Sunday, April 15, 2007


A Zoological Perspective On The Rich

I have been reading a book recently that I would like to recommend. It is entitled The Natural History of The Rich, and was written by Richard Conniff, who has published nature and wildlife articles in magazines such as National Geographic and Smithsonian. The rich are indeed a rara avis, and Mr. Conniff describes their habits and habitats with humor and erudition. In an interview with the online literary journal Identity Theory, he said that the rich weren't smarter than the rest of us - but they are "bolder", at least those who made their own millions. They can also be more reckless.

Lots of us are bold though, and courageous, but few of us have either the wherewithal or the inclination to direct their courage and energy towards amassing fortunes. If that were so, then how come so many decorated combat veterans of, say, the Vietnam War ended up on the streets or in homeless shelters. The truth is, I think, that the self-made rich have a specific talent that is no more intrinsically worthy than any other talent a human being might have. The only difference is that this talent is more vastly remunerated than all the rest merely because it consists in acquiring the one commodity that capitalistic society uses to reward all talents - money. Their talent, in essence, rewards itself, and seems all the greater because of it.

Conniff also harps on the "dominance" of the rich, which is at once amusing and depressing. I can't remember the last time I had the occasion to square off with a tycoon, and was forced to slink away in submission. I never encounter such people, and for that I thank God. Their effect on my life is more like that of the weather than like that of an alpha male baboon. They generate the storms that drive the vicissitudes of economic life, the demand for my skills bobbing up and down in the wind. As a matter of fact, considering that global warming is a direct result of modern industry heedless pursued, the storms generated by the superrich are as much real as figurative. And on this windy, rainy day I feel buffeted by them both. Tycoons could just as well be typhoons to me.

"A Natural History of The Rich: A Field Guide" by Richard Conniff (at

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