In a recent interview, Prince Harry has not only admitted to killing targets in Afghanistan but has likened his job as a helicopter co-pilot gunner to that of playing a video game. He says, “It’s a joy for me because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful.” War is not a video game and is certainly not suited to those that trivialise the revulsion of killing. It is sad that the never-ending conflict in Afghanistan needs some celebrity glamour — becoming what it should never become —— the personal theatre for the rich and famous. War is an ugly solution for the world’s ill. It should be kept as such. The ardent pacifist, Albert Einstein, so rightly put it by saying, “He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.”
‘I Am Rich’ was an iOS application that used to sell on Apple’s App Store. When purchased, the screen displayed a glowing red gem, that when pressed, displayed in large text the following refrain: “I am rich; I deserve it; I am good, healthy and successful.” The application’s only purpose was to show other people that they were able to afford it. The ‘I Am Rich’ application used to sell on the App Store for $1,000 — the highest price Apple allows for App Store content. Seven ‘I Am Rich’ Apps were sold before Apple removed the application from the App Store on August 6, 2008.
Veblen goods, like the ‘I Am Rich’ application, are valued fundamentally as symbols of social status. The term has its origins in an economic treatise from 1899, The Theory of the Leisure Class that is a social critique of conspicuous consumption. The treatise describes how the ‘lords of the manor’ employed themselves in the economically useless practices of consumption and leisure, whilst the middle and lower classes were employed in occupations that support and benefit the whole society. Wasteful activities are those that do not contribute to the economy or to the material productivity necessary for the effective functioning of society. British singer-songwriter Morrissey has been an outspoken critic of the British monarchy. He thinks of Prince Harry as an ‘absolute idiot’, while the monarchy itself lives off the British public who “continue to finance the excessive luxurious lifestyles of the now quite enormous, wasteful and useless royal family”.
All of this stood in sharp contrast to President Barack Obama being sworn in for his second presidential term this week — at least on face value. President Obama’s speech acknowledged the problems Americans faced. Here was a man from humble beginnings, who has assumed the most powerful role in the world. Here is a president who wants to raise the tax rates for the top two per cent of earners to better distribute resources and reduce inequality. But in many ways, President Obama is no different from Prince Harry. It may actually be Prince Harry who is the more honest of the two. Targeted killing, using drones, is now so regular that the Obama Administration has spent much of the past year streamlining practices to sustain it. President Obama’s legacy may well be known for institutionalising kill lists. Extrajudicial killings were once considered extreme acts warranting serious discussions. Now, the Obama Administration has legitimised killing people, barely suspected of anything, on a routine basis. It appears that killing has become a much sought after Veblen good.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2013.