I have a confession to make. I have been, somewhat secretly, horrendously wealthy for pretty much the whole of my life.That is not quite true — I was very, very wealthy when I was young, I dipped a bit going through my 20s, but no so that you’d notice, and then I came into an inheritance which I had actually received when I was around 10, but was unable to fully access until I was about 31 — which is what I am living on now, and which is so mindbogglingly bottomless that I am pretty much unconcerned with either the direction of my career, or the state of the economy, and will remain so until my death.
It’s nice, because I know that I don’t have to worry about the things that stress other people out. I would never make a career decision based on economic considerations. I have a grotesque sense of entitlement — I only do things that I want to do. It’s something that I don’t even question, I just kind of assume it’s my right. What is not nice about it is that it makes it hard for me to understand other people, and it makes it even harder for them to understand me.
I don’t understand what it is like to have to scrape by in soul crushing work in order to satisfy an arbitrary specification of happiness. My own happiness is basically guaranteed. I can assume challenges and tasks and objectives to amuse myself, but it is never fundamentally threatening if I don’t achieve them — because I made them up in the first place. Any task can mean to me about as much as a video game means to most people.
I am wealthy enough that I can share with others without any concern about losing my seed capital, and that my only real question with regard to how I choose to share is “Will this sharing do good?”
What surprises me, continuously, is how few people actually want my wealth when I offer it. And, in fact, this is what changed when I turned 31, this started to bother me less. At this point in my life it doesn’t bother me at all, which compared to before is almost like being immortal.
What I have discovered is that most people don’t actually want to be wealthy, they want to look wealthy — and that is a hell of a lot harder to do. You see people with 5 million dollars who live in a neighborhood with other people who have 10 million dollars and they don’t look wealthy anymore — so they have to go get more. The wealthiest man in the world can get shut out of an auction on a one of a kind item, and the vagaries of fate can eat at any pile of cash. Investments totter, gold can be stolen. The more you have, the more there is to keep track of — the people you hire to help you are unreliable. You get tired, you make bad decisions — and soon enough you are competing with yourself, can you make more? Can you make it faster? Can you make it faster than you thought you could make it?
What I learned from a book when I was 10 was that wealth, real wealth, is the relationship between what you have and what you want. If you want something, you can work to get the thing, or you can work to eliminate the want. Relative to your own happiness, they are the same thing.
“Oh!” People say at this point. “You tricked us!”
No, not at all. I am talking about reality — you tricked me, because when I said I was wealthy and would share my wealth with you, you weren’t thinking about real wealth, you were thinking about fake wealth. You weren’t interested in the relationship between your own feelings and your life, and the things within it — you were interested in what other people might see.
You and I could go downtown to a jewelry store and look in the window and we could find the most expensive bracelet, and cultivate a desire for it. Then, we could eliminate that desire, and it would be as if we had created the money out of nothing and purchased it. If we really did purchase it, eventually we would lose it anyway — so just knowing that it exists is as close as you are ever going to get to it. If you study it, and learn from it what makes it beautiful, you have gotten the reality of the bracelet. But what most people would say is that I am cheating, that I have to be able to wear the bracelet so that other people will know that I have it.
And honestly, that is so much harder, and so much less fun that I can’t begin to understand why anyone would think it is “real” wealth and my wealth is “imaginary.”
Because my happiness is real, because my wealth is real, it is only multiplied when I share it. I am a star in the sky — I am self moving, but the sky is so much grander when it is full of other stars — so I am going to share the absolute basic ground of my wealth — I got it from three places (and you already have as much right to all of these as I ever did..)
I learned THAT it was possible from the Sermon on the Mount.
And I also learned from this that it was good that it happened to be possible, and that it was desirable to attempt to achieve it. The techniques were a little bit lacking though — walking around in a robe seemed silly, and when I tried going to churches the people I met were often kind of icky. There also were a lot of other things in the same book that struck me as awful things that I didn’t want to have anything to do with. Somehow, somewhere, the fact that this was a technique to be happy seemed to be forgotten, and I think that forgetting is fundamental to this particular presentation.
I learned WHY it was possible from the Tao Te King.
This looks simpler than it is — you might want to consider multiple translations. You may want to consider this as a useful mask for the first reading — anything in the Sermon on the Mount which you cannot see though the mask of the Tao Te King is probably something that can be profitably thrown away.
I learned HOW to do it from Plato’s Symposium.
Maybe (hopefully) you are a lot smarter than I am, but I found this text to be far from obvious. I actually read it when I was young, and then got really into the other two, and then came back to it when I was much older and all of the sudden it made sense. It describes a ladder that goes from the spontaneous desiring of desirable things (which it is usually very easy to experience) up to the comprehension of the soul of beauty (which is actually what you are seeking, although you might be confused about that fact at first.)
It is not a philosophy, it is a technique.
Now here’s a fellow.
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