Monday, March 30, 2009

The New Magic, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Capitalism And Embrace Being Rich

Anyone who has talked to me in the last year has undoubtedly heard me use the phrase "fuck you, I'm rich." While the inherent absurdity in the statement cannot be argued against, I am in fact dead serious about my belief that I am rich -- and like any good internet huckster, I'm now going to tell you the economic secrets I've unlocked for a one-time fee of only $19.95! No, just kidding, I'm not going to charge you. Why bother? I don't need your money -- I'm rich!

Perhaps not entirely surprisingly, our story starts back on, of all days, September 11th 2001, back when I was living in Newark, Delaware. After waking up at 2 PM and spending the next three hours attempting to figure out the new panicked world that had been thrust upon us all, I decided to take a walk for some perspective. I remember it being an unusually nice day, almost springlike. I took a walk to the 7Eleven on Elkton Road. There was a girl working there whom I'd had a short fling with, and she told me how she was scared for the future, and I hugged her and told her things were going to be okay.

Then, I bought a bag of Doritos -- the single most important bag of Doritos that has ever been purchased by anyone. Munching on the chips as I headed homeward, I found myself thinking: "wow, we're totally going to war soon, and war means food rations and saving your nylons and aluminum foil for the government. War means this might be the last bag of Doritos I ever eat in my life. I'd better savor them."

So I did. I savored every last bite of those chips, and as the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months, while everyone else kept an eye on Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq and Iran and Syria, I kept my eye on the availability of Doritos. My theory was: if there ever came a time that I could not easily acquire a bag of Doritos, I would know that the American paradigm had failed and I would then start to plan for alternatives. So long as I could get Doritos, though, I knew there was nothing to worry about, seeing as Doritos are the pinnacle of luxury spending -- a cheap, nutritionally suspect impulse buy that leaves one with nothing but trash when finished.

Thus the Doritos Index was born.


Fast forward to the present. I now work at a 7Eleven, this one in Tucson, Arizona. Every day I sell people booze, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and porn -- and of course, Doritos. We have eight flavors, ten if you count the newfangled Collisions bags as two separate flavors.

Collisions, for those who don't know, are a relatively new invention in Doritos technology. The idea is that you combine two complementary flavors of chips (for example, Buffalo Wing and Blue Cheese Dressing) in a single bag. Yes, dear friends, even with the economy looming on the edge of the abyss and two wars being raged in foreign countries, the Pepsi Corporation is committed to delivering you the absolute state of the art Doritos experience.

Jesus Christ, doesn't anyone else see what's wrong here? We are not in a depression! Depressions mean selling apples on the street and living in Hoovervilles! Look at your life: you're probably reading this on a supercomputer that is most likely sitting in your bedroom, or else a laptop in a coffee shop while you drink beverages cultivated from beans grown in Ethiopia. We have iPhones, iPods and Blackberrys. Porn is everywhere, and the most fashionable clothes are found in thrift stores for pennies on the dollar. Just today I heard that Apple is bringing Skype to the iPhone. That's right: we now have phones that emulate computers that emulate phones.

We live like kings. We should start acting like kings.


That's where the "fuck you, I'm rich" philosophy comes in.

First of all, before you can understand what it means to be rich, you need to understand exactly what money is. Money, in short, is a system of power transfer -- nothing more, nothing less. You put power into the system in the form of work, and you take power out of the system in the form of property (or, more accurately, property vouchers).

Put another way, think about how systems of magic work. Any Dungeons and Dragons geek knows that the basis of all magic in role playing games revolves around three attributes: material, gestural, and semantic. The material component can be just your own body, or it can involve reagents that need to be acquired such as runestones or gems or pelts of animals. The gestural component is the physical actions you perform: mixing potions, waving wands, or what have you. The semantic component is the language used to convey information, which can be spoken aloud or written in scrolls or sacred tomes. In any case, these three attributes always exist in magic: physical matter, kinetic action and transfer of information.

Now think about your job. You have to be present at a certain place in a certain time, whether it's showing up at an office or telecommuting from your home terminal, and you need various materials to do that job -- a laptop, a work smock, a boxcutter, whatever. You have to commit certain actions which constitute the physical work, whether it's moving a mouse in a CAD program or stocking boxes. You have to communicate with customers and with subordinates and managers and employers. Rapidly one can see how economics is itself a system of magic, because both systems employ material, gestural and semantic components to transfer power.

