Mull Day, Aprilcot 8, 41 A.B.
"I think Rene Descartes was born today,
therefore he was."
My neighbor invited me over last night to watch his tape of "The Pirates of Silicon Valley."
It's been haunting me ever since....
"The Pirates of Silicon Valley" was a movie made and run by TNT last year. Although it seems to have premiered June 20, 1999, I didn't get a chance to see it before now. Probably a good thing, since that's about 9 months of being haunted by it that I've accidentally managed to avoid forever.
The movie purports to tell how Apple founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates became the titans of the computer world that they are.
It was, by and large, not a pleasant experience....
Before going any further, let me say that I realize that no movie can do a real person justice. In fact, it sometimes seems an oversight if a single true fact actually makes its way into the final cut.
And I often suspect that Hollywood thrives on peddling tales about how awful the rich and powerful among us are just to make us feel better about ourselves. I mean, would you sit and watch a movie that takes a guy as rich and powerful as Bill Gates and unrelentingly depicts him as a genius and a saint with a perfect family, smile, and haircut?
That said, this particular movie made a few points which seem both appalling and true:
- Gates is less a genius than a huckster. First he suckered IBM into thinking he had an operating system he really didn't have, then he suckered the rights to DOS out of its inventor (Tim Paterson) for a mere $50,000. This made him very rich.
- Gates and Microsoft didn't invent Windows so much as take Apple's graphical operating system and mouse and rip them off. This set him on the road to becoming the richest man in the world.
- Steve Jobs is hardly any better. He took Apple's graphical operating system and mouse from a group of Xerox people whose names no one recalls.
- He also let a girlfriend and their daughter live in poverty while he was making hundreds of millions of dollars. When the girlfriend asked for a mere $20,000 to call everything square and even, he refused to pay.
Ok, so maybe Tim Paterson himself ripped off Gary Kildall and his CP/M operating system when he came up with DOS.
Maybe Gates and Jobs and what they did were necessary correctives to the arrogant fools at Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Xerox who didn't have a clue about the revolutionary technologies they allowed to slip right through their fingers.
Unless you admire school yard bullies and others in desperate need of some manners and/or intensive psychological counseling, it's still all a bit much to take....
Two old questions come back to me, again and again:
Are all super wealthy people more or less crazy?
Is wealth moral?
Maybe we're all crazy and wealth merely gives that craziness the room to grow in ways and to an extent denied most of us.
Maybe craziness produces the drive necessary for the acquisition of great wealth.
Maybe the desire to acquire great wealth is itself a mark of madness....
Sloppy, emotional terms, I know. But then, it is not my intent to write a definitive analysis tonight of the precise relationship between billion dollar bank accounts and the human minds whose names those accounts happen to be in.
Rather, consider this entry a brief glimpse of the first layer of an onion that threatens to bring tears to my eyes.
Suffice it to say that certainly Gates and Jobs are not alone in their... peculiarities. TNT's own Ted Turner is hardly a run-of-the-mill sane person, and the knowledge that he owns the rights to "Citizen Kane" - the oddly incredible Orson Welle's take on the oddly incredible William Randolph Hearst - threatens to reduce (or raise) this entire subject to the level of a Pirandello play.
Howard Hughes. Need I say another word?
Ok - yes. Yes, I do. I admit it. I really need to say a lot more - and preferably after I've acquired a list of the 1000 richest people on earth, say, and have gotten them to agree to an intense series of examinations.
Ahh, if only I were wealthy, crazy, and driven enough to pull that off...!
Is wealth moral?
Or - to put it another way - is wealth healthy? Is it healthy for the wealthy individual? Is it healthy for the rest of us? Is it healthy for society?
Great wealth failed to protect the health and well-being of JFK, Princess Diana, or Linda McCartney.
Great wealth seems to have ruined the health and the lives of a great many people in the family of J. Paul Getty if the book "Painfully Rich" is to be believed.
