If early reviews are any indication, a new book by the title of Uneasy Street helps expose the fragile egos of the guilt-ridden elites behind fractivism.
There are two parts to the fractivist movement, such as it is. There are the malcontents drawn to radical causes as a form of life-long rebellion and, then, there are guilt-ridden elites who enable them, largely through funding.
The former are well-known within small circles and they’re often found commenting on these pages. Vic Furman, a long-time guest blogger here has a unique talent for getting under their skin and making them reveal themselves as his post yesterday so beautifully demonstrated.
I’ve also spent a lot of time here documenting the nature of the guilt-ridden elites among the Haas, Heinz, Park, Rockefeller and other wealthy families funding fractivism. That’s why a New York Post article on a new book entitled Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence immediately caught my attention.
I’ve many times suggested the elitist funders of fractivism, and especially the trust-funders, suffer from an intense sense of guilt at having done so undeservedly well by comparison to others and, particularly, the ancestors who made the fortunes they live off. They’re ashamed, at some level, that easy street came to them too easily, yet they want to preserve those privileges they’ve been handed.
How to do so without resorting to imitating St. Francis is the great dilemma for them. The answer, for many, therefore, is to become activists or funders of activists, throwing a little of their excess toward causes, and the more opposed the causes are to how they became rich, the better to prove their moral superiority as they gaze into the mirror or mix with their high-society counterparts.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr., for example, revealingly told others, “I was born into it [wealth] and there was nothing I could do about it. It was there, like air or food or any other element. The only question with wealth is what to do with it. It can be used for evil purposes or it can be an instrumentality for constructive social living.” Rockefeller, in other words, wasn’t about to give up his wealth but, rather, intended to invest it in realizing a utopian vision with himself in the role of one of Plato’s Guardians.
The new book reviewed by the Post seems to pick up on this theme. Here’s an excerpt from the Amazon description:
Sherman [author of Uneasy Street] upends images of wealthy people as invested only in accruing and displaying social advantages for themselves and their children. Instead, these liberal elites, who believe in diversity and meritocracy, feel conflicted about their position in a highly unequal society. They wish to be “normal,” describing their consumption as reasonable and basic and comparing themselves to those who have more than they do rather than those with less.
How far does this factor go in explaining fractivism? Well, guilt-ridden elites are certainly everywhere to found among those financing it and, also among, the practitioners themselves. One thinks of Susan Van Dolsen, “the apparent leader of Westchester 4 Change, who lives in Rye, New York, home of the super-wealthy, and who prides herself on also being a Patriotic Millionaire who wants to raise taxes,” who I wrote about here.
And, then there’s Josh Pribanic, who I covered in this post and about whom I noted the following:
…he’s the spoiled child of one of the trial lawyers at Pribanic & Pribanic, one of those personal injury firms with a special web page dedicated to soliciting Marcellus Shale plaintiffs. It also provides a link to the Public Herald where Melissa and Josh are employed, which is basically a creation of the Pribanics, as this Herald donation page makes explicitly clear. As one viewer observed, Triple Divide opens like an advertisement for a law firm. No wonder!
Plus, there’s Judith Lockard, covered here, who attended the Dalton School, an Upper East Side member of the Ivy Preparatory School League (annual tuition today of $44,460), where you “come out trained not in facts but, rather, virtue signaling.”
It all fits what Uneasy Street uncovered:
Rachel Sherman interviewed 50 New York-area parents of young children, whose household incomes ranged from $250,000 to $10 million and with assets totaling up to $50 million. These locals live pampered lives — with multiple high-end properties, teams of household employees and frequent, lavish vacations — but still, they do impressive mental gymnastics to avoid identifying themselves as truly rich…
Sherman calls this a question of “how to be both wealthy and morally worthy,” and explains that it’s an issue that the vast majority of her subjects — all of whom are in the city’s top 5 percent of earners — grapple with. Over and over, her subjects make an effort to distinguish themselves from the stereotypes of the American rich as “status-seeking and lazy but also morally deficient . . . snobby, greedy, rude, braggy and self-absorbed,” in Sherman’s words…
And when they can’t effectively distance themselves from their wealth, the reluctant rich are eager to find ways to defend it. Most often, this means underscoring the hard work they’ve put in to earn it — even, paradoxically, in cases where the bulk of their assets are inherited.
