Tao Of The Poor Man's Cynical Zen

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Happiness is an individual pursuit which more often than not depends on a community’s support for it to be reached. I may be stating the obvious here, but nobody becomes wealthy without some sort of contact with the broader society, and it’s scary just how much we depend on each other. What would make me happy? Well, a decade ago I would’ve said being in the French Foreign Legion, with a pack on my back, rifle in my hands, a team behind me and an objective in front.



Today, looking at the end of my third decade on this screwed up ball of land, water and even more screwed up people, the goal posts have shifted to winning enough in the lottery to be a dollar millionaire, then emigrate to some country where nobody knows me and I can put put behind me the bitter nightmares of over three decades.



To go some place where the mountains are majestic, and a cabin miles away from the nearest town or village awaits. Where the house is big enough for a decent collection of books, an even better collection of booze, a good dog, a rifle and a pistol. The mountains of Arizona, Montana or Colorado look good enough on TV, and they’d certainly be my first choice. However, in case ole Donald decides to next ban those who think America not only ought but can certainly do better, Canada's mountains will do too, even if being one of Queen Elizabeth II’s subjects kind of sticks in my craw.



That’s what would make me happy, though until then, I find myself forced to read the bullshit professional athletes, football coaches and overpaid CEOs have to say about how unimportant money is, or how success is measured by how happy one is instead of what you’ve got and how much.



 “It’s better to be poor and happy than rich and unhappy”- said many a rich man or woman to me. Eventually, my response became “Yeah, you fucking try it...”


*A "happy" South African. His placard reads "Unemployed. Please help us with a donation, everything will help. With gratitude. Ride safely".

Photo courtesy of Censorbugbear.org


The rich always say some hypocritical and deceptive Zen-like or New Age quip because they can afford to ignore the consumer price index, while the rest of us shake our heads and bury the desire to throttle them. In truth, success IS measured by money, power and social rank, how many fancy properties and expensive cars you have, an attractive (and younger) spouse plus de rigueur mistress, and as is common for our overpaid politicians, the blue light bully convoy- that’s what South Africans call the police bodyguard convoys traveling around with our politicians, and they’re usually rude, abusive as well as murderous.


*"Blue light bully" convoy somewhere in South Africa. Fancy cars for bodyguards while millions of ordinary citizens find "happiness" in unemployment and poverty. Photo courtesy of  Daily Maverick (www.dailymaverick.co.za).



Inner peace or “living life on your own terms” are internally generated values available only to the rich, because nobody beholden to another for income can afford them. As such, all we get are dens of misery in the townships, undisciplined students burning down their universities’ libraries and a brewery which makes so much money out of the need to numb ourselves that it can buy foreign competitors outright, along with sophisticated pharmaceutical firms which make a mint from uppers, downers, poppers, tranquilisers and anti-psychotics.



Success as we know it is achieved by men and women who have single-minded discipline, deviousness, ruthlessness, a spark of brilliance and no inner peace. They feel resolutely compelled to chase their dreams at any cost, then to bask in the admiration received. If that wasn’t what it took to “make it”, chances are most people would work 35 hours a week (if at all), their phones and e-mail accounts would be quiet until the morning or beginning of the week, but this is not so, is it?                                         



Nope. Bosses send those 3AM missives, phone calls wreck weekends and “date nights”, families get emotionally neglected, marriages ruined, shrinks and divorce lawyers get richer while we read the “wisdom” of many an ambitious man or woman who pushed subordinates into the seductively destructive arms of booze and pills.



Never mind the utterances of former American football players and others who’ve made millions or billions, here’s the wisdom of a poor man: “Money is important because society has decided it’s the least violent way to compete for power and security, and if the rich control the mill, then the poor are the grist. Therefore, you can either run on that wheel like a mouse on crack trying to reach the cheese that’s always just out of reach, or you can stop playing this sick game that's rigged by wealthy circus masters. Happiness is what it is, wherever you find it and however you make it. Understand this, though- you’re being manipulated by people with power to pursue their selfish aims instead of yours and should act accordingly, or have multiple heart attacks, nervous breakdowns and divorces on the way to that Great Exchequer in the sky”.


