A friend was impressed enough to post a graphic on Facebook regards to Dr Jonas Salk, the discoverer/inventor of the Polio vaccine. It is not widely known that Dr Salk chose not to patent his invention, instead deciding that its benefit to humanity completely eclipsed any personal financial gain of his own. It is estimated that had Dr Salk patented his vaccine he would have rolled in dolleros to the tune of $7B- that’s seven billion dollars.
A fellow traveller, equally impressed, stated “The shame of it is that companies who make all the money out of drugs are considered more successful than this guy. Really makes you think about what we should value”.
And so, that rusty, squinching sound you hear, not far removed from that made by thumbscrews, is the sound of The Dunny tin opener cracking the lid on a delicious can of worms with philosophical conundrum sauce- do tuck in, why not spoil yourself?
What do we value, and why?
Values were defined to me during my upbringing as the ethics by which we live-how we treat others, how we treat ourselves, and how we treat the world around us. That mighty fairy tale, The Bible, that so much of the population still holds up as the cornerstone of truth and reality was effectively a series of analogous examples of values -well The New Testament at least, I can’t see how Abraham attempting to exsanguinate his poor young son Isaac to prove his loyalty to his hallucinatory deity in any way morally sound, and the God in the O.T was a pretty mean, arbitrarily brutal sociopath. Still, we digress! Values, what do we value, and what are values?
Wikipedia opens their values page with the statement “A personal value is absolute or relative and ethical value, the assumption of which can be the basis for ethical action”. Which is pretty much as we understood it too and were heartened to see that on typing in a Google search for the word there were three categories at the top of the page referring to definitions of ethical values before the ANZ Bank hijacked it, whereupon it quickly degenerated to the New Zealand National Party’s homepage and from there onto property and assets which is where we lost relevance to our understanding of the word.
Cutting to the subject of tonight’s sermon, The Dunny contends that what we indeed value is killing us. That’s right and here’s the rub: way,way,way back when, before money was invented, our hierarchy of needs was simply if not necessarily easily filled. We lived in “caves” or very simple buildings made from locally sourced, biodegradable (everything was biodegradable back then!) materiels freely available-wood, reeds, mud, clay, stone, and even dung. According to anthropologists & archaeologists many of these were warm, well ventilated, dry and even salubrious -by the standards of necessity of course. Water supply was provided by simply building near a source. Vegetables, nuts and seeds [bio dynamically grown] were foraged for and protein was hunted or fished for.
Key ethical values of the early people would have revolved around filial ties-in other words protecting and providing for those close to them. The collateral impact they had on their environment was negligible because they had no place for greed. There were no mechanisms or processes in place to support greed, so as a concept it would have been hard to understand-why would you take more than you need when everything you need is right there? The old cultures worshiped the elements that sustained them, and those that ruled the natural world around them-the Sun, the Moon, the River, the Sea, Fire, and the Wind. They named them so that they could find their place within those elements because they realised it was all part of the same thing.
We sat upon Mount Hobson recently, gazing down upon the affluent suburbs of Auckland, and we asked “What is valued here?” The answer that stuck us was “That which has no importance nor relevance”. A seven bedroom mansion on a half an acre for a family of four, the “value” of which in physical labour versus average wage in relative terms would take primitive man a lifetime of hunting trips to discharge.
Two gleaming European cars, built to travel at speeds impossible on NZ roads sit in the driveway, one of them is a bloated German 4WD SUV. It’ll never even leave the sealed road. Giant, over-horsepowered, gas guzzling, polluting V8 engines hauling a gauche status symbol five minutes up the road to drop little Chelsea & Violet off to ballet class. What do we value? investments? “assets”? shares, staff, racehorses, RVs, luxury boats, trophy wives and private helicopters?
We don’t value these-not in the truest sense of the word; to quote the character Hannibal Lecter we covet them. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Instead of valuing these objects we require them to define us.
