You’ve certainly heard this ancient maxim, and you most likely have an opinion about it. Maybe you even know it’s from the New Testament (Paul’s letter to Timothy) and that in its earlier, longer form it read “the love of money is the root of all evil.”
In my experience, modern commentary is more likely to contest or sneer at old proverbs—old wisdom—than agree with them. It seems true regarding this one, anyway. Think of all the media Our Economy gets. It’s not even real; it’s an abstract concept describing what the sum total of everyone’s money is doing. Dictionary.com adds, especially with a view to its productivity.
Yeah, productivity. Sure, 9/11 was about first responders, and revenge, and remarkable stories of escape, but it also resulted in cries from the government to keep shopping and spending money to maintain the stability of Our Economy. And then there was/is/will be the pandemic. Anything to avoid infection and death, right? Masks, lockdown, avoiding big events? Wrong. Because these things threatened Our Economy.
Dollar numbers can be counted; they’re a mathematical way to measure and explain what’s happening in the context of our lives. Dollars are involved in almost everything we do—as individuals, groups, and businesses. It’s almost like money is our defining infrastructure. If we’re not earning and spending it, we’re not participating in our world. For good or bad.
So what would it mean if money, or the love of money, were really the root of all evil? That we who earn and spend it are evil?
Well, obviously not. Think of yourself and your friends, even friends of small means, who give money freely to good causes. Think of your food banks, medical missions, civil liberties defenders, environmental groups, diversity organizations, champions of animal rights. I can’t imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t fund these kinds of nonprofits to stand against abuse, war, hunger, extinction, inequality, and other kinds of suffering.
But buying new stuff is its own kind of donation. It donates to the cause of pollution, resource extraction, deforestation, soil degradation, and the atmospheric gases that cause planetary shifts in climate and patterns of disaster. In fact, buying new stuff (including processed food, fossil fuels, and packaging) more or less works against the positive efforts of the causes we like to fund.
To say the same thing in a different way, new purchases support Amazon, Exxon, Walmart, Apple, Google, and other gigantic corporate powers. I guess if evil can be defined (per Miriam-Webster.com) as “morally reprehensible” or “arising from . . . bad character,” the word’s about people, and it can’t be used to describe an inorganic entity like a company. (Never mind that when a corporation wants to enjoy certain rights of individual people, it can legally claim “personhood.”)
But if evil, as the dictionary website further claims, can also be defined as “something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity,” then I would call these corporations evil. It also becomes clear that money—known in this context as profit—is at the root of this evil. When there’s a machine designed to make a profit, it just won’t make much else. And it’s common for corporations to do unspeakable things for the tiniest of profit margins. Do I need to list examples? Ignoring critical safety laws. Snuffing out whistleblowers. Dumping banned products overseas. Listing just three evils is misleading, because there are probably three million horrific examples.
Behind these money-guided, impersonal entities are actual persons, CEOs and the more famous higher-ups: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg. They direct the movements of their profit-making companies. I’ll let you decide if they deserve the label “evil,” but it can’t be denied that they have money to do whatever they want. And most of it comes from We the People. From new stuff we buy from them.
I hate them.
I want to stop funding them. To stop buying their new stuff. But they’ve set all kinds of traps to make this hard to do. Here’s just one of my personal examples: If I publish a book, it has to be listed on Amazon, or I can probably plan to count its total sales on my fingers. If I want to buy food or drink from a familiar-name grocery store, the items have most likely come from one of ten humongous companies—and unless I’ve memorized hundreds of brands, I won’t know which. If my laptop dies, and I want to keep posting this blog, I’ll probably have to buy a new one from IBM, Apple, Samsung, HP, Acer, or Toshiba—because I know nothing about the reliability of unknown smaller brands. (The reliability of the larger brands is questionable enough.)
We’re all trapped into funding the roots of evil in so many ways. Lifestyle voting—extended boycotting—has huge potential, but it isn’t easy, partly because of these traps. It’s not going to bring about an earthquake of change any time soon. As one friend realistically said, “Do you really think you’re gonna separate Americans from their stuff?”
Nope, I don’t. We need other kinds of activism, too. Maybe street protests, maybe lawsuits, maybe running for office. But living against consumerism, as far as we can, is also for our lives, now. For tastier and fresher food, and for free ingredients. For self-made entertainment. For minimizing toxins. For time to relax in a healing garden space. For having new kinds of fun. For happier shopping—in thrift stores, yard sales, alleys, the curbside mall, buy-nothing groups. For coming up with original inventions. For realizing a new, confident identity. For living with the sense of a benevolent universe. For carving out a true, practical independence. In other words, the various topics of this blog. It’s quite a list. But I’m really not overpromising.
I don’t make any money on this thing. Wouldn’t care to. It’s a labor of love.
Which would you rather have, money or love? Thanks, dear readers, for your faithful visits and love.