The rich are different from you and me.
So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald.
To which Ernest Hemingway replied, “True. They have more money.”
An alternate version of the tale has Hemingway making the original statement and Virginia Woolf the response. (Wikipedia claims the former, but what do they know?) The point is, whoever said what, it’s true.
The rich – the mega-wealthy powerful – are different, and it’s not just about luxury, entitlement and, as Fitzgerald said of the Buchanans in The Great Gatsby, “leaving messes for other people to clean up.” Dominant elites almost invariably exhibit the same constellation of attitudes. Four in particular:
We’re in charge. That’s the way it ought to be. Even God approves.
We’re in charge. How could anything be really wrong?
We’re in charge. And there’s always somebody trying to knock us off. Problems aren’t problems. They’re threats.
We’re in charge. Compromise with our inferiors, let alone submission, is unnecessary, immoral, dangerous and expensive.
All of which adds up to: We don’t want things changed. Not even for the better.
And one other trait. Cruelty. A pity that Alisa Rosenbaum, better known as Ayn Rand, for all her effusions about totally free capitalism, never considered what happens when the human lust for domination and sadism take economic, as opposed to bluntly physical form.
Why do some dominant elites do the gratuitously savage things they do?
Because they can.
At least, until their inferiors have had enough and adopt as their motto, “When you got nothin’ you got nothin’ to lose.” Or the tsunamis of foreigners arrive and see no reason to put up with it. Or both. Or Mother Nature reminds us who’s really in charge. Or all three.
In our last post, we suggested that both Israel and the United States are dominated by elites who don’t want things changed, not even for the better. America’s elites have fundamentally written off the American people as producers, consumers and worthwhile objects of investment. At issue here is not old-style economic exploitation but a deliberate set of policies and practices designed to render the masses of the people, to put it bluntly, superfluous and therefore unworthy of consideration.
This is not unprecedented. Over several centuries, the Roman elites deliberately reduced their own people to slavery, figuring that slaves could do the local chores while foreign conquest provided pillage, Africa shipped food and luxury goods came from Somewhere to the East. What happened when this tidy system broke down, especially when war ceased to pay, is well enough known.
Rome in the West fell because her inhabitants had no reason to defend her.
Israel doesn’t have this problem of human superfluity. Israel’s dominant elites can’t afford to write off the Israeli people. These elites need people, militarily, as producers for export and as consumers of preposterously overpriced everything. Israel’s interlocking oligarchies also have the heritage of the shtetl to draw upon.
For the better part of a thousand years, in some ways for a few centuries more, European Jewry ran its own civilization. Its own language. Its own culture. Its own legal, educational and welfare systems. Its own religion. Its own morality regarding the larger world. Within the parameters of chronic oppression and occasional massacre, the shtetl’s elites – the rabbis and scholars, the legitimate and not-so-legitimate wealthy and the more respectable criminals – ran things. They did the Goy man’s dirty work, from money-lending and other services to collecting taxes and providing their quotas of conscripts. It was an ugly but a tidy arrangement.
And Israel, to an astonishing degree, reproduces it today. Along with an astonishing number of bad habits and questionable arrangements borrowed from the United States.
So what, if anything, might be done to render the oligarchs of two nations a bit more amenable to the wishes and the welfare of those beneath them?
That’s for next time. Meanwhile, today’s Thanksgiving Day back in the States. It was not always so. The Puritans who celebrated the first one, whenever that was (1621, 1623 and 1631 are possible candidates for the honor) refused to countenance an annual affair, such holidays seeming unto them a Popish abomination. Abraham Lincoln rendered it a regular national holiday; FDR fixed it as the fourth Thursday of November.
And today it’s evocative to read some of the Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations of ages past. Lincoln bragged about how rich the Civil War was making the North. JFK gloried in American weaponry. Today, Obama urges us to remember that America is a land of “limitless possibilities.”
Thanksgiving, what historian Daniel Boorstin once called a quintessentially American “festival of consumption,” can be fun. I miss the old-fashioned feasts and frolics. I don’t, however, miss the day after Thanksgiving. “Black Friday” – the first day of the Christmas shopping season. “Black” here holds a dual meaning. If it goes well, America’s retailers will likely end the year “in the black.” But if it doesn’t . . . black also, but in a different way.
So enjoy, America. Get up from the table feeling as stuffed as the turkey you just consumed. Gorge also on football (Go, Seahawks. Whup them ‘49ers). Sleep it off. Then get out there and spend. If you still care to. If you still can.
More and more, people don’t care to. More and more, people can’t. Perhaps . . . it’s a sign.
Next: Citizenship Is Not a Jewish Value. Or an American Value. Anymore.