I had an interesting conversation with my father the other day. The summarized version of the convo went like so:
Dad: “All kinds of doors open when you have money,”
Me: “Not really…Mo money, mo problems” (clever response, I know)
Dad: “I’d rather have money and problems than no money and no problems”
Me: “Wait what?”
Dad: “You know what I mean…”
The moral argument in life is that you should do what you love – that money shouldn’t be the goal. One of my favorite takes on this idea comes from Aristotle, who beautifully argued in his Nicomachean ethics that happiness is the only thing that is a goal in and of itself:
And of this nature Happiness is mostly thought to be, for this we choose always for its own sake, and never with a view to anything further: whereas honor, pleasure, intellect, in fact every excellence we choose for their own sakes, it is true, but we choose them also with a view to happiness, conceiving that through their instrumentality we shall be happy: but no man chooses happiness with a view to them, nor in fact with a view to any other thing whatsoever.
It’s pretty hard to argue against the idea that most of what we do is with an aim towards happiness (though the definition of happiness itself can be debated, at least in my opinion). Whether you work a 9 to 5, play sports, have children, etc. – almost everything we do in life is with an aim towards self-fulfillment – even making others happy (or miserable, if you’re that cruel) reverts back to one’s own happiness.
On the other side of the coin however, it seems like society constantly perpetuates materialistic things as the primary means by which one achieves happiness. And to attain these materialistic things, you need money. This idea really came to mind as I was walking through Jeff Koons’ exhibit at the Whitney Museum this past weekend. He has to be one of the most ‘oxy-moronic’ artists alive today. Most of his pieces seem to take a jab at the over-indulgence of the consumer, yet the consumer is the one that pays millions for his work…and he walks to the bank. I found this quote below particularly interesting:
I’ve always tried to use materialism to seduce the viewer and to try to meet the needs of the viewer, just like the church uses materialism. Every industry uses it, but the church is the great master and a great manipulator of materialism. If somebody walks into a church and they’re hungry and they do not feel secure with their own economic position in the world, they’re not in a position in the world, they’re not in a position to have a spiritual experience. So the church uses the Baroque and the Rococo, you just go in there and you feel like you’re participating in social mobility. This is how the Baroque and the Rococo were used; so that the public felt their needs were being met. I’ve always tried to do the same thing with my works.
So, he uses materialism to try to meet the needs of the viewer. The viewer of today, is a consumer who indulges in materialistic things to fulfill what? Happiness? Or are the materialistic things the goal in and of itself? For as my dad pointed out above, money does open up a lot of doors, and never has the economic disparity in America felt as large as it does now. You just have to wonder if there’s a shift in the mindset of the consumer occurring in our world right now. And as shown by our case of the Mondays song, if music is perpetuating it.
Kirko Bangz, “Rich.” Full disclaimer: I actually really like this song.