30 Jan 2023 With Davos 2023 Wrapped, How To Cease Being a Comic Book Villain
I was told recently by someone in a position to know that Larry Fink has been hurt by my having referred to him in these pages as a comic-book villain.
My first reaction, this insight arising in a discussion with investment-house types, was for the bottom line: If, as seems to be the case, I’m playing a cameo role as Cassandra in the WEFCU (the World Economic Forum Cinematic Universe), I really ought to be getting some royalties. Maybe it’s time to get an agent.
My second response was empathy. I hate to hear of anyone suffering, even Larry Fink.
Third, though, was justice: Fink and the other denizens of the WEFCU behave – repeatedly and consistently, with arrogance and insouciance – like comic-book villains. And since they act particularly like the sorts of comic-book villains who want to control our lives and crush our prospects while living the life of a pampered nobility, we whom they intend to master can at very least point out the truth. Plus, one sure sign of a petty tyrant is that he doesn’t tolerate being mocked.
Then, though, the return to empathy. There was significant evidence, again from Fink but also from others, that the Davos types really do suffer when their attempts at world domination are aptly characterized. Fink called it “getting personal,” while he and many others whined that, gosh golly, they just wanted to do what was good and right, and that other dastardly types were making it all so partisan. These complaints are so preposterously delusional as to beggar belief, but still: Would-be dictators are people, too, of a sort.
Herewith, then, a step-by-step guide for what to do if you should wake up one morning to discover that you’ve become a comic-book villain, and want to stop.
1. If your dad was a decorated Nazi who used slave labor to develop heavy water, try not to go on the state-controlled television network of a latter-day authoritarian regime characterized by concentration camps and slave labor to laud its system of “government” and muse about forcing it on other countries.
2. If you belong to an organization run by a guy whose dad was a Nazi who used slave labor, and who has himself led the songs of praise for Chinese Communist authoritarianism, maybe drop out of that organization – but definitely resign from its board of trustees and from chairing major committees of that organization.
3. Be particularly wary, and leave the organization particularly quickly, if it turns out that featured “agenda contributors” of the group have written off the vast majority of humankind as “meaningless, worthless people,” and suggested that the way to solve one of the problems your organization insists on portraying as an existential crisis is to eliminate 15/16ths of the human race.
4 If you do hold a leading position in an authoritarian-led non-governmental organization like that, try to make sure that it isn’t pretending to have its own police force, and especially try to make sure that it hasn’t adopted badges that look like the insignia of a force of invaders from space, come to crush the pitiful humans. (Photo from the inestimable James Lileks.)
5. If you’ve taken it upon yourself, in violation of clear legal duties, to try to make normal people use much less – and much less-affordable – energy, make sure that you use about as much energy (or create about as much carbon) as they do, rather than a million times as much. And if you go to a rally to congratulate yourself for making other people’s lives more difficult and more constrained, don’t do it by leaving your mansion in a limo to fly in a private jet to the top of the world in snowy winter to stay in an extravagant (and extravagantly heated) hotel, and in the literal lap of luxury (mostly paid for by the shareholders of the multi-national mega- corporation which you head).
6. If you’re similarly going to take it upon yourself to demand that some groups (the “non-diverse”) accept being discriminated against on the basis of their race, sex and orientation in order to achieve “equity” – which the equity proponents define as equality of outcomes in distribution of property and power – do a quick, two-step check. Step one: See whether you are a representative of any of the “non-diverse” categories. Step two: See if you own a lot of stuff and have a lot of power. If the answer to both of those questions is yes, definitely do not start demanding that other people sign up to be discriminated against to make average outcomes equal. Instead, give away all your stuff and all your power. Then maybe you can sign up for “equity.” You’ll still be a benighted bigot, but you won’t be a comic-book villain (on this count) anymore.
7. Relatedly, if you belong to any organizations that assure the hoi polloi that within a few years they will own nothing and be happy, check to see whether you own quite a lot of stuff indeed. Only comic-book villains own everything while crusading to make everyone else into peasants who must rely on them (the villains) for everything, and so bow to their will. That’s “kneel before Zod” stuff. Not just villainous, but so tacky.
8. Ditto, if you belong to an organization that advocates the eating of bugs, try not to do it from a world-class resort where you’re eating the best of everything.
9. Try to keep your lies plausible. If you’ve embraced a radically partisan agenda and are trying to ram it down the whole world’s collective throat, don’t pretend that your position is somehow wholly non-partisan, and it’s just that the opponents of your position are being partisan by rejecting it. (If your position isn’t partisan, how do you have partisan opponents? Whether you say it or not, the only thing you can mean when you acknowledge that people disagree with you, but assert that they’re partisan but you’re not, is that you to speak with the power of Absolute Truth. That sort of stuff isn’t even from a good comic-book.)
10. Relatedly, try to avoid posing as though you speak for the whole world, or for society, or all the people (of which you want there to be so many less). You know that’s nonsense, because you know that there are people (who are part of all the people, and part of society) who oppose you. What you’re really claiming is that you are, and of right ought to be, the emperor of the world, and that your opinion is the only one that counts. Again, tone it down, Lex.
Given the festival of buffoonery that is the WEFCU, this list of don’ts really could go on just about forever, but I hope even the most preeningly self-regarding of the Mighty Minions of the Mountain must be getting the drift. Don’t try to rule the world. Apply your big plans for social change to yourself first, and fully – and if you can’t or won’t, drop those big plans. Keep your ego at least somewhat in check. Don’t act as though disagreement with you is illegitimate. End partnerships with people, even one-time allies and friends, who can’t stick to these rules. Do unto others …
Doing all of that won’t make you into great people, but it will allow you to stop being comic-book villains. Baby steps and all.
But as long as you remain cartoons of obnoxious evil, we’re going to continue to say so. It’s the only way you’ll learn.