While I sit back and watch the US elections starting off again – glass of wine in hand (again) – I can”t help but remember how, just four years ago, Trump kicked off his announcement for candidacy with this very classy statement: “I’m really rich.”
This humble declaration legitimized his application to one of the most powerful positions in the world and made me want to ask him: are you really really rich? That gave way to the million-dollar question: what does it mean to be rich today? Which then brought me to the billion-dollar, really important one: am I rich?
Being rich: what is still is
Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in 1750: “The old politicians constantly spoke of morals and virtue; ours only talk about trade and money.” In this statement, this philosopher regretfully described how his society valued money, wealth, over everything. This was written practically 300 years ago, but needless to say, it remains incredibly accurate.
And perhaps, in today’s world, we have never been more exposed to wealth. You know this kind of wealth that is so abundant, it seems to be vomiting Louis Vuitton bags and Rolexes; it enables worldwide travels and completely normalizes taking twelve holidays a year.
Yet paradoxically, this extraordinary has become the ordinary and all this luxury seems more attainable to all of us than ever before. Wealth no longer seems to not be linked to your ancestors; to a fortunate last name. We can all find opulence and fame from the ground up!
Time and Forbes, these two insert-currency-of-choice-here-obsessed magazines, define this word as either having more money than the GDP of an modestly-sized African country or having an outstanding influence thanks to strong connections within the media. Moreover, they have hugely contributed towards creating the delusion that these billionaires – or these influential people as they call them – are all self made men or women.
Just think of Trump, the man who never lies, didn’t he build all his first campaign by embodying the American dream of making fortune on one’s own?
It is a minor, quite insignificant detail that his father was able to loan him one million dollars to start his own business. All parents have that kind of money.
And let’s talk about our two-time Nobel Prize nominee, the Swedish Greta Thunberg.
Although I admire her, we need to realize that Greta Thunberg is not a media darling created from scratch. She is helped by a famous opera singer mother and a father and grandfather who were actors.
Sadly, Wealth remains undoubtedly an affair of social reproduction and familial connections.
Being rich today: what it does not mean
There was a time when wealth meant that you had received a certain education. These days we would celebrate these outstanding minds by offering them a lavish lifestyle in compensation for elevating our minds out of dreary banality. Today, the simpler the message you deliver, the more the prestige that will be conferred upon you.
When I lived in Singapore, the country with the most millionaires per square meter, I realized that money does not (necessarily) pair with intellectual wealth. At that time, I dated a few men. Ok, I dated a lot of men, however, these dates rarely ever went past the cheek kissing stage, because most of these men were as intellectually stimulating as a new born baby. As much as one tries, there is nothing you can wring out of them apart from demands for food, whiny crying and a sort of green smoothie.
Anyways, I remember this expat guy, a headhunter, whom I went with on a sort-of date a few years ago. He was really wealthy – in terms of money. The stagnant conversation circulated lazily around gossiping about the expats of the “English group” as I called them, because they all spoke only English.
I clearly recall starting to become bored and was wanting to chat about something else, something a bit more substantial than me replying: pfff can’t stand her, yup love him because he annoys her to bits , and I do not know if I like him because I do not understand when he speaks. (Do not get me wrong, I’m practically fluent in English. Perhaps I do have a slight French accent when I open my mouth, but compared to the Mr. Sun-reading Liverpool sitting opposite me in my story, I speak BBC English, and at that time I thought he did as well. )
So I was with this dude desperately wanting to change the topic. Therefore I started to question him about the news, which is the first moderately accessible topic one grasps vaguely for when attempting to drive the topic of conversation down the highway of pseudo-intellectualism. Please bear in mind that what follows is the actual truth.
-“So what are your thoughts on Wikileaks?” I asked with hope.
He looked at me. He paused. And then I saw his index finger rise, followed by the rest of his bulky right hand, slowly approaching my face to land on my lips. There I was: my mouth sealed with a finger. I was speechless. He then gently said:
-“You mean Wikipedia.”
My heart started racing, I started raging. I gently removed the patronizing finger .
-“Non, I mean WikiLEAKS,” I insisted, giving him a second chance.
-“I have never heard of it.“ He replied simply, shrugging off the conversation.
And then suddenly we both heard a loud “CLACK” as my vagina closed up for all eternity to him.
