10 September 2007

Tall poppy syndrome

I read an article recently (see below) which purported to demonstrate that there is nowadays in this country a hatred of success. This was done by referring to a game which was played for money. In this game one of the options was to reduce someone else’s winnings, by some sacrifice of your own.

It was found that players often made use of this option. I expect the conclusion that will be drawn from this piece of research is that success should not be permitted because other people dislike it. It has already been stated that research shows that what makes people happy is not what advantages they have themselves, but there being nobody who has more.

(The only form of success to which people have little resistance is that of socially appointed oppressors of humanity, in which case the successful person may enjoy some status and power over others so long as he retains his position, but is unlikely to become rich enough to enjoy any autonomy. He is not going to be free to do anything he wants in any way he could get anything out of, and will always be expected to get his kicks out of frustrating and oppressing other people.)

Actually I have been a victim of the 'tall poppy syndrome' all my life, without having ever been allowed to become a tall poppy. Perceiving that my ability might make it possible for me to become successful, I was scythed down as a precautionary measure. When I was thrown out of the university and started to save money (which I had no tolerable way of earning) to work towards being able to afford the institutional environment which I needed to have, I rapidly became a tall poppy in the eyes of other people, since I became the owner of a small house far more quickly than those who had acceptable careers and salaries, although I was living in it from hand to mouth, with no heating in the winter, since I had no source of income. Hence, I was always perceived as the capitalistic landlord or employer to be fleeced and done down as far as possible.

Similarly, I suppose that the anticipatory tall poppy syndrome has contributed to the fact that funding and career advancement have always been withheld, no matter what efforts I made to demonstrate my ability to make the best possible use of any opportunities or breaks which I might be given. I have always had the impression that the more successful such research as I could do in poverty and exile might be, the more rigorously was withheld any reward which might have permitted me to give any further demonstration of my functionality.

Sometimes, when I have commented on the fact that funding or salaried career advancement (even to carry on work in fields which I had initiated) would preferentially be given, on whatever excuse, to anyone rather than myself, however desperate my need for it might be, people have hastened to ascribe this to cut-throat competition for commercial advantage. There would always be someone who wanted the money or position for themselves. This is in line with the modern idea that the profit motive is the only source of all evil.

However, the tall poppy syndrome (applied in anticipation) provides a much better explanation of the insuperable obstacles to progress which I have encountered in practice. It has certainly appeared to me that people were prepared to exert themselves against me, even though no benefit would accrue to themselves beyond their sadistic enjoyment of my continuing frustration.

(written in 2002)

Extracts from article in Daily Mail, February 13, 2002, written by Tim Utton:

Scientists believe they have proved that we don’t like success and are jealous of self-made millionaires. The researchers discovered that Britons hate ‘winners’ and would happily give up some of their own earnings to damage those who are more successful …Volunteers were tested in an experiment using real cash in which some became richer in a betting game involving choosing numbers at random. Players could anonymously ‘burn away’ the winnings of better-off rivals but forfeited some of their own cash each time they did so. Almost two-thirds destroyed the money of those doing better than them, despite the high cost to their own pocket. Professor Andrew Oswald and colleague Dr Daniel Zizzo, of Oxford University, found that half of all the cash winnings had been deliberately destroyed by envious rivals … “This research shows up for the first time how envious people can be, particularly when they start at an equal level and see others becoming richer.” The research will be seen by some as proof that ‘tall poppy syndrome’ has taken root. The phrase, first coined in Australia in the 1980s, refers to the tendency to scythe down those who are deemed to have got above themselves.