Materialism

The London Paper  –  18 June 2007

When Oscar Wilde defined cynics as people ‘who know the price of everything and the value of nothing’ he could just as well have been referring to the average Cityboy. Maybe that’s because we are, almost by definition, money-obsessed cynics whose job it is to put a price on assets without ever confusing the process with emotions, morals or artistic concerns. Whatever the reason, we Cityboys often extend this obsession with ‘price’ into our personal lives and, in so doing, sometimes become fanatical about flaunting our expensive purchases in a tiresomely competitive way.

For example, the other day a colleague bounced into our office grinning like the cat that got the cream and insisted that several colleagues and I go downstairs to check out his latest acquisition – his third Ferrari. I accompanied him into the lift reluctantly because this irritating character has always struck me as the kind of smug dickhead who probably cherishes the smell of his own farts.

So there we were crowding around this black Testerossa, watching him stroke it as if it were a sleeping tiger whilst he proudly spouted a stream of verbal diarrhoea about break horse power, four valve cylinders and double wishbones. My older colleagues gave him respect for his shameless exposure of an obvious mid-life crisis whilst the younger ones looked on with wide-eyed astonishment at what they could buy if they too ‘made it in the City’ – the poor suckers. When I caught my bank’s resident sweaty-palmed degenerate staring at the car with a greasy leer on his face I could tell his sick brain was visualizing all the girls he could entice with such a motor … the tinted windows on that car reflected me perfectly.

Anyway, amongst the coos of approval and ahhs of wonder all I could think was ‘you poor deluded fools’. Keeping up with the Jones is generally a total waste of time, but in the City it is particularly pointless. That’s because there is so much wonga currently splashing around the Square Mile that there’s always going to be someone with a flasher motor, bigger house or rarer Rolex. Hence, as the respected psychologist Oliver James argues in his recent book ‘Affluenza’, this materialistic competition can lead to nothing but dissatisfaction for all.

An oft mis-quoted phrase is that ‘money is the root of all evil’. In fact the original biblical saying (Timothy 6:10) states that it is the ‘the love of money’ that is the root of all evil. In the City, by definition, we all love money because all our jobs entail is moving it around, talking about it and earning shed loads of it. That’s all well and good but to enter an unwinnable competition over material possessions can only lead to frustration and madness. I suppose if you’re called Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Lakshmi Mittal you could conceivably win – but then who wants to be ugly losers like them?

Thoughts ?

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