Cover of "The Great Gatsby"

Official photographic portrait of US President...

The grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fit...

For Fitzgerald, the people of his and Zelda’s lost generation had tremendous value to him.  They, as fictional characters, were all he cared to write about.  He perceived the vacuous lives of artists and the wealthy and their relationships with the lower classes and the inter-dependency of the striations of non-mobile social levels as the most valuable stories to be told.  He spent his life telling these stories and we are grateful for his efforts as great literature and snapshots of the beginning of the moral decay of the West prompted by the disillusionment brought on by the pointless slaughter of the First World War and then internalized into post-modern despair by the inhumanity of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin and the nuclear vaporization of Japanese civilians. Fitzgerald invested himself in the documentation of the beginning of great shift in Western philosophy from hope to hopelessness. We read it truly as Babylon Revisited.

Gatsby’s narrator, Nick, perceives value in a suspicious light. He values the wealthy and their lifestyles and earns a respectable living investing their money in the bond market, that nebulous world of numbers on paper which intends to generate perceived wealth. During Gatsby’s time America was on the gold standard as gold was perceived to be the most stable of perceived valuables by which the dollar, franc and pound could then accrue their own perspective values. But as no one actually does anything useful with gold in their day-to-day lives, collecting it as an object of wealth is and was not popular.  Instead, abstract figures in ledgers represented perceived value and translated into the acquiring of goods and property perceived to be necessary for the wealthy class to be identified and distanced from the other classes whose perceived value as humans was and still is lowered based also on the perceived value of their abstract bank holdings. Contemporarily, we have abandoned the gold standard for the truly deconstructed value of paper currency arbitrarily considered most valuable when printed by the U.S. mint.

In the Western world we place value based on a perception of scarcity of a good or service.  The higher the scarcity the higher the perceived value.  If something is scarce, people want to hoard it away and its value rises.  This notwithstanding the simple fact that each human represents the one and only version of itself for the 60,000 years of human existence and out until Creation is terminated.  Now that is indeed scarcity, uniqueness unmatched.  If the value system of scarcity was applied to human life we would have an entirely different social system where our highest achievements would be the appreciation of this most scarce of all things, the individual.  But a poor country like Haiti or any number of African, Latin or Asian countries demonstrate through their abject suffering that our perceived value system just doesn’t quite reach that far. It deconstructs somewhere along the way.

Gatsby himself understood the fluidity of perceived value in wealth and its passport to social upward mobility. But his interest in rising to the heights of the selfish was fueled only by his equally hollow perception of the value of Daisy as a “good girl” in a corrupt milieu: in short, love impelled his perception. His emotions dictated his values and he spent years of delusion-fueled effort to build not only personal wealth (mostly ill-gotten but perceived through his personal mythos as inherited) but also his reputation in order to attempt to acquire another man’s wife, perhaps one of the West’s most perceived valuables, in order to literally turn back time to a year when Daisy was unmarried, without child, and “good” (itself so fluid a value).

For Gatsby wealth is a means to an end: perceived happiness.  For Tom it is a means to a different end: perceived power. Both men are of course thwarted in their efforts as the chimera of perception is so often lacking in sustenance to nourish contentment, that value beyond the dollar in all societies including Haiti and the homeless streets of Baltimore’s unforgiving street corners.

Nick perceives himself as the honest man.  He is suspicious of Gatsby because he does not trust Gatsby’s perceived life story as gossiped about throughout Gatsby’s extravagant parties.  Nick knows enough of Daisy and Tom to believe in their stories and perceives them as trustworthy as persons, though he thoroughly distrusts their choices and perceptions of society. Tom has acquired wealth and Daisy but that is not enough for him so he acquires lovers and seeks more power through them.

Romney, like Tom, has acquired wealth, mostly through being well positioned and connected and then following through on the manipulation of perceived value in gutting companies for profit and then shuffling his profit out of country in the most ludicrous example of the paranoid value the rich place on the perceived value of numbers on paper and how many car elevators for how many houses those abstract ledger accounts can acquire. And like Tom, Romney is not content to have a beautiful family and wealth beyond the ability to spend.  He seeks power and that curse of so many perceived-to-be great men, the accolades of the public (that very public comprised of the masses of the despairing great unwashed neither Tom nor Romney would deign to mingle with, though Tom, granted, mingled with its women). Romney has much respect within his cult, his business world and his political community.  But that is not enough.  He cannot be contented, so perceives contentment might be attained, by acquiring the office of the Presidency.  To be the most powerful of men in the modern world will bring him his final contentment (which of course it will not).  He has no interest in governing: that would require revaluing the public in some egalitarian way that he clearly cares not a whit for.  His power would be wielded to acquire more wealth for himself, his cult and his cronies.  And the electorate would suffer the disdain of concomitant misery of an imperious ruler who would take away bread and expect the masses to eat cake, all without the support of government. His delusion for America would bring years of crippling disasters to the middle and lower classes of America in ways the Bush administration only began to exploit.  The American public would end as Myrtle, fleeing the real and perceived despair of the working class only to be run over by the expensive vehicle of the upper class who are pursuing their delusion of happiness on a road strewn with victims.

Meanwhile, Nick, disillusioned with the shifting perceptions he acquires and hoping what he tried to escape from in the Mid-West would prove to have new value, is left bereft and visionless, not only suffering loss but feeling lack.

For Obama, perception is a daily menace.  A black man in America lives under the threat of perception. America’s seminal wealth was built on the perception of the inhumanity of Africans which justified slavery and the ownership of humans, and that American perception is still very much a part of American politics and daily life. Obama does not exist in Fitzgerald’s world; only Tom’s occasional rants concerning race throw even the shadow of a black character into the novel. For Obama, hope has perceived value.  It must.  African Americans are so tied to a reality of prejudgment, insult and hatred which often expresses itself in violence that hope has been their religion for generations. It is not a false hope but it is a hard road of hope to walk. Yet Obama places perceived value in hope and that value cannot be bound. His hope includes the hope that all men will rise to their better angelic selves and in this rise true equality will be approached. This hope for the betterment of all women and men drives his vision which drives his actions (which are of course blocked at every step by the animosity of the discontented Republican party).

We cannot choose to abandon the economics of perceived monetary value. That was the fatal flaw of Ghandi’s vision for India.  But we can choose a leader who never appeared, perhaps except as an empty chair, in the corrupt morality of Gatsby’s and Fitzgerald’s world, the world which Romney and Ryan perceive in their morally lacking Objectivism as that place which would bring them contentment, a place wherein the Myrtles and hard working George Wilsons of the world would be run down, deceived and driven mad with hopelessness.

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