Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Cashing In: An Offhand Reflection

     Human desires are individual. We can sometimes make decent guesses about why Mr. X wants thing Y, but the ultimate reasons are usually shrouded against others’ penetration. No one knows anyone else intimately enough to be perfectly sure of his inferences about the source of another person’s desires.

     This morning, I find myself intrigued afresh by a question that’s occupied my thoughts on several other occasions: Why would anyone pursue great wealth? It requires intense, lifelong dedication and comes with a long list of drawbacks. Moreover, money itself is not a fulfillment. It merely makes it possible to purchase other things that might serve as fulfillments...assuming those things are for sale.

     Robert A. Heinlein discoursed on the subject briefly in Stranger in a Strange Land:

     “Big money isn’t hard to come by. All it costs is a lifetime of devotion. But no ballerina ever works harder. Captain, that’s not your style; you don’t want to make money, you simply want to spend money.”
     “Correct, sir! So I can’t see why you would want to take Mike’s wealth away from him.”
     “Because great wealth is a curse—unless you enjoy money-making for its own sake. Even then it has serious drawbacks.”
     “Oh, piffle! Jubal, you talk like a harem guard trying to sell a whole man on the advantages of being a eunuch.”
     “Possibly,” agreed Jubal. “The mind’s ability to rationalize its own shortcomings is unlimited; I am no exception. Since I, like yourself, sir, have no interest in money other than to spend it, it is impossible for me to get rich. Conversely, there has never been any danger that I would fail to scrounge the modest amount needed to feed my vices, since anyone with the savvy not to draw to a small pair can do that. But great wealth?....Captain, you don’t know what an Old Man of the Sea great wealth is. Its owner is beset on every side, like beggars in Bombay, each demanding that he invest or give away part of his wealth. He becomes suspicious—honest friendship is rarely offered him; those who could have been friends are too fastidious to be jostled by beggars, too proud to risk being mistaken for one.
     “Worse yet, his family is always in danger. Captain, have your daughters ever been threatened with kidnapping?”
     “What? Good Lord, no!”
     “If you possessed the wealth Mike had thrust on him, you would have those girls guarded night and day—still you would not rest, because you would never be sure of the guards. Look at the last hundred or so kidnappings and note how many involved a trusted employee . . . and how few victims escaped alive. Is there anything money can buy which is worth having your daughters’ necks in a noose?”
     Van Tromp looked thoughtful. “I’ll keep my mortgaged house, Jubal.”
     “Amen. I want to live my own life, sleep in my own bed—and not be bothered!”

     Anyone sharp enough to accrue great wealth is easily perceptive enough to spot all the drawbacks Jubal Harshaw enumerates above. Yet there are many who pursue it even so...and if we define great wealth as $50 million or more in 2019 dollars, thousands who eventually acquire it. We must infer that their incentives, whether for the fortune itself or for what they could do with it when they eventually “cash in,” are stronger than the disincentives we know.

     A look at the late-stage careers of notably wealthy Americans doesn’t tell us anything coherent. A lot of them never stop working at the trades that made them wealthy. Perhaps those are the ones who view money as a success metric, or as a way of “keeping score” against their wealthy contemporaries. The others put themselves to a wide variety of other activities, whether commercial, political, charitable, or self-indulgent. The patterns among them, if any, are indistinct.

     Wealth makes a man important in the eyes of many. The reflection from those eyes can persuade the wealthy man that he really is important – that he has more to offer the world than mere purchasing power. From this we get persons such as Donald Trump and Tom Steyer. The former has proved his self-assessment to be correct; the latter...well, perhaps we shouldn’t go there.

     Wealth can also make a man feel an obligation to those with less...and of course, for every wealthy man there are many thousands who have less. That obligation can lead to immense eleemosynary projects. Some of them actually achieve some good. Some, such as Mark Zuckerberg’s huge donation to the public schools of Newark, New Jersey, do no good at all, or demonstrable harm.

     And for some, wealth is merely an avenue toward hedonistic self-indulgence. These might not strike all my Gentle Readers as pitiable, yet they are, for what is ultimately emptier than the endless gratification of “the belly and the phallus?”

