What makes the rich tick?
I’ve been wondering why the Left doesn’t grab ahold of something I’ve been wondering a lot lately:
Are the rich mentally ill?
I mean, there are diagnoses in the DSM-III-R for people who are addicts of drugs, booze, sex, or even shopping.
So why doesn’t society recognize it as absurd, pathological behavior when someone with $100 million wants even more?
I would like to ask Mr. Locke:
- end of initial entry -
Perhaps, now that, as you previously told us, you are moving in the circles of the very rich, who are different from you and me, or, rather, different from me, perhaps you could tell VFR readers more about the world of the limousine liberal?
Mike Berman writes:
What about the limousine “conservatives?” I attended a “conservative” event on Monday at which a black conservative columnist for the Wall Street Journal was touting his new book about the benefits from open borders for illegal and legal aliens. His thesis was that we should just allow the marketplace to sort out how many “workers” should enter our country. His ideas were met with enthusiastic applause.
Mark P. writes:
Someone really needs to explain to the limousine conservative how immigration duplicates all of the conditions of a Marxist reserve labor force of the unemployed. Karl Marx predicted that such a labor force will destroy capitalism.
Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Tim 6:9): “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.” Paul doesn’t even say “those who are rich” but “those who want to get rich.”
That would be the whole country, don’t you think? Ask anyone in America, they want to get rich.
Ben W. writes:
I’m not sure Robert Locke understands the growth and uses of wealth. Although I am not a rich man, I can illustrate the use of money in a concrete and personal way.
For example, HDTV. I used to be satisfied with a standard television (26”) that cost me $200 until I saw a sports event on a large screen (standard) 61.” I just had to have it because a football game on a large screen was special for me and that cost me $1,500. A few years later I saw a baseball game on an HDTV and the sight was incredible. That set me back $2,000. In each case the technology increased the satisfaction of sports viewing and also increased the cost. But I would not go back from HDTV to standard TV viewing.
Since I’m a big music fan, I purchased an iPhone so that I could make telephone calls, scan the internet and listen to music on one device. That cost me $399 (a normal cell phone would have cost me $99). Once again the technology increased my usage and also my cost.
Now since I’m want to control my television viewing (rather than be controlled by it), I purchased a Tivo to record programming. That cost $499 (as opposed to a $50 VCR). However the advantages of a Tivo are many.
Notice that I’m spending more therefore I need more money. The use of money and its need (and growth) accompanies the increased use of resources. If someone argues that I don’t need HDTV, I’ll say just try watching HDTV for a week and then try going back to standard TV. Go to a doctor’s office and while waiting use an iPhone to read articles on the Internet while listening to music and answering calls.
This isn’t the use of money for its own sake or out of a sense of greed. The resources and information made available to me through these devices changes the self. I recently bought the Kindle (ebook reader) and have stored on it over two thousand books. This little, portable device has the effect of my taking a library with me wherever I go. It cost me $399.
This is a lifestyle that I do not categorize as materialistic. But it is expensive and expansive with the ever increasing need for more money. I suspect the super-wealthy have this same instinct—the wish to maximize oneself through devices that are really extensions of oneself.
It is not insanity but it does bring up the following question. How long can individuals living in advanced Western societies keep maximizing themselves through technological extensions of the self before we run up against the constraints of nature and its resources.
Vanity finds a niche in all people, in all their activities, including mystical contemplation (where it is in fact strongest and most dangerous). It is the love of the self above the love of what is greater and better than the self. What makes the insatiable rich tick? They are pursuing happiness, which is after all the point of wealth. But the pursuit of happiness as such is ultimately and famously bootless, because our lives are not about being happy. Thinking that they are is an error common to worldly people: if this world is all there is, then of course happiness is the highest value. But if this world is all there is, then, paradoxically—thanks to death—happiness is not really possible.
Fortunately this world is not all there is. We can tell this must be true, because if it weren’t, this world would have to suffice as its own explanation, which obviously it cannot. Thus if this world is all there is, then in the final analysis nothing in it is fully explicable, nothing can really make sense (this is a corollary of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem). But our quotidian experience gives the lie to that idea. We make sense of things all the time; we find that explanation is possible, we find we can understand things. So this world cannot be all there is.
That being so, happiness cannot be the highest virtue. The pursuit of happiness as such is the service of the self, which, as a partial and errant quotation of the real Truth of things, must necessarily mislead us. The world—and, therefore, any life therein—is not about itself or its own happiness. It is about God. The highest virtue then is faithfulness in our duty to Him. That faithfulness is righteousness, and righteousness is the only way to have a shot at true happiness.
