Countless courageous voices throughout human history have borne witness to money's inherent potential for moral corruptibility and degeneration. Written over two millennia ago, the First Epistle to Timothy reads: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Two hundred years ago, convinced that America's historic love of individual liberty was being eroded by inordinate love of wealth, Theodore Parker lamented how “everything gives way to money...Mammon is a profitable god to worship – he gives dinners!”
So what is it about money?
An anecdote from Guru Nanak's travels through Lahore provides some clues. One day, upon special request, Guru Nanak agreed to have dinner with Duni Chand. Arriving at the rich man's house, Guru Nanak realized just how much wealth Duni Chand had acquired, and remarked: "You must be very happy and content with yourself!" He responded: "I cannot tell a lie: there are some people who are much richer than I am. This makes me jealous. I would like to be the richest man in the city and thus cannot feel completely satisfied until my desire is fulfilled." To this, Guru Nanak remarked: "But aren't the people who are richer than you also trying to become richer? In the end, you may not be able to beat them in this race for the most wealth, in which case you will never be content." Duni Chand stood silently. Guru Nanak smiled and proceeded: "I have a favor to ask of you: will you take this small, precious gold needle and return it to me in the next world?" "Gladly," Duni Chand replied, and took the small item out of Guru Nanak's hand. Later that night, Duni Chand explained what had happened to his wife. Laughing, she remarked: "Are you mad? How will you be able to take a needle to the next world? Don't you see: Guru Nanak wanted to teach you a lesson: if you are unable to take a single needle to the next world, you will surely not have any use for all your material wealth."
Unlike food, which can be directly consumed, or sex, which can be immediately experienced, money represents a wish deferred. Lacking intrinsic value, as Marx observed, coinage or paper money merely correspond to a tenuous promise projected into the future. The realization of imagined happiness, thus, transfigures into a distant expectation. As such, people are alienated from the now, fixed on the soon-to-come, riding on the never-ending asymptote.
As the parable with Dani Chand illustrates, money may bring temporary happiness, but it will never allow for extended joy. The Trinity of Coin, as Parker disparagingly referred to it, threatens to overwhelm and control our lives, setting up an equation that will never be solved anytime in the near future.
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