A Pitiable Inheritance

Posted: January 5, 2013 in Culture, Ethics

Lots of ways exist for ego and self-regard to misfire. One quintessential way to lose one’s bearings is to be suddenly successful and/or celebrated and then begin believing the hype generated by the media and fans. Another is to pass others up as one’s powers and wherewithal grow in scope, such as when a younger sibling is propelled past an older one or when children accept responsibility for their parents as age wears down the elder generation. As a society, America’s ascendance during World War II and afterwards to superpower status went to its head after years of harboring an inferiority complex about its lack of sophistication relative to older, established cultures of Western Europe from whence many Americans came. (As a mostly immigrant society, we hardly bothered to consider our Asian and African roots.) The trajectory is familiar, as embodied in exhortations such as “don’t forget the little people” (once you become a big man) or “don’t step on others on the way up” (because you’ll meet them again on the way down). It may be one of the hardest things to resist: letting success go to one’s head and believing one is “all that.”

But what of those whose inheritance (wealth, position) paves the way to the top, who never had to work for it (or work as hard) because of parents or older siblings? Phrases that illustrate this dynamic include being “born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth” or being “to the manor born.” The prerogatives enjoyed by those whose family circumstances enable them are really quite different from those whose families seem intent on keeping them down, as in “don’t even think you will ever be any better than us,” which forestalls striving pretty handily. There is a large middle ground between those two extremes, of course, that most of us experience, where the normal flow of life is characterized by neither leapfrog success nor suppression and failure. We fumble and stumble our way through the labyrinth on our own steam and merits, sometimes with modest successes but nearly always with setbacks.

But isn’t it a rather pitiable inheritance to never face those challenges? Only two months past the presidential election, one such person “to the manor born,” Mitt Romney, has dropped outta sight faster than even George W. Bush after leaving office. (Like Bush, Romney may be a prime example of failing upwards.) I recall reading plenty about Romney and his inherited wealth and position, one of the best descriptions being that that he was born sliding into home but thought he had hit a home run. That perspective accounted for his apparently unshakeable confidence that he would be the victor in the election — something preordained — as well as his dumbfounded incredulity at having lost. His alienation from reality aligns perfectly with others whose success and position allow them to utter phrases akin to “let them eat cake,” such as fellow Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who said, “if you’re poor, it’s your own fault!” (He might also have been overheard to say, “let them eat pizza.”) The media landscape (a true distortion lens, that) is full of folks who have completely lost touch (if they were ever in touch in the first place) with their fellow man and who have become part of what I’ve heard called the “tribute kleptocracy,” a narrowing set of one-percenters characterized by their insatiable, gluttonous grab for the spoils but who can never be happy or whole with their miserly hoards. Indeed, we’re not even through with the inauguration and I’ve already heard it’s settled that the next presidential candidates, riding the coattails of previous presidents, will be Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Perhaps there is a quiet voice whispering to them that, at their core, they are undeserving. I dunno, but I rather pity someone whose ambitions never allow them to feel even modest satisfactions.

  1. Danny says:

    I was looking at your blog today and have to say! Wow :) Some of the latest posts especially are very interesting ! :) :) :)

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