The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Money: The root of all civilization

Contrary to the popular and inane aphorism, money is not the root of all evil. Evil made that up, because it knew it would work. We sit around pointing at money instead of at ourselves, and Evil has a heyday in Cabrini Green. Not even the desire for money is necessarily bad. I like to turn my labor into food, and money does that for me. Thanks, Money.

Let's have a look at the road signs. Capitalism, spreading. Governments, shrinking. And it's just starting. Since our major political parties seem to enjoy playing pocket pool with major corporations, this snowball isn't likely to melt. Nor should it.

I once read an article about how capitalism, as a system, is moral. That's like saying that money is evil. But there is an eminently just proposition at the heart of capitalism -- we trade on equal terms and we're both better off for it. This isn't the reality of things, but that's because of us, not the market. This institution our country is largely founded upon has raised the quality of living for a lot of people.

Now let's talk about me. I have more crap than I know what to do with. On my windowsill are: two figurines of Dan Marino (one as Pitt Panther, one as Miami Dolphin), a small replica of Steve Owens' Heisman Trophy, a tiny jade bear with a fish in its mouth, a porcelain egg, a Nike wristband I've never worn, a deck of playing cards decorated with a Las Vegas showgirl and a foot-tall plastic Kevin Garnett. On my windowsill. I guess that's where my surplus money goes.

A couple weeks ago I went to BW-3 with a friend from out of town. We were playing NTN trivia. For the uninitiated, NTN trivia is played in bars across the country. Television screens ask the questions and drunks try to answer them with remote-controlled keypads. These keypad boxes now have a chat room feature, through which you can talk crap to the other players. I sat there for five hours playing trivia, typing juvenile messages directed both at a group of players at a table 10 feet away from me and at my out-of-town friend sitting two feet away from me. It wasn't, "Hey, Mike, how's that new girlfriend of yours?" It was, "POO (his trivia code handle) smells like diapers," digitally rendered from 24 inches. I guess that's where my surplus time goes.

I don't have a lot of money to be throwing around. I don't have a lot of time either. But somehow crap piles up on my windowsill, and I spend time in ways that will surely make me cry on my deathbed. One might define a mature person as one who doesn't do what they don't want to do. I'm not mature.

I figured out the entire rationale behind the Democratic Party last week. These are people who have a conscience. They don't want a guilty conscience. So what they do is conceive of government as a conscience-reliever. Voting Democrat is their community service -- that way they can go about their things and not have to worry about the underprivileged, beyond the self-righteous rhetoric. It's the government's job to take care of all that stuff. "Friends" is on. "Hey, they voted Democrat. It's like a get-out-of-community-free card."

And Republicans are arrested in their own juvenile hang-ups. They might say it's about individual rights and ownership, but deep down we know it's really just the tax relief for the SUV upgrade.

After losing 98 percent of my readership, I now ask you persistent 2 percent, "What are we going to do about this money and leisure?" Here are some options:

One, we pay the government to negligently oversee a crumbling underbelly beneath the radar screen of our economic optimism. Two, we pretend like everything will just work itself out as long as we get another 10 percent from our paychecks. Three, we respect people's abilities to make responsible decisions in our laws, but expect that some people won't and a lot of people don't have a 401(k) mentality (and it isn't their faults, or necessarily bad). This third model calls for some compassion and commitment on the private level. But believe it or not, generosity and social consciousness aren't the monopolized realms of the federal government. It might even be most effective and substantial when privately and independently rendered.

You know what the worst thing about Boston is? The driving. It's amazing how tough people think they are when the windows are rolled up. Not once in my life has someone given me the finger in line at the grocery store. Cars are bad like that -- they splinter and harden.

The idea that "they're not my poor" is born in privilege and ignorance. The idea that filling up that jalopy on cinder blocks with more expensive petrol will get it rolling is irresponsible and neglectful. Here's the real deal.

If things stay the way they are -- with corporations getting pleasured by politicians and vice versa, with kids being targeted as marketing groups, with more and more people acting like Bostonians drive -- then we're screwed. Democrat or Republican in office, we're f--ked. The great thing about capitalism is that it empowers the consumer. But not the weak consumer -- the mature, disciplined consumer. Power is checked by choices.

Is Bill Gates too rich for your blood? Then don't buy Microsoft. Start an anti-Microsoft club. Use Microsoft's software to disseminate your message over the Internet.

Do you think inner city kids are getting a raw deal? Re-appropriate your Samuel Adams funds to a mentoring program. Or don't, and give a couple hours of your time on the weekend.

Are minorities getting screwed? Hire one. Don't go to Denny's. Give up "Law and Order," start a group that checks corporate hiring by race, publish the results and don't support bigoted companies.

Communities aren't built from the top down -- not with fancy fiscal models, not with New Urbanism. They are organic and grow from aggregate compassion and labor. Even from selfishness.

Example? Me.

Service, in spite of what my mind tells me when it justifies my abstention from it, is in my own best interest -- as a member of a community and as a person. When I escape the inward, engaging the outward, I am invincible. Not when I drink my second accented coffee drink of the day, and not when I overwhelm Mike with a horde of screeching trivia furies. More forceful than any benefit I may impart on my surroundings are the benefits rendered me by what might be termed my "generosity." I feel good about myself, I feel connected to my surroundings. In effect, that restlessness that I try to fill with trivia boxes and ballgames is quelled. The discontent I try to bribe with trinkets and booty evaporates. I am still a capitalist in a capitalist world, but just because I have the means to purchase wantonly doesn't mean I must. I am a disciplined consumer, and the fruits of my discipline can undermine the immorality or irresponsibility sponsored in the system.

But we must send clear messages, often messages of restraint, as to what is acceptable and what isn't in American society. It now seems that anything goes, and it will continue until we purchase otherwise.

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