Some choice, man. But what can we do? Not much, though there's always writing and dreams of starting a drug cartel to get the uber-rich hooked on expensive dope...



Jeff Jackson Added Mar 30, 2017 - 11:51am
Mircea, I am always fascinated by rich people who commit suicide. Sometimes people have to get rich to realize that being rich will not make them happy, and they devoted so much time and effort to getting rich that they realize they missed a lot of important things along the way. Then there are the people who worked all the time and missed a lot of important  things not while getting rich but just trying to survive. I would love for someone to give me a few million just to see how miserable I could be. 
"Happiness is what it is, wherever you find it and however you make it." That's it. You don't need millions. Friends are priceless. Family is priceless. Find what you love doing, and you'll never work another day of your life. 
Everything else just fades away. 
Ric Wells Added Mar 30, 2017 - 11:52am
A masterful piece of just laying it out there my friend. Enjoyed this greatly. Although don't forget the mountains in upstate NewYork. Spent 30 some years there. Rough life but great when you are younger. 
EXPAT Added Mar 30, 2017 - 12:10pm
A good look at reality my friend. For most of the world, life is survival. I cannot judge you or your life, as I don't even understand why I do the things I do.
I have made and spent millions of US Dollars. I spent it all on fast women and slow horses. I did it my way. Regrets, I have a few, but too few to mention.  Am I Frank Sinatra?
There was a time in America, when a Mountain man could go off on his own, build a cabin in the wilderness and hunt and trap for his needs, but all that was regulated out of existence. I believe it is still possible in Canada.
The only freedom left in America is Panning for GOLD. But only in certain places, and you still need a permit, and in California, Rangers are everywhere. making sure you don't eat anything  declared ENDANGERED.
Mircea Negres Added Mar 30, 2017 - 12:33pm
I never saw a middle-aged man driving a Ferrari with a miserable look on his face, but I have seen plenty of people who are treated like condoms by their bosses (fucked until they break, then thrown away) and they had precious little, if anything, to be happy about. Most of my former clients had homes they hardly saw and families they were forced to neglect because of all the traveling they did, and I saw their pain. I reckon to need about US $2.000.000 to retire comfortably, mostly to get a decent place and meet expenses such as health care, because the other stuff is cheap enough and I'm not aiming to be a record-sized hog. I was just tired of rich people's dishonesty and the misery they don't see while mouthing off about how unimportant money is.
Thank you for the compliment :-). I've seen more of the mountains in states mentioned above in movies, and there's precious little film devoted to Vermont and places close to the northeastern border with Canada, though it has to be said few things would please me more than to spend a few months traveling around the U.S. from the east coast to the west.
Thanks, man. When it comes to that famous quote from Ol' Blue Eyes, I often say "regrets I've had a few, but riches none". On the bright side, it sounds like you had a good time and that's what's important. Heck, it sure beats standing at a traffic light to beg from people who are too stupid to enjoy themselves, though not dumb enough to say something nice. In all honesty, I'd love to travel if I ever beat those 14.000.000:1 and 22.000.000:1 odds, as well as test out the finer things in life and fill with new books three of the Port Elizabeth libraries I've read dry.
EXPAT Added Mar 30, 2017 - 12:51pm
A friend once told me that gambling and the lottery was a tax on the stupid.
I responded; Where else can you buy a dream for a dollar?
Mircea Negres Added Mar 30, 2017 - 1:03pm
Yeah, gambling is a tax on the stupid, especially those who spend thousands or tens of thousands at a time, as I've seen some do. Here the lottery is cheaper. A ticket playing one line for the two Powerball draws costs R7.50, or a little under US 50 cents, while the same for the Lotto and Lotto Plus draws is R10.50. I only play one line when the jackpot goes over R7.000.000 (about US $500.000). The thing is, what other hope do poor people have, besides entering politics and arranging a crooked government contract or becoming a major drug dealer? This whole lottery thing is very Orwellian. Next thing I know the crooks at the top will offer us Soylent Green...
