Greed and Excess!
In 18th century England, the Prince Regent, who later became
George IV, was a man of greed and excess. He had a tremendous
appetite for the good things of life.
When much of England was starving, George built a seaside pleasure
palace in Brighton. Constructed on a grand scale in the currently
popular Oriental style, the exterior looked Turkish, while the interior
featured all the latest steam and iron technology in a sumptuous
The prince filled it to overflowing with Far Eastern treasures and
frou-frou depicting dragons, lanterns, pagodas, weeping willows and
palm trees in lacquer, bamboo, silk and porcelain.
This chinoiserie style, from the French word for Chinese, was the
rage in decorating from the beginning of the 18th century to the
1750s. It appealed particularly to women and to what were referred
to in 1755 as "men of delicate make and silky constitution."
A similar opulent extravagance can be seen in California in William
Randolph Hearst's castle at San Simeon. We've also been seeing it
lately in the mansions on sale for bargain rates in Los Angeles.
As Americans, we've been trained to live like
princes--constantly desiring, but never satisfied with,
our gourmet food, professional decorating and
redecorating, the latest designer fashions, travel and
a broad array of leisure activities complete with the
equipment and wardrobe appropriate to each. It's
part of our free market system, which survives on
all-pervasive advertising and conspicuous
Where we used to be citizens, with responsibilities
and civic virtues, we've become consumers with the
responsibility to "get out there and spend" as
President Bush reminded us immediately after 9/11.
I think that represents a real step down in our
purpose in life.
But prince or pauper, easy credit made it simple to
indulge our taste for greed and excess in the recent
past. Current economic realities, however, may
make it more difficult in the future, causing us to
trade in greed and excess for self-control and an
improved ability to discriminate between our needs
and our wants.
It may allow us to become citizens again, not just