To desire nothing is to transcend wealth
The more money you have, the better healthcare you are able to receive (or, more accurately, purchase). The greater your financial muscle, the more opportunities you have in life, the more you can travel, eat out, enjoy the supposedly finer things in life – nice cars, jewellery, holidays, gadgets, art, clothes, etc. If you want something, and it’s possible to buy it, and you have the necessary capital to buy it, then you can have it. But does that mean you can buy happiness? If the answer is yes, then wealth is good for your health. But things clearly aren’t that simple.
I’ve never had a lot of money (at least I don’t feel like I have), so I don’t know what it feels like to be financially wealthy. Of course, all wealth is relative – compared to an A-list Hollywood film star, my financial wealth is minuscule, yet when you contrast my salary, savings and possessions to those of a person living on the street, my wealth isn’t remotely comparable. Does what I have make me happy? I believe that, generally, it does. Would I like more money? I think that I would, yes. Not necessarily a lot more – but a bit more would be nice. You know, just to be a bit more comfortable…
However, if I had the choice to ‘downgrade’ my lifestyle (and, in turn, everyone else’s on a similar grade or above the level of wealth my family has), in order to bring up the wealth of those below that level, so that everyone lived on an equal footing, with equal levels of wealth, opportunities and well-being, I should like to think I would. But that kind of socialist utopia is a distant dream – ultimately it only takes one selfish or vaguely ambitious person to bring that particular house of cards tumbling down. And with our natural propensity to competition (those Darwinian survival instincts), it seems to me to be an impossible dream that human beings might ever live in such a manner that wealth is distributed evenly throughout society and that no class systems exist.
But does that mean we should ignore Marxism and socialism entirely? Should we just accept that comparatively few people have far more money than they’ll ever need while an increasing number barely have enough to survive? That seems misguided, irresponsible and downright wrong to me; bordering on barbaric. And while I accept there is a barbarism inherent to many animals on earth including human beings, there is also goodness and the capacity for rational thought. My Genuinity tells me that I don’t want to see suffering – I find the accumulation of wealth bloated, ugly and nauseating.
I remember walking through Chelsea one day (me and my wife Pru had been given some vouchers for the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse on the Kings Road), admiring the glitz and glamour of the various high-end retailers. What started off as intrigue though, quickly slipped into disgust – everything was so shiny, so gold, so grotesque, so flauntingly showy. It was supposed to appear classy and yet it felt the exact opposite – this idea that exclusivity was something to be sought after. Only those with enough financial wealth could be a part of this world and anyone outside of it could only stand and gawp longingly at this incessant stream of superfluous and unassailable objet petit a – like peasants outside a butcher’s shop in a Charles Dickens novel. But there is no joy to be found in exclusivity – in exclusion. All the greatest joys in life come from establishing connections, from nurturing relationships, from tapping into one’s Genuinity and sharing your life with others. That inner child, that feminine instinct, kindness and compassion, that positive life force Genuinity wants to connect – it wants to be a part of the fabric of the world.
What, then, is the best way for a society to operate? The greatest minds in history have wrestled with that particular conundrum since the dawn of consciousness – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all had a go, and never quite cracked it. And more often than not, wealth was one of, if not the major, stumbling blocks. Because wealth isn’t just a matter of greed – it isn’t just a case of rich v poor. Yes, there are those who have great financial wealth and use it to exploit others – and that is fundamentally wrong. But wealth operates on every level of having and not having. The homeless person who has several decent pairs of trousers and a good quality sleeping bag compared to the homeless person who has one pair of worn-out trousers and an old towel, would appear wealthier and thus have circumstances worth aspiring towards. By attaching value to things in the way we do, we have consigned ourselves to a perpetual state of ‘wanting more’. I have more to say on consumerism and desire and that is something I will go on to explore in another section of this blog on Lacan and Freud.
But for now, let us point out, that on this basic level, EVERY human being should, without question or exception, not be denied basic rights – all should at the very least have access to shelter, warmth, nourishment, healthcare and kindness. And the fact that so many people live in poverty, not just in the UK, but across the planet, is an existence contrary to the compassionate, positive, life-affirming qualities of Genuinity. Once again, exclusion is at work here. And it appears to be all too easy for us all to slip into a mode of accepting and tolerating this exclusion. Even though we know nothing good can come from it – and that all the best things in life come from inclusion, connection, sharing and living harmoniously.
But that’s the thing about wealth – it literally means ‘an abundance of desirable things’. Now, we’ve come to accept that those things tend to be money and other trappings that get more and more desirable based on how much of that money it takes to acquire them. But does having an abundance of anything bring you increased happiness? Or does it in fact increase your desire to acquire more and more things in a vicious never-ending cycle of unfulfillment? Surely it makes more sense to take joy from Genuinity? From loving your family, spending time with your children, having a beer with your mates. Excess is not success. Moderation is a key part of being happy and staying in touch with your Genuinity – just as balance is key part of the Taoist way of life.
