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by André Klein April 12, 2011
For A Fistful of Dollars: How the Religion of Money Fooled Us into Domestication
It was John D Rockefeller who said “I believe the power to make money is a gift from God” and he was not the only one who thought like this. In fact, it was one of the cornerstones of Puritanism and the foundation for terms like “hard working American”.
What it means is this: I make money. Therefore, God loves me.
As a consequence: The more money you make, the more you are loved by Him – which implies of course the giving of more favourable circumstances, and yes – money.
Many of us will chuckle politely at such abstruse statements.
And yet, we all still secretly believe that quantification is an indicator for value. Even if we claim the opposite! This article is 1324 words long, so if you don’t have the time to read it all, at the moment, please come back at a later time.
The Litmus Test
Question: “Why are people interested in the rich and popular?”
Answer: “Well, because they are rich and popular, right?”
In other words: What gives some random celebrity the right to fill all kinds of magazines, blogs and news segments with their antics?
What did he or she achieve?
How do we know that an artist is successful? We measure his album sales. Right? Let’s take Lady Gaga as an example. She has supposedly sold fifteen million albums and fifty-one million singles worldwide.
That qualifies her as being awesome! Right? Also she won a Grammy. Correction: five of them. But does that make her five times more awesome?
How do we know a politician is qualified to lead and make decisions for masses of people. We count the votes, of course!
If a person gets 75 percent more votes than his competitor, it means he is 75 percent more awesome. Right?
Another example. If you are a business doing “Social Media Marketing” (the term alone makes me cringe), how can you measure your success?
To some people this is one of the most fascinating questions that you can ask. There are many startups dedicated to doing this, and only this: “Measuring your success/influence”
They will come up with complex algorhithms and then sell those back to you.
Everyone who runs a website knows that the options of viewing your statistics are infinite – and crippling to any real progress.
When you check your statistics too much, you become obsessed with what other people think about what you do instead of doing what you want do regardless of what other people think.
Market Research Madness
No matter if you want to sell a new invention or get a contract with a record label, they will ask the inevitable:
“Is there actually a market for this?”
If there isn’t …
- you have to convince people that they need it, first (that means conditioning through repetition)
- change what you have to offer until it fits their needs
- forget about it and become a used-cars salesman
As accepted and undisputed a practice this is in doing business, it is completely lunatic to approach anything besides “money making” in this manner:
Let’s say you want person X to love you. (I can already hear the hard-sales people sighing in the back…)
Apart from the fact that it is impossible to force something like this, do you think that “convincing him/her through conditioning” (the love-potion solution) or pretending you are who you are not, will help?
Try it out yourself, study the infinite amount of poems, movies and novels that talk about this, and only about this. (Cyrano de Bergerac is my favorite example)
Now any good businessman will tell you, that if you don’t want to do your market research, refuse to suck up to investors, frequently appear in public and “play the game” – fine, but don’t expect to make any money.
But what about other things in life besides “money making”, yes, they exist … Let’s say, what if I want to enjoy a good walk?
Do I have to do market research, convincing or changing?
No. I just take a good walk. Period.
What if I want to cook a good meal? Have a good night’s sleep?
Write a song? Do a painting?
Cost vs. Value: Breaking the Equation
Like I’ve said before, to many people money and value are simply one and the same, without thinking much about it.
“More pleasure means I need more money.” =>”More money means I can afford more pleasure.”
(If you are religious, throw in the after-life, good luck and all of that with the more worldly “pleasure”)
But if you want to get more excitement out of life than seeing the number add up on your bank account, you may have to quit thinking like a Puritan.
Value and money cannot be equated. They are two completely different things. Apples and oranges.
In order to pry apart the money factor and the value factor, which has become very difficult because we have become so used to thinking in undifferentiated terms, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- What does it cost to do X – in terms of hard cash?
- What is it worth to me, personally – not in numbers?
In most cases, you will get very different answers to both questions:
For example, it might not cost you anything to tickle your cat under its chin, but it gives you (and her) a lot of pleasure.
On the other hand, the new Plasmatron 3000 © home-cinema might cost a fortune in terms of dollars but bring you relatively little pleasure because every channel is full of the same irrelevant news and reruns of 80ies sitcoms.
Those are just examples. Everybody has to find his/her own answers to these questions.
If you are ready to spend huge amounts of money on things which you believe bring you huge amounts of pleasure, it might be a sure sign that you have been successfully brainwashed by advertising (see also: repeated conditioning), simply have too much money or are too bored.
In no way, is this a proof, though – that you are a better human being.
Yep, it’s easy to point the finger at the “rich guys” – but can you live without blaming yourself for not being as rich as them?
Let’s face it. The biggest domesticated animal on earth is neither the cat nor the dog: It’s the human being.
We have locked ourselves up in stuffy houses and apartments, eradicated “irrational” behavior and feelings through social etiquette and “work ethic” and live confined in a comfort zone of television, mass produced food and life-insurances.
Many of us have become docile and sheepish.
Our biggest fears are that our co-workers might talk behind our back, that our mobile phone carrier will become more expensive, or that we will not be able to afford the next of Steve Jobs’ overpriced toys.
It goes without saying that our hopes are equally timid.
Even a tiger in a cage is more alive than that. He’s still pacing.
We are not. We are asleep in a sea of advertising and meaningless choices.
The hunt for money has stripped us of a fundamental survival-drive.
We have abstracted our needs and fulfilments into non-existence.
The drive to survive is what makes a creature wild, unpredictable and dangerous.
To most of us, life is neither of those things, nor do we strive for them.
We strive for stasis, stability and safety. Exciting, eh?
This is not to say that once in a while a little peace of mind can’t do a world of good.
But if this is the only modus-operandi, good night excitement.
Instead of living life and harvesting its simple pleasures we now have to buy excitement with our credit card.
And we will continue living like this, until we die – or break the money = value equation with a hatchet.
Also, please note that money is not the “root of all evil” as anarchists and conspiracy theorists like to claim – Nor is it the solution to most of life’s problems – as economists and politicians promise. It’s simply a medium to handle transactions between people. It has no value in itself.