Righteousness doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it is a necessary forecondition thereof. Happiness is a result and a byproduct, not a goal. It is the feeling we have when we are properly adjusted to the world. Then only do we feel how all things are working together for good, and how in that general flow of beauty we are doing our part.
All this was explained by St. Clement of Alexandria 1800 years ago in The Rich Man’s Salvation. Clement pointed out that it is not wealth that is the problem, but the love of wealth. This is why Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Tim 6:9): “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation … ” The fundamental problem is idolatry, of which vanity is a species. It is the error of mistaking a good thing—happiness, wealth, the self—for the Good itself. Love the Good Himself. Everything else will then fall into place, no matter what privations you suffer. Love anything else in preference to Him, and every part of your life will be at best subtly deranged, out of joint. Then you will be insatiable, no matter how much you eat.
Needless to say, no public policy can touch this predicament, which is entailed by creaturely existence. So it is nuts to try. No; private policy is the only lever we have. St. John Baptist did not say, “Pass a law against selfishness!” He said, “Repent, and from old errors turn.”
Robert B. writes:
My credentials, Sir-
That being said, let me say this.
“The rich” as Locke calls them, are just like anyone else in that some are, indeed, mentally ill on different levels. However, the fact that they see no difference (and most do not) in people based upon their skin color has to do with utility—i.e., all serfs are serfs, so what difference does it make what color their skin is? Remember, many people (like the family my grandfather in the article married in to) have had servants from all races. My grandfather and his children would be the first to tell you that the best servants they had were Japanese, the most surly—the Irish. When one attains a certain cultural level, and again I stress that Mr. Locke only knows the nouveau riche and not old money, all those below it tend to blur. What I mean to say is, is there really any difference between the trailer park whites and the ghetto blacks? Not really. Both have forgotten their place in this country. The middle class, for that matter, has forgotten its place—the Democrats are to blame for it.
My father in law is a man for whom 100 million was not enough. He and his brother in law owned the largest purveyor of banking software in the world, and it wasn’t enough. They bought all of their competitors they possibly could—and then bought banks, malls, etc. But even that was not enough, so they sold Banker’s Systems to Citigroup (then called Citibank) and did the deal in the Caymen Islands. They sold it so they could get “their money” out of it and buy yet more business’.
So, what am I saying? Well for some, its the game—not the money. Accumulating money is like collecting china. For others, its the power. Money alone is not power—but controlling people is. As I said before, when everyone has money, money itself ceases to have meaning. Money only really has meaning to those who do not have it anyway. Money cannot buy you happiness, money can and does buy you bigger houses, nicer cars and better vacations. Some people, who did not grow up with those things, think they will make them happy. Those who did, know they do not.
The only wealthy liberals I know are those who are amongst the new rich—second and third generation types, who feel guilt over their wealth. They did not earn it—sudden wealth (as in rock stars) seems to have the same effect. If they have the money long enough, future generations will not feel that way. But that doesn’t mean they will see any difference between trailer park whites and ghetto blacks. Both have a slimy feel. The middle class, well, doesn’t everyone like to laugh at their (seemingly) innate stupidity and ignorance? I mean, look at what they buy, look at who they vote for. They get what they deserve.
Ben W. writes:
Robert Locke asks, “So why doesn’t society recognize it as absurd, pathological behavior when someone with $100 million wants even more?”
It is not pathological behavior because that $100 million is invested for revenue to provide security. It is rational for someone to invest his money because such investment is used for a variety of personal, social and economic purposes. Since the value of money fluctuates, what level of wealth represents security? It may be $100 million this year, it may be $10 million next year.
I doubt that people accumulate wealth as an exercise in accumulating numbers.
My examples of personal purchase of various devices was to show that the cost of living increases even as the proliferation of devices increases that provide us with knowledge and mobility. Hence the need for more and more money (without limit). My Kindle and iPhone give me a universal library at my disposal for instant referral and research. That is not vanity! Old fashioned sermons against the vanity of riches are irrelevant. Who among VFR readers does not have a PC? That was a $1,000 purchase. Was it a necessity? Yes it is in this day and age. Will people buy more and more powerful computers tomorrow? Of course and these will be necessities and become necessary.
