Monday, September 19, 2005

The Root of Evil is Not Money

Have I mentioned this before? I've had it with being painted as a tree-hugging, sprout-eating, juice-chugging liberal freak who hates America, just because I prefer to look within myself for an intelligence that surpasses intellect. Maybe if we paid more attention to that broader intelligence, which draws energy from our whole being rather than just a bundle of neurons in our forebrains, we'd be able to ask the penetrating questions that could usurp the arrogance of authority, destroy the thrones of monarchy and theocracy, and kill the demons of Power that breed the Bushes and Osamas of our world.

But for now, in this culture, I will have to live with that stigma of being a twisted lump of New Age frill on the lunatic fringe. And what is it that gives the self-improvement / self-development community such an ugly rep? Well, let's start with these jerks: The Learning Annex.

For amid its courses in Kabbalah, Talking to Your Angel Guides, Chinese Medicine for Dummies, Magic for Beginners, How to Flirt, and How to Break into Hollywood, we have this: the Trump course in real estate. The bait is simple: "we're making millionaires—are you ready?" Here's more:

"How much money do you want to make? Whether it's $5k, $50k, or $5 million, real estate is your answer! Real estate provides the highest returns, the greatest values and the least risk...We've put together an incredible line-up including every type of real estate expert imaginable. In just 2 days, they'll teach you what they know, and what you need to know to build a powerful income producing real estate portfolio."

In short, The Learning Annex is offering an orgy of venal opportunism—thereby promoting the same kind of me-first-and-fuck-everybody-else mindset that brought the Tyco boys to a bitter fate today. This is not self-improvement or self-development; it is self-engorgement. It is the stuff that belongs in the realm of late-night infomercial TV. But look who else is buying into the Learning Annex lust-club of the pursuit of excess: Shakti Gawain ("Creative Visualization and Developing Intuition"); Joan Stewart ("Establish Yourself as an Instant Expert"); Masaru Emoto ("The Hidden Messages in Water").

There's a reason that we're naming names here, and it has to do with the overall goal of self-development teaching, in the hands of people who care. Self-development is about furthering the whole that is around you by uncovering and nurturing the whole within you. We have failed as a society only because we have failed as individuals—failed to value all of who we are. You are more than your forebrain, your bank balance, your social standing, the make and model of your car or the size of either your house or your penis (or breasts). Much more. In fact, when self-development is practiced with dedication and vision—that is, with professionalism and self-respect—then a beneficent cycle is set into motion, from the emanations of a single and ordinary vessel of consciousness (and you thought "cycles" only came in the "vicious" variety).

There is another problem with the Trumpification of the self in this pedagogy of the grab: it is, most likely, false. That is, deluded and misleading. Indeed, Paul Krugman has already pointed out evidence that the housing bubble is starting to lose air, and that there may be an exodus from the real estate rush in a matter of months. History supports his suspicion, as does common sense: wherever there is mania, there will soon be despair. Wherever there is a stampede, there will be tomorrow nothing but desolation.

One defining mark of a culture in decline is to be found in the confusion of cause and effect. We imagine that money—wealth—will bring us freedom. Indeed, this is part of The Learning Annex's shill for its orgy of real estate pedantry: "imagine having the extra money to do the things that you truly enjoy."

This is ass-backwards. The truth is, freedom will bring you money—that is, abundance. Because freedom is not about doing what you crave; it is about doing what you love. Freedom is not indulgence; it is the fulfillment of the self through responsible and effortless action. Joseph Campbell, in his justly-famous interviews with Bill Moyers, called it "following your bliss." It is not merely discovering what gets you ahead or what gets you rich—it isn't even pursuing what would do the most good in the eyes of your culture. It is revealing what you do best; what takes you out of the narrow realm of pursuit, accumulation, and servitude, and into the open realm of the regenerative self making a continually transforming connection with its destiny. From that incipient point of discovery comes all the bounty of material rewards that flows in a perfectly balanced measure to one whose life is sung to the lyric of Nature.

I can't prove it to you, and I am not a believer in the cult of the testimonial, or anything else of the evangelical strain. You can prove it to yourself, however, without the assistance of marketing slogans or faith-based appeals. A good starting point in relation to our topic is to examine yourself and some of the beliefs that you are carrying like a leaden sack within you. They run the gamut from "Money is the root of all evil" to "Money ain't everything—it's the only thing." As we do in the training and nurturance of personality—elevating and obsessing over the cerebral cortex, our intellectual side, at the expense of feeling, intuition, and humility; so we do in our material lives—blindly pursuing wealth at the expense of living. It puts an implosive pressure on the object of the obsession, be it a higher IQ or a greater store of assets and possessions. Nothing can withstand that kind of burden; thus we find that the very thing we most intensely desire so often retreats, the more we chase it, the more we worship its glory.

Anything placed at the inner distance of idolatry is sure to become inaccessible: this is the problem of institutional religion in a nutshell. When God is out-there, up-there, high and powerful and infinitely distant, then It is not in-here, in this moment. The same goes for abundance: when money is transmuted into the realm of the superlative: the bane (or goal) of existence, the root of (or deliverance from) evil, the camel before the eye of the needle (or the beatific eye at the top of the pyramid); then it too is removed from lived experience, into a separate and foreign space within consciousness.

Let freedom be the spiracle of your life, the organic and flourishing center of your being; and abundance will follow you. But pursue wealth in its Trumpian imagery, and you will collapse under the same delusion as Halliburton, Bechtel, Enron, Worldcom, and the 6k shower curtain men of Tyco. If you read this blog regularly, you probably want to see a world where greed and economic aggression are muted or even dispersed in government and business. In that case, the best advice I can give is what Gandhi told us once before: be the change you wish to see in the world.

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