It’s with equal degrees of bemusement and resignation that I read articles speculating on how the real-life breakup of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart may affect the box-office performance of Breaking Dawn, Part II. Nor is it any stretch of the imagination to suspect that the morning following the Aurora massacre an emergency meeting was called in a studio boardroom somewhere to discuss how that tragedy would impact the ticket sales for The Dark Knight Rises. The biggest questions in the presidential election revolve around money – how much of it Mitt Romney may or may not have paid in taxes, how much his campaign is raking in from billionaire Super PAC donors, whether or not Barack Obama can become the first incumbent president to be outspent and still secure re-election. Austerity, whether advisable or not, and deficit reduction dominate the agenda of every government on the planet. The rich are vilified in one circle for acting like feudal overlords, and praised in another as job creators. Money is the filter through which we examine everything – we have become a species of accountants obsessed with numbers and the bottom line. And yet we’re more miserable than we’ve ever been: impatient, demanding, and more prone to outbursts of rage for the most insignificant reasons. Something is clearly askew. Is it perhaps time to undertake the first step in recovery and admit that we have a problem – that obsessing over money isn’t getting us anywhere?
I’m not naïve enough to suggest that the acquisition of wealth is ever going to fade away as a motivating factor in human behaviour; it’s been that way ever since the first Australopithecus looked out with longing at the bigger, cosier cave his neighbour across the way was occupying. But that motivation is rooted in the biggest lie of all – that having more means being happier. Marketers and advertisers understand this, which is why every commercial you’ve ever seen is designed to make you feel inadequate and envious, and to suggest, in somewhat the same manner as a drug dealer would, that you just need a hit of whatever is being sold – cars, shoes, cologne or designer jeans – to ease the pain of your unendingly terrible existence. We all know better, and yet we buy in – pun most depressingly intended – to the lie, sacrificing what we’ve earned for temporary relief, at least until the next ad comes on and we begin to think ourselves lacking in some other area. It does not have to be this way, and yet we have been conditioned in the same manner to define success in dollars alone – not influence or reach or the fundamental amelioration of our collective humanity. Somewhere along the way, the virtue of working hard as its own reward transformed into only a means to the end of securing one’s fortune at the expense of the well-being of our peers. Men of business the world over with less moral integrity than the average cockroach are revered as leaders and held up as ideals to emulate because they have managed to accumulate piles and piles of cash, with little, if any, consideration given to the lives that have been destroyed by their greed. We are forced to listen to their obscene rants and give credence to their perverted worldviews because we have decided that they deserve our attention based on the size of their bank accounts. Opinions that would otherwise be dismissed the ravings of lunacy shape policy for billions of people, because money defines the parameters of the conversation. To our everlasting shame, we have allowed it to – in whom we have voted for and whom we have chosen to place upon gilded pedestals to admire.
Enough is enough.
Some would argue that there is a moral imperative within each soul born upon this planet to leave it in a better state than which they found it. This is an aim hardly served by pillaging and plundering the earth’s treasures for the benefit of a select few. What is needed is a reorienting of our values and a new form of currency, one that cannot be tied to the whims of banks: a currency of ideas, in which the ideas are evaluated on their substance and not on how much cash is flowing behind them. Do I think this is ever going to happen? Well, probably not in my lifetime. The forces of money are too deeply entrenched within the corridors of power. But we can get the process started – by refusing to grant those forces our slavish attention, and by shedding the ridiculous belief that someone is better than we are because they are wealthier. By not caring anymore how much so-and-so gets paid for his latest album or her starring debut. By emphasizing quality over quantity, and evaluating character completely independently of the size of a person’s wallet. By making “successful businessman” roughly the same estimation of a man’s worth as “frequent water drinker.” Not going so far as vilifying financial success outright, but making it the very least important of the measures of a human being. Saying “oh, you’re a billionaire casino entrepreneur? How nice for you – my kid just scored three goals at his soccer game last Saturday.”
We cannot achieve true fairness in this world until we stop worshipping those things that make the world unfair. What’s most encouraging is that we still have the choice to do that. We just have to make it.