We are living in an abstemious age. Excess is out, moderation and temperance are in. We are concerned about health, restoring moral values. We wish to lead moral, compassionate, and considerate lives, to do good, and to invest in the future. The devil-may-care, come-what-may dissociative and hedonistic life are things of the past. We get regular check-ups, watch our diets, and drink socially but never alone.
Brent Linins was a throwback, a high-liver, big spender, and boulvardier. He was a womanizer, an aggressive financier, and an atheist. No one could have predicted his life trajectory since he was the son of a solid, faithful bourgeois family. His father taught the family the importance of social propriety, good taste, and a respect for others. They went to church on Sundays, summered at respectable, pleasant but unremarkable beaches on the Connecticut shore, and preferred parochial schools. Bert’s father was a doctor who took his profession seriously. He kept his fees low and the quality of his practice high. He believed that not only was medicine a worthy profession, but one which responded to a higher calling.
His mother was a dutiful wife, member of the Hospital Auxiliary, avid amateur golfer, and attentive, concerned mother.
Brent had been a difficult child, always in trouble, disrespectful, and headstrong. To his parents chagrin, they were often called in for one-on-one teacher evaluations sessions during which they were told that their son was becoming an anti-social menace. He teased, bullied, and disobeyed, and seemed to care less about the feelings of others. He was a good if not gifted student,but his social skills were sorely lacking. He seemed, even at his very young age, to have few if any moral pillars.
Brent’s father had many man-to-man talks with his son, but nothing seemed to take. At times he seemed like someone else’s child, and his uniqueness caused no end of suspicion and doubt between his mother and father. Yet since both could vouch for his paternity and legitimacy, the assumed the blame for his unexpected and increasingly shameful behavior.
Brent was not a mean boy. Far from it. He simply marched to the beat of his own drummer; and as he grew older realized that this sense of defiant independence was exactly what attracted girls. Women, he quickly found out, were indeed drawn to bad boys, especially those like Brent who was physically appealing, smart, and athletically talented. They somehow didn’t mind his cavalier and dismissive treatment of them. Just the opposite. The more diffident and dismissive he was, the more they wanted him. Even as a young teenager he realized that absolute self-confidence and resolute personal ambition were not traits to be avoided as his father had counseled, but the keys to success.
Investment banking was the perfect career choice for the young Brent. Wall Street cared little for anything but acquisitions, mergers, and financial reward; and finally and at last he felt loosed from the conservative moral fetters of his family. He was finally on his own with no responsibilities to anyone but himself. Moral compunctions were things of the past, left behind in New Brighton, never to be revisited.
Although Wall Street has often been characterized as amoral and venal mif not indecent in its pursuit of profit, the reality was far from this distorted, idealistic vision. His investments enabled new enterprises, made millions for investors, and was the engine of America’s prosperity. Of course Brent never thought in these philosophical terms. He was only happy that his unalloyed ambition and indomitable will and self-confidence were valued and appreciated. .
He spent his wealth according to his own tastes. He had no concerns for image or social acceptability. He knew for every woman who wanted a Nantucket, polo-playing, Porsche-driving executive, thousands more wanted a ride in his Corvette, a swim in his heated pool atop 314 Lexington Avenue, and vacations in Acapulco.
“Isn’t it about time you thought about a family?”, his mother had asked him, predictably on one of his dutiful pilgrimages home. “And children?”; but he had no interest in either, and was happy with his very satisfying life of personal pleasure. He, better than any nihilist philosopher, understood that there was no higher purpose for being, no divinity guiding his fate, no celestial rewards. The only tragedy in life was not living it fully.
Many of Brent’s Yale classmates, although impressed with his success were a bit surprised at his lack of philanthropy or commitment to broader social issues. To be honest they were privately critical and his indifference to ‘giving back’. A Yale education conferred not only privilege but responsibility. Brent of course had no time for such reflections, enjoyed the company of his colleagues, and went back to New York as happy as ever with his life.
“What ever happened to Brent Linins?”, asked an old friend whom I had known since Yale.
“Nothing”, I replied. “He has retired to St. Bart’s and is living with a Sierra Leonean princess. I think his Yale days are over.”
I always liked and admired Brent Linins, the only true individual I have ever known. He was a man of philosophy without ever speaking of it. He lived as pure and uncomplicated a Nietzschean life as the philosopher himself. He had no need for explanation, justification, or context. He was my hero.