And after all of that, what do you get back? Scrolls! It may be in the form of a check or a direct deposit stub or as literal cash, but you always get a piece of paper detailing the exact amount of power you have generated, and the concurrent amount of power you are allowed to take out.

Seen in this light, capitalism is no moralistic issue, but rather an efficient and empowering tool. With money you can buy a car to travel farther and faster than you ever could on foot. You can buy a large screen television and view pictures from around the world or interact with entirely fantastic made-up environments. You can eat food that couldn't possibly be grown locally. You can refashion your own body with technological upgrades, and add makeup and costuming to turn you into another person entirely.

We live, in short, in the grandest and most rampant age of magic on record. The only thing that keeps us from seeing it is the belief that there is nobility in poverty. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Before you can shuck off those shackles of poor-think, though, there's another lesson to be learned. Now that you know what money is, you need to learn exactly how much of it you need.

As stated above, I sell a lot of lottery tickets to people. I find the lottery to be an asinine exercise, the very zenith of a mode of thinking that keeps people from realizing how rich they actually are. Particularly enraging are the folks who only buy tickets when the jackpot is above 100 million or so. I can just imagine the sympathy for the guy who accidentally buys a ticket and wins a mere ten million: "awwww, you poor, poor man. Tough luck, my friend."

One time I asked one of these folks: what's your plan for ten million dollars? I received an uninspired mishmash of half-answers: "pay off my bills, pay off my truck, maybe buy another truck, save some" -- all of which would represent perhaps $200,000 in funds, not even a single million. Eventually their meanderings ended in the inevitable "I don't know."

That, in a nutshell, is most people's first mistake about money: they don't have a clue about how much they actually need. Put another way, if you don't have a plan for what to do with ten million dollars -- or at least a vague idea -- then the exact amount of money you do not need is ten million and one dollars. A hundred million is nowhere on the discussion table.

And that's exactly why they remain poor. If you have no concept of how much you need, then by default you exist in a state of never having enough. The lottery is a prime example of how ridiculous a level this mode of thinking can be taken to: just what the Hell would you do if you actually won a hundred million dollars? Start your own space program? What could you ever possibly need that sheer amount of power for? By keeping people in a perpetual state of always thinking they need more money, those who have learned how to navigate the systems of power that the world has to offer can efficiently keep those people from ever becoming rich, no matter how much money they actually have.

Friends, there's a better way, and I'm going to tell it to you now.


The secret is to ACT LIKE YOU'RE RICH!

No matter how much money you have, no matter how many bills you have to pay, no matter how many hours you work, START THINKING LIKE YOU'RE RICH RIGHT NOW.

Say you have ten dollars in your pocket. If you use that ten dollars to pay off a fifty dollar cable bill, you are not rich. The cable company is not going to turn your cable back on for a partial payment; you have basically given them a free power transfer for no benefit to yourself.

BUT, if you use that ten dollars to buy ten one dollar burgers and eat them all in one sitting and then THROW UP because you ate too much, YOU SIR ARE RICH!

I'm going to now tell you about one of the richest people I know. He goes by the name Sky, and he's a customer at our store. He comes in and buys burritos and Mountain Dew Code Red Big Gulps with food stamps. He is homeless.

Once, Sky found a week long bus pass lying around at a bus terminal. He picked the pass up and rode the bus for a week. Let me explain that again: he rode the bus for a week just because he could. He had no destination in mind. He didn't use it to get from point a to point b. The destination was the bus itself. He decided that the best use of this bus pass was to actually use as much of it as possible, so he spent a week riding around all over the city, playing his PSP, and then getting off and trying out another bus route for a while. He did this for a whole week.

That action alone is far and away richer than most people I know that own their own houses! The bus pass was not a means to an end: it was the end itself. THAT is thinking like a rich person.


Now, before you start thinking that this is some sort of Ayn Rand uber-capitalism notion, let me state that nothing could be further from the "Fuck You, I'm Rich" philosophy. One of the truly rich things you can do with your money is GIVE IT AWAY. When you start thinking like a truly rich person, you will be amazed at how much compassion and altruism naturally come about in your life.