“Work is how they make themselves worthy of their privilege,” Sherman writes. Yet the definitions of “work” range from the conventional — a banker or a corporate lawyer who puts in long hours for a seven-figure salary — to the outlandish.
Nicole, who used some of her multimillion-dollar inheritance to buy an upscale Manhattan apartment, argues that she’s entitled to her home because she helped decorate it: “I did paint all the walls. I mean, now they’ve been repainted by professionals . . . I didn’t do the best job in the world. But I worked — you know, I put a lot of elbow grease into this. This was not, like, handed to me on a platter. I feel like we worked for it. Through, like, physical labor.”
Woe is paint-splattered Nicole…
Like Beatrice, many of the subjects admit that their actions don’t always match up with their ideals, particularly when it comes to their political views.
Kevin, who estimates that his assets place him among the top 1 to 3 percent of New Yorkers, nonetheless identifies with the Occupy Wall Street movement: “I’m Occupy. That’s me. That’s the weird paradox.”
In fact, many of the participants give back, in the form of sizeable donations to charity or to other institutions, like their children’s schools. But very few are willing to significantly alter their lifestyles in order to do so, and even the most left-leaning men and women cite their high tax burden as an explanation for why they don’t give away more. In an extreme example, Gary says that holding onto his fortune is a sign of his personal growth: “I’ve learned about humility in the last 10 years. And part of my humility is to think that I could give away all my money, and it wouldn’t make a dent in the world.”
For these privileged city dwellers, the possibility of giving their children the best possible lives is often the only incentive they need to stop wringing their hands and start making peace with their wealth. Eliana, who inherited a nest egg of about $9 million, admits that although she believes in the public school system, she ultimately decided to send her daughter to private school because she wasn’t being challenged enough where she was. The decision wasn’t easy, Eliana says, in part because it made her confront certain uncomfortable truths about herself: “I’m going to be in self-hatred all the time,” she explains, “because I’m going to go pick her up at school. I’m going to line up with the other white mothers on the street, and I’m going to hate that I am indistinguishable from them. It’s, like, an affront to my pretensions of uniqueness.” But for Eliana, like many of the parents Sherman interviewed, her ability to provide the ideal experience for her child trumps her misgivings about leading a life of excess.
‘I would say it’s harder to grow up with money, in a way … Nobody’s going to, like, pat you on the head and say “Good job,” when you’re like, “I grew up as a child of inherited wealth.”‘
…And so the next generation of the reluctant rich is born, uncomfortable with their wealth but assured that a good sense of perspective will help balance out the reality of their exorbitant lifestyles. As Olivia points out, it’s not always easy to be affluent: “I would say it’s harder to grow up with money, in a way . . . [it’s] a badge of honor in America culture, to start from the bottom and climb your way up . . . Nobody’s going to, like, pat you on the head and say ‘Good job,’ when you’re like, ‘I grew up as a child of inherited wealth.’ ”
I’ve seldom read a better analysis of what motivates the guilt-ridden elites who fund and form the backbone of fractivism. It explains why the William Penn Foundation funds the outrageous Delaware Povertykeeper a/k/a Riverkeeper and why Susan Van Dolsen leads anti-pipeline campaigns. It accounts for the spoiled children of Occupy and DAPL protests. It tells us everything we need to know about the NRDC gang and their effort to make a wilderness of Upstate New York. It’s combination of guilt and desire to be worthy of something without giving up anything and while viewing the needs and opinions of ordinary Americans with contempt. It is fractivism in a nutshell.