At the current stage of maturity of his career and life Roger Ebert has been generous in sharing his thoughts and values on any number of issues that impact his life besides motion pictures. In a piece in his blog in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert comments about
“The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.
“Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent.”
So I discover in a piece by Joseph E. Stiglitz in the new issue of Vanity Fair. These facts confirm my impression that greed is now seen as a virtue in America. I’m not surprised by the greed of the One-Percenters. I’m mystified by the lack of indignation from so many of the rest of us…
…One of the challenges facing the One-Percenters these days is finding ways to spend their money. Private residences grow as large as hotels, and are fitted out with the amenities of luxury resorts. Fleets of cars and private airplanes are at their owners’ disposal. At work, they sink absurd mountains of money into show-off corporate headquarters that have less to do with work than with a pissing contest among rival executives. Private toilets grow as large as small condos, outfitted with Italian marbles and rare antiques. This is all paid for by the shareholders. One area of equality between the One-Percenters and the rest of us is that we sit on toilets of about the same size. What’s different is the size of our throne rooms.
I find this extravagance unseemly in a democracy. Many of today’s One-Percenters feel no more constraint than Louis XIV. A culture of celebrity has grown up around these conspicuous consumers, celebrating their excesses. I believe rewards are appropriate for those who have been successful. I also believe a certain modesty and humility are virtuous. I find it unbecoming that those who fight most against social welfare are those most devoted to their own welfare.
In America there is an ingrained populist suspicion of fats cats and robber barons. This feeling rises up from time to time. Theodore Roosevelt, who was elected as a Trust Buster, would be appalled by the excesses of our current economy. Many of the rich have a conscience. Andrew Carnegie built libraries all over America. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations do great good. Bill Gates lists his occupation as “philanthropist.”
Yet the most visible plutocrat in America is Donald Trump, a man who has made a fetish of his power. What kind of sick mind conceives of a television show built on suspense about which “contestant” he will “fire” next? What sort of masochism builds his viewership? Sadly, I suspect it is based on viewers who identify with Trump, and envy his power over his victims. Don’t viewers understand they are the ones being fired in today’s America?
What I can say to Roger is: you are describing the plutocrats’ master plan, starve our education system of tax revenue and leverage media to create a nation of gullible consumer drones who will produce a legacy of more treasure for the plutocrat coffers.
Instead of using today’s technology to facilitate connecting everything and everyone to benefit knowledge transfer and new knowledge acquisition, many consuming Americans fall prey to enticements of dubious value from the likes of Trump, Murdoch, et al, and every marketer of anything or every publicist of entertainment/sports/celebrity enterprises. Many Americans seem to be programmed to aspire to a life filled with stuff or notoriety as symbols of status and success, but with little appreciation for the intrinsic value of anything, whether an object, or a bit of knowledge.
The plutocrats have created a nation of ignorant, consuming drones, many of which are aliens to critical thinking, happy to be entertained rather than be burdened by working to acquire knowledge or personal growth.