“She Said Hang the Rich!” Research Time, 11/04/2017

We live in an era when inequality has defined the cracks and fault lines in our society. The American government is ruled by plutocrats who campaigned in the name of returning prosperity to the people, and their base is slowly eroding as those promises are revealed for the hypocrisy they always were.

One indelible image of the psychopathy and hatred of society that
consumes the super-rich is the story of Patrick Bateman. It was the
one hit of Bret Easton Ellis' whole career.
American society – Western society more generally, as well as human society around the planet – is under a lot of pressure from social inequality. Leave aside the racializing crimes of genocide like slavery and the forced relocation of indigenous peoples. They’ve left horrendous scars on American culture and character, but I want to talk about one particular vector of inequality today.

That's the vector of the distinction between the very rich and poor. American society produces multibillionaires who behave like entitled pirates whose riches give them the right to buy citizens and the government.

At the same time, it produces people who are driven so far into debt pursuing education and training, or basic medical care. The United States economic system essentially bankrupts its working people as they try to improve or save their lives. Even keeping an even keel too often results in a life of danger, drudgery, and suffering.

Into this social-political shit tornado comes the words of Niccolò Machiavelli, essentially, I told you so. In his philosophical meditations on Roman Republican history and the chaotic Italian politics of his own time, the Discourses on Livy lay out one way* where modern America has gone wrong.

* Of many concurrent, integrated, interdependent ways.

Today's title comes from the lyrics to a song I've been listening to
since I was a little kid, "Somewhere Down the Crazy River" by
Robbie Robertson.
Democratic government, writes Machiavelli, becomes impossible in a society where there are too many rich people. Now, he’s not necessarily talking about those who’ve become rich through building businesses and industries. These are people who are still working hard running enterprises that raise the public good.

No, Machiavelli’s talking about the idle rich. People who live so drenched in wealth that they don’t even have to do any real work. Actually, the problem isn’t just that they refuse to work for a living.

Even more contemptible and destructive to the common good are people whose absurd wealth isolates them from even the need to be reasonably kind to other humans in daily life. The smallest, most inconsequential act of altruism becomes an enraging imposition on their freedom.

Civic life isn’t empowering for these people. They’re enraged at any suggestion that they give anything of themselves for the common good, or that they owe anyone else in society any generosity. These are the attitudes that tend to come from having been raised in the perverse comfort of extreme wealth.

What to do about them? Let’s just say that Machiavelli doesn’t recommend very pleasant ways of removing these spoiled people from society, or from positions where they could endanger society with their piracy.

I think a growing number of folks today can sympathize with that approach.

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