AS the tragic story of the deep submersible Titan unfolded on Twitter and Instagram, people were introduced to a universe in which spending a quarter of a million dollars to be able to see the wreck of the Titanic was not considered out of the ordinary. The ultimate tragic end of the Titan showcased with no small irony the faith that the very wealthy can put in progress.
However, the story of the submersible and its occupants was soon replaced by another, when Elon Musk — the most frequently talked about bad boy billionaire — made headlines. Over the weekend, news broke that Mark Zuckerberg of Meta had accepted the Tesla founder and Twitter owner Elon Musk’s offer to participate in a cage fight.
A ‘cage fight’, for those who may not be familiar with the term, refers to the octagon-shaped fenced-in area in Las Vegas where the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is held.
Elon Musk, who turns 52 today, boasted that he had a signature move where he lays down on top of his opponents and does not move. Musk also boasted of never working out other than throwing his children up in the air.
The BBC report on the whole issue noted that Zuckerberg has been training assiduously and is a jiu-jitsu expert who has won competitions. Those, of course, are the details. The central issue is why two men who command two of the largest fortunes in the world would even want to do something like this.
After all, when one can have anything at all in the whole world, would someone want to pursue something like this? Moreover, why would men known for their brains want to test each other’s physical abilities before an audience?
Going into space on a private mission is one thing and somewhat justifiable in terms of the technology having been researched by scientists and astronauts for decades, but wrestling another rich man and exposing oneself to harm and injury makes very little sense for men whose empires are built on their brain power.
That, at least, is the way an ordinary person thinks. So many billionaires, at least those of our generation, are not quite so easy to reason with.
Why would men known for their brains want to test each other’s physical abilities before an audience?
In an article that was published some years ago in the Guardian, a journalist sat down with the wealth managers of some of the world’s billionaires only to discover that bad and even stupid behaviour by billionaires is all kept under wraps by wealth management firms that often have staff members devoted to making sure that the insane tales of so many billionaires never reach public ears.
There are plenty of examples of widespread collusion on this point — the entire Jeffrey Epstein scandal and the fact that Epstein supplied underage young women to wealthy men is evidence of this, as are the mysterious circumstances of Epstein’s death.
Sadly, even if the deeds and general lack of sense in the very wealthy was easily accessible, most ordinary people would not believe it anyway. By and large (and contrary to the anti-billionaire rhetoric of recent days), ordinary people love billionaires.
The number one reason is that the fantasy of being a billionaire speaks to the ordinary person’s deepest anxieties. How lovely life would be if one did not have to worry about pleasing the boss, making a profit on the business, paying for healthcare or any of the vast array of money-related worries that poison the average person’s everyday existence.
This is also why some people get very upset if anyone criticises them. Even while poor people who are born into poverty are accused of being lazy and stupid all around the world, raise a finger at billionaires, and many people will jump to shut you up.
Criticising the very wealthy is like raining on the fantasy parade of millions of people who are somehow incredibly encouraged by the fantasy of making it so big that they outdo their worst enemies.
That and the fact that billionaires employ public relations firms that deploy trained professionals to defend them on social media as well as conventional media.
You can say whatever you want about the desperately poor, but a lot of people are taking note of what you say about a billionaire no matter how stupidly they have behaved or how callous their display of arrogance has been.
Naturally, if it was reason rather than fantasy that informed our views on billionaires, there would be more consideration of why one individual or one family even needs more than $100 million and whether the very existence of such wealth is a guarantee that the majority of the world’s poor will, in fact, remain poor.
This is because when capital is concentrated in the hands of a few it means that they are controlling a disproportionate share of the world’s resources. The deployment of these resources is, thus, up to the whim and fancy of whatever philanthropic endeavour they choose to fund at any given time.
It is no surprise then that a bunch of billionaires — Jeff Bezos among them — have funded initiatives that look into immortality or at least into living for several hundred years. When everyone loves you and no one thinks anything you do is immoral, then why not plan on living far, far longer than the ordinary person? Several scientists are promising to come up with just such a lifespan.
For the rest of us, life is likely to remain, per the Hobbesian truism, nasty, brutish and short. Not to worry though, there is the cage fight between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk to look forward to. We can’t all be billionaires but we can all watch billionaires be stupid and applaud them anyway.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2023