Re: Million

The word Million has lost its financial lustre. I was standing behind a customer who was taking far too long at a drug store cash out. I was trying to keep my patience, peering over his shoulder, watching him buy a bunch of colourful coupons promising instant millions. The cashier wished him luck and he grunted in response, “Can’t even buy a house for a million these days eh!”

‘If I had a Million Dollars’ was a song written in 1992 (another millennium ago) when a million in cash really meant something. Overnight, it seems, we have people who can call themselves billionaires. If Robertson/Page were to rewrite the song today I wonder how their lyrics might go (They’d eat more Kraft Dinner I guess).  Here is an amateur video of a performance by that beautifully Canadian band Bare Naked Ladies when Steven Page was till a member.

I can honestly say I’ve never wished for money nor have I bought many lottery tickets. That probably says something about how lucky I have been in life. Or perhaps I’m just content to be content. Through no great skill or effort I am a co-owner of a property that keeps edging towards a million bucks in equity. In spite of this possession, I still consider myself part of the vast 99% and can easily rant about the rich not being taxed equitably.

One thing the pandemic has taught me is that death is awesome and unrelenting. I’ve experienced the shock of several people dying in my lifetime. On a personal scale every death is tragic. I remember the first Covid reports in my home province of British Columbia when Dr. Bonnie Henry had a hard time keeping her composure over early deaths. Things have changed. For more than two years now, the daily tally of viral deaths is recorded on websites like some kind of global score card. Our nearest neighbour, the U.S.of A. will soon reach the one million deaths milestone.

In the current age about 50 million people die each year from various causes. Match that with approximately 140 million births and it’s clear that population worldwide is increasing. In 1968, Paul Erhlich warned in his book The Population Bomb that such growth was unsustainable. We see now what a mathematical prophet he was, as the effects of so many, crowded into a finite space, can cause political, health and environmental chaos.

I know my significance is small. On the world scale I’m merely one in several billion. When I think of those numerical values in terms of people my mind is blown. I can visualize a safe with a million dollars but a million souls boggles me. I’ve seen photographs of crowds of folks yet still can’t fathom the sheer extent of humanity captured as a planetary population of 7.9 Billion! I can be histrionic; I was born when the world held a mere 2.6 Billion humans on its surface.

We are fast approaching a new Big Bang.

Re: Fame

A nerdy game I used to enjoy playing in high school started with the question, ‘Would you rather have fame, fortune or power when you grow up?’ It wasn’t really a game, more like a continuation of the more childish Aladdin’s magic lamp suggestion, ‘If you had three wishes…’.

I loved camping with my parents (I had my own ‘Famous’ brand rucksack and cooking equipment). I enjoyed learning about the woods and the ways of the world as a boy scout. I got into scraps while in uniform and one time I remember shouting as I got pummelled, “I’m going to be famous!” The bully just laughed, but I felt buoyed by my hopeful prediction. Even when I was older I felt that youthful sense of optimism when I saw myself through the eyes of the characters in the musical Fame.

In my youth, I thought it would be way cool to be famous. I saw only positives to being recognized wherever I went. The other two options didn’t appeal. I was actually frightened by the prospect of having more money than I thought I could handle. Likewise with power, I couldn’t see having dominance over another. I never felt my influence extended any further than the tip of my nose. But fame! Now that would give me access: Right this way sir. Of course we have room for you. Follow me I’ll show you to your table. Certainly we can make that happen.

There used to be a common saying, Big Fish in a Small Pond, that indicated you could be well known in your small community while no one in the wider world would have heard of you. Today I’m wondering if the reverse is true, due to social media. The potential for a small voice to be amplified through Twitter or Facebook can potentially enable a metaphorical small fish to make a big splash in the world’s ocean of varied opinions. I suspect that is why online platforms are so popular. I enjoy giving my opinion, whether it leads to nods or shakes of the head. The possibility is there to get more than just the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol prophesied. The internet has expanded the idea of the nineteenth century speakers’ corner in Hyde Park, England for good and for ill.

I remember one of my elementary school teachers often using the proverb, “Oh how the mighty have fallen.” I can’t quite figure out why some people enjoy seeing celebrities come down a notch or two. But I guess fame is currency so if you feel you have been de-famed, you can seek restitution from your detractors in court by suing for defamation of character. If you fail in your suit, your reputation will live on in infamy, like those who bombed Pearl Harbour.

Everything has a down side. For instance, being famous would make it hard to find privacy. Achieving balance on the FAME spectrum from anonymity to renown may be difficult. I shall ponder further.

Re: Money

Money makes the world go around. It seems true when we see almost everything being monetized.
We rate things on a monetary scale like never before: weekend movie box office receipts, visual art auction prices, team players’ salaries, a country’s GDP. It seems we trust a number over thorough critical analysis. Money speaks louder than words while we value stuff less.

When we put a price on everything it can be easy to lose a sense of its inherent value. Do we act in the world only to get payed? Are we driven only by the question, “What’s in it for me?” This monetization of the world is troubling. There are so many examples of public domains being swept aside for private interest. Water is a prime example. Corporations have found ways to monetize an essential element to all life on earth. Our lakes and rivers are being drained of this public resource so that it can be bottled (in plastic no less) and sold at a huge profit. We have been conned into buying something that falls free from the sky and, in most of Canada, runs free and safe from a tap. In this context the idea that air can be sold is possible.

My grandparents used to use the phrase, ‘Almighty Dollar’ as a way to mock those who held their money too tightly. For them, money was ‘the root of all evil’ or at the very least, ‘not to be squandered’. I was taught that ‘money isn’t everything’ and to ‘spend it wisely’. Now we have wide social acceptance for those who have ‘made it big’ and moved on up ‘to that deluxe apartment in the sky’. We envy them. We blame them. We resent the 1% for their riches while we feel empty.

Our television culture mirrors our desire to strike it rich one day, usually through celebrity or luck but not necessarily effort. Children, when asked what they want to be when they grow up answer; a rock star, a sports star or owner of a start-up. Lest we forget Donald Trump was elected in the U.S.A. as a model of the value we currently place on financial success.

Money is seen as the end rather than the means. Worth has dollar signs rather than value. The word value is now translated as money or price rather than quality. Digital business owners are driven with a desire to find ways to monetize information. Computer application developers are searching for ways to make their ideas yield profit. The measure of a suitor’s love is still often equated by the carat size of the engagement ring. Marketers spend big bucks making us believe we must have an item. Don’t be fooled.

I’ll continue to trust that love or simple kindness can’t be bought or sold.