An Open Letter to Money
Rarely do I find myself writing personal letters addressed to abstract concepts. Though civilisation has offered you the privilege of being quantifiable, you’re to be found on the same page as my understanding of non-quantifiable concepts such as knowledge, humour, status, art and creativity, courage, and love.
What that means is that I have never once paused to consider my relationship with you. So far I have only taken you for granted, living under the presumption that your companionship was a permanent fixture — an incorporeal extension of my being. But like the physical body, the mental spirit, social relations and accumulated objects I so devotedly give attention to, I’ve never looked at you as an entity worthy of contemplation beyond the meager concerns that peck away at my subconscious whenever my bank account drops below a certain amount.
Therefore, I’ve decided make amends and come to a better understanding of the nature of our relationship. I have felt gratitude to your presence in my life but I have come to realise that you more closely represent the qualities of a tyrannical master. You’ve always had the upper hand; you’ve been the one in perpetual control, restricting me in my pursuits, and condemning me to the belief that freedom and liberty are directly proportional to the quality of your abundance.
This is the only reason to pursue you.
But I’d like to change this relationship.
I’ve wanted the upper hand my entire life and it is due time for that change to take place. Here is what I think you should be: A tool. Machinery. A vehicle of empowerment not enslavement.
You should be a means to an end, and nothing more. You should not be the centerpiece of life, the sole rationale for a career choice, or an impetus for rethinking one’s core values and principles regardless of circumstance.
This is not to say that you have nothing to teach. Scarcity is one of the greatest teachers of humility, sensibility, frugality, and self-denial. Scarcity of money leads to an impoverishment in choice, denying society and the individual the means to change their environment. But the inverse is also true when a world with limited resources faces unlimited human desires.
No wonder many thinkers have had differing views about you. Depending on who you ask, you might find a distinct opinion: Arthur Schopenhauer described you as sea-water: “The more we drink the thirstier we become”; As something to be disregarded entirely, as described by Bob Dylan: “What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”
Regardless of the opinions, you’ve successfully made yourself the cultural focal point of not only modern-day capitalist society but also generations past. Personified as a mythological deity from the Hindu Kubera to the Chinese Tsai Shen Yeh and the Greek and Roman Pluto, even through spirit, you’ve laid claim to the materialistic helm of human society.
You are simultaneously the liberator and oppressor of man. At the heart of civilisation, any large system of exchange of goods and services requires a common quantifiable metric: monetary cost. For people to live and function together as a group, you are their cerebral king; only you may pass judgement and evaluate the worth of entire nations. You are the economic thread that weaves together the very fabric of society, pivoting those fortunate enough to its crown, while the majority lay bare at its feet. You are the ball and chain that ties each and every individual to this system through debt or desire until they are either dead or unaccountable. Only the truly ascetic may slip through your grasp.
While your presence in my life has been a virtue and a privilege, it’s important to understand this privilege and what it entails. There has never been a single day that I have felt separated from the comforts you bring — the alleviation of mental and physical burdens, the empowerment of my individuality and personal freedom, and the potential to minimize suffering, material or otherwise.
This would all be for naught without some perspective: the relationship with society that you enable is the fundamental motivation that drives people like me to acquire more and more of you.
People hardly consider the fact that they don’t seek out money; people seek out power, control, certainty and security. You only provide the means to afford and acquire these things. You birth new pathways out of saturated spaces. You enable one to adapt faster, stay alive longer. You’re a filter for evolutionary success. Combined with your material twin: technology — yet another intellectual limb that seeks to satisfy the human impulse for certainty and security, your dominion grows. You seep into a thousand layers of reality, into every corner and crevice of existence.
But the simple act of accumulating currency would fall far short of achieving anything. The control that we desire comes from the intersection of knowledge, experience, and ability — the what, the when and the how to control.
What knowledge? The knowledge of the nature of existence and being; the shape of the cradle of reality.
What experience? The experience that teaches the transience of material reality, the ebb and flow of sensory information, the cyclical patterns in everything.
What ability? The ability to adapt knowledge and experience to shape reality.
When the dull, symbolic shell of currency — whether coin, beads, pebbles, ingots, livestock or weapons — is stripped away, we can come face to face with the true meaning of wealth. When you are carefully employed, used as a fine instrument to carve out control: command over physical well-being, opportunity, status, and time.
This is the relationship I now seek to foster with you. You are an instrument of self-expression and it saddens me to no end to realise how I, through sheer ignorance, have been so blind to your real value.
Like a man without any imagination, I’ve stumbled through life without intent nor command over its direction. I’ve gazed at the vast imprint of your nature on the world but like a man unable to decipher the meaning of letters, I’ve been unable to understand the virtue in controlling you. I’ve been a fool not to see all of the squandered potential. But I’m an optimistic fool. The cyclical relationship between knowledge, experience, and ability, begins with pursuit.
That is what this letter is about.
Yours truly. Xoxo.