Money and Forgetting How Hard It Is to Avoid Boredom
The other side of the coin
People generally sense how money can conceal from them their inability to hunt for food, build their own house, and the like. We know that if we were dropped on a desert island, we would probably be in trouble, but because of money I can access meat even if I can’t hunt, build a house even if I can’t use tools, and much more. In this way, money can help us avoid facing our vulnerability and inability. It is a gift, but is it also a curse?
I want to suggest that there is another way that “money hides us from ourselves,” and that is in how money can conceal from us our inability to entertain ourselves, to prove inspired and inspiring, to avoid boredom, and the like. With money, I can rent a movie which can amuse all my guests, or take a trip that creates an impression of cultural interest and openness to diversity. But am I able to entertain myself and others on my own? Am I capable of telling stories or jokes? Am I capable of instigating a good conversation without prompt? Can I keep my friends engaged if we’re just sitting around a table with nothing between us? These are very hard questions (which for me suggests “intrinsic motivation,” “The Unarmored Test,” Nietzsche, creativity, and other concerns of O.G. Rose), but these are also hard questions we can avoid as long as we have money. As money can provide ways for us to avoid facing our inability to survive in the wilderness, so money can help us avoid facing creative, spiritual, and intrinsic deficiencies.
Now, I believe how money hides our lack of “intrinsic capacities” tends to come out when we have an excess of money, not when we lack it: a deficiency of money tends to unveil our lack of self-sufficiency, whereas an excess of money tends to unveil our lack of “intrinsic capacities.” Yes, lacking money could unveil the later too, but we tend then to be so focused on finding food, paying bills, and other basic necessities that we aren’t so concerned with being a good storytelling, being “intrinsically motivated,” or the like: we become radically “extrinsically motivated,” almost by necessity. And so driven, a lack of “intrinsic capacities” is not our prime concern (a point which might suggest Freud’s understanding that “mental health” issues tended to become more of an issue in First World Nations, precisely because greater wealth provided citizens more opportunities to think about themselves and their internal states).
When we have an excess of money, or at least enough money to pay for what we need (which can happen in middle class families), then we can suddenly find out that all money can do is “do the same old stuff.” We can buy another movie. We can visit another place. We can eat a different meal. But a new thrill. But little else. Money can’t make boredom vanish once we become bored with the things which money can buy, and money cannot entertain children who want to hear a story. Eventually, a time comes when the presence of money makes it clear that it can’t add “intrinsic capacities” to our lives, even if money can help us find a place in our lives where we can do what we want because we are free of external restraints. This “revelation” often comes later in life, when we become more financially secure, which might be when it is too late to change—we’re now low on energy, and we perhaps failed to cultivated habits of creativity, reading, etc. which could help us cultivate “intrinsic capacities,” so what could get us going to change our ways? Something external? But that’s the problem…
Money is not bad and very necessary, but as it can hide from us our lack of self-sufficiency, so money can also hide from us a lack of intrinsic-sufficiency. This brings Nietzsche to mind and his emphasis on Will and our ability to live “intrinsically motivated,” a vision of life which money can threaten. Money can also enable it though—that’s up to us.
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