Debugging the Executive Autopilot (again). Brenna Meyer photo, April 2017
One of the challenges in evolving our society is understanding the role that money and its distribution play in moving us up or down the Spiral and Empathy ladder. Unlike the commonly held belief, money isn’t everything. But money is more real, as part of deeper social dynamics, than almost any other artifact of our surface-level perception of actions. It’s not all Mario Kart. Money is our contemporary stand-in for energetics, and if you understand developed empathy (and the larger information coherence it brings) as being a function of larger spatial, temporal and energetic scales, then money matters. It’s a whole lot easier to start on the path to global empathy when you can actually not have to worry where your next meal is coming from, or can afford some leisure and travel. You can indeed get to greater enlightenment by meditation and hanging out with people in your home town. But it’s just not as likely.
Plus, money at its most basic level matters as far as booting people up into higher cognitive space and v-Memes, where it matters less as part of one’s Survival v-Meme sense. I’m not the first person to say this, and I think Daniel Pink’s video on motivation is very strong for understanding the v-Memes in the Performance/Communitarian range. See:
The short version is this: if you want innovation and creativity, you and your company are in a much better place v-Meme-wise if you’re up in the land of independently generated, trust-based relationships and the multiple solutions these bring. And that means not worrying constantly about money. Or rather, having enough money to meet both survival and status needs means you can focus on goals and community.
And though it may be hard to believe, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in. A huge part of our current economic malaise is based on the idea that creativity is the province of the individual genius, and only a few sectors — mostly tech — with a focus on gadget-izing the world, absolutely need it. That means we’re ignoring the potential for economic return for creativity and individualization in, according to the US government, ~ 80% of the economy. It’s just nuts.
A worrying precedent is the fact that the drift in income between rich and poor in the U.S. continues to grow, as can be seen by this short video. This creates conditions for even less empathy, and more commodification of poorer individuals, which then leads to even less creativity, progress in our society, and social evolution.
The lack of money sinks more Americans down deeper into conditions that put folks down into the Survival v-Meme, with its incumbent peril for trauma, which then creates more traumatized children, who both experience abuse as well as receive transferred epigenetic markers that will decrease their ability to be resilient in the face of a rapidly changing economy and world information stage. And it’s not just the U.S. Here’s another video about the gap, and how debt service makes things worse, that highlights this as a global problem.
Why do the folks in finance believe that paying service workers of any stripe a decent wage is such a bad thing? Maybe, because of their own lack of empathy, they just can’t see it. That leads to a lack of recognition of empathy and its actual monetizing value, maybe? What can we learn about them and how they see the world from their public statements and practices?
This article on American Airlines, at Vox.com, by Matt Yglesias, is a good start. The short version, according to the article is this: American decided to preemptively raise salaries for its pilots and flight attendants, making that judgment based on parity pay at American’s largest competitors, Delta and United. The pilot’s and flight attendants had no way to force a pay raise, since the contract was not going to be up for two years. And since American had returned to profitability from bankruptcy, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker called the raises an investment in the company that will lead to better service by employees and, eventually, higher revenue.
Wall Street and the analysts from the various financial analysts were crying foul, saying that any money should go to the investment class first. JP Morgan’s Jamie Baker (from the article) had this to say:
“We are troubled by AAL’s wealth transfer of nearly $1 billion to its labor groups,” he wrote. It “establishes a worrying precedent, in our view, both for American and the industry.”
What’s interesting about the Wall Street commentary in the article is how consistently depressing and Authoritarian v-Meme it is, even in the face of short-term consequences to American if they had not raised salaries. There’s a pilot shortage going on and had American not taken the pay action, they likely would have had to deal with empty pilot slots as pilots left to American’s primary competitors. And Wall Street’s outrage about American’s pay raise even ended up hurting Wall Street, with all airline stocks tumbling as Wall Street punished the sector for the pay raise.
What really needs to change in this picture is the Authoritarian, status-based thinking on Wall Street. In classic Principle of Reinforcement mode, the folks on Wall Street, having lost any real grounding in what money actually means energetically, assert primacy and status over each other through numbers in bank accounts. Think statements about profitability don’t have any power and control stuff in them? This then leads to other connected behaviors in the v-Meme, such as conflict as a primary driver of behavior (let’s just let those unions strike if they want more money!) More maladjusted, egocentric behavior, followed by empathy-deficit victimization ranting — this one from Yglesias’ piece — (“This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first again,” wrote Citi analyst Kevin Crissey in a widely circulated note.” “Shareholders get leftovers.”) are just what goes along with all the other stuff. And true to form, we cannot expect that particular crowd to engage in anything resemble consequential thinking. What’s going to happen if present trends continue? Who cares?
The key thing here is to realize that it is fundamentally self-destructive for all concerned, including the investment class. When Authoritarianism was the dominant v-Meme of the day, everyone, including the rich, had a whole lot less. In the case of the airline case, it’s actually stunning. Poor pay for pilots has been an issue for a while. And while it may be true that captains piloting the heavies across the oceans make a good wage, regional carrier wages are terrible. The longer-term consequences of the pilot shortage may be that parts of the country lose their air service, which has to mean less opportunity to make money for investors once again. This from Aviation Week:
“Too few bright-eyed students are opting for careers in the cockpit, despite the promise of readily available jobs. The crunch is already hitting regional airlines, which are losing increasing numbers of pilots to the major carriers and are not able to fill new pilot training classes. In some cases, regionals have had to park aircraft for lack of pilots. This should be a concern beyond the aviation world, too. The impact might lead to some smaller U.S. cities losing their air service. The dearth of pilots is a problem in other parts of the world, too, though the causes and potential cures will vary by country and region.”
If there’s an answer to this, it’s that the progressive investment class has to use their authority to counter the insistent, relationally disruptive message from the current batch on Wall Street. We have to change the mental models of productivity and creativity to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. That message from the progressive venture capitalists will still have to be Authority-based, because rationality is not going to win the argument in this political climate. There are too many self-reinforcing, negative messages. Solutions will emerge, once we change hearts, minds, and v-Memes.
But they need to do it now. Because commercial aviation is not the only sector where the group in charge is going to impoverish us, and create an even larger class of traumatized individuals. And digging out of that hole may lead to far worse consequences than paying a living wage to pilots and flight attendants.