Gaius Publius at Americablog has a neat piece up today about our wealthy "betters," jumping off this interesting piece by Chris Hedges, who talks about what it was like to grow up around the rich and shameless. Both are well worth reading.
I wanted to just highlight this comment from an Americablog reader:
Hedges had better and far different access to the rich than I did. I only worked for them in their offices. But everything I read here is consistent with what I saw. It wasn't so much that it was terrible (it was often rather pleasant to be able to get IT to fix problems immediately, have phone calls and emails returned quickly and other things that aren't common in big corporations until you are working for the CEO) as it was surreal. These people live in a different reality. Many of the things I saw were more funny than hilarious (so long as you have a thick skin). The executive stopping by the admin assistants' cubicles to talk about what he or she did that weekend and then walking away without the least bit of interest in anyone else's lives was a common occurrence. I know some of my colleagues were offended but it was moments like that when I realized what kind of people I was dealing with and not to expect anything from them. Most of them are sociopaths. Not all, certainly, and I would like to make that point, but I found that the majority were not concerned about anyone's wants or needs other than their own, including their own family.
I don't know if it's correct to call them sociopaths, but I can certainly verify this observation about powerful corporate CEOs. I worked with a very few over the years who were decent, normal people. For the most part, they live in a bubble in which they completely lose the capability of living like everyone else in this world lives. They didn't know how to do every day things like mail a letter and had no idea how to order the simplest services. In many ways it seemed to me that I was dealing with a very spoiled child, which is interesting since Hedges makes this particular observation about the rich kids he grew up with:
I spent time in the homes of the ultra-rich and powerful, watching my classmates, who were children, callously order around men and women who worked as their chauffeurs, cooks, nannies and servants. When the sons and daughters of the rich get into serious trouble there are always lawyers, publicists and political personages to protect them—George W. Bush’s life is a case study in the insidious affirmative action for the rich.
Some of the top executives and CEOs I worked with over the years grew up like that and some didn't. But the deference that's shown to "the boss" in corporate America ends up putting them all in that position after a while. It takes a very special person to fight the temptations the deference to wealth and power necessarily requires of mere workers in a dog-eat-dog economy. As I said, some do manage to do it but they're few and far between in my experience. And the amazing thing is that --- like the Village celebrity stars --- they all consider themselves to be salt-of-the-earth everymen, even as they are waited on hand and foot by armies of servants and underlings.
I confess that I relate to Hedges on this:
My hatred of authority, along with my loathing for the pretensions, heartlessness and sense of entitlement of the rich, comes from living among the privileged. It was a deeply unpleasant experience. But it exposed me to their insatiable selfishness and hedonism.
I wasn't privy to that wealth and privilege as a child. But when I entered the corporate world I saw it up close and personal in an industry that makes a fetish out of worshiping fame, wealth and power. I had always viscerally rejected pretension and authoritarianism, but this opened my mind to the corrupting nature of our American "success" myth. Sometimes I wish I'd never seen it. I think I was happier not knowing.
This discussion reminds me of this oldie but goodie called "Yearning to be subjects".