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January 1, 2014


Perhaps the most important resolution one can make in any new year is to resolve to carry out the resolutions made. I resolve not to make such a resolution. Why? Things change; targets are always moving, what was true yesterday is false today, and vice versa. I think it is therefore the duty of thoughtful citizens of the world to remain skeptical of those who would manipulate their votes and wallets and minds and to somehow remain pragmatists in this current sea of advertising and propaganda designed to sublimate every human activity to the GOD OF PROFIT.

To wax philosophical, there is no god of profit, or if there is, he, she or it is an impostor whose worship has been and is destructive of the human condition, including even those among us who have amassed much, who must now lie, cheat and connive to maintain and expand such trove at the expense of the many. Some of my fellow critics in this connection who approach this problem of terminal greed are religious and some secular. Thus the apostle Paul wrote that in “having nothing. . . we can still possess everything.” Rudyard Kipling (in a speech to a graduating medical class) said: “You’ll go out from here and very likely make a lot of money. One day you’ll meet someone for whom that means very little. Then you will know how poor you are.” (I think this a profound insight.)2

How to measure the relative importance of money? Let’s take legacy as the measure. How would you compare the legacy of Jesus Christ to that of John D. Rockefeller? Donald Trump to Mahatma Gandhi? Warren Buffett to Mother Teresa? John Jacob Astor to Albert Schweitzer? Who is rich and who is poor among these few examples? Whose legacies are historic and whose are passing, and why? How rich are  Bernie Madoff and Jack Abramoff?

Time is one of the undiscussed factors in determining material wealth, i.e., so you’re rich, so what? How long are you going to enjoy whatever pleasures huge and unnecessary wealth may bring? Absent a cruising cab or runaway cancer, you will live on average to be some 77 years old. Assuming that one’s earlier years are spent in becoming educated and learning the social graces and that you become rich quickly, you may have about 50 years to enjoy whatever benefits (and burdens) great wealth brings.

In truth, you have no title to your own supposed wealth; you are merely leasing it. Your leasehold on such wealth will pass upon your demise to new lessors. Therein lies a supreme irony – that both tangible and intangible assets cannot be owned, only leased. The idea that one may by will direct after death  just who those new lessors are to be is a puny exercise in pretending continuing dominion and control over assets by those who have no continuing dominion and control over life itself.

So which is more important and lasting, wealth or ideas, a greater vision of duty to people or a narrow view of acquisition in obedience to the great GOD OF PROFIT? People who think about the greater good they can leave as legacies to humanity, or those who spend their lives amassing temporarily leased assets for themselves, often at great cost to the humanity they inhabit for perhaps 70-odd years? The theologian Frederick Buechner says that “There are people who use up their entire lives making money so they can enjoy the lives they have entirely used up.” That observation tells us much..

I conclude this venture into philosophy by observing that the richest things in life have nothing to do with the pursuit of leased assets. I come down on the side of Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer and resolve this new year to value people over profit with renewed vigor in what I write and say.  GERALD  E


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