Monthly Archives: February 2012

Social Class and Unethical Behavior (HUM225)

Apropos of Frank Cowperwood, consider the following. UC Berkeley scientists just published a study of un/ethical behavior and its relation to class position. Here is the abstract:

Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.

From an LA Times article:

People driving expensive cars were more likely than other motorists to cut off drivers and pedestrians at a four-way-stop intersection in the San Francisco Bay Area, UC Berkeley researchers observed. Those findings led to a series of experiments that revealed that people of higher socioeconomic status were also more likely to cheat to win a prize, take candy from children and say they would pocket extra change handed to them in error rather than give it back.

Because rich people have more financial resources, they’re less dependent on social bonds for survival, the Berkeley researchers reported Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As a result, their self-interest reigns and they have fewer qualms about breaking the rules.

“If you occupy a more insular world, you’re less likely to be sensitive to the needs of others,” said study lead author Paul Piff.

Slides (HUM225)

Literary Naturalism:

Relationship to Philosophical and Scientific Naturalism: Nature is explicable in materialistic terms in distinction to metaphysical or supernatural terms

Advances in the biological and physical sciences affirm the value of materialism, a paradigm which influences literature

Emphasis on scientific method

Suspicious of metaphysical explanations

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Loni Ding on Documemoir (HUM470)

“The central storyteller, a fictional Asian time traveler/narrator, guides a subjective journey inside the larger history. Taking expressive liberties, he offers a first-person sense of time, place and voice of the immigrants who filled in the land we stand on, pioneered the field crops that are California’s agricultural glory, and built the 100-year-old temple we peruse, still filled with silken banners and huge Chinese gods brought from China. All these cultural goods, continuously imported, were distributed efficiently throughout the dispersed Chinese settlements of the western states—and later across the rest of the country.”

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TPG (HUM225)

I’m having difficulty uploading the audio file from Thursday’s lecture, so hopefully you took scrupulous notes on our discussion of Thousand Pieces of Gold. The main focus of Thursday’s class, you’ll recall, was the issue of economy. McCunn represents various forms of economic activity and organization throughout TPG, from the economic deprivation of agrarian northern China to the economy of sexual exploitation in San Francisco, to the speculative economies of mining and gambling in Warrens. By examining the trope of that which glitters, gleams, flashes, and shines we established that value takes different forms and is highly unstable. Eyes that glitter, for example, suggest greed or an excess of desire. Gold itself functions as a metaphor for cultural or moral values, or gestures at themes of possibility and enterprise. This sort of formal reading– where patterns of signification are examined– allows us to penetrate beyond the text’s literal dimension and assess its symbolic content.