A Parable of the 1%*
Imagine a flock of pigeons in a corn field. Imagine that ninety-nine of them, instead of pecking the corn they need and using it as they need it, start to collect all they can into one big heap. Imagine that they do not leave much corn for themselves, but save this big heap of corn on behalf of the vilest and worst in their flock. Imagine that they all sit in a circle and watch this one pigeon, who squanders and wastes this wealth. And then imagine that they rush at a weak pigeon who is the most hungry among them who darest to take one grain from the heap without permission, and they punish him. If you can imagine this, then you can understand the day-to-day behavior of mankind. — William Paley (found in Tolstoy's Calendar of Wisdom on 23 February *my title
23 February is the Roman festival of Terminalia, the last day of the ancient Roman year. The god of boundaries, Terminus, was remembered as the old year ended and the new began. Terminus was represented by Herms, the faceless boundary pillars set up between properties. On Terminalia, those who owned adjacent lands would meet at the pillar and invoke Terminus into the stone, adorning it with garlands. Libations of honey and wine were poured over the pillar, and honeycomb and freshly harvested grain were laid at its base. A lamb or a piglet would be sacrificed, and the ritual concluded in praise and song. In addition to these private rites, a public ritual was held at a place that traditionally symbolized the bounds of Roman territory — the sixth milestone on the way to Laurentum.
It is fitting that a god of boundaries be honored in Lent, though the two observances have nothing in common except their shared point in the solar year. Ritual acceptance of limits has deep roots in this season. Perhaps meditate on that today. And remember that in Rome, there is no reason to associate Spring with dearth. This time saw the harvest of winter grains and an end of winter’s hunger (such as they felt it at all). Still, instead of Dionysius, Rome honored Terminus on the last day of both the year and the winter, and two thousand years later many peoples are beginning the sober spring fast while the crescent Hunger Moon grins at us from the west.
Strange convergence, no?
As I am trying to escape a truly horrible job and calculate the best combination of benefits in a new job, I keep coming back to this one question: Why do we do so much harm to ourselves and to this world for the sake of… money? Money is no thing. It meets not one need. You don’t need a pile of money; you need a warm home and a full belly and a healthy body and a comfortable life. And money isn’t even the ideal way to acquire those things. It is a tool that sometimes allows us access to other tools that could be used to meet our needs — if we weren’t spending all our time on acquiring just the money. So why do we waste all this time chasing after this thing that does nothing?
I mean, not only is it not going to feed or house you, if you succeed (against all odds these days) in piling up some of it, that pile will actively erode away a future in which you might hope to be housed and fed. This is not metaphorical. If you have money and it is not warehoused in a credit union or other business that only invests its held assets locally, then your money is sent off to prop up the stock market. Your money is spending its time marinating in oil, in weapons manufacturing, in industrial agriculture, and heaven only knows what other contrived hells. Your money is almost certainly working against you.
And don’t even get me started on retirement accounts. It has always seemed to me that the best thing one can do with wages is to spend them all immediately on real things that will meet needs, things that don’t need replacement, things that will eventually quash any functional need for money. The best thing money can buy is the freedom from ever needing any of it. And this does not happen if you are piling it up in “investments” that you can not spend for a long period of time — during which time you are missing out on opportunities to build a sustainable, money-free life. At best, if you luck out on investments that don’t go belly up (very long odds on that), then you get those retirement piles back only when you are too old to do much except throw that money away on hired care.
Why is this not considered pure insanity?
Wouldn’t it be better to have our employers contribute to a real retirement? Instead of money put into investment, how about tax-free money paid toward homes, sustainable food systems, water systems, heat? Hell, books and music and art seem better able to meet a need than throwing your labor away on a retirement account.
I’m probably just being silly again. What is certain is that I’m spending way too much of my time — time that ought to be spent on tending to my needs — trying to figure out how to get money… so that I can pay others to meet my needs, I guess… because I’ve spent all my time on getting the money…
And I just don’t understand.
I’m still in a poetry mood. Maybe getting in shape for April. Maybe just writing a bunch that I can use later, though that’s really not in the spirit of the Poetry Month Challenge. The “challenge” is to write one each day, not have one ready-made. But in any case, here’s one that happened a few days ago.
the nothing calls from empty page ideas unwrought as formless brume yet nothing will her fears assuage while twixt firm past and future gloom this daunting possibility of creation not yet wrought arresting capability in boundless present will is caught for once begun the path is laid though not revealed the destiny and time begins when choice is made while yet till then all choice is free so halting on the brink she’ll stand unsure where muse and time will take her time’s swirling vortex to command or else the ponderous past unmake her should trust her feet to unseen ways all paths are one when none are marked yet unmarked all are future days and future’s made from paths embarked but still this still uncertain pause between begun and yet to be before becoming primal cause she’s caught in time’s dire gravity stands staring at the endless now while measured time comes crashing down
©Elizabeth Anker 2023
1 thought on “The Daily: 23 February 2023”
I very much agree with you about money and needs. My late husband and I sold our souls to 50-60 hour work weeks for over two decades. Financial advisers kept insisting on putting as much as possible into their investment accounts. We did some but I wanted to enjoy some of our savings now so we purchased a beautiful piece of land 7 hours from our home and that was our dream retirement place.
Until it wasn’t and we sold it 15 years later with a good size profit (better than Wall Street returns). And invested that in a more accessible parcel and that has been my home since 2009. I traded in a soul-depleting career for a 4000 sq foot garden, part-time freelance work, and a frugal lifestyle. I have never regretted my midlife transition. My 3/4 time job from April – October is my garden where I grow an abundance of vegetables, fruit, and medicinal herbs – a form of currency that is not taxable! I live seasonally which is much healthier and I a surrounded by nature and solitude.
Aging or a debilitating disease will challenge this current scenario and I will have to make some choices over the next decade.
I moved 75% of my retirement out of Wall Street and have invested in a variety of institutions that support small businesses and other good purposes. I thought my advisor was going to have a heart attack when I sat before him and told him my plans. That was a delightful moment.
But you are right: having money is a form of freedom that has allowed me to make this significant change and create this simple lifestyle. The irony of that does not escape me.
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