I’d like to ask you to consider, if you would, two elements of "common wisdom" in the US today. They are:
- Money can’t buy happiness.
- Poor little rich girl (said with a dismissive tone.)
The former is, I think, true, although I don’t think it proves as much as those who say it seem to suspect. Having more money, all else being equal, gives you more options and the ability to pursue higher-valued ends, and so tends to contribute to happiness. However, all else is usually not equal; to have more money you have to do more work, work in a field you might not like as much, and save or invest more, which means putting off consumption. At many times, I have chosen less money, now and in the future, because I believed the opportunity costs of higher income were too high. So, while still desiring money, I can agree that money isn’t everything and that we cannot pursue happiness solely by predicting future money income.
The second statement above is a sarcastic, biting remark about rich people. It expresses the idea that a rich person who is upset by other aspects of their life is ungrateful, and an object of scorn and ridicule. Worse, it is an expression of jealousy. The speaker means to say "if I had all her money, you can bet I would be happy." These two ideas are, of course, contradictory. If money doesn’t buy happiness, there is no reason to think that the rich should always be happy. Certainly, one should not expect the rich to be happy while an oppressor is attacking, humiliating, and imprisoning them.
I bring up these topics because of the poisonous current mood in the United States. A vicious public assault has been launched on Paris Hilton, the Hilton heir, and there seem to be near-universal support for this assault. It is fashionable for the media, private individuals, and politicians everywhere to express their distaste for Paris. For some libertarians, this distaste has even overpowered opposition to the state.
Prior to her recent legal problems, public opinion was already solidly against Paris. She is criticized for not working — as if most of the speakers would continue to work at their current jobs if they suddenly inherited billions. I know I wouldn’t — I’d go back to grad school and spend the remainder of my life studying one subject after another. But that’s my preference — Paris prefers the party scene. Why begrudge her freely chosen preferences with her own money?
In any event, this widespread hatred erupted when Paris was arrested. Otherwise civilized people can be heard to make crude remarks, suggesting that being raped and beaten in jail might teach Paris "a lesson." What lesson is that? The very idea teaches me that envy is a powerful, although evil, emotion. I learn from these remarks that most of my fellow citizens consider inmates suitable agents of punishment, a curious position to take. By the way, isn’t it true that the guilty inmates would tend to be the most brutal in assaulting the weaker inmates, and the innocent would be disproportionately attacked? Moreover, why in the world would convicted criminals be appropriate agents of justice?
What is Paris being jailed for, exactly? She had the temerity to drive her own car, on roads paid for out of her taxes, after consuming more alcohol than the state approves of. For this crime, she received probation, with the attendant irony that probation generally requires employment. Her probation is now being revoked, on the grounds that she was caught driving with a suspended license. Of the many absurd laws we deal with on a daily basis, this may be the most absurd. The widespread acceptance of driving-licensing is strong evidence of the success of the education establishment in brainwashing the public. Perhaps a case can be made for licensing of, say, doctors. I wouldn’t accept this case, but I have an inkling of how it would go. Licensing of lawyers is to be expected — after all, we immediately see the state’s interest in making sure that all who work in the justice system are suitably "educated" in statism. But a license to drive your own car, on roads they tax you to pay for? This is simply an excuse to charge bureaucratic fees, and to make people carry identifying papers. That we accept this is a testament to the ability of the government to warp the minds of the citizenry.
So, for this non-crime, Paris Hilton is being sent to jail. The irony is palpable — a system supported by theft, which operates largely through threats and coercion, is presumed to be morally superior to a blonde who inherited some money and seems to laugh too much. These thugs will lock up a peaceful, if immature, young woman, while the population cheers and anticipates the horrific beatings she will receive. In our left-right political spectrum, opposing such a thing is called "lacking a moral compass."
Can the Paris haters point to one particular action of hers that is supposed to have harmed anyone? Yes, she made a TV show about her inability to hold a steady job — who cares? This certainly won’t put her on the welfare lines anytime soon, and making a tv show probably pays better than holding a steady job anyway. She entertains countless people, and has attacked no one. Yes, she had sex with her boyfriend, which of course puts her beyond the pale of normal teenage behavior — sure. She dresses sexy, also completely unusual behavior for a shapely blonde. Why hate her?
Celebrities tend to reject those arguments which most vindicate them. Paris, no doubt, would be horrified by an anarchist suggestion that those who murder, rape, and steal — the state — are not fit to judge and jail others. Instead, she told Governor Arnold that she was "too pretty to go to jail," inviting more ridicule from the Paris-haters. In attacking such a statement, though, they ignored one important point — she’s right. She is too pretty for jail. However, so is everyone else in the civilian world. There are plenty of people who have done something wrong — a few choice statements from Jesus come to mind here — but I am hard pressed to think of one whose behavior even approaches that of men like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and their ilk. Yet these men are held in high esteem, and criticizing them is considered unpatriotic, "the politics of personal destruction," or worse. Meanwhile, vicious hatred towards an airy blonde is acceptable behavior.
By the way, I am particularly curious about male Paris haters. Aren’t men supposed to defend and protect women, not laugh while they are abused and beaten? Furthermore, aren’t these values held in particular esteem by the so-called conservative men who are most likely to hate Paris?
So, spare me your jealousy over Paris’ money, and the vicious little idea that, because someone is rich, you may attack them at will. Spare me the absurdity that the rich girl shouldn’t complain while being jailed, because this makes her a "poor little rich girl." The rich have problems too — for instance, being attacked by those who hate them for being rich. If you set your hatred of Paris aside for a moment, it becomes clear that she has harmed no one, and the so-called crimes she was convicted of are absurd non-crimes. Then let us free Paris, and focus our attention on those who actually do evil.
Joshua Katz, NREMT-P [send him mail], is Chief of EMS at the Town of Hempstead Department of Parks and Recreation. He has studied philosophy of mind, logic, and epistemology of economics from an Austrian perspective, and is a former graduate student in philosophy at Texas A&M, as well as holding a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He enjoys a glass of port and a wedge of Brie, but has discontinued this practice on a regular basis, due to the sugar content of the port. He has recently been offered a faculty position at the Oxford Academy in Connecticut beginning September 2007.