THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT
They have more relatives who are lawyers
"The rich are very different from you and me," F. Scott
Fitzgerald once said in an apocryphal exchange with Ernest
Hemingway, who supposedly replied, "yes, they have more
Conrad Black still has a big pile of green, but is
hemorrhaging millions of dollars a day in legal fees as he
fights eight counts of fraud in a Chicago court. With his
former lieutenant, David Radler, willing to testify against
him, Black’s situation has veered from the tragic to the
farcical. Several years back, when the print baron sought a
title in Britain’s House of Lords, Prime Minister Chretien
dusted off a hoary parliamentary law that would have nixed
Black’s Canadian citizenship if he succeeded. In response,
the former head of Hollinger huffed and puffed and blew
this subarctic pop stand for good, so he could flounce
about in Merry Olde in a swish red robe with white trim.
Ironically, Black is now seeking to reactivate his Canadian
citizenship, in the hope it will offer a bulwark against
extradition to the US.
Black, Radler, and their bottomless sense of entitlement
came to mind during my reading of Hugh Kenner’s 1972
A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller.
intellectually adventurous thinker and inventor, Fuller was
born into a very wealthy Boston family. A rich uncle,
Kenner writes, "did Bucky the favor of taking him aside to
explain in Boston's terms how the world was." The
unpleasant but unassailable truth was this: there wasn’t
enough to go round for everyone. This had apparently been
been proven mathematically, three generations early, when
the statistician Thomas Malthous demonstrated exactly how
population tended to outstrip resources.
The balding bhramins of Boston, like the elite class
elsewhere, "had outgrown the era of the Golden Rule, the
formulation of a less crowded world." Bucky’s uncle
explained that "the possessions of the haves were now
founded on the destitution of the have-nots, and despite
Sunday-school pieties serviceable to placate women, that
was henceforth the unalterable state of things."
In Kenner’s retelling of it, the rich uncle told the young
lad that it was necessary for a rich man "to cultivate
enough of the red tooth and the unsheathed claw to ensure
that he and his loved ones should be haves. This was not
nice, and he need not distress the innocent by talking of
it, but there was really no choice."
It had been established that a man's chance of passing his
life in any comfort was about I in 100. "It is not you or
the other fellow," the uncle explained, "it is you or one
hundred others." To prosper in the Fuller way with a family
of five, he would have to slit the throats - genteelly, of
course - of 500 others. "So, do it as neatly and cleanly
and politely as you know how, and as your conscience will
allow." The author adds that this was "the new role for
conscience: the lubricant of murder."
Not incidentally, Malthus’ notion inspired at least one
famous thinker, Charles Darwin, who redifined the "fittest"
as survivors by definition. A long tradition of social
Darwinism, resulting from a misapplication of his thinking,
led to some of the worst horrors of the twentieth century.
But this was all well in the future at the time of Bucky’s
Although only a select portion of the very wealthy have any
explicit belief or understanding of Malthus, the world has
pretty much always functioned as the powerful’s game
preserve. From the battles of Agamemnon to the resource
wars of the Bush-Cheney junta, the unpleasant truths of
power have been shielded by a bodyguard of lies: the twin
fictions of patriotism and domestic security. Meanwhile,
the poorer parts of the world continue to function, in the
language of thermodynamics, as "entropy sinks," where
energy, material and cheap labour fuel the high-end
lifestyles enjoyed in a dying empire and its outposts.
By imagining historical necessity and biological destiny
were one and the same, Fuller’s relatives had had
discovered that human evolution had peaked, by happy
coincidence, with themselves. However, the young Bucky
ended up rejecting their Scrooge-on-steroids reasoning,
based as it was on nineteenth-century, closed system ideas,
and went on to become one of the twentieth century’s true
This brings us full circle to Conrad Black, an elitist to
the bone, who got away with murder only in the metaphorical
sense. His alleged crime, if we are to abbreviate the
prosecution’s brief, is that he went too far. It is
acceptable for winners to genteelly prey upon losers. But
if creative accounting methods appear to short the
stockholders, or other members in the charmed circle of
privilege, all bets are off. Tigers don’t prey on lions,
and haves don’t go after haves. The rich are indeed
different: they retain legal counsel.