EXPAT Added Mar 30, 2017 - 1:11pm
Every where I have lived, the Lottery is run by a government.
In Thailand, a government that puts people in jail for playing cards or dice, runs a bi-weekly Lottery, while arresting those who let you choose your own numbers.
What hypocrisy!
EXPAT Added Mar 30, 2017 - 1:16pm
P.S. The largest single bet I ever made was $10,000 usd on the Super Bowl.
I won!
Mark Klaers Added Mar 30, 2017 - 1:17pm
Mircea, if you ever do get to come here to see the mountains, just stay. Seems to be what everybody does.
I always love hearing how money won't make you happy from people who have lots of money. It's akin to Tom Brady telling me how miserable his life is having to be good looking, famous and sleeping with Giselle. "Really Mark, you wouldn't like it."  Hey Tom, let's trade places for a couple of years and see if you still sing this tune.
I must say, I've had that Foreign Legion fantasy myself. I'm not sure if given 35yrs back I wouldn't go for it afterall.
Jeffry Gilbert Added Mar 30, 2017 - 1:39pm
There are a LOT nicer mountains in many many more places than DUHmeria and The Great White North (Canada). 
EXPAT Added Mar 30, 2017 - 1:53pm
I believe Mircea is speaking metaphorically. There are places in Africa where he could live the life he describes.
Even Stone with no resources was able to get to Africa.
I have a South African/German friend who goes back and forth to Madagascar, who tells me anyone can go there and live off the land!
Mircea Negres Added Mar 30, 2017 - 3:23pm
That's why I love the mountains, there's no hypocrisy in them. They don't pretend to love or hate you and whatever you accomplish is between the mountain and you. Having said that, few people are more hypocritical than those in government, whatever the country. I wasn't speaking metaphorically, America's mountains are my first choice. As for Africa, it would be good to leave it behind and live in the First World for a change.
He he, I try to be a law abiding guy. God knows I've put a few of bad guys in jail and I'd rather not be afraid to drop the soap, you know? Yeah, I used to tell those "miserable" rich fucks pretty much the same- "if you don't like it, let's swap lives, then we'll see how happy you're gonna be". Had I gone to the Foreign Legion, I'd have been either dead or retired by now. That's one of the best outfits to be in for those who want a professional military career, certainly not the dysfunctional "Boy Scout camp slash whorehouse" (as I call it) the SA army is.
There are some stunning mountains out there, the Alps and Andes especially, but the lure of being a man living in the mountains of America is just too strong in me... As for the Great White North, I once applied for a job as tourist guide with a Canadian hotel which offered Husky sled adventures just below the Arctic circle. Only reason I didn't get it was the lack of a work permit. The wilderness is way more honest than humanity's jungle, and Nature doesn't care if you're rich or poor, it'll kill you all the same if you're stupid or disrespectful of its power. 
George N Romey Added Mar 30, 2017 - 5:43pm
Mircea many a rich person got rich screwing over other people. I think they often try to put on a public persona of being so caring about the poor (think Bill Gates) when its just usually a show.  At least some of the Wall Street scum never had any bones about showing their contempt for people not of their ilk (although they would not se themselves as part of an ilk). 
Yes, its very easy to tell poor people things like "you have your health" or "money can't buy happiness" until you are poor and realize just how it zaps life and takes away hope.  Here in the US we have people in their 50s and 60s that never thought they'd be poor until Corporate America had no use for them.  On the other side we have people living in their parents basement at age 30 unable to start independent living or have normal relationships.  As it stands now when they reach age 35 they will still be living in aging parents basement and without their own relationship.