If you could afford anything you wanted at anytime, would you be more likely to choose regular mammograms and prostate checks or alcohol, drugs, and/or French cheesecake?
I might be wrong, but it seems to me that once we're able to afford a certain minimum level of health care, further wealth becomes a danger.
Just ask JFK, Jr., or John Belushi next time you see them....
But, hey - it's their money, right? If their wealth hurts the health of the rich or the descendants they leave it to, that might just be none of our business.
Perhaps the real question we ought to concern ourselves with is, Are super wealthy people healthy to have around for the rest of us?
Quick answer: I doubt it.
Why? Because wealth is power, and really - who is so wise as to be legitimately entrusted with the power of a billion dollars? Of a hundred billion dollars? Who??
Power is the real problem. If Bill Gates wants to use his wealth to indulge himself, I don't care. He's just one man, and even if he decides to eat and drink and have sex every moment he can, he's no threat to me or anyone else, really. There's no chance that his actions will result in a shortage of food, or drink, or mates for the rest of us.
It's what else the super wealthy can do with their money that worries me.
If Bill decides tomorrow to hire an army of people to dig holes in Indiana with shovels, and another army to follow behind the first filling in those holes, there's no law that says he can't.
If Bill decides to build a mile-high monument to himself, he might have to spring for the red lights to alert passing planes, but other than that....
If Bill decides to change the location of his plants or offices on a whim, upending the lives and fortunes of thousands of people, that's his right.
If he decides to transform large chunks of the Amazon jungle - and then decides to just pick up and walk away from the environmental havoc halfway through, as some rich guys have - well, it's his money.
If he decides to try to corner the silver market, like the Hunt brothers did, or otherwise attempts to manipulate the economy for whatever reason, we just kinda have to hang on and hope for the best.
And if he decides to follow Ross Perot and Steve Forbes and Donald Trump into politics, he'll immediately be able to distort our democratic political processes in ways out of all proportion to his wisdom and single, personal vote.
There's something odd about a society that requires its school teachers to jump through all kinds of hoops and oversight procedures before ordering classroom supplies but allows a billionaire to buy the company that makes classroom supplies and shut it down just because it's blocking his view of the ocean....
There something odd about a society that rewards the president it elects after months and years of scrutiny with the personal buying power of $200,000 a year but can reward a lucky, unknown huckster with the personal buying power of $200,000 or more a day... an hour... a minute....
Our country's Founding Fathers were men deeply suspicious of power. They created a system of government involving numerous checks and balances so that no one individual or group might have the power of the king they fought so hard and for so long to overthrow.
It is difficult to imagine them excusing or accepting the return of the arbitrary power of a monarch to this land merely because it springs from a quirky economic base rather than from political demagoguery or force of arms....
Put one final way... as a thought experiment....
Suppose that tomorrow I'm digging in my yard and I unearth a sure-fire ancient Indian recipe for cancer prevention.
Suppose I pass it off as my own, successfully secure all rights to it, have its safety and efficacy certified by the Food and Drug Commission, and sell it to the people of the world for the quite reasonable price of $1000/person (bundled, of course - at no extra charge - with a copy of this journal).
By year's end, I have over $6,000,000,000,000 in the bank.
Or a mere $3,000,000,000,000 after taxes, overhead, and chocolate.
Is it really obvious that I am morally entitled to that money?
Is there a single reader of this journal who would trust me - a self-confessed almost jester - with the power such wealth would bestow??
That's all I have to say.
You are now free to drop to your knees and thank your god that I don't watch any more movies than I do.
Back To Hunt For That Ancient Indian
Prevention For Cancer That I Secretly
Encoded In Yesterday's Entry
Forward To See If My Continued Poverty
Has Managed To Change Me In Ways
Imaginary Wealth Never Has
(©Now by Hans, official assistant to Dan Birtcher,
so that Mr. Birtcher might spend more time with his first love -
digging in his yard for a cure to the common cold)