AGENCY

Envy is an ugly thing

Geffen shared a picture of his $590 million superyacht named Rising Sun, on which he was on board and sailing in the calm evening waters off The Grenadines Islands in the Caribbean.

In Summary

• Billionaire entertainment mogul, David Geffen, posted on his Instagram account: ‘Sunset last night… isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus. I’m hoping everybody is staying safe.”

• People were upset at how the super-rich are ‘self-isolating’ in yachts, countryside mansions, and private seaside retreats, as it’s apparently insensitive to the plight of ordinary people during the coronavirus pandemic.

Billionaire David Geffen's Instagram
Billionaire David Geffen's Instagram
Image: COURTESY

At the beginning of this month, I came across an interesting news article.

People were upset, was the gist of the article, at how the super-rich are ‘self-isolating’ in yachts, countryside mansions, and private seaside retreats, as it’s apparently insensitive to the plight of ordinary people during the coronavirus pandemic. What started this kerfuffle was an Instagram post.

The post was from billionaire entertainment mogul, David Geffen, who wrote on his Instagram account: ‘Sunset last night… isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus. I’m hoping everybody is staying safe.”

 

Attached to this well-wishing message, Geffen shared a picture of his $590 million superyacht named Rising Sun, on which he was on board and sailing in the calm evening waters off The Grenadines Islands in the Caribbean.

The backlash was almost immediate with people falling over themselves online to slam Geffen. There was righteous indignation over the inequality highlighted by that picture. There was scorn and mockery. People were having online fits looking at that picture of Geffen’s paradise scene – a paradise scene that was worlds away from their own grim lockdown, mask-wearing, social distancing, queue-at-the-supermarket existence, and I thought it was hilarious.

Egalitarians are not going to like what I’m about to say but as the novelist Anais Nin said – ‘The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.’

So here goes. I don’t think the negative reaction to Geffen’s Instagram post had much to do with people taking umbrage at Geffen, and the super-rich, flaunting their wealth during these difficult times. I believe that what the comments revealed instead was unadulterated envy.

I’m talking that emotional deep dive meaning of the word as described by Aristotle when he defined envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune.

You see, we all lie to ourselves about something. What most of us lie to ourselves about is that we have agency. Then a super-rich, superyacht sailing guy comes along, while you’re stuck in a cramped apartment, unsure of your future to remind you that you do not, in fact, have agency.  

Agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and make their own free choices. Having no agency means lacking that power to act and so you’re acted upon. To put that in context, whereas David Geffen has the power to act, people whose feathers were ruffled by the mogul’s post are acted upon; by government, bosses, society, life.

 

This is where the pain lies, the envy, from the facts of life which were especially well articulated in a monologue in the movie Layer Cake. I’ve had to clean up the language used in the movie but the message is pretty much the same. And it goes:

‘You’re born, you take crap. You get out in the world, you take more crap. You climb a little higher, you take less crap. Till one day you’re up in the rarefied atmosphere and you’ve forgotten what crap even looks like. Welcome to the layer cake, son.’

It is in this rarefied atmosphere that the likes of Geffen and the super-rich live, while you… well.

Thing is, sometimes you’ve got to be a good sport and just play the cards you’ve been dealt for, as they say, them’s the breaks.