Where this all goes who knows, particularly as technology, robotics and artificial intelligence are taking over human efforts.  Will we become a world of a few haves and many, many have nots or will there be massive revolutions and social unrest causing a global reset?  I don't anyone really knows.
Mircea Negres Added Mar 30, 2017 - 7:14pm
George, I once read an article about a firm in Russia which specializes in doing almost anything for rich people. Apparently the only thing they don't do is give one an alibi for murder, but they'll give you cover for an affair (credit card slips, plane ticket stubs, hotel bills, etc.). One wealthy Russian paid them to show him what it was like to be a beggar. They got him dressed up and begging on a Moscow street.
Some time back a few South African CEOs wanted to see what it was like living rough in a township. They were given clean cardboard, private security and cops were around, and so were journalists- not quite how the real people on the down and outs really live.
Simulating an experience like that is not the same as living through one, something such rich idiots do not understand. It is that difference which will bite them in the end because when angered beyond limits, the have nots possess something the haves don't, and that is having nothing left to lose.
Excessive wealth breeds excessive complacency and contempt, which become lethal eventually. This is the fate of those few who think they can have so much while multitudes are left with so little.
Dino Manalis Added Mar 30, 2017 - 7:19pm
Many wealthy are unhappy, we all have problems, that's why religion gives us hope.  Money isn't enough!
George N Romey Added Mar 30, 2017 - 7:20pm
As people get richer they become more and more detached from society other than the relatively few like themselves.  People become an object and aren't see as humans.  A CEO closes down a factory to move it offshore but never considers the financial hell he has thrown hundreds if not thousands into.
Mircea Negres Added Mar 30, 2017 - 8:10pm
Money isn't enough to make one happy, but lack of it sure is enough to make one unhappy...
That's because the average worker whose life got destroyed won't show up in the CEO's bedroom one night to destroy his in return. Too many people in power have been conditioned to think of the human beings they affect as numbers on a spread sheet. Dehumanising the workforce and ultimately customers does not bode well for a business because it is ultimately a human endeavor which needs human beings to succeed- it's not as if computers and robots are going to buy the latest iShit (thanks, Stone-Eater) or Beemer. At this rate, economic collapse followed by mass social unrest will be inevitable so long as the world runs on money.
George N Romey Added Mar 30, 2017 - 8:16pm
Mircea no that worker won't UNTIL it meets critical mass. When enough people are impoverished while the select few get richer and richer that is when the violence and revolution starts.  From 1940 until the end of the 00s there was enough to keep Americans economically satisfied even though the decline started a few decades before albeit very slowly at first. 
In the US many people do not think Americans will ever stoop to revolution (just look at some of the comments on WB) but they are na├»ve in their thinking.  America for many years was the land of opportunity for those willing to work for it.  Today that is completely changing.  We are entering a new dynamic that none of us have ever seen. 
Jeffry Gilbert Added Mar 30, 2017 - 11:26pm
but the lure of being a man living in the mountains of America is just too strong in me
Its utterly beyond me how someone not trapped by DUHmerican citizenship would actually be drawn to that awful place. I was born and educated there and I'll never ever go there ever again.
Mircea Negres Added Mar 31, 2017 - 2:50am
Jeffry, I spent the first 12 years of my life under communism and next 2 under neo-communism in Romania. I then went on to spend the next 25 years in South Africa, another less than free country. America has its flaws (Patriot Act among them) but it's still better than where I've been. Many people ask me what Romania is like. I tell them "it's a beautiful country with a lot of ugly memories", and do not wish to live there again. As for South Africa, race conflicts' fires are kept burning by incompetent and corrupt politicians who've failed to better the lives of tens of millions, and we're heading for the drain. President Zuma just fired minister of finance Pravin Gordhan in what is widely seen as an attempt to solidify his grip on state resources for the benefit of the Gupta family (his friends and sponsors) and the rand fell by 4.8-5.4% against the GB pound, euro and dollar immediately. The last time he did something like this, the economy lost over R150 billion overnight, and I wonder how much worse it's going to be now. So, I'd take America's mountains any day of the week right now... 
