Finally, an Explanation for the Bankers' Behavior, and the Insurers' Too!

06/11/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Carine Fabius Author, art dealer, museum curator and temporary body art pioneer

...And the oil companies, as well. And while we're at it, let's throw in politicians, mega celebrities and anyone else who falls into that tiny category of people who make so much money and have so much power that they begin to believe they are God; that they are above mere mortals, who only exist to serve their needs.

Two excellent recent columns in the Los Angeles Times got me thinking about the reasons people engage in potentially dangerous and harmful behavior to themselves and others. One was by Sandy Banks, who spotlighted research by social psychologist Deborah Gruenfeld. Ms. Gruenfeld spent years studying people in power and its effects on the chemical composition of their brains.

There you are one minute, celebrating a game-changing job offer, which has turned you from someone frantically seeking rent money to a person now concerned by the whereabouts of that 9th bathroom in your new mansion -- a wonderful turn of events by any measure. But be careful! That new job and its attendant power could be harmful to your health and the health of those around you!

According to Ms. Gruenfeld's findings, "power can unleash changes in the brain that distort thinking," and gives people free license to ignore the pressures of accepted behaviors. She says, "they get very focused on their own goals and the acts that would satisfy them." They become fearless when it comes to taking risks, and have a false sense of control. Sound like a banker or politician you know? Look what happened to Sarah Palin when she got just a whiff of it. Like many in power who have an uncanny ability to convince large swaths of people that they're really not dangerous, the woman is now considered a star. I may be silly, but to me a star is someone with talent and glamour, not just anyone who has figured out how to get media attention.

Obviously, not everyone in power becomes Satan. The whole thing reminds me of that little-seen Jack Nicholson/Michelle Pfeiffer movie, Wolf. In it, a wise old guy tells Jack that not everyone who gets bitten becomes a big, bad wolf. You have to have those leanings to begin with. So, no Mr. Banker, you don't get off by blaming your behavior on that new disease called power. I'm seeing a stampede to the twelve-step program as fix-all!

The other column was by Meghan Daum, who posited a fascinating construct about the fundamental nature of the super wealthy. Most human beings spend a fair amount of time imagining and dreaming about things they can't afford, she says, and that's true. (Think lottery jackpot. In my fantasy, my house is paid off and so are those of all my friends and family!) But, she theorizes, the very wealthy, by virtue of never having to dream or imagine about things they can't afford, are denied "a certain kind of humanity."

So there you have it. The deadly combination of power, and absence of a component germane to most human beings makes for a small army of deluded greedy zombies that have found their way to a theater of gigantic proportions near you.

Have you heard about the march on the greedy Wall Street zombies being planned for April 29th by the AFL-CIO in support of financial regulatory reform? They're expecting 10,000 people to show up. I wish I lived in New York for this one! I can't go but I'm going to make sure everyone I know in NY knows about it. Why should labor have all the fun? In the meantime, can somebody please start working on an antidote for the poison called power? Come on, it lets loose a reaction that negatively affects the brain! And, you heard it here. I am officially announcing the opening of my new store, which is chock full of inventory. It specializes in prescription doses of Humanity at a price that can't be beat. Demand for the product is very high. I am going to be very wealthy.