How to lose

One of the many disadvantages of having money, is that it exposes the keeper to paranoid impulses. For instance, he fears it might all be taken away. Some of these impulses are currently on exposition in the stock market, where more damage to goods and services, if not to healthy soap-loving lives, is now being performed than by any pandemic. Or at least, this is the purport of reports, which present the bull market as a form of collateral damage from a health panic. Whether Natted States Mericans are panicking, in fact, is a separate question: my correspondents assure me there is no sign of it anywhere they live; but clearly they are panicking on Wall Street.

This might be taken as a sequel to my last Idlepost, as gentle readers may surmise. This is because I write only from my own slow-moving experience. Consider Tuesday’s opening line, from Ibn Hazm. I recommend that you consider it carefully, for it offers the key to happiness, as he says.

Now suppose that you are very rich, and have a million, billion, trillion or whatever in equities. It would be clumsy to lose it, by your own mistakes, but sometimes there is no choice. In my own case, with a fortune that might be more conveniently measured in the thousands, it was all taken away. This was twenty years ago, and I have been in the North American state of penury ever since, thanks to actions by others I will not describe. At no point was I accused of breaking any law, but could be “cleaned out” regardless, thanks to recent, trendy laws. Superficially, it was an outrage, and truth to tell, I grumbled on several occasions.

But in the clear light of retrospect, I am grateful, to have been freed from the trap of my bourgeois existence, and modest accumulation of wealth. I can now pray sincerely for the people who took it from me, though not yet for the bureaucracies.

As we learn from the Gospels, great wealth is a terrible burden, but as we might discover by extension, any comfort can have this effect. To worry about money is taken as bad, and it is, though not for the reason assumed. It reveals to the comfortable — and the uncomfortable, in parallel — that they are prey to the wrong kind of worry. It would make more sense (vide: the same Gospels) to worry about the fires of Hell. Many of our ancestors were more rational than we are, in this respect.

Given the great burden of human life — that things sometimes go bad — it makes further sense to discharge lighter burdens so we may concentrate upon such heavier ones, as sin and death.

I don’t like to burden myself with envy, for example. I have nothing against great wealth, per se. I don’t mind if my neighbour is filthy, stinking rich. Modern politics is based on cultivating this envy, and I am eager to have no part of that. But I will allow some pity to fill the space that envy has evacuated: I feel sorry for people who must rise every day, and consult the Dow Jones Index for hints of what they have lost. It is a miserable fate, and in many cases without compensating joys, such as spring sunshine. They are working too hard to notice.

Should gentle reader himself be quite rich, he might understand me better than a poor person. It is a little too late, however, for those who leapt from high buildings, after their fortunes evaporated. (Did you know it is easier to lose a large fortune, than to give up cigarettes?)

But some will claim that being rich makes them happy. There are moments when it might do so, but almost by definition, such happiness is shallow. This is a Christian reflection (borrowed from a Muslim sage): for what kind of happiness is it, that involves the loss of one’s freedom?