322. The abysmal (V)
People hate billionaires from plain envy; however, their envy is mediated by the products the billionaire creates. There are dozens of billionaires whose names you do not know, yet those few whose products you use every day catch all the envy going. Consequently, everyone has an opinion on Jeff Bezos, but few people have much to say about Warren Buffett—what does he even do, something with the stock market?
Fortunately for Bezos, most people enjoy using Amazon; they claim to fear he could take over the world because they are so dependent upon its convenience; actually, an Amazon parcel is a pleasant surprise—it feels like a present, a present from Jeff—and so, usual envy notwithstanding, nobody really hates Bezos. They half-wish to liberate themselves from their dependency on him; yet few have the self-discipline to traipse into town; and so the complaints against Bezos are only half-serious jibes against a largely well-liked lord.
At worst, Amazon reminds people how weak and undisciplined they are; and so they resent Bezos for their own bondage—you are Bezos’s bitch, thanks to your own laziness. Similarly, Musk made his money on a product, PayPal, which is relatively marginal in most people’s lives; and he is now best-known for products that are cool—Tesla and SpaceX—so offsetting envy. Yet the most unfortunate man in this respect is Bill Gates: his products are ubiquitous; everyone uses them, almost every day, for work. Hence Gates is associated in everybody’s mind with the drudgery of work. The first thing they do in the morning is turn on their computer and the first thing they see is the Microsoft logo; every subsequent breakdown, home or work, comes with the Microsoft stamp—the work world is a Microsoft world.
This explains why Gates is often a figure for extreme hate and exotic conspiracy theories; he already exerts, in most people’s minds, total control over their daily lives, from invoices to emails. So Gates has become the psychic dump for the tiresome frustration that comes with offices, work, and broken printers. There is no claim too wild that can be made about him that will not be pretended to be believed; he has come to represent every boss and manager in the world.
Gates is himself an uncharismatic and unattractive man, somewhat redolent of a PC salesman in a suburban shopping complex. There are certain billionaires—Branson and Musk, for example—who undertake adventures that inspire wonder in people, Branson chose long-distance ballooning and Musk seeks to explore outer space. Gates has done nothing of the kind; he remains stuck in suburban dad mode, despite his princely wealth. Indeed, to look at him it is not hard to imagine that he manages a McDonald’s or similar enterprise. Musk and Bezos have reformed themselves through physical exercise; they have a certain presence and charisma. Gates remains the personification of a nagging system error on his own operating system. He looks like a pest, someone to be shooed away.
Worse still, Gates is basically “nice” in the sense that he wants eradicate diseases with his vast wealth and seeks, in his mind, to generally help people. Doubtless, as with all benevolent foundations, this will lead to irresponsible action and perverse incentives; yet man does not react well to charitable intentions anyway—we prefer a monster. Consequently, all the generous projects Gates sponsors are seen as a global scheme to manipulate the masses, quite contrary to the intended effect. There is an oft-circulated picture of Gates drinking water reprocessed from faeces, sniffing the product during the process; and this sums up the Gatesian experience: a stale fart in an office where the windows are jammed closed and the air conditioning has broken. So in Gates we have an unfortunate combination: extreme wealth, bound to create envy; wealth derived from a product that people associate with drudgery and boredom, along with petty irritation; and an insipid and bland personality that is rebarbative in its own terms