Our American Affliction: Idolatry of Money

Tears ran down my cheeks as I read Aldous Huxley’s diagnosis of our world’s societal maladies. I cried because he wrote what I knew in my heart to be true and have not been able to put into words. Included in his book–The Perennial Philosophy, Huxley’s diagnosis is as accurate now as it was when first published in 1944. He basically wrote that the world’s people are beset with idolatry.

It’s easy to identify America’s idolatry—Money, the modern equivalent of the Golden Calf. Curiously, it is the obscene accumulation of money that is revered and not promiscuous spending since many without money spend shamelessly into untenable debt. It’s as if we cannot accumulate enough money and those who accumulate a lot are idolized but only if they continue to accumulate more. Intriguingly, wealth is not the goal or enough. Many of these accumulators of obscene amounts of money are wealthy many times over by any definition. The accumulation of money–not wealth–is the goal. This goal is pervasive in every aspect of American life including but not limited to governments, businesses, churches, sports and entertainment.

Yet, since greed is a commonly held as sin how does anyone acquire massive amounts of money and stay overtly sinless? Bizarrely, it’s under the triple mantras of freedom, capitalism and moral values. The unholy trinity of freedom, capitalism and moral values is advanced by a very small minority of Americans for their great personal gain and in spite of repeated disastrous consequences. Each arm of the political-industrial-preacher alliance frames their idolatry for money with the support of the other two and for mutual financial benefits. Importantly, it is only a very small minority of each arena that are in this de facto alliance and many in this alliance intersect through jobs, political ties, groups, family, acquaintances, etc. Nonetheless, these few ruthlessly control a vast majority of power and wealth for their own personal gain.

American politicians promote freedom as it was always the American way. Yet, American women and minorities did not know freedom until the 1960’s. Even today, many Americans still don’t know the freedom from the vicissitudes of daily living much less political freedom. It’s as if there is a freedom to be poor and the poor selected it. Instead, the cause of poverty is buried in the overall political will to keep the poor poor as a part of the freedom mantra.

Paradoxically, in the “war against terrorism” to defend American freedoms, our freedoms have been further limited. So, why is freedom championed when it limits freedom? Politicians championing freedom use this mantra to get elected. Thus, as in most political endeavors, power is the bottom line and championing freedom is their current way of gaining power. Why would we otherwise sanction war and its accompanying deaths—the ultimate lack of freedom—in the name of freedom?

Forced or imposed freedom is an oxymoron. Yet, the current American presidential regime is trying to impose freedom on a people who have never known freedom. If it took Americans 200 years to become somewhat free, why should we expect overnight freedom in other societies? Obviously, it’s not about freedom; it’s about power. But, power to what end? Not unexpectedly, power and personal gain, i.e., money go hand-in-hand. Thus, politicians worship freedom as a means to their ends to gain power and for their personal accumulation of money. We will see how this modus operundi fits well with capitalism.

Capitalism is the businessman’s mantra for the massive accumulation of personal money. Historically, uncontrolled capitalism easily leads to monopolies and massive personal money accumulation; so, capitalism’s power is managed and its profits taxed by governments. Taxing capitalists’ profits mitigates its inequities and allows for providing for those that capitalists misuse and abuse for profit. Since the government came late to controlling capitalism, trade unions developed to counterbalance capitalism’s restriction on personal freedoms and wealth distributions. Through political means, capitalists have essentially nullified labor unions and their mitigating effect on capitalists’ power.

Those who champion capitalism claim it benefits all in a society. Yet, how do they explain that 40% of Americans make less than a living wage, i.e., less than $18,000 per year? Capitalists champion capitalism because they can personally accumulate vast amounts of money. The politician’s alliance with capitalists involves decreasing capitalists’ taxes and government control in order for them to accumulate even more money. These capitalists then support the political campaigns of these politicians. Politicians and capitalists use money as reciprocal bonds for great mutual benefits.

Yet, less control for capitalism and less taxes for the very wealthy did not accumulate sufficient amounts of money for capitalists. The amounts weren’t obscene and they wanted more! Wars greatly benefit capitalists and it would appear that the ill-conceived Iraq war was not about oil but instead about hideous capitalist profits. Most of the hundreds of billions of dollars for the war to preserve our freedom have gone into the personal pockets of American capitalists. And, as is their ways, capitalists let others do their bidding (i.e., dying) while they reap their fortunes. It appears that capitalists are fast becoming the modern day aristocracy.

“Globalization”, i.e., developing world markets according to American capitalism, is only the latest mantra to extend the hegemony of American capitalist abroad. Its success would greatly benefit American capitalists to the detriment of the local populous just like it has in the US. In contrast open markets when appropriate benefits corporations but not necessarily capitalists since profits are not obscene.

It is important to note that businessmen champion capitalism for personal gain and not necessarily for corporate success or gain. These personal goals explain all the recent criminal corporate mismanagements for personal gain scandals and the scandalous CEO salaries regardless of corporate success. Ironically, for capitalists corporations are only a means for personal gain. This personal gain phenomenon also explains the vast amounts of money made managing money. Capitalists provide for capitalists to the detriment of everyone and everything else. It’s as if a MBA is a degree in only personal money accumulation.

So, how do moral values fit into the unholy trinity fueling America’s idolatry of money? Preaching and claiming moral values hegemony is how obscene personal money accumulation is justified and declared not a sin. These preacher champions claim what they and their members (i.e., allied politicians and capitalists) do is morally good. Duplicity is the basis of these values. How would you otherwise explain that these morals that value all life readily supports wars that kill many and advocate for capital punishment. Not surprisingly, those preaching these moral values hegemony have accumulated or control vast amounts of money for their personal use.

So, what is the answer? Obviously, worshiping something besides money is a start. Study after study has shown that people are not much happier with more money once they reach a certain level of income. This level is less that $100,000 per year! So, massive accumulation of money is only a way to keep score since happiness is pegged to less than this amount. It’s true. Money can’t buy happiness after a certain level of income.

If not money, what? Charity is a start. Even though they will remain fabulously wealthy, Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet are giving away vast majorities of their money. Maybe being wealthy is enough and obscene amounts of money are not a praiseworthy goal. Everyone should be able to live with less than $100 million in their lifetime. Thus, they should give the rest away. Better yet, they should lobby Congress to tax it away like Warren Buffet has. I don’t think he went out to accumulate his money; it just was a byproduct of his very good business judgment. However, charity is more that just alms giving according to Huxley. It is the highest form of divine love and involves self-disinterests, peacefulness and humility. Yes, real charity would be a laudable goal.

Finally, what is in for those whose have the goal but have not yet accumulated obscene amounts of money. Charity love is sure a start since it does not necessarily involve alms giving. Certainly, self-love, a very common missing element in many, is a worthy goal.

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