The apostle Paul advised people that as as long as they have food and clothing, that is all that is necessary. Since I believe in the inerrency of Scripture he is absolutely right. But we need to disregard him (since God was too sufficient for him) and move on to consider wealth in the light of what is “necessary” today.
Terry Morris writes:
Hear, hear to Kristor’s excellent comments! … all of ‘em. My favorite portion of scripture is Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14.
Ben W. wrote:
Notice that I’m spending more therefore I need more money. The use of money and its need (and growth) accompanies the increased use of resources. If someone argues that I don’t need HDTV, I’ll say just try watching HDTV for a week and then try going back to standard TV.
While I can’t agree with Ben about “needing” HDTV in particular, or that watching it for a week or whatever will necessarily result in a person’s having to own one, nonetheless the principle remains.
I know a lot of people who have an obsession of one kind or another (usually several, but one in particular). Some of them are avid gun collectors, others get their kicks from owning and tinkering with so-called “monster trucks,” and so forth and so on. I personally enjoy flying airplanes as a hobby, and someday I’d like to own one. All of these hobbies and personally satisfying (not to mention educational) activities, the majority of which most of us have no personal interest in and could really care less about, require the creation of a certain degree of personal wealth which is a good deal greater than that which the welfare system can or will provide, if you catch my drift.
I was directed to this discussion by Mr. Morris and I found Ben W.’s postings too egregiously outrageous to let slide. Ben W. said:
“This isn’t the use of money for its own sake or out of a sense of greed. The resources and information made available to me through these devices changes the self.”
I disagree—this is a sense of greed. That’s exactly what greed is—“the selfish desire to have more than one needs or deserves.” ~American Heritage Dictionary
While I will not bandy words with you about whether or not Ben W. deserves the things he says he has purchased, he certainly does not NEED them. There is a difference between want and need. He will not die without them, therefore, he does not need them.
“need—1. The quality or state of being necessary, unavoidable, or absolutely requisite; inevitableness; indispensableness.” ~ Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary
He goes on to say:
“This is a lifestyle that I do not categorize as materialistic. But it is expensive and expansive with the ever increasing need for more money. I suspect the super-wealthy have this same instinct—the wish to maximize oneself through devices that are really extensions of oneself.”
(Devices that are an extension of oneself? Are they really? Would he have to go to the hospital to have the bleeding stopped if his I-phone was smashed?)
Why would he not categorize this lifestyle as materialistic? It seems to me that he has exemplified the materialistic lifestyle with those words.
“materialistic—2. excessive regard for worldly and material concerns.” ~American Heritage Dictionary
2. conforming to the standards and conventions of the middle class; “a bourgeois mentality”.”~ Wordnet
For Ben W. to outright say of the apostle Paul that: “we need to disregard him (since God was too sufficient for him) and move on to consider wealth in the light of what is “necessary” today.” confirms his surrender to materialism.
1. a person who is markedly more concerned with material things than with spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values. Dictionary.com Unabridged
It is not wrong for people to make money or to want to make money, but be honest about it.
Robert Locke replies to my question posted at the beginning of this thread:
Oh, that’s not hard to figure out.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 18, 2008 08:42 PM | Send
The rich live in a coccooned world where the problems normal people deal with do not exist. They tend to view politics as a kind of “tableau vivant” for them to play with, as an arena in which to act out various personal emotional obsessions.
Liberalism is an easy option for them because, in a liberal culture, it’s an easy way to grab a bit of moral superiority—something they instinctively think of as being theirs by right.
Some of them have these vague guilt feelings about being privileged, but they never give up their privileges, for the same reason you don’t give your apartment to some homeless person: luxuries are pleasant.
The rich find charity towards the poor to be a useful prop of moral superiority over the middle class. The rich hate and despise the middle class far more than they do the poor. The poor are so pathetic that they please the rich by giving them a sensation of their own superiority, and an opportunity to congratulate themselves on their charity. The middle class, however, are the stratum from which most rich Americans come, and to which they would return if they lost their money. They despise the middle class as a bunch of wannabes who didn’t “make it” the way they have, despite having had all the same advantages. Hence the eagerness of the rich to sacrifice the middle class to the benefit of the poor whenever possible.
There is really only one thing about liberalism the rich don’t like: high taxes. But since the Clintonized Democrats aren’t that liberal on economics any more, this isn’t that big of a factor for many.
Don’t forget that many nominally liberal policies, like mass immigration, are perfectly in sync with the most cold-blooded economic interests of the rich. It’s very convenient to draw a warm-n-fuzzy blanket over stuff like that.