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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Money and Power, and Relationships

I have posted about money and power in a variety of indirect ways. First let me say that I have not distinguished between the two very well. Almost any post where I have mentioned the effect of money, I have really been talking about some ineffible cross product of money and power. In this post I want to set a framework for discussing them in the context of relationships, but in particular to use relationships as a mirror in which we might observe the complex interplay between money and power.

Many people, whether in the course of ordinary life or in scientific research, have noted the relationship between relationships and power. In particular from the 1960's onwards, there was an intense interest in the power dynamics in relationships that have a sexual component. Famously, over the past 40 years research findings related to sex and power have evolved in a manner that often reflected the current psychosocial and cultural mores (oppression, exploitation, governance, economics, game theory, compensatory effects, genetics, memes, whatever!), making the research papers in this area a favorite whipping boy for critics from the post-modern science and relativism circles.

Money is a resource that can be converted into many things. That is the essence of its value. In the long run, nothing else has this power. As long as it has existed, it had the power to change resource ownership, and ownership is a fundamental biological motivator hardwired into our brains. In more modern times money stimulates technology, which is the tool by which we control all physical, biological and emotional aspects of our lives, the way we have increased our personal power beyond what we can achieve with our unassisted bodies. It used to be impossible to imagine the money would effectively compete with nature or chance in our physical looks, emotional happiness, or biological longevity, but now it seems like it is just a matter of time before technology will allow us to control those dimensions also. And money will, in turn, control the technology that will control those dimensions from longevity to beauty.

But I do not want to get into a discussion of super humanity or the meaning of humanity and what happens when it becomes so tightly associated with money. Let us confine ourselves to the here, now, and myself.

I have blogged about the effect of money and power on relationships and an interpretation of luxury. In a way this entire blog is a testament to how the money-power equation can affect the choices available to me in relationships, from rented girlfriends to marriage. I have compared my views of the absolute economics of relationships, but that analysis is deeply within the context of a certain level of power I am perceived to have in the world, and in particular the power that my partner perceives me to have in her world. Why? Because power translates into privilege, no matter how unasked for. Humans just have something about power that hits their hindbrain and changes their behaviors. And I have noticed wherever they see some of it, they seem to see more of it everywhere: incidents are legion where just because a person sees a glimmer of power they tend to assume I am hiding a supernova somewhere.

I used to think that I wanted neither money or power. Both were liabilities to personal freedom. Does that sound foolish and idealistic? Perhaps. At first this idea was about the loss of freedom to try silly or antisocial activities, but I quickly realized that liability was attached to neither money nor power but rather to popularity and iconification. Still my instincts were very wary of money and power. Now with many years of wealth behind me, now I can refine my original thought:

Money and power put my happiness into the hands of an unnatural self-discipline.

Humans evolved in a Darwinian environment. By its nature, long-term changes were for the purpose of improved mating selection or long term viability (or totally random). In that sense, most of our behaviors reflect the environments in which we evolved, which were, for the most part, resource scarce. So our desire to play, hoard, relax, work, and have relationships are generally molded by resource scarcity.

When we are faced with too much resource, a wholly new set of largely non-evolutionary behaviors come to dominate and, as I have mentioned elsewhere, managing these in a moral manner takes a different attitude. Behavior is no longer governed by what you must do, but what you want to do. And aligning what you want to do, when those wants and desires were forged by evolution in a resource scarce environments, takes quite a bit of self-discipline. After all, you are fighting a million years of evolution with just a few kilograms of grey matter.

Evolution gave us both competitive and cooperative behaviors to deal with resource scarcity. We are social animals. But in this weird world of plenty, both competition and cooperation have created largely irrelevant behaviors. Extended family cooperation, for example, was a survival trait. But we've largely dispensed with that. Consider, for example, that children used to be raised by a large group of mostly-related family members, distributing the child rearing role over a larger population versus the pressures of trying to raise a child in a nuclear or even single-parent family today. Even less-familial social loyalties can be dispensed with when you are resource rich. Who cares? What do you have to lose?

