Cash Rules

by Abiola Lapite | 10/1/97 5:00am

It has been amusing to read the responses to Kenji Hosokawa's article on September 24, in which he was charitable enough to venture to the freshmen a few words of advice about how to manage their four years here. The response to his advice as far as I can tell has been uniformly negative, as if he broke some ancient taboo or defiled some sacred idol. As at least two different writers responding to Hosokawa's article have informed us by now, money isn't everything in life, or even the main thing. What's important is to sit back and enjoy one's college education and "expand" one's horizons.

Well ladies and gentlemen, money does matter; it matters a damn lot, as it always has and always will. If there is one constant in space and time across all human societies, it is hierarchy, and the overriding factor underpinning hierarchy in our world is money. Money gives power, recognition, status. It buys luxury yachts and private jets, underwrites wars and political campaigns and confers respectability and authority on those who possess it. As any serious student of military history will recognize, the primary deciding factor in all the inter-great power conflicts of the last four centuries has been which side has been better able to finance its fighting. For anyone to say that money and the quest for money are less than predominant in world affairs is simply nonsense.

Men like to think of themselves as better than the animals, above "animalistic" desires and behavior, but this just ain't so. For most men, far and above any esoteric concerns in life, the truly important issues are those of status, leisure and sexual satisfaction. Money is a wonderful means of obtaining access to these things, as no one would be stupid enough to deny. Spiritual matters are the refuge of those whose desires clearly lie forever beyond their grasp -- as Karl Marx put it, "religion is the opium of the masses." An ugly man who happens to be rich is said to have "a commanding presence" or "character"; an ordinary man who happens to be ugly is called unfortunate. A rich man, however he makes his money, is celebrated in as far as he is wealthy, and if he is wealthy enough even his victims may join in praising his name. As a certain court trial in Los Angeles a few years ago points out so well, money can wash away virtually any sin, no matter how terrible.

There are a lot of people who say that status, power and sexual gratification are not important to them, and a very few of the people who say such things actually mean it. On the mouths of most men, however, such statements are simply platitudes. The important thing when judging what people believe is not to listen to what they say but to watch what they do. Take the case of the "modern man" (or "nice guy" or, if you are the honest sort, "the chump") that a lot of feminists say they'd like to have. According to one study I came across recently, a survey was done of preferences amongst leaders in the feminist movement, and when asked what kind of men they wanted, the overwhelming response was for someone who was powerful and rich; a guy who could afford expensive meals and fine wines, yachts, impulsive shopping trips to Paris and Saville Row suits. Virtually none of these "modern" women wanted an easygoing, middle class kind of guy.

Now, this finding isn't really that surprising. Why would anyone, even a feminist leader, want to be involved with other than a "winner?" In all societies there are "winners," individuals who the rest look up to, and by definition this means that there also "losers," for victory is a relative thing. In our society the winners are sorted from the losers primarily by the size of their wallets, a fact which we nearly all implicitly recognize, whatever we might say in public. No society on earth, and no revolution, has managed to eradicate the winner/loser distinction, and every successful revolution simply ends with the victors replacing the vanquished at the top of the heap. The only true believers in equality in our world are those who have something to gain from a leveling of distinctions, and once they get to the top equality suddenly seems a much less pressing requirement. Class distinctions will never pass from our world, and the only real choice each of us is faced with is whether we wish to be on top of the heap or to serve as cushions for others to recline upon. I have no doubt what most sane people would prefer.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!