When I was at boarding school, those years of my life were filled with both the sweet first tastes of freedom and the bitter first tastes of how unfair the world could be. As with most schools there exist distinct “cliques”, or groups of students who naturally gravitated towards each other due to some unseen communal bond. There were the sporty kids, the nerdy kids, the popular kids, the B-list popular kids, the outcasts, and so on. But there was one group that seemed to lord over all of them, just by their haughty and distinctive air: the rich kids.
I remember them quite vividly, not only because of their appearance and manner, but also in the way that they made me feel; I’m still quite embarrassed to admit that I felt inferior and somewhat unworthy in their presence. It was not until much later that I realized this feeling was due entirely to the wealth disparity between us.
I by no means came from a poor family. My upbringing was upper-middle-class; a contradictory mix of frugal values and overt displays of affluence; of cutting coupons and driving a brand new car in order to use them.
However, my quite lucky circumstances growing up were as nothing compared to what these rich kids had. I remember them always having the finest freshly pressed clothes, shiny leather shoes, and that distinct air of haughty superiority that they trailed behind them like a repugnant stench through the hallways of our youth. While the rest of us ate lunch in the cafeteria, the rich kids bragged that they had lunch off campus at local restaurants, driving there in their Mercedes or BMWs. While the rest of us went home every night to a quiet home in the suburbs (or to a dorm room, as was my case), the rich kids went back to their estates. I remember quite vividly one English class where the task was to describe the “house” that we lived in and compare it to the living conditions of the people in Elizabeth’s England. One girl, Drew (a decidedly aristocratic name for a female), raised her dainty hand and politely enquired, “But Mr. Kinder, my parents don’t say we live in a house, they say we live in a mansion.” This is but one of the many anecdotes I could invoke to illustrate the material gulf between these rich kids and the rest of us.
At the time, as a young boy, I was very much into video games. I played all sorts of them, many of which I still remember fondly, such as Mario Bros., Tetris, and Sonic the Hedgehog, just to name a few. But my favorite games of all were the RPGs, or Role Playing Games. These were the games (like Zelda) that allowed the player to step into the hero’s shoes and do incredible things in the virtual fantasy world: slay dragons, save princesses, and yes, win ungodly amounts of treasure.
I spent hours of my young life playing these games, imagining I was the hero, and rejoicing or despairing whenever my character won a decisive victory or met some untimely and gruesome death. I felt like I was venerated or killed with each new playing of the game. In quite a few of these RPGs, there were unlockable goodies, weapons, special skills, magic, costumes, etc. that could keep someone busy for a long time (or at least until the next game came out). By meritoriously progressing through the challenges of the game, the player unlocked these perks and could use them as he or she deemed fit. To my young mind, this seemed right and proper, and to this day, it still does.
The most striking unlockable of all in many of these RPGs that I played was the ability to play the game again once you had beaten it, but with an added twist: you got to keep all the perks and abilities you earned in a previous game, and start with them again at the beginning of a new game.
When I first learned about this unlockable I was overjoyed. At first, it felt incredibly godlike. And it was hilariously funny to use the most powerful spells and waste them wantonly on the lowliest of foes. I delighted in using only one button push to vanquish previously difficult enemies with the Sword of Death and Destruction (or whatever it was called), a weapon only earned a few steps away from the end of the RPG the first time around, reserved only for when you truly needed it against the final boss.
But I soon realized that summoning a fire-breathing dragon to kill Wimpy Wasps and using the Sword of Death and Destruction to vanquish Cowardly Nightshades was super freakin’ boring.
It was way too easy.
I was thinking about this peculiar situation in the virtual world one day when I was walking through the hallways of my boarding school in the real world. Again, I saw the rich kids’ clique milling about in their usual spot and playing the “I’m in, you’re not in” game, when I had an epiphany.
These kids are the Level 30 Zeldas in the Game of Life, but they all started that way! Their fancy clothes are none other than the Wizard’s Robe earned after a long and arduous quest, only it wasn’t they who took the quest, no — it was their parents! Their trust funds and mountains of inherited wealth were none other than the gold their parents (the previous Zelda game players) earned and gave to them. They did nothing to earn it. They just started the game with it!
But worst of all was when I realized that the haughty and impetuous air that they carried with them was none other than the Fire-Breathing Dragon, summoned to blow away enemies and vanquish foes in a blaze of wrath — but they were using it against us normal kids.
This startling revelation caused me to resent the rich kids even more. From this point on, I was done envying them. But something else unexpected happened. A new dimension of feeling inside me opened up. I began to pity them. Yes. That’s right. I felt pity for them. Why? Because I realized that like the Level 30 Zelda that starts a new game from the beginning, only to find himself hopelessly bored against unworthy foes, these rich kids started the Game of Life so close to the finish line and with every advantage, as to make it a complete joke. They were young souls already cast in old moulds. They were more like echoes of their parents, who, in turn, were only echoes of their parents, like an endless string of Level 30 Zeldas starting game after game with all that — stuff.
Humans need challenge. People need mountains to climb, castles to storm, infinite chasms to bridge. This is what the human spirit is all about: achieving the unachievable. It is our nature. It is our destiny.
These rich kids have had stripped from them that basic human drive to reach for the stars and the Divine. They are, in fact, the walking dead; they were born into Death even before they took their first breath.
Inheritance not only kills society by producing incredibly destructive wealth inequality, but it also ruins the young lives that are cursed by it. It takes away from them all drive to do that which is uniquely human: strive.
Inheritance creates a two-tiered society where the “elect” are lucky enough to be born into massive wealth in the top tier, and everyone else is at the bottom. This system is the anti-Meritocracy. It’s like a gamer in an RPG starting out with all the gold, weapons, and magic in the game from the beginning. Now, imagine that this RPG is a multiplayer game. These wealthy players do not enter the game space on a level playing field. No, some of them are able to bring with them riches and abilities earned from past lives, while others truly have to start from scratch. It’s easy to see that those heirs who brought with them things earned from past lives would be at a tremendous advantage over those who started truly from the beginning. The players with inherited wealth would quickly dominate all other contenders, band together, and seek to keep their power.
This system of an unequal playing field is what we have in our real society today. Of course I’m pushing the video game analogy pretty far, but in real life it is much the same. Those born into inherited wealth have a massive and unfair advantage over the rest of us. This, however, does not mean that they are better than we are. In fact, in most cases those born into extreme privilege are pathetic and have childish, underdeveloped personalities for the simple reason that they have never actually had to try to achieve anything in life. Everything has been handed to them, by a butler, in a tuxedo, on a silver platter.
The next time you meet a trust fund baby, a Rothschild, or an heiress, kindly remind them of the following:
They didn’t earn their money.
They are mere lesser shadows of their parents, who in turn were mere lesser shadows of their parents.
They are bloodsucking parasites, who contribute nothing to society (think: Paris Hilton).
So, don’t envy rich kids. Pity them. For them, the Game of Life is already over.