     Taraka continued, "I feel that I will give you back your body one day soon. I grow tired of this sport, of this palace. I grow tired, and I think perhaps the day draws near when we should make war with Heaven. What say you to this. Binder? I told you I would keep my word."
     Siddhartha did not answer him.
     "My pleasures diminish by the day! Do you know why this is, Siddhartha? Can you tell me why strange feelings now come over me, dampening my strongest moments, weakening me and casting me down when I should be elated, when I should be filled with joy? Is this the curse of the Buddha?"
     "Yes," said Siddhartha.
     "Then lift your curse, Binder, and I will depart this very day. I will give you back this cloak of flesh. I long again for the cold, clean winds of the heights! Will you free me now?"
     "It is too late, oh chief of the Rakasha. You have brought this thing upon yourself."
     "What thing? How have you bound me this time?"
     "Do you recall how, when we strove upon the balcony, you mocked me? You told me that I, too, took pleasure in the ways of the pain which you work. You were correct, for all men have within them both that which is dark and that which is light. A man is a thing of many divisions, not a pure, clear flame such as you once were. His intellect often wars with his emotions, his will with his desires . . . his ideals are at odds with his environment, and if he follows them, he knows keenly the loss of that which was old—but if he does not follow them, he feels the pain of having forsaken a new and noble dream. Whatever he does represents both a gain and a loss, an arrival and a departure. Always he mourns that which is gone and fears some part of that which is new. Reason opposes tradition. Emotions oppose the restrictions his fellow men lay upon him. Always, from the friction of these things, there arises the thing you called the curse of man and mocked— guilt!
     "Know then, that as we existed together in the same body and I partook of your ways, not always unwillingly, the road we followed was not one upon which all the traffic moved in a single direction. As you twisted my will to your workings, so was your will twisted, in turn, by my revulsion at some of your deeds. You have learned the thing called guilt, and it will ever fall as a shadow across your meat and your drink. This is why your pleasure has been broken. This is why you seek now to flee. But it will do you no good. It will follow you across the world. It will rise with you into the realms of the cold, clean winds. It will pursue you wherever you go. This is the curse of the Buddha."
     Taraka covered his face with his hands. "So this is what it is like to weep," he said, after a time.
     Siddhartha did not reply.
     "Curse you, Siddhartha," he said. "You have bound me again, to an even more terrible prison than Hellwell."
     "You have bound yourself. It is you who broke our pact. I kept it."
     "Men suffer when they break pacts with demons," said Taraka, "but no Rakasha has ever suffered so before."
     Siddhartha did not reply.

     A very wealthy man is facing a terrible trial – a real one, in a court of law, for allegations of sex trafficking involving underage girls. That man has his own private jet airliner, a big one. He also owns a private island where most of the alleged offenses took place. He consorted for decades with other very wealthy, often very famous men. Some of them would accompany him on trips to his island; indeed, some went there many times. If it was as the allegations have represented it, it was a place dedicated to pure self-indulgence: in Zelazny’s phrase, “the belly and the phallus.”

     Why did he do it? Was the idea of such a place one of his incentives for pursuing great wealth? Once he had amassed his fortune, was it the only way he could imagine to go on? Or was it his way of thumbing his nose at the morals of the world, saying in effect that “I can do this despite your revulsion, and you can’t do anything about it?”

     Perhaps he’ll tell us. Perhaps we’ll learn something about the power of the darkness that can take hold of a man, even a man with everything to lose and very little, if anything, to gain. Or perhaps we’ll learn something about temptation and how it can have its way with one who has achieved his one and only aim, and having done so, has nothing else to pursue, and so is empty of purpose.

     It will be hard for him, no matter what his motives might have been or what conclusion his jury might reach. But the rest of us will likely learn something about great wealth and its perils. Let’s not let the lesson go to waste.


Michael Stone said...

Very thought provoking.
Thank you, Mr. Porretto.

cc said...

It is also possible that his main indulgence was probably not just prohibited sex, but trapping other rich/powerful men in his web.
It seems to me that the purpose of the "Lolita Express" was to trap powerful men, so that they were bound to do his bidding, or be exposed.

In your Futanari Series, the geneticists that were providing the businessmen with futanari were probably doing it for more than just the money. Consider that someone who is that talented at genetic engineering could have made the same or more by plying their wares on the open market, but they CHOSE a darker path.

Some people may be led by darker forces than just baser instincts. Power is a helluva drug...

doubletrouble said...

Well said, Fran
Psalm 48 (DR)

Linda Fox said...

Perhaps he tired of monetary power, and lusted after power over people. The youngest ones would be most obedient and unlikely to challenge him.

His crimes against children are the worst - we cannot pity him, for he did not pity the children he had control over.