The capitalist culture has increasingly turned money into something to be kept, admired, nurtured, cuddled and fondled like we do to our beloved pet animals, whereas money should be like a livestock or poultry animal to be turned to food and eaten. The value of money lies only – and absolutely only – in the material need it solves for humans. Beyond this, any value placed on money is worship of mammon.
Our capitalist culture and its ethic know nothing about contentment. Endless pursuit of money is legitimised. Individuals are censured and shamed for over-indulging in food, drink and play but no one is shamed for over-indulgence in pursuit of money – nay those who over-indulge in money pursuit are rewarded with appearance on the cover of FORBES magazine or, at least, a space on its list of world’s richest. What is rewarded here is not hard work or genius but money. Tim Berners-Lee, in 1989, invented the World Wide Web (www) and gave it to the world free and we hardly hear about him irrespective of the fact that his hard work and uncommon genius revolutionised what we call the Internet today. If he had patented and commercialised that invention, he would have been celebrated like other tech billionaires such as Google, Apple and Microsoft owners. His face would have surely adorned the cover of FORBES.
Endless quest for anything amounts to greed, but capitalism exempts pursuit of money from this universal moral rule. The familiar line that humans are insatiable is often invoked to deflate the complicity of capitalism in planting this amoral ethic. Craving and contentment are both inscribed in the character of man and any can be nurtured to prevail. For example, monks and nuns in Christian and Buddhist monasteries across the world aren’t craving to have millions, build mansions or ride the costliest cars simply because they have been formed in an environment that nurtures contentment. On the contrary, capitalism nurtures the craving part of us until it becomes uncontrollable.
It does this by encouraging and celebrating endless pursuit of money such that money assumes an end in itself instead of a means to an end. This is what money becomes when its acquisition goes beyond solving one’s need for food and other necessities to become a mere status symbol for which one is celebrated. It thus becomes not an animal to be turned to food and eaten but a pet to be cuddled and fondled.
But it’s difficult for most of us to observe this anomaly being that we have been socialised in an economic and cultural system that is founded on a faulty psychology that affirms insatiability as an unassailable character of man and a flawed ethic that excuses and glorifies greed – the capitalist ethic!
This is my meditation this midweek.
Henry Chigozie Duru, PhD, teaches journalism and mass communication at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria.