‘210 people were shot in America on the first day of 2017,’ reads a headline on news website Vox.
Baltimore did its part…
Shortly after midnight in Ellicott City [a Baltimore suburb], Maryland, a 15-year-old boy broke into the house of a 16-year-old girl and shot her and her 52-year-old mother, killing the girl and injuring the mother.
The victims had just returned home from a New Year’s party with relatives.
Unreported in the national statistics, one of our Baltimore offices was robbed on New Year’s Day…and an employee was held at gunpoint within 100 feet of our front door.
Between the Feast of Saint Sylvester (31 December) and the Feast of the Epiphany (today), we try to take time out from our normal routine for meditation, prayer, and heavy drinking.
While the holdup men and stockbrokers return to their labours, we try to think more deeply about what we are doing and where we are going.
‘Try to imagine your own funeral,’ says a colleague. ‘Then think about what you want people to say about you.’
We’re not sure what we want people to say, but we know what we don’t want them to say — that he was gunned down on his way to work.
This has been a grim and lonely week. The first week of January is always difficult. Residual memories from Christmas and the New Year celebrations fade like the bright lights of Chicago…as the train heads out onto the vast, empty prairie of a new year.
Journalists are back at their laptops. Deep State apparatchiks are back at their desks. So are Congress and the federal bureaucracy. No one’s life, wealth, or dignity, is safe.
And now, The Wall Street Journal reports that Donald Trump is not only trying to bully US companies, but foreigners, too. No kidding. Toyota is a Japanese automaker. Trump thinks he should have a say in where it builds its next factory.
Debt is at, or near, new highs in every category — household, corporate, and government. Worldwide, debt is up 79% since 2007.
The bubble has gotten a lot bigger. It will likely blow up before this year is rung out.
But our thoughts this week have mostly focused on our private world.
It is bad enough trying to imagine our own funeral. (We can think of a few other people we’d rather see in the box.)
It is worse trying to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it…while we are still alive.
‘What is the point?’ is the question that kept coming up. We never found a good answer.
Some people have a ‘bucket list’ of things they want to do before they die. If we had a list, getting shot dead would not be on it. But we don’t like the bucket idea. It sounds like a resume on an application to the graveyard.
‘Oh…I see you’ve been to the Grand Canyon. OK…you can come in,’ says the Grim Reaper.
‘We’d rather stay out, thank you. Catch you next time.’
But even if we’re all bound for the same boneyard, a bucket list presumes you have nothing better to do than check a few empty boxes along the way: go somewhere, do something, get it over with.
After that trip is over, the car doors are opened, and you are dragged off to the hole. Your life is over; there’s nothing left on your list.
If, on the other hand, you deliberately put items on your list that you can’t achieve, it is merely a ‘wish list’ — like a wine you’ve been meaning to try, or a movie you intended to see. You can make that kind of list anytime.
‘He who has the most toys wins’ is another popular desideratum.
But wins what? This is the great advantage that the poor enjoy in life. They can imagine that having more toys will bring them happiness and love.
The rich man has no such illusions. He already has all the toys he wants. He knows that whatever pleasure they confer, it is fleeting…and ultimately pointless.
As to love, forget it. All he got for his millions was a Russian bride…who ran off with the pool boy.
Pleasure in pretence
The truly rich, meanwhile, sneer at the parvenus, with their shiny new cars and new mega mansions.
Besides, you can no longer impress anyone with an expensive house; everybody’s got one.
The Wall Street Journal reports that builders have added so much luxury housing to the market, prices are beginning to slip.
The really rich take their pleasure in pretence. They live modestly, pretending to be above material concerns. Or they pretend to be good by donating generously to global warming or Syrian orphans.
The money usually goes into the pockets of zombies and cronies, turns poor people into dependent parasites, and — using more wealth than they produce — makes the world a poorer place.
Still, the rich can’t help themselves. They endow museums and build art collections… They donate millions to keep Haitians off the streets of Miami.
But in the end…who really cares? You descended into the Grand Canyon, swam the Hellespont, and won a Nobel Prize?
Who cares if you have a mansion…or even if you were right about the stock market crash? And you…who have probably never even changed a tire in your whole life…how do you know where Toyota should build its next plant?
In the end, you must stand face to face with your creator. No matter what factories you have misplaced, or honours you have won, or old ladies you have helped cross the streets…
…He will probably laugh at you.
For Markets and Money, Australia