A brilliant C.P.A. friend of mine wrote me a note from the San Francisco Financial District:
"Can there be a middle ground [in the business of high finance]? Perhaps not?! It seems that you either go All-Out for yourself or there is no success. What do you think? I want win-win or I can't sustain an effort. Is this failure-prone? Is caveat emptor the reality? If one "tries" to "help" others, do the others assume foolishness that you do, and therefore lose faith in your judgement? I have OFTEN seen this. Investors seem to "want" to be aligned with a 'go to the limit' hard-driving leader who will somehow be a total fighter..."
Nowadays Americans lust for money because they think they never have enough money. In truth money is nothing, therefore more of nothing is still nothing. Money, you see, is a symbol, not a thing. If there is an emptiness inside ourselves, no greater an amount of money is going to fill us. This is like using compulsive sexual conquest, to satisfy a deep inner hunger and lack of self-worth. One more conquest is not going to help. In fact, people often feel emptier afterwards. We are up against the same problem with money. Moneylust is very much like sexual lust.
Because our culture approves of moneylust, you are not taken seriously unless you want money, lots more money. When I wanted to charge reasonable rates I would hear comments like, "You must not think much of yourself, if you ask for such low fees!"
Money has become a symbolic substitute for the relationships that sustained us within ancient traditional cultures. It is the philosopher's stone of our time; the soft blanket of security. For most of us, however, money is the place where we experience our deepest sub-human feelings. Greed and avarice. Money changes our perceptions of fairness and justice as we either have more or less of it.
The responses around money are irrational for they are the responses of the primitive reptilian brain that automatically does what it needs to do to insure survival. Is it any surprise that anger often results from discussions over money with couples and business partners? Money is about life and death, even for millionaires.
When a person is in sexual lust, there is never enough sex. It's the same with moneylust, there is never enough money. Desires always outpace reality. The usual person uses money to be a consumer, while the exceptional person would turn this around to use money to serve the interests of wisdom -- a small voice in a world glutted with television and radio advertising.
Like everyone else, I grew up believing that there is not enough money. My mother wanted new clothes, my father wanted to save money for a downpayment on his house. I wanted more toys and science gadgets. It is a great mystery why I have just the amount of money that I have now. But I can see that I set conditions on my upper and lower bounds of money, subject to unpredictable outside influences that add uncertainty to financial planning.
Just exactly why are people so disturbed by this last recession? Have we lost our senses? Even with rising unemployment and declining "standard of living" we are very rich compared to other times. What are the elements of a happy life? Is a new shirt every week required? Is it being able to impress the ladies in church with your new suit and car?
Then there are those with absolute poverty to deal with. Not enough money to buy food. A life so chaotic that they cannot concentrate well enough to hold down any job or do any self- employment. An inability to be in relationship to family and friends. A complete cutoff from life. Death on the streets. This happens more and more.
Business is the realm of the animal. Social Darwinism rules the market place. It really is survival of the fittest, strongest, biggest in the market place. "Good" and "bad" are valid categories only after survival has been attended to. Sexual lust and moneylust may just be direct expressions of a primal instinct: the will to live.