Remember our guiding intuition, so basic as to be almost a second skin? It is that you and I want to make something of ourselves. We also say–and mean the same thing–that we want to do something with ourselves. An astonishing intuition!
Last time, I wrote about one assumption that rests quietly beneath this intuition. It is that we have lives to lead. This we believe as well!
But now imagine the strangeness of the other assumption you and I endorse: we do not begin our lives by being already fully realized. The strangeness does not result from the fact that human beings grow as most other things. Our physical form fills out, and we develop capacities for speech and laughter and other things. Nothing strange yet. The strangeness, instead, is to be felt in the idea that we want to realize ourselves, becoming more than we were at birth, becoming ‘who we are,’ says Nietzsche. And that is the paradox: namely, that we want to become who we are.
In the last post, I began with a simple yet unshakable intuition, which was that you and I want to make something of ourselves, to do something with our lives. I went on to suggest that two assumptions about leading our lives and realizing ourselves are at the root of this intuition.
What does this statement mean: I have a life to lead? Well, certainly it means more than the idea that I am a living being, more also than the idea that I can follow my instincts to preserve and nourish myself. It seems strange to think that I ‘have’ something that is ‘mine’ to do with not entirely as I please (since circumstances and outside forces will have an impact of my ‘possession’). Somehow, we cannot shake the idea that I have a life, it is mine, and it can be led.
There is an intuition that you and I both have. We want to make something of ourselves; we want to do something with our lives. It is an intuition that we cannot shake or deny without ceasing to be human beings or, at the very least, modern human beings.
The intuition is based on two assumptions: one being that we are selves with lives to lead; the other being that we do not begin our lives by being already fully realized. Our lives therefore become projects or tasks writ large, and these projects or tasks are, above all, things that we care about. It would be difficult to conceive of what could come before caring about the lives we lead and the selves we want to become since it seems nearly self-evident that caring about the lives we lead and the selves we become must come first. We care that these life projects go well because we think, in and through and because of them, that we can ‘become who we are’ (Nietzsche).
There are three basic views regarding what animates all of reality.
- The Eastern view insists that I = the Absolute.
- The Greek view avers that the human self seeks to live at its peak within the bounds of finitude.
- The Christian view holds that there is a transcendent being which, animating all of reality, is that which each dependent being seeks to follow and imitate.
The first view is the most radical inasmuch as it asserts that there is no such thing as a human self, the second undeniably secular and immanent, the third transcendent.
Last night, Leon Berg, a founding member of The Ojai Foundation, and I hosted a conversation at The Ojai Foundation. The title of the conversation was ‘Money: Our Elephant in the Room.’
Could there be any subject that is more taboo than that of money? Common sense tells us that money is to be used but never discussed; to be thought about in the genre of a silent soliloquy but rarely cast in the form as a dialogue; to be taken for granted as a force in the background, not to be solicited to appear as itself in the foreground. Yet last night we began to question common sense, turning it on its head by making money speak. And what did it have to say?
Among our inheritances, I have implied, is the view that money is not to be openly discussed. This is a common sense view about being publicly silent when it comes to money matters. Another inheritance flows from all the money adages coursing through our thoughts, ones we have adopted yet never actually considered, with the result that this stock of common sayings inform our unconsciously thoughts and shape our behaviors. Does ‘money [actually] make the world go around’? If so, which world? Might there be domains wherein this is not the case? Is it true–to take a second adage–that ‘money is time?’ What does this say about our commonsensical notion of time? What further does it imply about what we ought to do with our time? And if we think it is correct to believe money ‘can’t buy’ certain things, why do we nonetheless believe that money is a necessary condition for pursuing, securing, and maintaining these immaterial goods?
Common sense, if only it is examined, tells us what specific roles money has played in shaping our thought and action at a general, abstract level. This leads me to wonder about the ways in which a particular individual’s conceptions of money have formed his thinking and acting. Might a psychodrama shed light on this question? Following the notion of a constellation, imagine (say) seven individuals representing Self, Scarcity, Enough, Abundance, Mortgage, Debt, and Expenses showing in physical, silent form and by virtue of their visual layout as a tableau one’s current relationships to money. What great tensions would thereby be made plain? What specific fears could be revealed? What truths might be disclosed? What blindnesses exposed and vague notions sharpened? How, in short, might this transform this individual’s understanding of money’s role in his everyday life?