At its essence, the "Fuck You, I'm Rich" philosophy is almost an exploit of Buddhism. Think of it this way: if you always have enough money for what you need, then you have no attachment to any one thing you need. You can always just get another. Since you have no attachment to any one thing, then you have no attachment to anything. You are free to simply become action.

Viewed from this perspective, it is easy to see how a rich mindset naturally produces charity for others. If you're not worried about money, you may as well give it away! I've often found that the absolute richest things I can do are pay for a friend's meal or buy someone something they can't otherwise afford. One friend whom has taken this philosophy to heart noted: the net amount of wealth in the world increases ones own individual capacity to be rich. By giving to the poor you are actually increasing your own richness, since money is activated power transfer, and you are the one directing the power.

Sometimes I'll offer to pay more for something on principle alone. The ironic thing is, when I try to do this, I often get a discount! When people recognize that you are rich, they will bend over backward to get you the things you need. Here's true story that illustrates an interesting example of that: my domestic partner and I recently had to transfer her medications to a new pharmacy so that she could continue to get them by mail. We had to go out to the supermarket where the pharmacy was, and there was an issue with her medical discount card. The pharmacists basically treated us like lepers because they thought we were poor, due to the discount card not working.

After a few runarounds with the insurance company and the pharmacy I finally just said: "How much to pay for these in cash?"

"That's very expensive, sir," said the female pharmacist at the counter.

"That's not the question I asked you. How much?"

She rang them up and told me the total, which was in excess of $500. I said, "Fine, please fill these perscriptions, we'll be back to pick them up in about ten or fifteen minutes." Then we went back into the market and browsed while we waited.

Suddenly, a man in a lab coat came running -- yes, literally running -- up the aisle at us. "Hey, are you the folks that just filled these prescriptions?"

"Yes, that's us," I said.

"Well, I just thought you should know that we have a discount program of our own through the market. If you like I can get the paperwork started for you now while you wait!"

I blinked, looked at my partner, looked back at the pharmacist. "Yes," I said, "that would be fine." We then got a tremendous discount on the medicine, easily over half the cost, because the perception of us had radically changed once I revealed that the amount of money was not going to stop us from acquiring what we needed. Suddenly we were no longer poor people who couldn't afford the medicines; we were rich people who could afford whatever we damn well pleased, and as such, we deserved respect.

We did deserve respect, because all people do. The problem lies in that they usually don't respect themselves first. No more: now everyone, everywhere can act like they're rich.


So, Chisa, how can *I* start acting like I'm rich today?

The first thing you need to do is realize that any amount of money you have is power. The amount itself is meaningless; a penny or a dollar or a hundred dollars or a million dollars are all just levels of power transfer, but if you have any amount of money at all, you are in the power transfer system! You have magic in your pocket and it is up to you, and no one else, to decide how to use it.

The second thing you need to do is figure out what you want to really, truly do with your power. Maybe you want to be a rock star. Maybe you want to write a great novel. Maybe you want to be a lawyer and represent corporations. Maybe you want to design the fastest car ever, and then break the land speed record driving it. Maybe it's doing nothing at all and lying around on your fat ass playing video games! It doesn't matter; the point is figuring out what it is and understanding that the only thing keeping you from it is the amount of power transfer required to get to that goal.

The third thing you need to do is put your power into achieving the goal. If you need more power, acquire it by whatever means are available. Remember that you always have options because your power is yours, not someone else's. If you have to let a bill slide for two months to get yourself to a position you need to be in, then LET THAT FUCKER SLIDE.

I'm not saying you shouldn't pay your bills, mind you; one of the richest things you can possibly have is NO DEBT. I haven't had a credit card for my entire life. I do have a Visa debit card now, tied to my bank account, but if I overdraft it comes from my savings, not a credit card company. Think about that: I am so rich the overdraft protection for my bank account is my OTHER bank account.

What I am saying is that if you want to be truly rich, then your first and foremost focus should be getting the things done that you truly need to do. Another friend once noted: life gives us all homework assignments that have to be turned in before death. This essentially is the "Fuck You, I'm Rich" philosophy distilled to its purest form. Whether or not you believe that your life has meaning or reason or purpose, it does have a self-directed goal, even if that goal is "do as little as possible." It's your duty to see that goal reached, but you can't ever do that if your default mode of thinking is that you're too poor to accomplish anything.

So for Pete's sake, START ACTING RICH!