In the name of self actualising and gaining & projecting a sense of value to our efforts, we manifest our identities in worthless baubles that demand more and more effort/cost to retain. We literally enslave ourselves with unneeded materiel possessions. Quote Tyler Durden “You don’t own your shit, it owns you” . A simple example would be to ask what the primary functional difference in purpose is between a 1996 Toyota Corolla and a 2012 RS Audi. Basically about $150,000. It still does what it is supposed to-gets you to work, the beach, the kids to school and the groceries home. The extra $150 000 buys you perception of value, the idea being that your Audi makes others feel envious and inferior thus elevating your status and sense of self importance. Reality is they are misinterpreted as respect.
Referring back to the link above (self actualising -Maslow’s Heirachy of Needs), take note that some the above needs are actually manifestations of self esteem, ergo, we are insecure as a race. We define our place in the world by what we can “own”. The reality of “ownership” is completely subjective to reality and the system that can support it. Example; should a disaster such as a major earthquake strike an urban area and seriously damage it to the point that infrastructure and basic amenities were removed for several weeks, what use are status symbols? If there is no power for the fridge in the mansion and no petrol for the Audi, once people revert to their baser instincts and start looking for food and resources these assets become liabilities-major ones. An eventual transition of value takes place; fishing tackle, a vegetable garden or fruit trees, heaven forbid a firearm, these things become much more valuable than the car ever was because they mean the difference between life and death-but only with the ultimate asset of value of all, skills.
Let us then examine what Relative Wealth means when stacked up alongside true value:
Timothy Ferriss clarified to us the term “Relative Wealth” in his groundbreaking book on income & lifestyle management “The Four Hour Work Week”. This book is a must read, whether or not you believe Ferriss, or hold with his claims. Tim raises extremely relevant questions about what human beings have come to value and prioritise in life and in turn, the things they neglect or negate and how this pertains to our quality of life. Briefly, Ferriss had made a honest attempt to follow the American dream, and being no slouch had attended Harvard Business School. He went on to work various dead end jobs in hospitality, offices and corporations, which before long he came to loathe. One of the breakthroughs Ferriss made to his initial detriment, was the discovery that in all his jobs he could do his work more than satisfactorily in a fraction of the time his employers required his presence in the workplace. This lead his dismissal or leaving several jobs despite the fact he discharged his obligations to requirement.
Ferriss went on to become an extremely successful entrepreneur, however as a result of several monumental failures he realised that it wasn’t what he was doing that was important, it was what he wasn’t doing that made the difference. With that, Tim Ferriss restructured & outsourced his life. He now travels the world indulging a passion for Tango, Cage Fighting, clipping his toenails on tropical beaches and living life on his own terms whilst enjoying financial security. He checks and responds to his emails once a week, never answers his phone, and absolutely refuses to pollute his mind with TV and newspaper versions of “The Truth”-he simply won’t watch or read them.
We don’t intend to sell Tim’s books or products for him, so we will drive our point home now. Tim discovered that it was a complete myth that he needed to work hard his whole life to receive a golden old age at the end and staggered rewards along the way. He identified what was valuable to him and strategised ways to make those things realities without killing himself from overwork in the process. He set himself free by having the courage to question what truly is valuable & seek his own answers. That is what we have spent the last three hours compiling this article to help you ask yourselves in the hope that the answer might set you free, make you truly happy, and allow you to be a more functional, less destructive part of the cosmos to which you belong.
Retirement is not a given.
In the words of Sir Paul Holmes referring to his retirement property in beautiful Hawkes Bay before he passed recently from his illness “The idea was I’d build this farm and retire here, live a full and wonderful life basking in my former great career-but along came a fly in the ointment”. The fly was cancer and it killed him-quickly.
We aren’t saying quit your job and be a bum-though there are worse ways to live. We are suggesting that humanity has it’s priorities totally confused and as a result we are destroying ourselves and the planet with rampant avarice for unnecessary junk and time wasting diversions. The Dunny’s official music supervisor was once so disillusioned by this whole subject that he wrote & produced a song about it – take a listen, the words may resonate with some of you:
What would you really like to do if there was nothing standing in your way? Identify that obstacle and remove it-it’s that easy- then go forth and live. Maybe Jonas Salk saw the idea of seven billion dollars as the antithesis of his achievement.