Seth Brown | The Pun Also Rises: Withdrawal symptoms
I am, of course, talking about money.
Money is one of the last true taboos among friends. Not in the political sphere with public declarations about the rich and the poor, and not among strangers who will complain or brag (or both!) about their incomes and fiscal holdings. Yet among friends — the same friends who will happily discuss their sex lives and religious predilections (the two most important reasons to invoke your chosen god) without batting an eye — money often remains a topic that people avoid like the plague. Actually, people are much more interested in talking about the plague, because anything called "The Black Death" sounds pretty hardcore.
But I think the main reason friends tend not to talk about money is that it's the closest thing we have to a universally acknowledged way of keeping score in life. Note that I am not claiming it is the best way of keeping score; certainly we'd be better off judging a life by how much it improved the world, or at least accumulated happiness. But world-improvement doesn't interest everyone, and happiness is a fickle and difficult to measure thing, while money is very easy to measure, and more is obviously better. Just like wheels of Cheddar.
When friends have different religions, or sex lives, they can co-exist peacefully because direct comparisons do not apply. You believe in Jesus and bedded that man, while I follow the Norse pantheon and made out with this woman, and we can discuss our lives without assigning any ranking to them, because they are so different. But with money this simply isn't possible; if I make $20,000 a year, and you make $60,000 a year, your income is indisputably thrice as good as mine. And quite disputably but far too often presumed, your life's value and success could be considered thrice as good as mine. Which is very uncomfortable to acknowledge between friends on opposite sides of the divide.
Still, it is a mistake to equate utility with virtue. I may need money all the time, to pay for utilities and health insurance and taxes and a few luxuries like delicious sushi at the local restaurants, but that doesn't imbue the possession of money with any moral weight. We need oxygen to breathe, but acquiring lots and lots of oxygen tanks doesn't make you a better person. If anything, it makes you slightly more likely to die in a fiery explosion.
Somehow as a society we've confused the means with the ends. Poisonous ideologies such as the "prosperity gospel" —which equates poverty with sin and wealth with virtue — are not only incredibly damaging to the poor, but also would probably really irritate a certain carpenter from Nazareth. On the other side, people who think money is the root of all evil are forgetting that the quote is actually "a love of money." Money isn't evil, or good. It is a tool, just like a shovel. (And sometimes it's a more efficient tool than a shovel, because with a shovel it takes me hours in the freezing cold to clear my driveway, whereas with money I can pay my friendly neighborhood plow guy and have it cleared in five minutes.)
We need to break our addiction not to money, but to using money as a benchmark for moral value. So I'm trying not to judge myself too harshly for constantly needing to take more money out of my bank account.
I guess you could say, I'm in withdrawal.
Seth Brown is an award-winning humor writer, the author of "From God To Verse," and is, like, a really smart stable genius. His website is RisingPun.com.
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