Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Living Together, Part 3

Living Together, Part 2 discussed how elites "provided" (essentially, economically mandated) individualized space for proles, leaving open further issues, such as how elites:

1) Pretend to support communal space for proles;

2) Provide communal space to elites, while appearing to support individualized space for elites; and,

3) Destroy attempts at widespread communal space.

Sharing Space Under the Illusion of Separation

While proles labor toward the inefficient marker of success of the independent dream home, elites constantly portray the realized image of that dream home. Elite home-images are suitably profane, so that naive/accepting proles can think, "Wow, that rich guy sure is swell," while naive/rejecting proles can think, "Wow, that rich guy sure is a jerk." The elite mansion, though, is not merely a house too big. It is actually, in many cases, a locus for elite operations, like a network hub, offering comparatively greater savings than an equal size of conglomerated proletariat houses. Therein lies the deception: the elite house is not an example of relative waste, but of controlled, controlling efficiency. The effect is similar to how elites pay cash for possessions, and in so doing win, while proles must constantly pay in obligations for interest, and in so doing lose. This is why elites have manipulated the idea of the self-reliant individual, and the single-family (eventually, single person-, if you're interested in the future) home: to increase prole inefficiency and maintain elite advantage.

For 21st century European and American audiences, the royal families of Europe provide the easiest example of this filth, which we'll then extrapolate to the seeming modernity of informally-royal celebrities and tycoons. Consider the palaces and mansions of the British royals. These are extravagant, overdone houses, yes, but they house more than just a family. They include security services, historical documents and artifacts, cleaning and cooking staff, fitness equipment, outdoor recreational space, theater and arts facilities, food and trinket storage, and housing for long-term hangers-on. This space, and these assets, are not only available to the elites of record--the immediate royal family--but to elites worldwide. Elites constantly open their houses to one another to an extent that commoners are not able to do because they lack the up-front costs. Elites stay with one another for weeks in different countries; they share chefs, food budgets, drivers and cars, private planes, firsthand knowledge of localities, refrigerator space, toiletries, et cetera.

Elite friends and hangers-on use the properties, too. The nominal owner of any property may be a queen, a nation, a company (as in the case of the Ambani corporate building discussed in Money Laundering), or any form of illusory entity, but the net effect is that all of the goodies in the mansion are available constantly to the entire family and its servants. Elites exchange vacation time with "outside" elites, but groundskeepers, courtesans, valets, consultants, minor business partners, et cetera, can live semi-permanently in the home. The benefits of free rent and subsidized food can be used to lower the costs of receiving other beneficial services. "The butler did it" is a murder mystery trope because rich households have some guy around to open the door. Exchanging one person worth of room and board for the massive benefits of having that extra person around (and under your command) drastically lowers the costs necessary to get all those benefits--and is only possible for the elites who own the space that they can provision in return for the aforementioned benefits, as well as maintenance of the space itself. Because of those latter considerations, it's the deal that can't fail: boarding subjects in a facility they maintain ensures the continuation of the facility for later use.

(This works with human resources, also. The offensively, lazily rich hire poor nannies to raise their heirs, provisioning investment income [or the nanny's permissible use of investment property] to a servant who must invest the surplus exclusively in the richer genes.)

Palaces to Mansions

Modern elites use this same method: shielding communal living space under the guise of overblown independence. They proudly buy and sell gigantic properties, as though they're the only persons prancing around the interior of their seventeen thousand square foot homes. There is a heady elite trade in unoccupied or temporary residences, as part of a separate game of real estate investment, but actual elite living rarely occurs in the form of individuals or tiny groups occupying separate residences, as commoners do--and when it does, the lonely musician in his cavernous hillside LA house tends to be the rare, naive success (see Largesse or Die, below).

For commoners, it's great if a friend has a car you can bum rides from, and occasionally give him gas money or buy him dinner: his extra car mileage goes toward free gas and a hamburger, while you don't then have to invest in a new car (or an external taxi service). If he has a spare room you can rent, the savings go up for both of you, as you get a room (and kitchen access, bathroom access, living room sitting space, et cetera.), and he gets money to help make rent, and maybe get a bigger place.

Elites take these simple principles and multiply them to complete effect. They don't need to go to movies because they have private theaters. Sponsoring an artist means getting free appreciation of live displays or first editions, which can be shared with supplicants. In short, because they have these assets, elites can share them as well as use them--and they do. Popular resentment against elites often takes the form of, "Oh, look at that jerk, that house is way too big for what he needs," when actually, that space is being put to more efficient use than most proletariat housing.

The sprawling modern mansions of elites now are the same as the acknowledged palaces of the nobles. They house personal assistants, legions of courtesans and friends, groundskeepers, investment advisers, business managers, interns, bodyguards, ghostwriters, travel specialists, IT guys, dietitians, et cetera. Many of these "jobs" are actually performed by the individuals doing them, but the jobs are generally a false front, no more real than mafia "no show" jobs handed out to subordinate family members. In exchange for unwavering loyalty and camaraderie, keeping up the house, and creating an appearance of wealth and popularity, the entourages of the modern elite get to be part of the mansion experience.

Elite residences aren't just residences for extended family and business acquaintances, but actually places of family business. They are storage facilities, conference rooms, computer centers, garages, and RV and boat storage. They host conventions, weddings, parties, and other networking stuff that proles have to purchase space for separately from external elite facilities (see again Part 2). Elite large pantries and deep freezes allow for the purchase of commodities at better rates, to be stored until needed for use.

