Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pity the 1%

What is truly pathetic is the sad state of the 1%. Imagine, for a moment, that you are the billionaire, B. G. Your multiple dwellings are vast and carefully tended. You can go to many cities and be home. Your yacht has not one but two helicopter pads. It burns one hundred gallons of fuel per mile. Important people meet you in the middle of the ocean, then fly away. Back on land you almost never touch ground, always arriving via the roof, except when you step upon manicured lawns in gated communities within gated communities. Carefully arranged flowers decorate every room you enter. Bodyguards accompany your every step. When you walk from one crowded room to another you are on high alert, for you fear kidnappers. Every move must be planned, every venue thoroughly vetted, and all this done with the utmost secrecy. Much of your time is taken up with the precautions the security guys assure you it is absolutely essential that you take. You enter rooms from side entrances; often make your double take your car; and find it necessary to pop up unexpectedly at gatherings of the movers and shakers.

You have long ago passed on operational control of the source of your wealth. You were tired of keeping up with the waves of innovation, and anyway you simply didn't have the time. When you make a surprise appearance at company headquarters everybody ohs and ahs. Then they go on with what they were doing. Nothing you say is ever contradicted. Nor does any of it any longer affect company policy, though everyone makes an enormous effort to make it seem as if it did. Nobody dares to note how thoroughly out of date you are.

You like to pop up in the news cycle in occasional interviews. You like the way interviewers defer to your wisdom. Aside from business they talk to you only of the subjects everyone knows interest you: your horses, golf, the good things you do for children, and pictures by Van Gogh, whom you adore. You lead a vibrant life, full of energy, everybody avers. Your passion for golf, especially, is truly astonishing for a man of your age. Of course when you do drop pearls you are careful to always remain banal or off the record for fear of stirring up a hornets nest. When you depart you invariably get an obsequious grin.

You have a mistress, but fearing the tedium of scandal, must transport her through roundabout routes to secret rendezvous. Never can you appear together in public or you would spook a stampede of image thieves. Although those photogs are great for making moments of fame, and at the same time make fame seem not to be worth it, they really are a pain. Your girl is, of course beautiful with the current standard of beauty, but when you kiss her, you read, on her lips, her knowledge that she will not even be known as having been your mistress. In the end, she knows, you will just drop her with a gold tiara, and that is why she soaks you for everything she can get now. She pretends to adore you and that's fine, indeed necessary given how hurried are the meetings you must share. Admittedly, she executes a wordless blackmail. But you know it is not her. Any other mistress would do the same, and this one is quite a gymnast. You do fear that she might write a memoir. You chose a girl who would be too stupid to do so, but if an agent and a ghostwriter ever got a hold of her...

Sometimes they put you on TV to make wise pronouncements to the investment scavengers who dog your heels. Then you merely paraphrase the words of Michael X, a whizz with numbers and a trusted retainer. Your billionairiness has deprived you not just of the ability to keep up with developments, but of the leisure to ever use your mind beyond what is necessary to form completely unfounded opinions. Cleverly, you have hired other very wise men, like Michael, to form wise opinions for you. For you simply haven't got the time to think, what with all the thising and thating you do and the security guys always around warning of whatever.

About the big things, like global warming, you'd rather not say. It is beyond your area of expertise. Among serious people such a thing is never mentioned, for what does it have to do with business? That it portends human destruction is dubious. In all honesty you can say you really don't know anything about it and you're not worried. It would be better not to say you really haven't had the interest to find out. That might antagonize people. And anyway, among the people who matter that is understood. The mere fact that the little people care about this problem proves that concern is overblown. Though, you remind yourself to add, if the occasion ever comes up, that you too are concerned about the possibility of human extinction. Anyway, the interviewers, who are good at their job, have long ago learned what to ask you and what not.

Of course you are aware that a growing number of people are blaming you and people like you for things that are going wrong. Well, what can you expect. The lower orders are always scapegoating for their own failures. Do they expect me to propose something as absurd as ending all hydrocarbon use? Why I would be laughed out of my own boardroom. They would think I had gone completely bonkers. People don't realize how really powerless I am when it comes to these extra-business concerns. And they just don't understand how the system works. The really important people, like me, and the really top people in government, can actually do far less then anyone outside the beltway can realize. In fact, we powerful ones are really quite powerless to do anything that matters about global warming even if we wanted to. I mean be realistic, preventing human extinction is just not on the agenda. It's not even on the radar.