If some kid ever throws down his pencil in frustration and asks me what’s the point of math, here’s what I’m going to tell him:
“Sonny boy, math is society’s way of controlling you. They’ll assign everything you do in your life a number value, and add it all up. Then, every time you ask for something back, like food or shelter or knowledge, they’ll assign that a value too and subtract from your total. They call those numbers ‘money,’ to give you something to keep track of. When your numbers are small, you can get pieces of paper that represent a certain amount, which you can give to someone in return for something else. At some point though, people stop paying you in real money (what some people call ‘cash’) and start just naming numbers and making up rules. For example, if you borrow numbers from someone called a bank, they’ll keep on increasing the amount that you have to give back. You have to work very hard to keep track of what your number is, how much of it is actually yours, and how much you have to give back.”
The point of all this is that money is completely imaginary. If everyone in the world woke up one morning and forgot the meaning of money, just imagine how much happier we would all be, without even knowing why! Well, the bankers and accountants would probably have some sort of existential crisis, but who cares about them right?
When I was in the first grade, I was already a nerdy little smarty-pants and took it personally when something in school didn’t come naturally to me. I had just started at a new school, sort of in the middle of the year, and was filling out a math worksheet. I had a really hard time because I hadn’t learned any of it yet, so I ended up in tears and had to leave the classroom. I don’t think that teacher had ever seen someone care that much about addition before.
I was reminded of this incident the other day as I was sitting at my kitchen table working out a budget for when my student loans go into repayment (too soon). Add a couple of numbers here…carry the 1, add another there…when it all summed up, my monthly payments amounted to 45% of my monthly income. Panic and tears ensued.
I’ve had a few similar meltdowns in recent history, and every single one of them (since the end of the high school angst phase) was triggered or aggravated by money troubles. It never ceases to amaze me the power that this imaginary thing has over my life and emotions. I hardly ever get to handle cash anymore, so money has become a completely abstract concept to me. Why should I get stressed when my bank account dips below zero? I never really possessed that money in the first place, so why stress over its conceived absence? All I have to do is wait around (and get Ryan to buy me food) until my balance replenishes itself with my next paycheck, and then I’m once again allowed to swipe my plastic card in exchange for goods and services.
When I decided to get myself a university education, the school asked me to give them a certain amount of money. I didn’t have it, so I asked the government and the banks for it. They “gave” the money to the school and I signed an incredibly complicated IOU, and that was that. And now the next 20 years of my life are supposed to be dedicated to working my butt off and stressing out over “giving” them their money back. If the world really ends in 2012, then I will have wasted a whole lot of tears and energy on worrying about all this fake stuff.
Moral of the story: money only has as much power as we give to it. We’re all dying, so it’s a damn waste of life to obsess over imaginary money. If you’re going to obsess over something imaginary, unicorns are way cooler.
Epilogue: You know what else is imaginary? The money I earn in Mafia Wars. Only problem is, you can turn “real” money into Mafia Wars money, but not vice-versa. YET. I’ve got billions hoarded away, just waiting for the day that I can apply that balance to my student loans.