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The PJ Tatler

by
Helen Smith

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January 25, 2011 - 4:05 am

I am reading a new book by Michael Prell called Underdogma: How America’s Enemies Use Our Love for the Underdog to Trash American Power. The title pretty much describes the book which defines Underdogma as “the reflexive belief that those who have less power (underdogs) are good, and that those who have more power (overdogs) are bad.”

The book is a fascinating look at why so many people admire the underdog and hate those who achieve or are successful. From a psychological standpoint, the chapter on “Personal Underdogma” really helped to understand the motives behind so many people’s desire to tax and take money from the so-called “rich” even if it means that their own wealth will suffer. The chapter describes a very important study conducted by a pair of economists at the Universities of Oxford and Warwick in 2001:

“Are people willing to pay to burn other people’s money? The short answer to this question is: yes. Our subjects gave up large amounts of their cash to hurt others in the laboratory. The extent of burning surprised us…Even at a price of 0.25 (meaning that to burn another person’s dollar cost me 25 cents), many people wished to destroy other individuals’ cash.”

–”Are People willing to Pay to Reduce Others’ Incomes?” Daniel John Zizzo & Andrew Oswald, July 2, 2001

Author Prell notes that the researchers called this Phenomenon “the dark side of human nature.” He calls it Personal Underdogma. Whatever name is used, it is a problem that needs a solution because as long as jealous citizens and politicians are willing to sabotage success even at expense to themselves, and thus society, losers will prosper and winners will lose. This can’t be good for any society.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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