Mircea Negres Added Mar 31, 2017 - 3:01am
I hear you, George. The dynamic your country is entering is that of "get ahead with pull and corruption instead of hard work and talent". Its long-term consequences are evident in countries such as Romania, Russia, Bulgaria, and Iraq (its army collapsed under IS attack because corruption weakened its soldiers' character and willingness to fight) among many others.
Jeffry Gilbert Added Mar 31, 2017 - 3:59am
I'd take America's mountains any day of the week right now... 
I hear ya, all I'm suggesting is don't jump out of the the frying pan and into the fire. You can't imagine how difficult a place DUHmerica is ESPECIALLY if you want to do the solitary mountain man thing like Bob Lee Swagger from the movie. In DUHmerica that desire will paint a target on your back especially with a foreign accent. My NYC accent was very suspicious to the native Coloradoan so imagine how your's will be viewed. 
Ecuador or even Nepal will leave you a lot happier. Both are cheap cheap to live, people will leave you alone, so will the government. I'd recommend Thailand but it doesn't have the mountains you seek. Taiwan may be a good choice too now that I think about it
Jeff Michka Added Mar 31, 2017 - 7:15pm
Hmmm.  That was Zen, but this is Tao?
Michael B. Added Mar 31, 2017 - 11:35pm
Mircea, great post! It continually pisses me off that decent and intelligent dudes like you are constantly getting the shaft, but as difficult as it is, try not to ever surrender to circumstances!
Mircea Negres Added Apr 1, 2017 - 1:13am
Jeff, Tao means "way". I had an idea about a month ago to start an audio blog with my philosophical musings on the contemporary world, which I wanted to call "Zen Cynicism". The post's title is basically a mish-mash of the names of philosophical schools which means "The way of the poor man's bitter contemplation/ contemplation of bitterness".
Mircea Negres Added Apr 1, 2017 - 1:22am
Thank you for the compliment, Michael, and I'm glad you enjoyed this post. Once again, I was wondering when I'd hear from you... I keep fighting, even if it's unsuccessful, because going down without a fight is not in my makeup. Yes, I got shafted, but at least it was for doing the right thing and while I had hoped it wouldn't happen (misguided belief in there being some justice in the system I once served), I always knew and accepted it was a possibility. It's not much consolation, though I'll take it. Nevertheless, this post was about the relations between rich and poor in South Africa, and an attempt to dispute that "it's better to be poor and happy than rich and unhappy" cliche which annoys the hell out of me.
Jeffry Gilbert Added Apr 1, 2017 - 1:42am
Zuma just upped the ante again. 
Mircea Negres Added Apr 1, 2017 - 2:19am
Yes, he did, Jeffry. Ante goes up, South Africa goes down... Waiting for S&P, Moody's and Fitch sovereign debt ratings after Zuma's firing of finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas. Anybody order a firestorm with extra bloodbath on the side?
Jeff Michka Added Apr 1, 2017 - 7:47pm
Mircea, I know the meaning of both Zen and Tao, but I just made a "play on words" bit of humor, as opposed to the conventional "...that was then, this is now."  Always a risk where English is a second language for some.
Mircea Negres Added Apr 2, 2017 - 2:13am
Jeff, I thought you didn't understand what I meant by the title, so I tried to explain. It's often hard to know what the other person means because we're not face to face, and looking back at the reply in question I'm chuckling about how easily I missed your play. It's a long Tao to get the Zen... ;-)
Jeff Michka Added Apr 7, 2017 - 6:08pm
Some english way to pronounce humor:
Q: How are devoted followers of Eastern beliefs and stockbrokers similar?

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