Twice this year I have heard acquaintances confide, about times in their careers when they were in positions of some genuine influence, that they had licence to be arrogant. Yes, the word arrogant (synonym: a******) was used, which caught my attention. In neither instance was the person being ironic or apologetic. It wasn’t exactly bragging either. Just a kind of wistfulness about how great that had been. Wow.
It tended to confirm my belief that each of us has potential other selves lying dormant inside, waiting for a certain set of circumstances before turning us into monsters. It’s why I’m a little reluctant to assign “character flaw” as responsible for someone’s behavior under highly unusual conditions. Conditions that most people don’t get the chance to measure themselves in.
I think it suggests being careful about creating a situation that feeds unbridled arrogance. This is one thing I think we can all agree the founders understood when they created distinct branches of government. It is also the reason I think a class of uber wealthy people is a dangerous thing for a nation. Tom Wolfe’s phrase ‘Masters of the Universe’ was not conjured out of thin air. This is the way the hyper-wealthy are going to feel about themselves, whether they started out as friendly children or not. They are going to feel very entitled to their power and entitled to exercise it. So don’t expect them to be reasonable when the likes of you, or me, try to start a conversation about the obligations of citizenship, or healthy democracy.