19 June 2010

aristocracy

For most of "civilized" society, there was an accorded right of privilege and power to being powerful and having status in ways that a commoner did not possess. An average person was essentially disposable, meanwhile a powerful person would enjoy great leisure to do as they pleased, to hunt, to cavort, to war, to trade, and so on. This is still an accorded right and privilege in modern society, but powerful people tend to isolate and encapsulate themselves away from common people such that the subject does not come up so blatantly. American societies have long imprinted the idea(l) that a person's value is not a titular affair, but rather a meritocratic one. This isn't quite true, since we provide all manner of wealth and privilege to titular people, but the mythology is too powerful for powerful people to ignore and indeed, not to emulate in sometimes socially useful ways (such as bestowing some of their wealth for positive ends: libraries, university endowments, medical research, etc). But not everyone is so ennobled.

When their power has been abused and exercised improperly (in the eyes of other elites/aristocrats competing for their power or, more commonly, competing for the favor of higher elites) people care. So then when a CEO decides to go yachting or use a private jet, it becomes a story. I'm not sure why it should, but it does. If there was a famine in the middle ages, and the lord decided to hold a fox hunt instead of distribute some bread, did anybody care (obviously besides the starving peasants)? There's a couple weird points here.
1) The CEO is, like Obama/Presidents, a symbolic agent of the attention and effort and energy used to accomplish things done by "little people", who generally have actual practical skills and are running around actually doing things.
2) The modern world makes it virtually impossible for a person to be disconnected from events. As such if he was supposed to make decisions, he could do them from anywhere. A rich and powerful person almost certainly would have such resources at their command.
3) This particular CEO, as to a lesser extent the one at AIG or perhaps Citi et al last year, is already designated for a chopping block. I don't understand what difference it makes what he does over the last few months of his tenure. The probable reason a CEO would be able to go yachting during the worst stretch of his company's PR and economic stature in recent history is that he's not actually making decisions anyway. Someone else is. As such, it is irrelevant what he does.

I guess people want to see powerful people making concerned expressions and gestures. I want powerful people to make decisions that influence the actual events that are causes of great consternation. I could give a fuck about the framing effects.
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