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1995 - ON FAME AND FORTUNE

Entertainment and Enlightenment

      I had to choose famous people born with me in 1935 because information is available about them to provide illustrations of the factors which influence the lives people live. This means that my sample is heavily loaded towards entertainers - there are 16 actors, 12 musicians, 16 writers, and 9 sports stars. I had to work hard to identify and get information about 7 scholars. This reflects public interest in entertainment rather than enlightenment. It is hard to imagine a program called Enlightenment Tonight on prime time TV for 20 years, challenged by Inside Harvard from a rival network. Millions tune in to the Oscars but how many would watch the Nobels?

      There are numerous Halls and Walks of Fame for actors and sports stars. Nine members of my karass - Diahann Carroll, Doug McClure, Dudley Moore, Elvis Presley, Herb Alpert, Jerry Lee Lewis, Julie Andrews, Lee Remick, and Loretta Lynn - are among the 2309 stars (at last count) on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Elvis Presley and Loretta Lynn also appear in various Music Halls of Fame, along with John Phillips and Ronnie Hawkins. However, there does not seem to be any European Music Hall of Fame for their Italian equivalents - Luciano Pavoratti and Mirella Freni.3 Sandy Koufax, Floyd Patterson, Paul Hornung, Cookie Gilchrist, and Gary Player entered the Hall of Fame devoted to their particular sport. Sport is, of course, just another branch of entertainment. There are also a Hall of Game (the gaming community in San Francisco), a Hall of Gaming (for famous gamblers), and a Hall of Fame of Exotic World Burlesque (where the lips of Candy Barr are immortalised).

      There are no Halls of Fame for my 13 writers, 6 artists, and 8 scholars. Though there was briefly a Walk of Fame for Scholars when a group of Cal Tech students spoofed the Hollywood Walk of Fame (with its stars devoted to Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and 5 to Gene Autry) by superimposing stars with the names of notable though unfamous scholars. The only scholars who become famous are those who host documentaries - Carl Sagan, Jared Diamond, etc. Those documentaries are, however, edutainment, in which enlightenment is presented as entertainment.

      It is not clear why entertainment should be so much more popular than enlightenment. The vast body of empirical evidence for a need for stimulation and a need for consistency demonstrates that there is an organic basis for the need to know and the need to understand. Enlightenment is a means of digging deeper into life, whereas entertainment simply provides an escape from life. Our species indeed can't stand very much reality. Or perhaps our schools and universities are not doing as good a job of "selling" enlightenment as media institutions are doing of "selling" entertainment. Or perhaps entertainment is simply easier. On the days I teach, I catch a train at 7 a.m. and return home at 7 p.m. after delivering a three-hour lecture and interacting with students for the rest of the day. When I get home, I'm a couch potato. Most people work as hard as I do every day and are understandably couch potatoes when they get home.

      The equivalent to the Hall or Walk of Fame for businessmen is Forbes Magazine's annual List of Richest People. One of my group - Adnan Khashoggi - headed that list. He epitomised the success story of my Depression generation. He had acquired fame and fortune, like the various heroes of the Horatio Alger novels which were our inspiration. The person who heads that list now - Bill Gates - is devoting his life to giving his money away. The person who is second on that list - Warren Buffett - has given most of his money to Bill Gates so that Gates can give it away.

      It is difficult to imagine Adnan Khashoggi or any other successful businessman of my depression generation giving their money away. This is one more reason to regret being born too soon to be a nerd. We grew up in the industrial society, based on energy; they grew up in the post-industrial society, based on information. The problem in the industrial society is that there is too little energy; the problem in the post-industrial society, is that there is too much information. You can be a Robin Hood of information, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, without depriving the rich and enriching yourself in the process. As we moved from industrial to post-industrial society, we moved from a psychology of scarcity to a psychology of abundance. The person with the only Mona Lisa may be envied, but the person with the only telephone is to be pitied. The value of his phone increases with the number of phones owned by other people. My generation is unable to shift from a psychology of scarcity to a psychology of abundance.

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3   Though I was delighted to discover that they were childhood friends who took the tram together to attend their music lessons. Their mothers worked together in a cigarette factory in Modena.