So much of life seemingly comes down to money: appearance, social status, free time (and how you’re able to use it), opportunity, influence. In many areas of our cultural and social lives money has come to define us, limiting or separating us from one another as patterns of consumption become a way of life, a sense of self, and yet another way to set ourselves apart.
It’s something touched on recently with I am not just a sum and Money as a pivot of matter & intention, which spoke of how money flows through life, alongside a few other posts around the role of economic factors in education and society more broadly (see Notes One).
And it just seems strange at times how so much of our value as human beings is tied to this one method of quantification. Rather than money simply being an aspect of trade and a practical reality, it’s woven throughout our existence; including those areas of culture that give us shared meaning.
Activities and interests that impart meaning, identity, and belonging – books, movies, fashion, events – increasingly come across as being essentially about money. Whether we can afford to keep up with the latest trends or standards often seems an impossible or possibly futile race (Notes Two). As patterns of consumption, they work well; but as sources of human meaning and social cohesion they seem questionable.
I mean, we all seek to find our place within life: to create an identity and, based on that, form affiliations and pursue our interests to build a life for ourselves. As humans we seem drawn to expressing our true nature and finding others to celebrate or develop that with. Ideally, I suppose, we’d all hold meaning in one another’s eyes, even while we might tread different paths ourselves.
What would it mean if everything in life were simply a transaction? If every aspect of existence were part of a calculation and relationships were merely trade. If we always needed ‘something to offer’ in financial terms; rather than bringing qualities of love, friendship, compassion, patience, creativity, and so on. If, at best, everything in our lives were window dressing for the image we decided to craft for ourselves.
Almost everything now can be seen in terms of money: it all has a cost and a price; a figure attached that skates alongside all aspects of modern life. Is that simply “how it is” or could there be areas of life where we all stand equally, without the countless divisions money seems to create and sustain?
Money may create both opportunities and limitations for our lives, and it may be effective in terms of dividing and selling certain things; but when it comes to life, to human meaning and personal worth, it surely cannot become the be all and end all of existence. It just doesn’t seem quite right. As if we might be missing the point of life and reducing everything meaningful down to this one thing that really isn’t.
Notes and References:
Note 1: The motivation of money
Note 1: Economics and the task of education
Note 2: Relating to cultural benchmarks
Note 2: How many things are cycles (we could break)
Note 2: Fashion, self & environment