Dreams of Kindness, Love and Grace - Wealth Addiction by Carolyn Berry
There is little doubt—wealth just may be the most addictive intoxicant of our time. In the American legacy, dreams of “a better life” were initially embodied in the strong individualism and courageous pioneering spirits of myriad immigrants who crossed two broad oceans to reach this land of opportunity. Two legged mammals that we are, doomed from the moment that Cain killed Abel to concoct justifications that effectively numb our consciences, “a better life” was quickly retranslated into two more insidious colloquialisms that still lie at the true heart of capitalism: (1) “Making a killing” and (2) “What’s in it for me?” Greed took root as our immigrant ancestors wiped out entire bloodlines of North American First Nations in order to make their own dreams of acquisition a reality. “Wealth” became a socially-acceptable term for what, in fact, has proven to be self-serving greed.
In recent months, white collar criminals—lavishly “successful” corporate icons who once wore the envious masks of self-made millionaires—have been publicly displayed for the grotesque aberrations that they are. The simple truth is this: we now know that the executives of such enormous capitalistic machines as Enron and WorldComm managed successfully to gorge themselves with an illicit addiction to wealth. They acted publicly upon their belief that rules imposed upon mere mortals in the system do not apply to them. Wealth had made them invincible. The necessary public illusion of ever-larger quarterly profit figures was all that mattered—regardless how it was achieved.
Disgusting. Disheartening. But far from shocking. Any novice systems theorist knows that no natural system can survive a pattern of endless growth. At some point, that growth becomes unhealthy … damaging … even deadly, as the system is forced to feed upon itself in order to survive. Endless growth is a systemic impossibility. And yet we were all duped with the illusion that capitalism was exempt from the laws of natural systems. How naïve.
But before we become too self-righteous, pointing our fingers “out there” at “them”, it’s important that we own our role in the debacle. White collar crooks void of conscience did not materialize out of thin air. They came to power and evolved into anti-social, self-centered criminals in the same lush environment of capitalism in which many of us participate. Their feigned “successes” were celebrated, particularly by those of us carrying the illusion that we too could “make a killing” by investing in those same corpora-tions who so effectively lied to satisfy us. We expected endless growth and prosperity; they gave it to us. Like it or not, many of us were co-conspirators in the delusional spread of the addiction.
A large faction in the modern day “simple living” world lives a shallow illusion, blending purportedly ‘new thought’ with fresh-faced capitalistic addiction. The movement is inhabited by many of us with the dream of retiring early, say 30, 35, 40, who declare a desire to no longer participate in this distorted system. We want it both ways, craving individual wealth & ease, but using socially-acceptable language denouncing the voracious consumption now run amok in the American Dream. Using much more evolved and acceptable jargon than the mainstream, we blindly tred the capitalistic treadmill with a gait of self-righteousness. We claim we want to see change in the world, that we want to be the change we seek. Yet the change we exhibit involves meticulously mapping our investments and economic gains, keeping careful accounting of the miniscule changes in the price of a simple can of beans.
“What’s in it for me?” Staying in the rat race for a predetermined period of time—say, five years—working with an all-consuming focus to amass the targeted wealth on our investment bottom line? When our wealth is amassed, we proudly and publicly step out of the cycle of capitalistic addiction that has, in fact, served us so effectively. We “simplify” by living off our investments, fulfilling dreams of foreign travel and material ease.
“What’s in it for me?” Soaking an addictive system for all I can get out it for a brief window of intentional overworked years, and then stepping into “simple living” with great self-accolades? This kind of blind participation allows the divisiveness of the system to happen and encourages corruption in corporate America. We participate in it. We gain from it. We even celebrate it … until it is revealed for what it truly is. Regardless of the “simple living” mask donned for a window of time, many of us have participated in a truly psychotic dilerium. A grandiose act of theft.
Carolyn Berry serves professionally as a public policy dispute resolution coordinator throughout Oregon. She is also a writer, a social/environmental activist, and public speaker. Contact Carolyn at [email protected]