I’ve never known anything to get better when you go beyond what you actually need. I love having a drink, but if I have too many it never ends well. I love a good curry, but if I eat too much it soon goes from being a pleasurable experience to an uncomfortable one. Even love can be excessive – too much love will kill you, Freddie Mercury wrote, and he came up with Bohemian Rhapsody, so he was clearly a genius. And he’s been proven right throughout history – pushy parents, jealous partners, overbearing mothers. Even if your heart is in the right place, moderation and balance must always be adhered to. That being said, we mustn’t be critical of those who love to love. Just try not to suffocate with love – or kill with kindness.
Aristotle was another genius who knew a thing or two – about everything it seems when you look back through the various realms of knowledge and understanding he delved into. He also hated usury wealth appreciation – money making money – or as we all commonly know it, interest. As Anthony Kenny puts it in Ancient Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy Volume 1:
‘It got the name interest, which means the birth of money from money, because an offspring resembles its parent’.
Kenny speaks about the way Aristotle resented interest as an unnatural way of accruing money. And that makes a lot of sense to me – the idea that people just get richer as a result of being rich is never going to help the many, but always benefit the few. Surely the most fair scenario is one where effort and time is rewarded and remunerated – but we’ll come back to that. The way civilisations have evolved and developed has seen items traded in terms of their comparative worth or value. And then currencies were implemented to make exchanges of good and services simpler. The shoemaker crafts some shoes using his skills, labour, time and materials (which he has to obtain somehow, most likely using a form of currency). Someone else needs shoes because, well, we all need footwear – on a most primitive level to protect our feet (I won’t go into fashion, desire and consumerism here). The shoeless person then trades something of value to obtain the shoes – that value being set by the seller based on a combination of factors – the time taken to make them, cost of the materials, relative value to similar products and, basically, how much the shoemaker thinks they’re worth. If the buyer has the necessary funds (currency, chickens, shoes maybe?) and believes the price is fair, the transaction (or trade) can be completed and both parties are happy.
Joy in simplicity
Doesn’t that just sound wonderfully simple? A person makes something useful with their bare hands and raw materials proffered by nature. Perhaps this skill is a family trade, a labour of love and, thus, an instiller of pride, passion and a sense of ownership in the craftsman (woman/person). They love the process of making the shoes – from implementing the skills they’ve worked so hard to master, to applying the lessons passed down from generations of quality shoemakers. They’re the kind of shoes that would really make Mr or Mrs Shoemaker senior (or their parents) proud. But it would be no good for the shoes to just sit idly on a shelf in a shop for years – they were created to serve a purpose; they should be on someone’s feet fulfilling their leathery destiny. They also look great, but that’s fairly inconsequential compared to the importance of their function. Fortunately for both parties (and balance) in the transaction, they bring the buyer immense satisfaction, too – they keep their feet protected from various terrains (from wet grass to harsh, rocky paths) and guard them against the elements. As mentioned, the shoes were fairly and reasonably priced and, as a bonus, the buyer really likes the way they look.
This kind of transaction shows how life can be sweet when it’s simplified. The shoemaker taps into his sense of Genuinity by lovingly crafting the shoes – and feels a sense of ownership (possibly family pride) over what he’s crafted. The purchaser has obtained what he needed, and wasn’t duped, exploited or ripped off in the process. The connection was made, the fair exchange took place and the value of the product was in no way excessive but reasonable and fair. The shoemaker has made money from using their time to create something useful before selling it at a fair price. Isn’t that just so much more soulful than the abstract notion of digital capital sitting in a server somewhere growing exponentially just because it is (or kind of is)?
Everything in moderation
Life works better when we get all phenomenological about it – when we experience things as they truly are (whatever that means). When we touch, taste, smell, hear and see things. I can’t believe anyone ever really found true contentment working on the stock market. Not in the same way a carpenter must feel when they work on a beautiful piece of furniture; or when a stylist crafts a stunning haircut; or when a tailor assembles a glorious suit. And life also works better when we do things in moderation. This is a point I come back to time and time again in these blog posts – balance is the key to contentment (whatever that is). That Taoist balance that is so essential to Genuinity.
Do we all want to be wealthy? It’s a difficult question to answer – but I suspect generally, if you really thought about it, you’d say no. As long as I have enough of the good things in life (love, family, friendship, kindness, sex, food, whatever), then I’m happy with my lot. Epicurus felt that pleasure came via a combination of theoretical hedonism and asceticism (severe self-discipline). Don’t deny yourself pleasure. But don’t go too far. Keep it simple. Is having lots of friends good? Sure. But can one have too many friends? Probably. Is having lots of anything good? Almost certainly no. Whatever it is, it’s usually always better in moderation. Too many friends means too many commitments, means more potential for disappointing those friends (for example, when you can’t meet them all regularly enough for a beer – or whatever).
If ever we needed a wealth of anything, it would be wealth of kindness. Let you Genuinity radiate through your actions – be nice, be respectful, be compassionate and help others. Be yourself – and share your wealth.