Singapore, along with Los Angeles and Dubai, are the best places to go if you want to get a reminder kick up the ass that money does not equal intellectual stimulation. Financial capital is no longer a guarantee that you possess even a bare minimum of general cultural capital.
Being rich today : what it should mean
Unless you eat Jesus for breakfast and want to make America great again armed with nothing but bricks and racism, there is no way you can deny the increase of temperatures; brush off nonchalantly the amount of natural catastrophes that have happened just this year.
We are destroying our earth. Consequently, living in a place where the environment is not polluted is a luxury nowadays.
Fifteen years ago, I lived for seven months in Hanoi, Vietnam. I probably lost ten years of my life expectancy to this enchanting, terribly tiring, draining, and unhealthy country.
Each time I bought my cigarettes, which were a popular American brand, they did not taste anything like the ones sold in Europe: I could feel the bitter taste of cancer, the smoke drifting in my mouth, sinking down through my throat to end up lodging comfortably in my lungs, never to leave ever again.
Every two weeks, I would finish my Saturday evenings French kissing my toilet – courtesy of the vodka I had been served, which dated from prestigious USSR times and had been topped off with a sprinkle of unknown chemical X.
Every night, as I rubbed my cotton pad soaked with make-up remover on my face, it would come back all black. The air pollution was terrifyingly toxic.
And every day, I ate vegetables that had been treated with poisonous chemicals, which were technically forbidden even by Vietnam’s extremely permissive regulations.
Everything that I put in my body: from oxygen to nicotine to alcohol to food, everything was polluted with overloaded chemicals. The cigarettes, the fruits, the alcohol sold to underdeveloped countries have even more chemicals in them than normal.
The poor – or as our former French president, Francois Hollande, called them: “the people without teeth” – are the first victims of pollution. When you have limited resources, being environmentally friendly is no longer a priority, it is a privilege.
It is freakin expensive to buy organic fruits and vegetables; you need money to ignore fast fashion and go for sustainably made clothing; you need to show your dollars if you want to live in an area that is not at risk; and as we say time is money: you need time to recycle everything and not use plastic (My god people who avoid plastic have plenty of time on their hands!)
For all of us who preach taking the train over flying to reduce carbon emissions; who studiously research the clothes they are buying to make sure they are not being sewn together by candlelit orphaned toddlers on a factory floor; who raise their placards and their voices to combat climate change, all of these actions are borne of a privilege that goes beyond the monetary: this privilege is known as time.
Each time I see my friends and all these empathetic people waving “their let’s be environmentally friendly” flag, I can’t stop thinking that we are making the poor feel guilty of something that they are the first ones to be victim of. What a paradox…!
Living in an environmentally friendly place where you can buy healthy vegetables, breathe clean air and be in touch with the environment – this should be the definition of pure wealth. Health should be the definition of pure wealth.
Being rich tomorrow : what it could mean
As I wrote above, being rich in the traditional way used to mean that one had received a certain kind of education, had been born into a certain type of family, carried themselves a certain way. Some purists would take care to distinguish between these, the “old guard”, and the noveau riche.
While the traditionalists and the Jersey-Shore types battle on, the landscape of tomorrow’s financially secure young adults has changed. It no longer means anything to be wearing the latest fancy clothing or to be driving the newest gas-guzzling car. In fact, if you are rich and you know it (clap your hands!) – then why do you care what other people say as you ride the subway in your thrifted 80’s outfits? It’s easy to insert yourself as a player into the game of “hobo or hipster?” when you know that one look at your parents’ bank account will make the answer quite clear.
The bourgeois bohème (aka BoBos) of Europe deliberately knock down the gold-rimmed markers of braggadocio, preferring to take their time riding the bike to their next culturally-vague yoga class where they do vigorous movements and sing culty songs – which has brought me full-circle to my point about how health should be wealth.
So… am I rich?
I have got a baby…! So, no. I am sick all the time! Every day, there is something new and wrong with me.
For instance, during this month of February, I had my tonsils becoming the size of an industrial egg, had a stomach flue that made me bikini ready in the middle of winter, got an allergy to the antibiotics ( I am at the moment covered with disgusting little pimples), and I have a runny noise.
So, non. I am not rich in terms of health …. And having a baby is not cheap… Or environmentally friendly ! Wow the waste that this little thing creates! But that is for another time.
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