The ability to fool yourself knows no boundaries of time, culture, race or religion. Sometimes these delusions are not particularly harmful, but more often than not- they are harmful to the believers and others other them. One of the most popular, and destructive, delusion is-
People accumulate money for rational reasons.
Now I am fully aware that many readers will find any suggestion that accumulating money is irrational as itself bizarre. But who is really being bizarre? Let me explain with a few examples.
Imagine a person who just had finished a tasty and perfectly cooked meal. Now imagine that the person also has more food in storage than he or she could possibly eat and the resources to prepare it all. Would you not find it very odd if the person was still obsessed about obtaining more food? What is the rationale behind obtaining so much of something, even as essential as food, that you cannot possibly consume it all?
Now imagine a person who had hundreds to thousands of bottles of all the booze he or she ever wanted. Would it not be odd if that person kept on obsessing about getting more booze, even as they drank very little of what they already had? What could possibly drive a person to spend all of their waking hours obsessing about newer ways to acquire more booze when he did not drink the good stuff around him? Or take a person with unlimited access to sex with hot and willing chicks? Would you not find it odd if that person most of time acquiring more willing partners than actually having sex with them?
Did you see the common thread in my examples? In each case- the hypothetical person exhibits a total disconnect between the urge to acquire more of what he wants and the ability to actually consume it. Most of you would see such a person as nuts and urge him to seek psychiatric help.
But would you do that if the person was obsessively seeking money rather than food, alcohol or sex?
Nope.. most of you would see that as admirable and express your desire to emulate such behavior. The conservatives and libertarians amongst you might actually build shrines and worship such a person. So what is so different about money that obsession about acquiring it in amounts that cannot possibly improve your life any further is OK? Is money that different from food, alcohol or sex?
Now ask yourselves a few questions. Can any amount of money buy you immortality? Can it buy you everlasting respect? Can it buy you god-like omnipotence? Can it buy you anything useful that an upper-middle class person in a developed country does not already have? While money can certainly buy you a good life, amounts beyond that necessary for a certain level of existence don’t make things any better.
So why do allegedly “smart” and “high-IQ” people obsess over acquiring more of something that cannot make their lives any better?
An analogous process in multi-cellular animals might be helpful to model the behavior of behavior of rich people. An animal with some form of cancer is less fit and will live a far shorter life than a similar animal without that disease. However cancerous cells cannot survive the death of their host and therefore die along with it. So why do cells become cancerous in the first place? Wouldn’t they live longer if they had just stuck to their original program? Don’t the vast majority of cells stick to their original program and not become cancerous?
Cancerous transformation in cells is growth taken to its ultimate extreme. While the ability of cells to multiply is an important component of their overall role in multi-cellular organisms, it is not the only one. The ability of cell to differentiate, maintain differentiation and perform other functions is as important as their ability to multiply.
Growth for its own sake without concern for the other cells that constitute an multi-cellular organism is the hallmark of cancerous transformation.
A cancerous cell does not keep on multiplying and stealing resources from other cells in the organism because it has to. It does so because it can get away with it. That is right, there is no underlying rationale to the behavior of a cancerous cell. It will keep on being cancerous until other cells in the body or surgery, radiation and drugs kill it- or the host dies. The desire to accumulate money beyond what a human being CAN consume is not driven by any rational reasons, though those who do so always try to explain their behavior as rational. If you could ask a cancer cell why it was cancerous, its excuses would sound remarkably similar to those given by humans who accumulate money beyond the point of usability.