Do we have a money obsession?


Couldn’t we all use a break from the current obsessive focus on money and the unstated feelings of economic insecurity that comes with mention of it? For weeks news media have been headlining the battle in Washington as a partisan battle of brinksmanship was played out over U.S. government borrowing authority which is essential to allowing that government to continue paying its bills.

The Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House were fighting over trillions of dollars. The President wanted to increase the debt ceiling by some $4-trillion. He was able to get an agreement for a little more than $2-trillion from the House, which has a Republican majority and the Senate, with a Democrats majority, in what was not unlike (un)civil war.

When I was in high school there were a few in my class who didn’t know what a billion dollars looked like. Now governments are talking about spending in the trillions. So, what does one trillion dollars look like? Picture the number one followed by 12 zeroes. (1,000,000,000,000). It’s a million million! One trillion seconds is equal to 31,546 years.

Toronto City Council is also much focused on the bottom line, meaning more money talk. They’re so focused on it that history was made with that recent 22-hour, all-night meeting where people concerned that money for their favoured services would stop flowing came out to plead their case; people who would normally be home sleeping at that time of night.

It’s getting so you have to wonder whether you need a dollar just to take a breath. A big problem with our contemporary times is that our focus is on the cost of everything. To quote Oscar Wilde, these days we know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

How do we understand the world around us and our relationships with others apart from the dollar value that seems to be placed on everything? Would the same number of people have voted for Rob Ford to become mayor of Toronto if he hadn’t made his campaign about money? Of the 380,200 who supported his ‘stopping the gravy train’ agenda, I’m willing to argue that most did so because they had a hope that they would end up paying less to live in this city. Isn’t it the same reason that people keep voting in the Harper government? Harper is certainly not a popular leader, but as long as the Canadian economy continues to be the envy of the world we will put up with whatever else he may have on his agenda.

As transactions between people and between people and their leaders become more about money and less about the full spectrum of humanity, the value of each individual decreases. Moreover, our emotions become overly tied to our preoccupation with money. The dollar value of a person takes first priority, so that a human doing becomes more important than a human being. This I find a sad comment on our loss of connection to our own humanity.

The worst part of all this is that because we, meaning the world at large, obsess about the dollars so much, we are in chronic money crisis mode. Consequently we had the manifestation of, and the fallout from, such worries in the form of the banking meltdown of 2009, and hence the fact that we have been in recession mode since the 1990s.

Let us see our fixation on money for the obsession that it is and consider that it is time to shift our focus. For our own wellbeing it is time to place it in its proper perspective, otherwise it becomes a trillion-sized presence in our every waking moment.

A note on local politics…

While viewing the presentations to Toronto City Council last week Thursday by Torontonians speaking out about possible cuts in City services, it was dismaying to learn just how inane and prosaic so many of the councilors showed themselves to be. Among the highlights, or rather the lowlights, were the many simplistic and leading questions some councillors posed to presenters as well as Giorgio Mammoliti’s shining moment when he used the term ‘socialists’ as a pejorative, directing it at a group of concerned citizens whose behaviour, he shouted, was “disgusting.” Now there’s a comment on Council’s respect for the people it is meant to serve and represent.

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