Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More problems with rich people

Wandering the back issues newspapers section of my library, a more than month old New York Times front page story leaped out at me. It was about how a small amount of very rich people were responsible for a huge portion of presidential campaign donations. I already know this stuff, and in The New York Time's defense we are talking about an old newspaper anyway. But what really caught me in this story was their above the fold picture of these various rich families' mansions. I think there were nine of them.

All of the pictures of the houses were taken from, admittedly, not the most flattering aerial view, but the angle was low enough that one could get a proper sense for the mansions. One could see that each of them was very big and none were crowded by any neighbors. They tended to have a bulk, rectangular section and then a kind of longer section so that maybe people could bowl back to back, or run sprints without turning. Or maybe once you get rich enough your house's square footage is no longer quite the thing. It's all about length. "Oh, your house is 87,000 square feet? Cute. My Hamptons Mansion is three-quarters of a mile long." The truth is all these houses look amazingly similar, like they could all belong to some bizarre goliathan suburb, which, in a way, they do.

But besides all these commonalities: massiveness, layout and style similarities, homogenization, and the owners all showering politicians with money, they have one other likeness that I find above all appalling.

They don't look very nice. They're not beautiful. They are bizarrely utilitarian, as if each owner mandated: spare no expense as to land, solidity and quality of construction materials, interior space and number and variety of rooms, and any possibility of any personal feature we might conceivably ever have the slightest inkling for in the next 75 years, but beyond that, waste not a penny more!

And this is the true horror of all these rich people. There they are pouring money at politicians so they can get more money, but they have no idea what to do with the money they get beyond the driven paranoia of getting more money. Nothing they build is there to endure. Nothing is created. Nothing they have can ever be enjoyed by anyone else. They have wealth beyond the measure of history, in a world where that wealth gives them astonishing powers of creation. With only a touch of effort they could live in masterworks, marshaled from out of the deepest pool of artistic and creative talent the world has ever known, but instead they choose to live in gigantic fancy suburban tract homes, and that is all they will leave us.

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