The Walton Family Foundation has established a utopia for bike enthusiasts -- primarily of the off-road persuasion -- around the company town of Bentonville, Arkansas. Because I know someone on the inside, I get to hear about the great work they are doing in their own fiefdom, as well as in other places through generous grants. How fortunate for cyclists that someone in the family is interested in cycling.
Initiatives like the Waltons' promotion of cycling infrastructure, the Gates Foundation's worldwide efforts in aid of global well-being, and billionaire Hansjorg Wyss aiming to buy up 30 percent of the remaining relatively wild land in order to retain a barely sustainable planetary ecosystem put a golden light on a small percentage of the super-rich who happen to like things that are good for rest of us. But it all exists at the whim of the aristocracy.
We're in the mess we're in because the majority of the money has favored destruction. Walmart is regularly criticized for devastating small town business districts and paying its staff so poorly that they need taxpayer assistance to survive. Wyss sold his medical device manufacturing company to Johnson and Johnson, an even bigger corporation fully vested in America's profit-driven, patient-consuming health care racket. He still holds stock in medical research companies equally enmeshed in the current system of medicine for profit. That philanthropic money doesn't grow on trees.
The problem of philanthropists digging one hole to fill another goes back at least to the 19th Century. The great union-fighting titans of the gilded age established our standard of opulence and laid the groundwork for targeted philanthropy in the modern era. But it's all a variation on the whims of the nobility. You know the Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules.
I have wondered whether a more even distribution of wealth would just lead to more people owning destructive toys and chopping up ecosystems into mini-estates. The current crop of oligarchs sets the tone, because they're really just normal folks like you and me, only unbelievably richer. Mitt Romney -- really just upper middle class with a net worth of merely $250 million -- had a lively conversation with El Queso Grande about all the different machines a person could use to burn gasoline and churn up the lake in pursuit of fun. One of the Walton boys has his own Bell UH-1 "Huey" helicopter he likes to play in. And when I lived on Tuftonboro Neck, some rednecks rode their dirt bikes around a pretty little grassy field, gouging down to subsoil and shredding the air with the rasp of engines, where I had previously seen deer and foxes enjoying peaceful evenings. Only they weren't your average kickers, they were from a famous hotel family that owns an increasing percentage of shorefront along that section of the lake. Normal people. Who wouldn't, if they could afford the equipment?
Left to pure democracy, the planet's survival would probably face no better prospects than it does now. People tend to look at what's right in front of them at any given moment. They'll vote up or down on individual issues without connecting them to each other. We like to keep things simple. I'm no different. But everything is connected, and not in some touchy feely way -- although that is also true. It's all physically tangled together. Cut the tangle and you might sever the expensive and irreplaceable power cord to your favorite piece of electronic equipment along with the that wad of half-worn shoelaces someone threw in the drawer with it. The poor aspire to prosperity as demonstrated by the already prosperous. Normal people want to move up the pyramid, and not to undermine its foundation in case they do get to rise through the tapering layers to its pointy peak.
We thank the nobility for their charity. We ask them for grants and use the facilities they are so kind as to provide. We accept that this is their world because they bought it when the rest of us couldn't. So we can only hope that enough of them want to take good care of it.