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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Column: Money = success?

Once upon a delightful time, when Borders still existed and life was thus full of sunshine and rainbows, I was geeking out in the sci-fi section when a book suctioned my attention faster than a vacuum eats hair clips.

As always, I skimmed the back, then flipped the book open to examine the barcode on the upper left corner of the inside flap. $24.99.

The shadows of depression descended upon me, leaving me in the mood for careful cognition. What does $24.99 really mean?

My mind reeled. I love to read, but I also have an unfortunate obsession with smoothies, and a 32-ounce Juice It Up Big Berry Combo is worth $5.25. I pulled out my cell phone for a quick calculation. Shoot! I could get 4.76, I mean four … or almost five smoothies for that much! Wait, is that good?

Rather than my book, I just got a headache and general displeasure with the ways of our world, which only worsened as I pondered the value of $24.99.

What is the true value of money, anyway? Can it even be determined? Is a dollar really just worth a dollar for everybody? Is a poor man’s dollar analogous to a penny in the eyes of a wealthier man? And most importantly, is money merely tangible pieces of paper and metal?

No, I decided, a few hours and aspirins later. Money is both concrete and abstract.

Physically, a dollar is a reified piece of paper. Its worth comes from people, since it is the people who assign and accept its “value”.

Conceptually, it is a means by which we get what we want. After all, before the development of standardized currencies, humans traded certain goods to get others. Now we do the same, only we trade commonly-recognized bills for the items we desire.

In today’s world, money equates success and success equates happiness. So according to the transitive property, money is happiness. We were raised with this logic. Our parents sent us to schools not solely to learn, but also to ensure that we will use our knowledge to unlock future opportunities, then successes and steady salaries.

The purpose of school is, indirectly, money. The ultimate purpose of life is money — to make money, to have money, to spend money.

I’ve recently resented being pulled into the vortex of this imprisoning, dream-devastating system. Yet it is so deeply entrenched in my mind that I find myself unable to wrench it out.

Perhaps my biggest hypocrisy is my hatred of hypocrisy. I have always admired individuals who had the courage not only to dream, but to pursue their dreams. Unfortunately, I cannot honestly say I am one of them.

I came to Davis with plans to major in neurobiology, physiology and behavior. I then decided to be “wise” and switch to biomedical engineering.

But the truth is, I want nothing more than to be an English major — and no matter how much I pretend, no matter how well I act, I will never be able to completely fool myself.

I have mildly enjoyed, tolerated and suffered through enough nerve-grating, hair-whitening classes with the promise of success guiding me, serving as the light at the end of this dark, disorienting tunnel of college.

But why should I set myself up for a career I’ll hate? Would I really prefer that to a lower-paying job that actually incites my interest and passion?

I now understand the power of the American dollar. Money has not only purchasing power, but also the power to enhance or distort sentimental values through illusions of worth. It has the power to drive some to happiness and others to despair; to incite peace or war; to save lives or end them; to build or destroy; to shape viewpoints and futures for better or worse.

The dollar may be a flimsy piece of paper, but it truly is potent.

So what really is money? Is it a goal, a sign of success, happiness, power, or lack thereof? Is it, or does it lead to, good or bad?

Individual sentiments toward money may differ based on many factors such as culture, religion, social status and ethnic background, but the fact is that money is a multifaceted pain in the behind that is not always worth all of the worry it costs.

Sometimes it’s okay to indulge and get the book and the smoothie. I think I will!

Tell ZENITA SINGH what you think about money at zensingh@ucdavis.edu.

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