Nº 151.– To Be Rich – To Be Poor
The world revolves around money. It was not always so. This is a matter relatively modern. The golden coin, money, began to circulate between ports from Greece to Carthage, in small boats trading pottery, olive oil, jewelry and textiles about three thousand years ago. Previously, great civilizations of the past, Pyramids, the Great Wall of China and Atlantics were built with no money, in another way. A couple of millennia later, banknotes were created in Europe for easy exchange between banks of Italy and cities of the North. With the birth of nationalities –England, France and others– it was the State that dealt with printing sterling pounds, thalers and so on. In our present globalized universe, the electronic dollar, credit card, and public bonds come up being nothing, and the world economy is supported on such nothing. Figures of Gross Domestic Product are political speculations, and the same occurs with inflation rates published by governments according to their convenience, and nations classified as rich, poor or emergent ones. What do they mean to a North-American citizen that has lost his house and must live with his family in one room cooking fried potatoes with a heater? And what do they mean to the wealthiest man of the world to live in Mexico, a country of 10 millions of destitute persons without social assistance? The works of art, even those that are mediocre, are up for auction in London and New York for millions of dollars. What do Picasso and Van Gogh have to do with so much nonsense? Picasso was very rich and Van Gogh very poor. Until recently the world was divided into separate capitalist and communist countries; now Humanity is divided into rich and poor countries by a changing, shifting and deceitful line, which in the same way includes social division in inner societies of each one.
In modern society, great creators –Buddha, Jesus or Saint Francis of Assisi– were strict about material possessions. Buddha was a prince and gave up his riches to control himself and teach others. Every morning he left his hut with a bowl asking his neighbors for something to eat; it was his only meal of the day. Jesus possessed nothing, and to sleep in the open air he used to put a stone under his head as a pillow. Saint Francis was a rich young man that, after being undressed, gave back his father clothes that the latter demanded. In the modern society, the great dilemma is to be rich or to be poor, and none knows how it will end.
What is the conceptual center of personal riches? Historically, it is private property, exclusion. There is much richness of every kind –material, artistic and spiritual richness–but the world wealth is under money control. Years ago, on his book “The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (Le règne de la quantité et les signes des temps) René Guénon deals with the subject of value expressed by financial figures: How much is that football player? How much is this Picasso? If it is on sale, one can get it through auctions, the international guide of what cannot be evaluated. It is not set up by critics from those experts that assess the work but by “the market”. Currently, in most cases is set by the need for money laundering, coming from illegal activities.
To be rich means capacity to express publicly such wealth. If a dealer collects up million dollars but is unable to display them in society, he is not a rich man but a miser. Wealth is expressed through a lot of excluding things, from works of art, mansions and servants to friendship with social celebrities. Lorenzo, the Magnificent, was quite wealthy in Florence, using his money to rule over the city and help artists like Botticelli and Michelangelo. The Miser, by Molière, possessed properties but did not enjoy them because he liked to possess a lot like Aunt Scrooge in Disney’s comics, who was so popular in a people enslaved by the dollar.
There are authentic rich persons with properties and bank deposits by inheritance or work, and Forbes Magazine is in charge of advertising them in a positive way. But most populations are of poor people willing to be rich and possess their own illusory things. Even when they are factory workers and government clerks with a sufficient salary to live with dignity, they dream of being rich and week by week they play “numbers” or lottery and visit casinos, speculating the whole day about how they could earn further money. The majority of them are like this. They dream of a better house even when their own house is good and sufficient –it is a psychological phenomenon that few years ago brought about a financial disaster in the United States; they have two cars and build garages of large doors. They buy imported expensive toys for their children and, if possible, send them to private colleges, which also are very costly. They are bad poor persons who never will be in peace with their own possessions, family, children and friends, because they are ever willing more and more, and though they may reach their desired level, soon will be dissatisfied. Here is a phenomenon of the bourgeoisie; such class is neither poor nor rich, but illusory and deceived by commercial advertising and dissatisfied desires. Social novels from nineteen century have many brilliant titles illustrating such subject about a way of living started by the French Revolution and continued by proletarian movements in the twentieth century, which still does not end.
