From the Sanctimonious to the Ridiculous
I think sometime this year elite radical environmentalism died. And at about the same time perished also the notion of the man in the mansion as the man on the barricades. Let me explain.
We all know that Al Gore has become a near billionaire through tirelessly warning the Western world that our daily habits have ruined the planet and nearly doomed us. Gore argues that what we take for granted — the too large homes in which we live, the carbon-spewing cars that we drive, the superfluous vacations and energy-hogging appurtenances that we enjoy — are all pernicious to the environment, and unsustainable.
That advocacy — expressed through investments, partnerships, advertising, movies, lectures, books, private companies, ads, and essays — has made Al Gore fabulously wealthy. The recent Climategate scandal concerning fudged science did not affect the religion of Gore, LTD.
Nor did the horrendous natural ash cloud that blanketed Europe — and in unprecedented fashion shut down all European air travel for days — remind a humbled Gore that sometimes nature in a second has the destructive power to alter the very way we live in a way that man does not over decades.
No, what ended the gospel of Gorism was Al Gore himself.
In this context, the recently purchased Gore second mansion at Montecito, in Oprah country, is of some national interest. Why would Gore purchase a second energy-guzzling estate, replete with several fireplaces, fountains and bathrooms, when he was stung so badly about his hypocritically profligate energy use in his Tennessee compound, his houseboat, and his private-jet junketeering? Does he understand that his newest mansion is a sort of volcanic ash-cloud that has now overwhelmed Earth in the Balance, Inc?
Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
The answer is sort of important, because it is emblematic of the decline of liberalism over the last thirty years. Collate the anti-capital rants of a zillionaire currency speculator George Soros, the green sermons from a late Ted Kennedy who stopped a wind farm from marring his vacation home’s views, a John Edwards of “two nations” fame constructing a Neronian Golden House, a Tom Friedman warning of the consumer habits that lead to a hot, flat earth from a 10,000 square foot English-style estate of the sort that 18th-century English barons built after successful careers in the Raj, the comic case of Jeremiah Wright moving to a mostly white golf course to dream up more sermons about “white folks’ greed runs a world in need,” or a $5 million a year earning Obama — with all his expenses picked up by the government — lamenting out loud why rich people seem to want ever more money they don’t need. Some spread the wealth around.
We can call this malady Gorism — living not merely at odds with your zealotry, but living entirely against your zealotry — and it seems to reflect a few assumptions of the modern progressive elite that are not mutually exclusive:
a) Penances and Indulgences. A life professed spectacularly at odds with one lived seems a psychological mechanism akin to medieval penance. The sinner finds exculpation through loud confession of, or material payment for, his sins. And the payment is not just for past hypocrisies, but works preemptively — in the expectation of present and future enjoyments to come once the pay-as-you-go formula is established: one new docudrama about a polar bear trapped on a melting ice shelf, one new mansion in and about Santa Barbara.
The more spectacularly Mr. Gore’s veins bulge, the more he hits the high notes with “digital brownshirts” and “he lied to us!,” and the more he weeps over shrinking ice caps and coastlines on the rise, the more these manors — and others to come — become morally acceptable. In other words, gallantly bearing the environmental cross more than earns the Gores’ hot tub and Pacific view. By now, given the decade of Gore’s indulgences, I think he can do just about whatever he pleases and still enter the green fields of Elysium.
b) The Guardian Mystique. Plato’s Guardians at least took on some sort of sacrifice as the price to dictate to others. Our new ones do not. Al Gore has convinced himself that if he is to triple his productivity on our behalf, he really must, from time to time, endure a ride on a private, carbon-spewing jet — to ensure that there are fewer carbon-spewing jets.