Alan Arvesen (aarvesen) wrote,
Alan Arvesen

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Intellectual Freedom Depends on Material Things

That's supposedly a quote from Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One's Own.  "Supposedly" because I have not read the book.  Only Woolf I've read is To The Lighthouse, which I found fantastically, gigantically, stunningly brilliant.  Michelle hated it.  Christina, who is a Woolf fan, believes that you either love or hate Woolf.  I keep meaning to read some more because Lighthouse was so heart achingly true to life.

But, all that aside, it's a very interesting supposition.  If by "intellectual freedom" one means the ability to think and feel whatever one chooses, then the statement isn't necessarily a foregone conclusion.  The Stoics of ancient Greece thought material goods didn't matter, even so far as believing that you could be happy under torture.  The very notion of "ascetic" holiness, regardless of Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or other underpining, is that material things are not only unnecessary for intellectual freedom, but they down right interfere with it.  Thoreau of course is a famous hater:  "I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business. " There has always been a strong, anti-propertarian current amongst men of the mind.

And it's not hard to see why.  From the Buddhist point of view, accumulating wealth is a form of desire, and the Second Noble Truth says that desire is the root of suffering.  From a day to day point of view, getting a living can easily take up all one's time away from intelluctual freedom.  We've all know folks who need to have the latest, best piece of gear.  And we've all known folks who allow that desire to drive them into debt and end up on Suze Orman shows or declaring bankruptcy.  I find it hard to believe that having the collections agency on the phone does a lot to ease up one's mind and allow for intellectual freedoms.

Which I guess is the point of the title.  Maslow layed out the hierarchy of needs. Down there at the bottom are "safety" and "physiological".  Both of those are, more or less, accomplished with material things.  Even if you don't have money, e.g. you're out killing bears in the woods, you're still using material things, e.g. the bear's skin, to fulfill these needs.

If the collections guys are reposessing things, you may be losing some lower points on the pyramid.  Or at the very least you're losing out  in those self esteem levels of the pyramid... unless you're a sociopath, but hey, who am I to judge.

The book Your Money or Your Life has a kind of kooky finance plan, but it has one very, very powerful graph that stuck with me.  They talked about that the people who are least happiest are in the lowest quartile of income and, conversely, the highest quartile of income.  Strangely enough, people do get happier as they make more - but only up to a point (The Economist noted the same thing: that very poor countries tend to have unhappy people, but once GDP rises to a modest, uh, $2,000 or $10,000 a head, happiness levels off).  The way Joe Dominguez exemplified this was to draw a kind of parabolic graph, with rising money along the X axis and rising happiness on the Y.  At the top of the parabola, he drew a circle and said, "You know what this point is called?


I think that is where Virgina Woolf is going with her take. If you're sweating about paying the health bills, you're probably not writing to great American novel.  But at the same time, like Jay-Z says, "more money more problems."  Getting a little scratch means that you now start worrying about the money that you have, rather than the money you don't have.  It's kind of stupid.  When I was broke but debt free right after college, saving money was exciting.  Now I worry about rate of return and catastrophic penury.  I remember talking to my man Dwight about this a year or two ago, and he said he had had the same experience.  His sister challenged him, "is that money really making you happy?  You worry about it all the time."

Enough.  A great idea.
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