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Joan Didion on how we lust for the power that the rich symbolize. Everything we crave is found living presently.

We create idols and myths that capture the illusive freedom and peace that has escaped our lives. Americans treat poverty like a disease, and even spiritualists associate a lack of wealth with having a low frequency or not being aligned with their divine purpose. Our deification of the uber-wealthy devalues the people in our daily lives that exemplify heroism. However, this deification of abundance is ancient, I believe, and began during the worship of vegetation Gods such as Asar, Ishtar, and Ningishzida. The crops being abundant represented alignment with the Gods while destitution represented a sacrifice needed to be made; we moved from a hunter-gather culture into a producer-consumer culture, but our worship of abundance, our desire to survive and thrive, has taken on a new form. Wealth has become deified, and our obsession is almost mythological; our ideas of freedom, power, enlightenment, and peace are tied into the amount of money in our pockets.

Osiris-Antinous– 2nd century CE, marble, Greco-Roman Museum, Alexandria

Speaking on Mr. Howard Hughes, a man that became a myth through his mysterious lifestyle, after visiting his “communication center”, Joan Didion, in her wonderful book Slouching Towards Bethlehem, says, “7000 Romaine St. looks itself like a faded movie exterior, a pastel building with chipped art moderne detailing, the windows now either boarded up or paned with chicken-wire glass and, at the entrance, among the dusty oleander, a rubber mat that reads WELCOME. But actually no one was home.” Howard Hughes became a representative of the power we wish to acquire, the independence we desire, and a man that overcame the contradictions in our heart. Many other people before him and after him have reached this same mythic status. The uber-wealthy are celebrated as ideas rather than men which is why they are defended so fiercely; the public develops para-relationships with these people causing emotional responses to critiques. Similar to beaches being covered in trash after 4th of July celebrations; the idea of freedom is being celebrated rather than it being reflected in our lives. Our imitations of an image leading to belief in the superiority of values causes us to devalue the familial, communal, and spiritual values necessary for progression.

Joan, comments on a Fortunes article that expressed Howard Hughes’s openness with acquiring enough wealth to buy Vegas Homes, keep fashion designers on retainer, and wearing diamonds that cover his entire hand, saying, “His central mission has always been to preserve his power as the proprietor of the largest pool of industrial wealth still under the absolute control of a single individual.” We envy people that are courageous enough to war over their companies, values, and beliefs; Hughes willingness to maintain his position and acquire entire hotels for minor inconveniences hits a nerve in our desire to make decisions that allows us to be left alone. He becomes a representative of the qualities we desire, and as these stories are mixed with reality and fiction, as most great myths are, we never realize our distance from the living man as we are wrapped into a warped image. People are committed to the stories of these psuedo-heros, and it seems that we depend on these myths for overcoming our own suffering. For those building a company, aiming for a higher life, and wanting to become a better person people are reaching for The Laws of Success, 48 Laws of Power, Think and Grow Rich, and The Secret which are nothing more than a deification, or mystification, of money and power. We want to become what they, our heros, represent, and Joan make this clear when she says, “Why do we tell them over and over? Why have we made a folk hero of a man who is the antithesis of all our official heroes, a haunted millionaire out of the West, trailing a legend of desperation and power and white sneakers? But then we have always done that. Our favorite people and our favorite stories become so not by any inherent virtue, but because they illustrate something deep in the grain, something unadmitted.”

The values given to the actions of our heroes are emulated, or attempted, daily in our lives; we believe they have achieved the freedom, love, support, and recognition we crave. The images, myths, and people we worship says more about our needs and aspirations than the actual person, and since our view of money is tied to our image of freedom there is a belief that peace will come along with the acquisition of wealth. Joan, expresses the view of money being beyond purchases, saying, “The secret point of money and power in America is neither the things that money can buy nor power for power’s sake but absolute personal freedom, mobility, privacy.” Presence, I believe, is the beginning of freedom, and our pursuit of wealth is causing us to ignore the beauty before us. Wealth may take years to acquire, but presence, however, is always waiting to be acknowledged. The reasons for our actions are often hidden, or unknown, but, without having to say it, everyone wants to live on their own time.

Our admiration of those that we believed have captured everything that will bring us happiness has produced a culture obsessed with success. Our ideas of heroism have to be assessed, and examples from our everyday lives must be put in place. The contradictions that rest in our hearts and minds must be pulled from its sunken depths and revealed in order to understand our many mystification. Joan explains our contradiction when she says, “It is impossible to think of Howard Hughes without seeing the apparently bottomless gulf between what we say we want and what we do want, between what we officially admire and secretly desire, between, in the largest sense, the people we marry and the people we love.”

Slouching towards Bethlehem