Among the privileged, celebrities, in particular, suffer from guilt. Most of them do not believe that they earned what they have and thus, Victor Davis Hanson explains, they cannot really enjoy it. (Via Maggie’s Farm) They are crippled by the fear that someone, some day is going to come along and take it all away.
When you do not feel that you earned what you have, when the extent of your wealth far outstrips the effort you put into accumulating it, you’re your wealth is grossly disproportionate to your contribution to society, you are going to feel like a fraud. You will feel guilty and you will, Hanson explains, diminish the guilt by doing some serious penance.
Who would not give up a little to save a lot?
If you feel guilty you will need protection. Hanson explains that hyperwealthy celebrities, from Beyonce to Colin Kaepernick to the Clintons to George Soros feel compelled to signal their consummate virtue by glomming on to trendy leftist causes. They try to obviate the implication that there is something suspicious in all the filthy lucre they have accumulated, that they did not earn it, but gamed the system. Thus, they have a special affinity for any ideology that suggests that the system is corrupt.
Almost by definition celebrities earn more than they contribute. But they also earn more than they deserve. Great actors and musicians—from Meryl Streep to YoYo Ma-- are not celebrities. Mediocre talents who fill the tabloid press are.
In the past people who amassed great fortunes tended to be humble about their wealth. They did not buy up entire neighborhoods in order to feel more secure. They did not flaunt their wealth by sailing on mammoth yachts or by spending absurd sums of money on whatever. They wanted to relate to other people, not to lord it over them. And they wanted to give back to society by setting an example of behavior that would produce more social harmony.
They understood that the conspicuous display of extravagant, and especially unearned wealth produces resentment. Most of them knew better than to be classed among the Robber Barons.
In the past, humility was a virtue, something to which others could aspire. It was, if I may say so, the antidote to narcissism. Today, the culture of celebrity values oversharing and vulgarity. Celebrities are a throwback to paganism; they function like gods who lead a variety of pagan cults. And like the gods of Olympus they set an example of bad behavior and encourage others to indulge the same vices. But since they were gods no one was going to judge them ill for their bad behavior. Thus did do they make of vice a virtue.
Almost by definition, celebrities can feel no shame. If they did they would not be making a living by making a spectacle of themselves.
They prefer to live their lives within a guilt/penance narrative. They transgress society’s rules, feel guilty about it and do penance to cleanse their souls. Once they have done so they can go out and sin again. Being virtuous means paying a price for transgression, and thus going out to misbehave again.
The wealthy, the influential, the intelligentsia, and the cultural elite all broadcast their virtues — usually at a cut-rate rhetorical price — to offset their own sense of sin (as defined by feelings of guilt), or in fear that their own lives are antithetical to the ideologies they espouse, or sometimes simply as a wise career move. Sin these days is mostly defined as race/class/gender thought crimes.
They are, Hanson suggests, wearing a mask of virtue because they could not otherwise enjoy their wealth. One might say that since this wealth was not really earned they do not feel that it is really theirs. If the wealth is not really theirs they have no right to enjoy it:
Wearing a mask of virtue is done not to save one’s soul for eternity but to still feel good about enjoying privilege. The sneakers, jeans, and T-shirts or mafia-black outfits of Silicon Valley billionaires can compensate for their robber-baron sins of outsourcing, offshoring, and tax avoidance or simply their preference for apartheid existence with the fellow rich; for George Soros (currency manipulator and European financial outlaw), it is funding leftists who hate capitalists and rank financial speculators like him. All that beats lashings and haircloth.
Hanson describes a number of virtue-signaling celebrities, but the greatest of them all—primus inter pares—must be Bill and Hillary Clinton. Among American presidents Bill Clinton stands out for having cashed in on the American presidency. No other president, before or since, has done the same:
A person from Mars who reviewed the long record of the Clintons – from the young women who fell into the lair of Bill’s predation, to the unapologetic greed from the 34-trillion-to-1 odds in Hillary’s cattle-futures con, to “Chancellor Bill” of Laureate University as the highest annually paid university head in education history, to the privileged lifestyle of huge estates and private jets, (some of it fueled by ensuring the Clinton Foundation would dispense only about 15 percent of its annual expenditures to charities) — would size up the couple as grasping Gilded Age plutocrats whose reactionary lifestyles reflected a lifelong counter-revolutionary self-obsession.
What will it take to put an end, not only to this virtue signaling, but to a culture that forgives just about anything as long as you do not have a corrupt or sinful thought? Hanson suggests that’s time for a Reformation, and perhaps even a subsequent Counter Reformation:
The Reformation — and Counter Reformation — mostly ended the selling of penances. Only something similar will end our pathetic version, perhaps when the public tunes out at the tired boilerplate of “racist,” “sexist,” and “nativist”; or when we quit sending money to the “safe space,” “trigger warning,” “micro-aggression” Ivy League; or we flip the channel when NFL gladiators playact as robed philosophers; or we laugh off celebrity activists as the new John D. Rockefellers tossing out a few of their shiny new dimes.