Friday, August 3, 2012

Signs you are the 1%: credible fear of thronging marauders.

I am going to apologize in advance for bringing zombies into this discussion.  But first, this:
“The rich are always afraid. I saw robbers in a bad year once rush into the gate of the great house and the slaves and the concubines and even the Old Mistress herself ran hither and thither and each had a treasure that she thrust into some secret place already planned."
That is from Pearl Buck's The Good Earth (1931).  Now comes this story from NY Magazine:
..."It's incredible, right?" shouts Jeff Greene over the roar of the two-seater dune buggy's motor. "It's 55 acres!" Still in his whites from this morning's tennis match, he's giving a personal tour of his Sag Harbor estate, barreling at 30 miles per hour through the vast forest of scrubby pines and soft moss of its gated grounds. ... Greene made his fortune in real estate, and he’s never been shy about showing it off. “Having money is great,” he says. “It’s fun. The more the better.” ...  “I wish we could spend more time here,” he says. “Honestly, we have so many great homes.
He cuts the engine, and for a moment the only sound is the waves lapping peacefully against the shore. Greene gazes across the bay at the multi-million-dollar houses peeking from behind the trees. I assume he’s quietly contemplating acquiring even more of the shoreline, but then he says something surprising. “If somebody wanted to go after a rich person,” he observes, “they have got their pick of the litter out here.” 
 It’s not a stretch to say many residents of Park Avenue harbor vivid fears of a populist revolt like the one seen in The Dark Knight Rises, in which they cower miserably under their sideboards while ragged hordes plunder the silver.
“This is my fear, and it’s a real, legitimate fear,” Greene says, revving up the engine. “You have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different.” 
...He and Mei-Sze plan on rebuilding as soon as they are done with their renovation in Palm Beach. He's not sure what he wants it to look like, but one thing is likely: The new property will have gates. "You're in Palm Beach, you're in the Hamptons, you think you're so secure," Greene says. "Do you really think if you had 50,000 angry people coming across the river, you think you're safe?"
This speaks volumes about what it means to be free.  Fear, even if irrational, is driving the superrich to wall themselves off from society, fearful of a day of reckoning that must eventually destroy their careful efforts to hoard.  Can anyone really be free in a society which allows the haves to amass such wealth that the resulting disparity creates a credible safety threat from the have-nots?

Now for the zombies.

In the final scenes of the second season of the Walking Dead, the camera pans out to show the survivors huddled around a fire, thinking about what they are going to do to protect themselves from the coming zombie onslaught.  A dim but unmistakable picture emerges that the group is not too far from what looks to be an enormous and well protected prison complex.  One leaves the season with the question of whether barricading the group behind a big enough wall will ensure their survival.  Can they survive behind the wall, and for how long?  How will they feed themselves?  What kind of life can they hope to rebuild there?  The alternative is finding a way to live out in the open without being detected as prey by the vast and apparently growing population of zombies (an alternative suggested by the extremely disturbing and creepy entourage that rescues another of the survivors that had been separated from the group).

We may look back and wonder what on earth sustained the zombie craze that has currently infected all levels of social discourse today, even among academics (besides the sheer silliness of the whole venture).  Perhaps the growing sense of unease about what happens in a world defined by absolute social stratification drives some of the allure. 


  1. Interesting. Your use of the undead to think about class reminded me of a recent piece by Carlo Rotella which appeared in the Boston Globe:

  2. I hadn't seen that, thanks for the link.