Thursday, August 18, 2011

Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires

Ronald Wright, on page 124 of in his work A Short History of Progress (2005) quotes John Steinbeck as saying: 
Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

Some people dispute the authenticity of this quote, but read the Grapes of Wrath to understand Steinbeck's views on how successful an investment capitalistic socio-economic landscape can be, and it's not hard to picture Steinbeck saying this. 

The whole modern cultural obsession with reality shows, instant twitters, the "me Me ME ME!!!" paradigm, drives & reinforces this belief.  "Someday, I'll be as rich as them there Koch brothers too!" - no you won't.  They inherited it from their oil & chemical magnate daddy, and your daddy done run off an left yer mama in her trailer when you was still in diapers.  (to phrase it colloquially, as I DID live in rural Indiana and in South Carolina for nearly 3 decades). 

Wright also states:
"When Mahatma Gandhi came to England in the 1930s for talks on Indian self-rule, a reporter asked him what he thought of Western civilization.  Gandhi, who had just visited the London slums, replied: "I think it would be a very good idea."  If I sound at times rather hard on civilization, this is because, like Gandhi, I would like it to fulfill its promise and succeed.  I would rather live in a house than in a rock-shelter.  I like great buildings and good books.  I like knowing that I am an ape, that the world is round, that the sun is a star and the stars are suns -- taken-for-granted knowledge that took thousands of years to wrest from "chaos and old night."  For all its cruelties, civilization is precious, an experiment worth continuing.  It is also precarious, as we climbed the ladder of progress, we kicked out the rungs below.  There is no going back without catastrophe.  Those who don't like civilization, and can't wait for it to fall on its arrogant face, should keep in mind that there is no other way to support humanity in anything like our present numbers or estate." (page 34). 

Warren Buffet's and Dennis Mehiel's efforts are a start, a small voice, a minority initiative, to help maintain the viability of modern society as we know it... but I fear it is too little, too late, with the vast majority of the 'I got mine' wealthy selfishly hoarding behind their walled communities, armoured cars, and private security, while the rest of celebrity obsessed idiocracy mindlessly go through their daily lives, blissfully unaware of the financial, societal, and infrastructure precipice which we are all rapidly approaching as a planet.

Time will tell.


  1. Coincidentally I just finished reading Grapes of Wrath for the first time. My daughter had it on her AP summer reading assignment, and I tend to read the books she is reading if they are good or interesting. What a great novel... but what a weird ending.

  2. I accidentally hit the wrong tiny button on my smart phone and deleted the comment: J.L. Forrest has left a new comment on your post "Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires":

    Well put. Even truer in 2016 than when you wrote this in 2011.


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