To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, very,
very rich people are different from you and I — they essentially live in a different universe than we do. Sure, their world may have the same air and the same basic rules of physics as ours — but it involves much less self-control and much more instant (and often quite bizarre) gratification. Go to space, despite not being an astronaut? Hey, why not. Have an enormous Game of Thrones-themed wedding where guests must wear medieval attire? Let's get to it!
I speak, to some degree, from personal experience: An enormously wealthy man with a private army once attempted to hire my father, an architect, to build him a flying city, because it would "solve" the "problem" of a city where two groups of citizens were in constant conflict: the man though that one group could live in the city on the ground, with the other flying above the world. He simply couldn't understand that there might be a problem with this idea, because people in his position wield their wealth and status precisely to eliminate problems that would stop other people.
It's an interesting tendency to contemplate at this particular historical moment, when the leader of the United States is a billionaire with an apparent
tendency to act impulsively, refuse to heed the advice of those with greater expertise, and display enormous egotism at the most inappropriate of occasions. Do Trump's more confusing behaviors have their roots in a lifetime of being ultra-rich? There's no way to be certain (though it may be worth noting that in 2013, Time reported on a UC Berkeley study that " found higher levels of both narcissism and entitlement among those of higher income and social class."). But knowing about some of the more confounding projects that the super-rich have taken on through history might give us some insight into what it's like to live a life where you rarely have to hear the word "no."
A Sperm Bank For Nobel Prize Winners
The millionaire Robert Klark Graham could have settled happily with his fortune (which he made in eyeglasses), but he wasn't happy. Instead, he decided to found the Repository For Germinal Choice, a sperm bank that would
only accept the sperm of Nobel Prize winners and other exceptional luminaries. Graham was a eugenicist who was attempting to create a master race; according to the BBC, he "believed that 'retrograde humans' were breeding unchecked. He wanted to reverse this trend by bringing thousands of geniuses into the world, fathered by the most brilliant minds."
The reality was slightly different. Graham passed away in 1997, and the sperm bank itself only survived for a short time thereafter; it has only ever produced 218 children, very few of whom have actually been studied for their intelligence levels (and certainly not enough to create a "master race" of anything).
In the grand history of absurd activities performed by the rich, Charles V, the King of Spain, possibly took the cake with his lightbulb moment that it
was really a shame that he should miss his funeral and its prayers for his soul. He demanded that, instead, they have his funeral before he died. Accordingly, he orchestrated a rehearsal of its magnificence (which would, naturally, be repeated after he died) in 1558, with him standing in (lying in?) for his own corpse as people assembled and solemnly declaimed how magnificent he was.
The Nizam of Hyderabad was an extraordinarily wealthy man; in the 1920s
he was believed to be the wealthiest man in the world. He supposedly used a diamond the size of a golf ball as a paperweight and once donated five tons of gold to the Indian war effort, but it was in the area of international relations that his ideas really came to the fore. Prince Edward — the heir apparent to the English throne who would one day abdicate in favor of marriage to the divorcee Wallis Simpson and change the face of the monarchy — visited the Nizam in 1922. The Nizam decided that it would be in the best interests of diplomacy to make the prince at home, and so apparently rigged the man's chamber pot to sing "God Save The King" whenever opened. The prince's reaction is not recorded.
A Gun For Shooting Wasps (& That Was Just The Start)
Sir George Sitwell was an English aristocrat, a group that is
particularly weird even in the realm of strange wealthy people. Sitwell lived in the early 20th century and had the vast misfortune of having kids who became writers; his daughter Edith Sitwell would go on to record her wealthy father's eccentricities precisely — and they were really, really strange. Sitwell had a flair for inventions, which included a pistol for shooting wasps and a musical toothbrush, none of which took off.
He also tried to pay his son's school fees with vegetables (quite a lot of vegetables, it must be admitted). However, his most famous invention was likely the sign he placed over the entrance of his house, which read: "I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of the gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night."
An Enormous Fire In The Desert To Communicate With Aliens
Joseph Johann von Littrow may not have been rich beyond your wildest dreams, but he was certainly a member of an elite class; he was an Austrian astronomer given a nobleman's title in 1837. He contributed a lot to astronomy, but his most famous idea, alas, is the most bonkers one (isn't it always the way?).
He believed, according to some reports, that it would be an excellent idea to
build a gigantic circle in the Sahara Desert, fill it with kerosene, throw in a match, and hope that the resulting conflagration produced some kind of communication with aliens. The fiery circle was meant to be around 18 miles wide.
The really funny thing about that is that a fire of that size couldn't really be seen from space, at least not on the scale that Littrow was envisaging; to get a reaction, you'd likely have to have a fire near the size of
the Great Barrier Reef, which is a whopping 1600 miles long. But let's not suggest it.