Much Ado About Bullshit
Money is bullshit.
And I don’t mean that it is evil or corrupt or the source of all depravity in the world. These things may or may not be true for you depending on your beliefs, but this is not what I’m referring to.
What I am referring to is the observation that, as a foundation for any value system, money is structurally equivalent to bullshit. You can dump an infinity of time and effort into obscuring this foundation or (more commonly) devise a series of increasingly advanced devices for stifling your sense of smell, but at the end of the day, you’re still living on a mountain of bullshit and you’ll probably die there too.
Want to know the most surefire way to plunge a promising young individual straight into the depths of hell?
Keep doubling their salary.
This sums up the many lessons that I’ve had to learn the hard way during my journey into adulthood. “Money can’t buy happiness” is such a commonsense adage that nobody even bothers to take it seriously. Somewhere in the back of our minds we all have a little voice that says, “Well, sure, money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy things that produce happiness!”
Even worse, our everyday experience confirms this. We buy movie tickets and drugs and vacations and gadgets and gizmos and whatever the fuck else we can just barely afford, and for a fleeting moment, we experience happiness. This is undeniable.
But the thing we overlook is that happiness was always there to begin with. Happiness is our true nature. Only by the activity of seeking things that we don’t have does this inherent sense of happiness become obscured. We unconsciously suppress our true nature of happiness by making it conditional: “I won’t be happy until I have X amount of money in the bank” or “I won’t be happy until my Instagram feed is full of photos of me riding a bedazzled war elephant naked around the streets of London” or whatever. These are the sorts of agreements that we unknowingly make with ourselves every single day. And until we stop making them, we will continue to suffer by our own two hands.
Can you see how this works? Can you see how your unhappiness and lack of fulfillment is a choice that you continue to make every single day of your life?
When we fulfill our desires, we experience happiness only due to the fact that we’ve temporarily satisfied one of our own conditions. The carrot-on-the-stick disappears for just a moment, just long enough for us to catch our breath and enjoy what it means to simply be. But it will only be a matter of days or hours or minutes before we find a new carrot and and begin our futile chase anew.
And when somebody else rips our carrot away from us? When our English Elephant Tour is cancelled due to inclement weather or we get forcibly removed from whatever cash-grab of a job we currently find ourselves caught up in? Dear god, you’d better look out. This is the real meaning of suffering.
Unfortunately the fruits of this lesson are often tangled up in paradox: for the poor to truly internalize the futility of the quest for money, they must become rich, and for the rich to truly realize it, they must become poor.
I traced the former path as I tirelessly climbed the rungs of the software industry, watching in confusion and horror as the extent of my neuroses and dissatisfaction with life increased linearly with my salary. Eventually I found myself quite literally buried under my own mountain of bullshit, a miserable drug-addicted hermit devoid of all confidence, purpose, and friendship. Sure, I had a twelve-hundred dollar standing desk and multiple Macbooks and heated walnut hardwood floors and nightly sushi delivery, but all of these things are only band-aids and distractions to a person that hasn’t yet learned to appreciate the simple wonder of being alive.
(Now I own zero desks, one Macbook, sleep on a (non-heated) hardwood floor and get most of my nutrition from a strange but highly economical chocolate sludge — and every moment that I exist is pure fucking magic.)
I would like to clarify: not everybody’s quest for money and fame culminates in the same sort of shitshow that mine did. Much of what you tend to grasp for and struggle with in early adulthood (and, indeed, your entire life) is mostly determined by the values you absorbed during childhood. A small habit as a child is the potential for a full blown neurosis as an adult.
So people deal with these things in very different ways. But at the end of the day, any method of “dealing with it” other than accepting unconditional happiness is nothing but a psychological defense mechanism. Sure, you might develop a deep hatred for and rejection of money, but this is just as ignorant as the pursuit of it. Or instead of self-sabotage, you might direct your negativity outwards, unconsciously attempting to distribute your misery amongst those around you until you’re equally alone and confused.
If you’re wealthy, you may develop a savior complex and run around the world tossing money at purportedly good causes, addicted to the rush of receiving recognition, temporary relief from that incessant need to prove that you’re not just “another rich asshole”.
Or perhaps you just live long enough and grow old enough, meet enough people and see enough dollar bills pass through your wizened, wrinkly hands that the entire world of money becomes a bore and you retreat into the woods with an axe and a copy of Walden to live out your final days in the peaceful embrace of nature’s solitude. Not all of my stories have unhappy endings.
I want to close out by emphasizing once again that this essay does not make the claim that money’s nature is to destroy and corrupt, but only that it’s a brutally toxic raison d’être. You needn’t forego all earthly desires and subscribe to a life of asceticism, but as soon as you attempt to build anything on top of a monetary motivation, whether it be a career, an organization, or a nation, you have constructed a perpetual suffering machine and placed yourself directly at its heart.
And so on you’ll go, ‘round and ‘round, proud commander of a monolithic bullshit generator that keeps you spiteful of the past, tired of the present, and anxious for a million futures that will never come to pass. The carrots continue to arise in various sizes and forms, the sticks growing ever longer and more elaborate until you can’t even remember what you’re chasing anymore.
But the option of freedom never abandons you. You can always hop off. You can always tear the entire thing down and start over. The choice is always yours.
Besides, carrots don’t taste that good anyways.