Happy for a Living

by Tom Tunguz | 11/4/03 6:00am

I want to be happy for a living. I am lost. Faced with a sudden swell, an undertow sucking me toward a corporate world, I feel pressured into enlisting myself to causes in which I don't believe, into an army fighting for black numbered territory in some global battle, where strategic objectives are called market share, profit and P/E ratio. Should I buy into these pinstripe prisons and currency incarcerations?

I am an idealist. I don't think the world is as it should be. Take your pick of human rights violations, of poverty, of famine, of genocide, of AIDS -- there is no end to the crises we all face. And the little boy in me -- always told to share -- never understood how, with so many billions of dollars being created every day by the finance industry, with so many thousands of tons of wheat rotting in government silos, with massive drug fabrication capacities, with so much, there are still people who need things. What happened to sharing?

So tell me about capitalism. Tell me how it's the most efficient distributor of resources and how supply and demand allocates goods and services optimally. Tell me about the law of the markets and invisible hands and non-zero sum games. Grab John Nash and Keynes and have them explain to me why the world is the best it can be.

Sitting in a leather burgundy armchair, they would struggle. I know command economies are inefficient. I understand that capitalism distributes wealth efficaciously. But let me show you the billionaires and the starving. Let me show you endowments and trusts, and the tens of millions of AIDS orphans. And then let me ask why the optimal market system doesn't touch them.

And introduced to this corporate world, whose massive financial resources force governments to sway to their wills, I rejected it. I hated the selfishness, the greed and the self-perpetuation of this system.

But I stand at the precipice of graduation. In that split second when my tassel changes sides, the world which somehow always seemed a friendly place has quickly mutated into a violent, tempestuous, animosity-ridden creature ready to devour my idealism.

The only weapon, my Excalibur, lies in the greatest starting salary possible, because money somehow kills this threat I never saw as a child. In order to meet with the Lady of the Lake, it seems my dreams and sparkling visions of what my life was to be, must drown along the way.

In making that decision, I am told, there is courage in understanding how the world really works. I am deemed wise by those who have trod before me, because they have made the same decisions. Yet, in later life, who will I admire but those who resisted this resignation. I will admire those starving artists, musicians, inventors, philosophers and Mahatma Ghandis who demanded the world fit their hands and their moulds. Because in those people lay true courage and character. In them, the hope of childhood never left, and those dreams that mother would nurture and inspire as we ran around playing with our matchbox cars, live. In those people, there is a desire to wake every morning for a purpose greater than themselves, for glory or love of something, but not money and not whatever society defines as being success.

So I'll climb the ivory tower of academia, and walk across to my cubicled sanctuary in a 100-story skyscraper. To all those down below, I'll send photos of how blue the sky is. I will donate some change here and there to causes I once thought I might die for. I will taste that Matrix steak, succulent and delicious -- knowing all the while that its tender meat is the fruit of self-deception.

And raising my children in a quiet suburb reminiscent of the one I grew up in, I will utter those same betrayals my parents said to me: encouragements of the boundless opportunity lying before me, my limitless imagination and creativity, piquing my curiosity for a world who will disappoint my children as much as me -- one that forces them to compromise their ideals.

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