Jonathan Haidt devotes a chapter to Reciprocity in his book The Happiness Hypothesis. Reciprocity is the glue which holds large societies, of certain other animals as well as of humans, together; lack of reciprocity, tit-for-tat, is what keeps them apart.
Reciprocity, and its absence, seems to be what is driving political skirmishes these days. In one letter to the editor after another, newspaper and magazine readers bristle at the notion that from these readers’ efforts deadbeats are profiting. These deadbeats are those who speculated by buying a house in the past 10 years, and having lost their bet, want the government to make good with the money these readers pay in taxes. Recent college graduates occupying Wall Street don’t want to own up to their loan obligations, and want these readers’ taxes to grant their loans forgiveness. The 53% are angry that the 47% pay no taxes but benefit at the expense of those who do pay. These readers feel that they’re not getting anything back for their efforts and taxes from the deadbeats they see all around.
It seems it’s the absence of reciprocity that is driving the Occupy Wall Street movement, as well. The bankers busted the system, yet got all the bailouts; the 99% are the backbone of the nation, but are getting nothing for it. They, the bankers and Wall Street financiers get all the benefits; the 99% get all the pain.
I’m only 23% of the way through The Happiness Hypotheses (so my Kindle tells me); I’m looking forward to Haidt’s prescriptions on how we can improve the way we interact with each other and bridge some of this divide in our political discourse.