Photo: Flickr

Why do wealthy celebrities always decry “haters” above all other evils? Why do successful people at the top of their fields counsel those less prestigious than them to value professional comity and civility above all? For a very obvious reason.

It is easy to feel love for humanity when your own life is grand. If you wake up in a soft bed in a nice home, have a good job and a healthy bank account, and enjoy the prestige—earned or unearned—accorded to those in high positions, you have little reasons to be mad. All of the things that people want, you have. You have physical, emotional, and economic security. You have the adulation of peers and admirers. You have the opportunity to fully realize your dreams. Life is good.

Advertisement

It is interesting to see how attitudes change for the small minority of humans able to attain these high status lifestyles. Clearly, they are viewing life from a different perspective than most. Whereas the average person is forced to spend a good deal of time contemplating problems—from mundane to existential—that in some way affect their lives and how to solve them, the people at the top of the world are under no such obligation. Their vision need not be clouded by such concerns. Their needs are met. They are free to direct their mental energy towards achieving ever higher levels of self realization. Though they may recognize the world’s problems in an abstract way, they are not true obstacles for them.

There is nothing easier than embracing love as a value when you have nothing left to hate. There is nothing easier than embracing freedom when nothing is holding you back. To say “We should all be kind to one another and get along” when you are sitting at the very top of the pyramid is not an embrace of magnanimity; it is an embrace of self-interest. Once you have what you need—once you have what everyone else wants—declaring the cutthroat race for achievement over in favor of universal love will, conveniently, ensure that your gains remain locked in. Now that I am enjoying the benefits of fame, let’s stop all the haters. Now that I am enjoying the benefits of wealth, let’s stop all the jealousy. Now that I am enjoying the benefits of high career status, let’s stop being critical of those at the top. Let’s all get along! Everyone, equally, from me at the very top, to you at the very bottom.

This is the root of the tedious cries for “civility” that periodically wrack our body politic. Of course those who have won in the current order of things value civility above all. Civility means nothing changes. Civility means anger is tamped down. To the extent that the incredible lives of society’s winners are driven by structural injustices—racism, inequality, luck, being born in the right place at the right time to win the lottery of life—civility will cool the tempers of those who were on the wrong side of the same metrics. In a just world, the most successful people would be the most outraged at injustice, because they would be able to see most clearly the absurd gap between their own lives and the lives of millions of others who have the same intrinsic value as humans but who were not so lucky. But such a world would require that people who achieve the greatest luxuries act against their own self-interest, in recognition that life is not fair. That, unfortunately, is not how the human mind tends to work. It is more common that as our own lives change, our perspectives change, and it becomes increasingly harder to imagine the perspective of others whose experiences grow farther and farther away until they might as well be inexplicable dreams. There is nothing like the sweet taste of the good life to convince us that everyone deserves the good life, as long as it does not require us to sacrifice what we already have.

This dynamic explains, for example, the fascination of very rich people with charter schools as a cause, rather than with redistribution of wealth. To promote “education” is to promote the fantasy that all those poor people can one day get the same things that you have. This allows you to maintain your own status while offering the dream of pulling everyone else up to you. The alternative would be for you to give up some of what you have in order to help others. Unfortunately, that would require a meaningful sacrifice from you, so that idea is socialist, outrageous class war. The same dynamic is behind the fetishization of professional status, rather than actual merit, by those who have already achieved high professional status. They have an inherent interest in a system in which their coveted positions are handed down to those who pay them the most deference. “If I did it, anyone can,” is the greatest lie told by those who have secured a level of success that will by definition only ever be available to a tiny, fortunate minority.

Advertisement

My life is good. Yours is bad. Don’t think about why. Just smile. Can’t we all just get along—me, from the penthouse, and you, from the gutter?