We all act as though what we mean by wealth is obvious and lacking in ambiguity. Wealth is enough money to wield power so as to conserve one’s ability to keep a lot of money.
Hmmm… That’s probably not what you had in mind.
Has wealth always been the same thing? Is it going through a profound change right now? Is the very possibility of wealth now disappearing?
These are questions I face right now.
Voodoo Economics, sounds to me like a redundancy, the opposite of an oxymoron, or contradiction in terms, like Army Intelligence!
We can’t talk about wealth without looking at what economics is and what it does. It is a degraded form of astrology that’s forgotten the real purposes of magic and attempts to make pigs fly. We struggle like medieval villagers trying to make sense of how to tell if she’s a witch as we attempt to reconcile the needs of making a living with the so-called “Laws of Economics.” This cannot be overstated. This cannot be underestimated as a cause of self-inflicted injury and an engine of widespread destruction carried out as so-called unintended consequences.
This might lead us to be suspicious of the reality of wealth. The trouble comes from the ability of unreal things to have very real effects. As Illich said, poverty was invented. At the same time so was the concept of wealth. Wealth is poverty measured with the signs reversed. Degradation everywhere creating pockets of advantage in a few locations and among a few individuals. It’s a Vampire’s game, suck the life’s blood from many to give a pseudo un-dead life to a few. This has always been the case. Of course Dracula’s Palace has a lot of nice things in it. A ruthless “collector;” one whose every whim cannot be denied, and a lot of time on his hands; will end up with all the nice toys.
We’ve been going over a few pairs of terms and the way their distinctions illuminate a fresh way of seeing our predicament, Strength & Power, Craft & Technique. Is there a similar pair to which Wealth might belong? Not Poverty. As hard as it may be to accept, Poverty and Wealth are not opposites. They are the same thing seen from differing perspectives. That blood meal may be a passing diversion for the Vampire, it is the end of life and the beginning of Hell-on-earth for his victim. Just look at Africa anytime in the last five hundred years!
What could possibly be the laudable reflection of Wealth? Put more directly, what is it that Wealth is the toxic simulacra of?
It seems clear enough, that would be sufficiency, enough!
In a world in health there was abundance on all sides. Passing bouts with scarcity were often fatal to some, but outside of those closing and opening doors of extinction sweeping by at varying rates, there was usually enough to keep things moving along. Creatures shared in these conditions and while they did what they could to preserve their own existence in proportion to their lights, their abilities to do so were never able to outstrip the world’s over-all balance. This wasn’t Utopia. That concept didn’t exist. Without a self-referential form of consciousness – at least one we’ve been able to decipher – there was no one there to apply such a label. This brings us to the cause of the loss of enough.
Hope, in Portuguese it’s Esperança. That word’s root is in espera, wait. I’ve put a lot of time into thinking and musing about hope. I hadn’t made this connection before last night when it came to me out of the dark. If hope is a kind of waiting, what are we waiting for when we hope?
I can hear Krishnamurti, in his patient voice, after a long pause,
“It all comes back to the introduction of Time.”
David Bohm would then say,
Krishnamurti would respond with just the slightest impatience at this umpteenth repetition of this question and his inevitable answer,
“Of course! Psychological Time!”
All of his work was about leaving this conditioning and entering into the reality that is now. Hope, as a form of waiting, stops us in our tracks and takes our attention out of where we are and onto the observation that there is something we lack now that we hope/wait-for to arrive later. We hope for Utopia, or hope not for Dystopia, because we’ve found our now lacking in some way and we’ve been distracted by an image of what is not.
If hope is waiting, then wealth might be what we are waiting for? If wealth is a gathered surplus to carry us through the expectation of lack, then it is.
This does create a similar dynamic between Enough and Wealth as there is with those other pairs. A virtuous cycle that maintains a vibrant overall robustness and the possibility of life within the acceptance of death as a part of life; versus a vicious cycle where the will-to-control, to achieve a semblance of immortality – back to our Vampire friends – strips the whole of its robustness to feed a temporary mirage to a few.
Even the Economists are starting to admit that wealth is evaporating. Perhaps as a result of Global Warming? No! That’s not real, just ask Larry Summers!
Real things do evaporate sometimes, add heat to the air and standing water will evaporate. Of course when this happens water doesn’t really disappear….
When we talk about wealth evaporating we are talking about it disappearing. That’s a property of illusions. What we thought was there, all of a sudden, with a change in the light, it’s gone! This seems to fit the case of Wealth better than evaporation. In the changing light, Poverty, seen from its increasingly unavoidable perspective, comes into focus. The destruction of abundance has reached the point where it is no longer possible to reasonably assume that concentrations of “negative” Poverty can give us any advantage.
Let’s go back to those opening questions.
Yes, Wealth has always been the same thing, an illusion that its holders can out-wit, out-will? the cycles of life and death. Look at Craft as a way to turn this from a simplistic nostrum to a viable process of entering a dialogue with our situation that hones our judgments and abilities to interact with our conditions in a meaningful and less destructive way.
Is Wealth changing? No, just that the consequences of skewing our perspective so that we see destruction as an illusion of creation have become increasingly difficult to ignore. As with any illusion, eventually the light changes and it is visible for what it really is. This is perhaps our only “advantage” over our ancestors! We can make these connections more clearly since the destruction has reached such a level that it can only be ignored by persisting in a level of delusion that is increasingly suicidal. While we are in a race with those who actively pursue such a course, we do have the advantage of clarity to compensate for the cushions of ease and convenience Wealth throws at us.
And this leads us to a Yes in response to our last question. Even as our capacities to carry out the destruction that is Poverty have reached their Zenith, the scope of that destruction has caused the illusion of its negative as a positive to be harder and harder to maintain. Another confirmation of our “advantages.”
As with the other pairs, this one does give us more than an explanation of what is happening. It gives us an insight into something fundamental that has been hidden by delusion for so long, too long. This gives us at least the possibility of reorientation. We’ve been increasingly misled by faulty instruments. This has kept us striving after a path that leads to the worst possible outcome. Realizing our delusion, even at this late date, can at the most, give us a chance to not auger in; and at least, give us a chance to realize our predicament and come to terms with our existence. This reorientation to reality may at least bring us back into the fold of the living by allowing us to recognize that being un-dead is not only not the same as living, it is a fate worse than death.
This opens up the question of austerity….
6 thoughts on “Further Notes on the Meaning of Wealth”
I was so taken by your essay that I have been bothering my friends with it – the idea that any piling of wealth above a baseline sufficiency requires an excavation of wealth from somewhere else.
So I have made a little rubber stamp using one of your sentences:
If you send me a mailing address, I’ll forward you a print.