Sunday, September 25, 2005
Still, I don't oppose conspicuous consumption since, short of crime, people must be left free even to make bad decisions and I can't quite see criminalizing oversized houses and private jets. But I am willing to condemn conspicuous consumption, or rather I condemn a certain form of it, even as the too-high life usually condemns itself, such as in that embarrassment of garishness that Donald Trump has created in his marital bachelor pad, or in David Geffen's $80 million dollar fort-like complex.
What's the difference between condemning and opposing? One involves wagging your finger. The other involves passing a law.
The spending isn't the problem, let me point out, or it isn't unless the spender is out preaching conservation while running up a montrous monthly energy bill. No, I will only squak if I sense that the reason the tycoon got her huge house or private island was to distance herself from the rest of us. And not distance herself physically but distance as in lording it over – what Camille Paglia has called hierarchical assertion. That's when I will grow a little saddened and disappointed (to quote ex-Senator Daschle) with the asserter.
I make an exception for Mae West's fabled apartment in LA with all its rumored toys, for the Lennons' apartment in Manhattan, and even for Hugh Hefner's Grotto; these realized visions lend wit, conversational fodder and vicarious pleasure to us all. Because you can tell when a penthouse or mansion has been done up out of pure private glee. And that is something to be admired, or at least appreciated. That is the sort of effort that inspires, that builds morale among the rest of us, whereby the investment of resources, the electricity used in construction, the gold leaf, the crystal, the marble, all come to serve at least some kind of a communal purpose.
But Barbra Streisand's leaden coastline-sucking mansion, where cool-whip-on-ice-cream-sandwiches are served for dessert? Are we lifted up, even for a moment? Or do we see someone using their money to place some sort of a hedge around themselves?
The only good hedge is the ones the rabbis speak of when they speak of building a hedge around the Torah, meaning that we assume extra obligations to make sure we don't violate essential ones. But you do that to get closer to G-d, not farther away from each other. Not that I personally do very much Torah hedging – heck, I'll pluck the whiskers off a catfish and call it kosher. Hm. Digression.
Anyway, so long as you're completing the circle, one way or another, in the human community, I won't care how much oil, steel and concrete you use to do it (since the market will always find more). And living out a dream in a way that inspires others to pursue theirs is absolutely one way, one very pleasant way, to put your shoulder to the commonweal.