This has been a challenge for me. Relationships of all kinds can be broken with money and power. People will give me a lot of latitude. “Oh, he's busy,” they will say. Or perhaps I will be tempted to smooth over a break with gifts that are within my power to grant, from jobs to money to other forms of assistance that ultimately serve to distance us from the real elements of friendship or love. Society looks at helping others as altruistic, but often charity is merely paying off the demon that took your soul, buying the salve that saves your self-worth.

But I’m not complaining about having money and power. Back when I suffered massive sticker shock from my first seven figure US tax bill, my accountant told me, “Hey, it’s not a bad problem to have compared to the alternative.” And he was right, I have the freedom to give it away, a freedom I have exercised several times.

The most nefarious danger of money and power is that it changes one’s own metrics of happiness. The notion of ever-escalating stimuli is well-understood, but this pertains not only to the satiety of pleasure, but also the activities that generate pleasure. Without this unnatural self-discipline, without embracing this strange and counter-intuitive cult of self-denial, one cannot achieve the nirvana many associate with essentially limitless wealth and power. Partly because human imagination and thus ambition exceeds any quantifiable limits of money and power, and partly because we’re built that way. Several psychology studies link discipline to happiness and unhappiness to a lack of boundaries. Maybe there is a little sheep in us all.

Now allow me to have a caveat here. Your mileage may vary. I know some people who can achieve a state of happiness not from self-control or discipline, but from built-in limitations. I have acquaintances who achieve moderate wealth, then retire and do nothing. They are content. Unfortunately these limitations are not always discernable until you have surpassed certain monetary limits.

Fortunately I am a big believer in self-awareness and self-discipline. But relationships have been a great learning tool. Suffice it to say that had I not been so intensely interested in analyzing relationships, I probably would not have discovered half of what I know about money and power. Other people are the ideal mirror in which you can see the effect of money and power upon yourself, the other person, and the relationship itself. This applies to work relationships, friendships, and, yes, sex and romance. It can have negative consequences, for example losing faith in oneself and the world and always questioning why a person is in a relationship with you. The age-old question of “is it me or my money” has yet to find an empirical solution, but ultimately there is no answer. Since wealth and power are largely alienable, you can always test this by discarding them, but it seems better to merely accept the wealth and power as a part of yourself instead of a part of your insecurity.

It is perhaps ironic that I use relationships to define the limits of my money and power. By the tenor of my relationships I know when it is time to shed money and power or, for that matter, to make more. Even the balance between money and power, another topic worthy of discussion, can be achieved by analyzing my relationships. Is that an odd barometer? Maybe, But since the major negative effect of too much money and power is to change ones relationship with society, relationships probably are the only appropriate measuring device to use. Similarly, I use money and power as one (of many) measures of a relationship. Does a relationship change my perception of money and power, or alter their balance? Do I feel more compelled to trade money for power or vice versa? These are also indirect indicators of certain relationship factors, as well as the evolution of a relationship in the eyes of society. Such factors are not always positive or negative, but always fascinating to see. Money and power are rarely discussed, but always felt. As such any indirect meter is an interesting topic of study.


Blogger Clandestine Call Girl said...

I tend to agree. It infuriates me when people try to be so incredibly PC and say that "Everyone is the same, just a different color, race, gender." It does not mean that different races or genders are better than others, just different. To deny that is foolish, to admit it is uncomfortable. But, it's the truth.

I believe in gender roles when it comes to marriage and family. To me, the best scenario is, after kids, the man is the provider and the woman takes care of the children and the household. Everyone's job is defined, there is no confusion over who should be doing what and everyone's natural tendencies are satisfied.

During these times, I also believe a woman should be educated before she marries and it wouldn't hurt if she works before kids or even after they are in school. She should have computer skills at the very least. If she has some money socked away, just in case, that's not a bad idea. Basically, if something should happen to her husband or her marriage, she needs to be able to care for herself and her family.


8/01/2006 11:20 AM  

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