“A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability.”
– Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
There is a vast and growing gulf between the world’s rich and poor. An obscene gulf. If we can read houses, they will confirm this. They offer a visible lesson in social class.
Houses stand before us like books on a shelf waiting to be read, and when the books are missing, as they are for a vast and growing multitude of the homeless exiled wandering ones and those imprisoned, their absence serves to indict the mansion-dwelling wealthy and to a lesser extent those whose homes serve to shield them from the truth of the ill-begotten gains of the wealthy elites who create the world’s suffering through their avarice, lies, and war making.
Many regular people want to say with Edmund in Eugene O’Neill’s play, Long Day’s Journey into Night:
The fog is where I wanted to be. Halfway down the path you can’t see this house. You’d never know it was here. Or any of the other places down the avenue. I couldn’t see but a few feet ahead. I didn’t meet a soul. Everything looked and sounded unreal. Nothing was what it is. That’s what I wanted – to be alone with myself in another world where truth is untrue and life can hide from itself…. Who wants to see life as it is, if they can help it?
Yet the rich don’t hide or give a damn. They flaunt their houses. They know they are crooks and creators of illusions. Their nihilism is revealed in their conspicuous consumption and their predatory behavior; they want everyone else to see it too. So they rub it in their faces. Their wealth is built on the blood and suffering of millions around the world, but this is often hidden knowledge.
For many regular people prefer the fog to the harsh truth. It shields them from intense anger and the realization that the wealthy elites who run the world and control the media lie to them about everything and consider them beneath contempt. That would demand a response commensurate with the propaganda – rebellion. It would impose the moral demand to look squarely at the houses of death with their tiny cells in which the wealthy elites and their henchmen imprison and torture truth tellers like Julian Assange, an innocent man in a living hell; to make connections between wealth and power and the obscene flaunting of the rich elite’s sybaritic lifestyles in houses where every spacious room testifies to their moral depravity.
The recent news of Barack Obama’s vile selfie birthday celebration for his celebrity “friends” at his 29-acre estate and mansion (he has another eight-million-dollar mansion in Washington, D. C.) on Martha’s Vineyard is an egregious recent case in point. If he thinks this nauseating display is proof of his stability and strength – which obviously he does – then he is a deluded fool. But those who carry water for the military-intelligence-media complex are amply rewarded and want to tell the world that this is so. It’s essential for the Show. It must be conspicuous so the plebeians learn their lesson.
Obama’s Vineyard mansion stands as an outward sign of his inner disgrace, his soullessness.
Trump’s golden towers and his never-ending self-promotion or the multiple million-dollar mansions of high-tech, sports, and Hollywood’s superstars send the same message.
Take Bill Gates’ sixty-three-million-dollar mansion, Xanadu, named after William Randolph Hearst’s estate in Citizen Kane, that took seven years to build.
Take the house up the hill from where I live in an erstwhile working-class town that sold for one million plus and now is being expanded to double its size with a massive swimming pool that leaves no grass uncovered. Every week, three black window-tinted SUVs arrive with New Jersey plates to join two white expensive sedans to oversee the progress in this small western Massachusetts town where McMansions rise throughout the hills faster than summer’s weeds.
Take the blue dolomite stone Searles Castle with its 60 acres, 40 rooms, and “dungeon” basement down the hill on Main St. that was recently bought by a NYC artist who also owns seven grand estates around the country that he showcases as examples of his fine artistic taste. “All these houses have endless things to do — it’s just mind-boggling,” he has said. The artist, Hunt Slonem, calls himself a “glamorizer,” and his “exotica” paintings, inspired by Andy Warhol’s repetition of soup cans and Marilyn Monroe, hang in galleries, museums, cruise ships, and the houses of film celebrities. Like his showcase houses, his exotica must have endless things to do.
What would Vincent van Gogh say? Perhaps what he wrote to his brother Theo: that the greatest people in painting and literature “have always worked against the grain” and in sympathy with the poor and oppressed. That might seem “mind-boggling” to Slonem.
Such ostentatious displays of wealth and power clearly reveal the delusions of the elites, as if there are no spiritual consequences for living so. Even if they read Tolstoy’s cautionary tale about greed, How Much Land Does A Man Need?, it is doubtful that its truth would register. Like Tolstoy’s protagonist Pahόm, they never have enough. But like Pahόm, the Devil has them in his grip, and like him, they will get their just rewards, a small room, a bit of land to imprison them forever.
His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahóm to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.
Where does the money for all these estates, not just Slonem’s, come from? Who wants to ask?
Getting to the roots of wealth involves a little digging. Slonem’s castle was originally commissioned in the late 1800s by Mark Hopkins for his wife. Hopkins was one of the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad, which was built by Irish and Chinese immigrants. Labor history is quite illuminating on the ways immigrants have always been treated, in this case “the dregs of Asia” and the Irish dogs. Interestingly enough, the great black scholar and radical, W. E. B. Du Bois, a town native, worked at the castle’s construction site as a young man. No doubt it informed his future work against racism, capitalism, and economic exploitation.
Wealthy urbanites flooded this area after September 11, 2001, and now, in their terror of disease and death, they have bought every house they could find. Their cash-filled pockets overflow with blood-money and few ask why. To suggest that massive wealth is almost always ill-begotten is anathema. But innocence wears many masks, and the Show demands washed hands and no questions asked.
It is rare that one becomes super-wealthy in an honest and ethical way. The ways the rich get money almost without exception lead downward, to paraphrase Thoreau from his essay, “Life Without Principle.”
Since the corona crisis began, investment firms such as the Blackstone Group have been gobbling up vast numbers of houses across the United States as their prices have gone through the roof. The lockdowns – an appropriate prison term – have set millions of regular people back on their heels as the wealthiest have gotten exponentially wealthier. Poverty and starvation have increased around the world. This is not an accident. Despair and depression are widespread.
There is a taboo in life in general and in journalism: Do not ask where people’s money comes from. Thoreau was so advised long ago:
Do not ask how your bread is buttered; it will make you sick…