A little math to illustrate. In Week 1, frozen dinners cost $3.99 on sale. Weeks 2-10, frozen dinners cost $4.99 at "regular" price. Steve, who owns a freezer, buys ten meals for $39.90. He eats one a week. Mary, who does not own a freezer, buys one meal a week--the first at 3.99, and the last nine at 4.99. Mary spends a total of $48.90, or $9 more. Add as many zeroes as you like, and as many people as you like, until the example seems meaningful. Extra resources ahead of time result in massive efficiency: something that proles can't compete with. The spare cash to invest in surplus ahead of time, and the spare space to store surplus until needed, provides elites a massive, ongoing benefit.

When you look at it objectively--say, from the cliche space-alien anthropologist's perspective--the elite arrangement appears easier to understand: there's a really big house with eighteen bedrooms, and fifteen adults, four children are living in it. That's a much better, more economical situation than a standard suburban three bedroom house with two adults/two kids, or two adults (or one). The 1950s American independent nuclear family is fairly associated with patriarchy and racism, but it is, more importantly, a clever economic ruse: the queen lives with her entire extended family and a horde of servants, while the proud, independent commoner lives "on her own," or with "her husband and children."

House size hits harder when children get older or elders get weaker. Space constraints result in children and elders being pushed out on their own, or forced into profitable state senior/minor prisons for room and board. Elites, though, are able to shelter their children, guiding them gradually into front careers over a period of decades, while always providing a mansion that can impress potential friends or give room and board on demand. The antics of Paris Hilton or the children of entertainment families (the producer/actor/director conglomerates) have always delighted the jealous commoners, and the flamboyant behavior of these heirs is spurred by the consequence-free environment of always having a fallback luxury lifestyle available.

Various shows of "we're cutting you out" have been used over the centuries, so that the elites can pretend that they punish their children for the understood lifestyles that come under scrutiny. Public threats of disinheritance, confidential and largely unverifiable, are popular, while the networking advantages of birth can never be scrubbed, even on the rare occasion when Lord Fauntleroy, Sr. actually does lose his temper with his third son.

Largesse or Die: Eliminating Future Competition

The "ridiculous mansion" trope actually serves more purposes than those previously discussed. Like all other facets of elite waste, it allows for sovereign governments, land developers, and the holders of great capital to siphon off wealth from randomly rich celebrities, like superstar athletes, or lucky artists who find their way into markets without generational backing. Periodic washing-out surges, like the 2008 bailout, and planned recessions, like the current one, wipe out "middle" classes, or groups of workers who save efficiently enough to threaten to develop new inter-generational wealth. However, when a basketball player or a first-generation movie star accumulates $50 million dollars, even recessions won't wipe them out. Luxury-toy spending--clothes, mansions, cars, art, appearances--in affiliation with ridiculous marked-up brands, managerial financial tricks, and the peer pressure of old-family elites, help to wipe those nascent fortunes out within a generation or three, preventing the rise of new dynasties that would have to be assimilated by those existing elites.

Where necessary, in the case of financially savvy sudden elites--nouveau riche families or individuals that get too political, or save too much--there are always solutions available: lone, clearly-insane gunmen acting in irrational ways with absolutely no outside help whatsoever; tragic small aircraft crashes due to unknown mechanical circumstances; or, heart-rending drug overdoses related to unfortunate mental health conditions.

Here's our framework from the beginning:

1) Pretend to support communal space for proles--covered a bit in Part 2; touched on more later.

2) Provide communal space to elites, while appearing to support individualized space for elites--covered in this Part 3.

3) Destroy attempts at widespread communal space--coming up in Part 4.

6 comments:

  1. High Arka, what your analysis shows is that the concentration of power always relies, at least to some degree, on isolating the proles. Get them to chase after the illusion that they can have a similar lifestyle if they work hard enough, and they'll work two, three or more jobs--which separates them from their families and communities. And, it also isolates them from the networking you describe. Meanwhile, they'll never make enough money to afford the people and resources who can help them manage their time, space and money more efficiently. That's how we've ended up with people who are not only isolated, but deeply lonely. Lonely people, if they don't try to assassinate someone rich and powerful (an attempt that almost always fail), will try, in vain, to fill their void with more work and more overpriced junk that will fall apart before it's paid for.

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    1. Inner and outer loneliness is, probably, a more pivotal driving factor than the creation of impartial currencies in what we might call "our current problems." Without that separation from others, people wouldn't be interested in paper, but in feedback.

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  2. Behind every great fortune, there is a great crime. If you go back far enough in history, you will find a gang in England that enclosed a common field and chased away the until then self-sufficient peasants.

    This is one of the many important things that need to be said abou capitalism over and over again, especially regarding the ideology of self-reliance and individualism: capitalism must necessarily destroy self-reliance and independence. Otherwise it is not viable.

    Well, mission accomplished.

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    1. That reminds me of the only good line from Deep Blue Sea: "You the first rich guy in history who's squeaky-clean?"

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  3. Ah, that lesbian hippie "retirement" commune is sounding better and better all the time...

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    1. Ah, Belize, bring me $200/monthly beachfront living, gated communities of expatriates, and only occasional car-battery-related kidnappings.

      ...you may have the better idea. But, but, the beach!

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