Friday, June 3, 2011

The Winklevii Maneuver Revisited

One of the interesting things about being Fabulously Wealthy (F.W.) is that we can forget all that lower-level Maslow stuff and work on our own self-actualization.  In the absence of a daily struggle to survive, we are free to examine our bellybuttons help others with their struggles as an adopted raison d'etre.  We have discovered that the key to post-poverty happiness is to invest in causes that improve the earth and the human condition.  Many in our social circle believe that large-scale philanthropy is a way to achieve relevance beyond the simple creation of capital wealth.
But sometimes all this good-doing just isn't enough.  Sometimes, we need to dip our crazy bone into the warm depths of public lunacy.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg provides a classic example in his attempt to connect with his inner hunter-gatherer.  We have read here and here, among other places, that civilized man has been disconnected from the food s/he eats, although if that were truly true we wouldn't need toothpicks to get the clingy bits out.  Mr. Zuckerberg was epi-curious to find out what it feels like to kill a living beast, then eat it, thereby taking a more active role in the circle of life.

At bleakday, we dine eagerly and vicariously on the dark exploits of those who seek relevance in weird and dangerous ways.  Noting the heavy media coverage of Mr. Zuckerberg's exploitation exploration of the kill-feast, we are underwhelmed.  The F.W. have a long history of going to great lengths, and enduring significant opportunities for personal discomfort, in the pursuit of stimulation, enlightenment, and something to do while the billion$ pile up.  Here are a few examples:

Teddy Roosevelt's exploration of the circle of life involved pitting his army of guides and big guns himself against water buffalo, elephants, lions, and alligators.  On safari, he was subject to the discomforts of travel, vicious animal attacks, and deadly mosquitoes.

Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Mt. Everest, risking life and limb to achieve the Gentleman's Dream of conquering earthly challenges.

Paul Newman raced cars, risking a fiery death with every lap.

GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons gets his Roosevelt on by combining the big hunt with village philanthropy.

What did Mr. Zuckerberg do?  He killed the ferocious goat, the pernicious pig, and the chicanerous chicken.  Then he feasted upon their flesh after it came back from the butcher.  Impressive.

To introduce a little real into this discussion, we should note that Mr. Zuckerberg has also exercised his philanthropis, and that what seems like just another wacky celebrity stunt seems to be a sincere exploration of an important concept in a wacky celebrity way.  His $100M gift to Newark schools deserves a hearty pat on the head.  Pat pat.

Come to think of it, we have seen this pattern before.  Mr. Zuckerberg's explanation that, for the next year, he will only eat meat that he himself has had the opportunity to meet, thank, then kill demonstrates a level of thoughtful sincerity we had not expected and don't buy for a second.  We are looking for the important gesture in all of this, the message that forces us to re-examine our own values and seek growth from his example.  What we're left with is the rather odd image of a F.W. young man seeking a relationship with those upon whom he has already decided to inflict harm.  It seems important to Mr. Zuckerberg that his victims are known to him, that they feel he is their friend, and that he can see their eyes as he betrays them with the flash of a blade and devours what he claims for himself.

Yes, this is not a new pattern of behavior for the Facebook founder.  Feasting on unsuspecting friends is a technique he learned at Harvard, and we now think of as the Winklevii Maneuver.

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