Karl Marx opined that “religion is the opium of the people,” meaning that it helps mollify the masses by feeding them promises of a better experience after death, and thus denudes the oppressed of their zeal for social change.
I’ve had friends and clients who have been in trouble with serious drugs, including heroin, which is an opiate. One of my first clients at a community clinic was a woman who was on Methadone—a drug used as a low-cost government-funded treatment for opiate addiction. She went every day for her Methadone shot, a drug that did not get her high, while blocking the painful effects of kicking heroin. Thus she was addicted to a drug that didn’t get her high as a treatment against a drug that did.
In this context I would myself opine that money has become the Methadone of the people. While religion at least promised ecstasy, if you were good, after death; money promises feelings of superiority, safety, abundance and coolness (“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what is? A billion dollars.” The Social Network) while still alive. But money simply doesn’t deliver. It’s a dirty burning drug whose high is as short as crack and as powerful as aspirin (it takes away headaches, I’ll admit, but never really sends you anywhere cosmic).
While coins in the U.S. had “In God We Trust” emblazoned on them ever since a bid to suggest that God was on the side of the Union in the 1860s, and later this motto crept onto paper money at the height of the Cold War—asserting that we were different from communists who were atheists, perhaps the real problem with our current addiction is not the verbiage but the money itself. Not to insult pigs, but cloaking money in the word “God,” is lipstick on a pig, particularly when the paper’s value itself is as flimsy as the emperor’s non-existent new clothes.
Yes we need housing, and we need food, and we need health care, education and infrastructure, but those actual goods and services have been so deeply confabulated with money as to have us convinced that money is the problem and the answer (how much talk of the “economy,” and whose fault and how to fix can we stand as our actual lives as a nation fail to get safer, healthier, better educated, etc.?).
The debacle that is Facebook’s IPO is akin to a dead canary in a coalmine—a sad and alarming sign that it’s time to leave the toxic zone that pretends that money is so cool. Being kind is cool. Being authentic is cool. Being loving is cool. Being rich…? Not so much.
Maybe we might dare to re-think what success actually is. Working hard and providing goods and services to others, and reaping rewards for this (material and spiritual) seems cool; but ripping people off, asserting that “greed is good,” and being petty, mean and cruel to others, no matter how much, or little, money one has is not cool.
We have been cowed by Shadow pigs—the Shadow of our empty and frightened selves, hungry ghosts that they can never be filled. But we need to cultivate compassion for those empty, scared, greedy projections of our own dark aspects who honestly feel that they do not have enough even when they have millions, for it is either unconscious fear or wounded cynicism that prompts our archetypal con-artists and hucksters to treat fellow humans as suckers here for the taking.
Our economic quagmire will not change by tax law, or by banking regulation; it will change if and when the zeitgeist sees 50,000 square foot homes and private jets and says, “That’s not cool.” When it becomes un-cool to be wasteful and ostentatious we will have a drastic reduction in greed and corruption—as the quest for money beyond a nice home and a nest egg is largely a quest to be “look at me” cool. And that’s so un-cool.
I’m not talking about taking anything away from the rich, save for attention and idealization. Let them play alone in their big empty lives and let’s get our own eyes on the real prize: fun, community, connection, creativity, good food, music, sport, even spirituality in an earthy, American, Walden Pond Whitmanesque leaves of grass sort of way.
When we fear the future we are suckers ripe and ready to be milked of our lunch-money.
It is a radical thing to be happy, secure and free. This means that we can savor our pleasures and treasures in what we already have. Can anyone reading this blog truly not afford a hot dog (tofu is fine)? A slice of apple pie? A walk (we don’t need a car to have an American Dream)? Scientific research tells us that the small things bring happiness while the big do not.
Washington and Wall Street truly don’t get it. But how cool are they, really, with their 80-hour workweeks and hollow celebrations of excess (not to mention their all-too-often neglected and messed-up children)? How much are you personally hungering and wishing to hang out with top earning Wall Streeters and power players in Washington? Those kinds of dinners are strictly work, always working for the next angle, the next deal (all in manic denial of where the body of rich and poor alike end up, which is dead. And as for spirit, who can truly say? But how much does your spirit care for money?).
Don’t get me wrong here, my kid’s off to college next year and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to pay for it, not to mention the next three years and my younger one after that. But at least I know what I’m working for, and it’s not so that they can attain the American Dream of being rich, but rather a better and deeper American Dream of being free. For that it helps to have an education, but it could also work to have a trade or a craft, ways that our kids can grow up and deeply participate in their world, not rise above it, fly above it or live out of touch with it. To be free is to learn how to love, and for that the world is a blossom opening to our loving kindness.
I’m not writing to the masses, I’m writing to my friends, my blogging community and to kindred spirits that may happen across these words. We live all across this great country, and we’re neither super-rich nor are we fools. But I trust, perhaps even know in my bones, that we truly want the best for each other and for our collective children, and also for people and children we might not know. Maybe as our consciousness rises, naturally and organically, we may see with clearer eyes and softer hearts and discover in some slightly magical way that we are already living the lives we most deeply yearn for; and out of the love and happiness and gratitude of our realization of our spiritual wealth and our eternally present situation, our sincere and myriad loves may ripple into cross-currents of rising courage, compassion and resolve to live according to what our deepest and best Selves feel to be right—a sense of Self that includes each other and our vast and mysteriously lovely, albeit sometimes painful and terrifying, world.
Sincerely doing our best and wanting a better world is precisely what everyone in this country believes they are doing. May the best and most enlightened ideas win out, and soothe the rest—for the sake of us all.
Let the sand trickle through the hourglass
Of all our figuring
Let’s relinquish it all to the beach
And begin again
To build a sand castle
That while surely it cannot last
Shall be fun to make
And dance around
Until the tide claims it
And the sea swells big and mysterious
And we make our sandy way up
To dinner and stories
And dreams under starry skies