noses and instead look behind them, at ourselves?
Dacher Keltner (full disclosure moment--we went to grad school together, back in the day) has some data suggesting higher social class might make us less good at reading others' emotions (link below). For instance, Dacher and his colleagues showed people pictures of faces and had them judge the emotions in the faces. Those with just a high school education (a sign of social class) did a better job than did those with a college education. (Hmmm....why do we send people to college? Wrong thing to ask the night before the first day of classes...) Furthermore, when students imagined higher status others they felt that they themselves were lower in social class. And they actually then did better at reading the emotions of others.
In another study, lower-income participants were more likely to help a distressed confederate (someone acting a part in the employ of the experimenter). And in yet another study, those from lower social class thought people should give more of their salary to charity, as did those made to think of themselves as of lower social class.
Dacher's bet is that when we are are poor, we realize our dependence on others. We then are more empathic and more prone to help those others with whom we live in mutual interdependence. When we are wealthy, we have the luxury of imagining ourselves independent. We can then focus on ourselves rather than others, becoming less attentive to their emotions and more prone to keep our riches for ourselves, just when we need the riches less.
So, what do you want to see, that which is in front of your nose, or that which is behind it? If you want that expansive view ahead to infinity, you might want to ask yourself if you are (to borrow from another Tom Wolfe) a Master of the Universe.
old post: “To see what is front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”