Master Santiago was poor. He lived with his family near to Constitución Square, in Buenos Aires –which is a communication knot of the great city with trains, subways (“tubes”) and buses– in a modest apartment with an outstanding spiritual library. When Mistress Amelia stayed at the Santa Rosa College, in Córdoba, leading the education of orphans, the Master attended their young children at home. He was strict in relation to cleanliness. There are photos of the College, in summertime, where one can see him sitting on the threshold of his house in rope-soled shoes and sailor cap, and drinking mate with Argentinean peasants. The Sons of Cafh learned such poverty from him. He wrote: “The Ordained Sons of Community are poor workers by vocational impulse.” If by any circumstance, a Community has collected any extra money, after setting it aside, delivers it at the Charity Site of the Order. He was quite aware of the danger of money within closed religious and spiritual groups. On “The Renunciation Goods”, Teaching 10, he writes: “What happens in organizations, Jewish trusts and Catholic ecclesiastic institutes, which accumulate wealth and so much power? This very power overwhelms them. Once a Son possesses house, why to accumulate more? It is necessary to distribute. You must give continuously because poor Sons are those who accumulate a wealth that their arms and shoulders cannot sustain later!”.
The modern world is immensely rich as the result of centuries of inventions, works, discoveries and planetary occupation. One million passengers are flying day by day from one place to another enjoying technical breakthroughs and organized work. China is the most diaphanous example of a society entirely organized in its resources, and is the first among wealthiest nations. Pleasure cruisers are crossing the seas by dozens. Beaches are covered by billion vacationers. Even poorest peoples have something to eat. But Humanity is unable to sustain so many unfair goods that have been unfair, and in many cases badly obtained, and badly distributed; then it begins to collapse. It is the beginning of the end.
The United States was a leader as to world finances and some years ago they collapsed and started again to emerge with billion jobless and destitute persons who cannot get job or houses. Likewise it occurs in nations of Europe, Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and so on. At his moment Japan is under commotion by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plants in trouble. Such catastrophe is not caused by Nature, Nature remains as it has ever been; nuclear power plants and excessive wealth of a nation have caused it when such nation could live with good sense but went mad by greed and lack of moderation. Perhaps were they unable to live poorly with their beautiful landscape, cultivating poetry, chrysanthemums, cherry trees and Zen gardens?
As many may suppose, poverty is not lack but fair satisfaction of one’s needs. Usually Master Santiago recommended “you are to have all and only use what you need”. Needs for poor persons become different: a doctor needs an office with facilities and modern devices for his profession. For an accountant a computer and a job are enough. A winegrower needs a wine, tools, fertilizers and transportation to work. A city-hall worker needs a broom and shovel to do properly his work. At home, one needs a neat house and furniture according to our personal condition. But all have access to culture, art, books, music and museums. The richness of spirit belongs to Humanity regardless of either poor or rich persons.
In his preaching, Jesus defends the poor and is very tough with the rich. He was quite aware of the Jews! His words are modern and rightly applied to our days, though none preaches them enthusiastically. In Mankind, the survival has reached definitive critical states as you can find it on clashes of the civilization against Nature, tsunami in Japan and the so-called oil plunder in Libya by deprived by aggressive nations. This process is irreversible since the beginning of colonialism and is in general crisis. There are rich States in armaments and there are poor defenseless nations. As once the Russian leader Putin said, the only defense of weak nations against the powerful is to possess the atomic bomb. Perhaps here is the solution to the irreconcilable problem of being rich or being poor.
Fortunately, we as 95 percent of the work population are poor and the rich are a very harmful minority. Such minority is on key posts of the power in ecclesiastic and financial institutions, press, politics, and so on. Attempts made throughout centuries to amend such anomaly have failed and we are on the brink of the abyss. Everything denotes the change or races and transformation of the Planet are the solution. In man and Humanity, a crisis is the way-out for futureless situations like the present one. Even when we are unable to do anything to change the global structure, individually we can work in our lives, on scale, with our own resources and where we stay, according to Master Santiago’s definition on the Renunciation Message.
José González Muñoz