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Greed, for Lack of a Better Word, is Good

In The Colour of Money, Jason at Taste Better writes about how veganism shouldn’t be perceived as a sacrifice. Now, we’ve heard that before, many times, but his angle is different: he’s talking about money. He writes:

I honestly believe that there’s a percentage of the population who think if they go vegan they’ll have to leave their safe, secure job and then they won’t be able to pay their rent or mortgage.

I’m not talking about the cost of food; I’m talking about the belief that you can’t earn a decent living without somehow selling out your values.

I can claim a tad of expertise on this subject for several reasons:

  1. I ghostwrite and edit books for a living, and I’ve written nearly a dozen, including several NYT and National Bestsellers, about money (i.e., personal finance, financial planning, philanthropy).
  2. I work with nonprofits, trudging through the morass of baggage and negative associations boards of directors often have around–money.

One phenomenon common among people whose lives tend to be cause driven, and in that category I count activists such as vegans, and also people who refer to themselves as "spiritual" (and even some who would refer to themselves as "religious"), is the belief that, on some level, money is evil, unspiritual, or dirty. Worse than that, money is associated with the enemy: the exploiting evil doers. There’s a subconscious connection that is made that’s like a bad syllogism from the LSAT:

  • If exploiters are bad,
  • And exploiters have money,
  • Then if i have money, I am bad, just like the exploiters. I become one of them.

I know it’s ridiculous, but the subconscious does all sorts of things when you’re not paying attention. (Actually, everything it does it does when you’re not paying attention.) And if you’re one of the many people who have developed negative associations to wealth, I can virtually guarantee you’re not going to have a lot of money. Ever. And if you do, you’re going to find a way to lose it. Children of inherited wealth know this better than anyone. They find the most creative ways to blow through their wealth because they have such strong negative associations to money.

In the early 90s, when I was getting my doctorate at New York University, one of the buzz phrases, which is now tired, was paradigm shift. That’s what most Americans are in need of when it comes to money. Jason is right, it’s more difficult to get people to talk about money than sex–ask any therapist. But it’s time has come. And in defense of this particular paradigm shift, it is underway, although its sustainability in some areas (like nonprofits) seems a bit tenuous right now.

Jason writes:

[T]here are people who are vegan who think they have to eke out subsistence-level wages because they can’t think of any field of work where their values won’t be threatened. I’ve seen this lots of times, and in a lot of those cases the crap jobs they end up with involve work that’s generally seen as being non-vegan anyway, but hey, at least they’re not taking advantage of the situation, right?

I too see this all the time among activists and spiritual-types. And this might sound harsh, but in my experience, particularly with people who are skilled and educated, I have found that beneath all the righteousness is fear. Cowardice. If you concoct a way to become imprisoned by your own beliefs (because, let’s face it, poverty and bad jobs aren’t inherent in veganism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or even Catholicism, contrary to popular belief), you just might be terrified of what would happen if you liberated yourself from the shackles of the evils of wealth.

The more money you have, the more power you have, the more (consumer and other) votes you have, and the more responsibility you have. For some people, consciously or not, that’s terrifying, and they’ll do whatever they can to avoid it.

Why not look at it this way: The more money you make, the more you can give to whatever causes are important to you. I make up to $90,000 for each book I write, not including royalties, and I have written four books in a year. I also have other work, like reviewing grants for the federal government. And I write grants for nonprofits and serve on boards. I do what I love and I make a great living. And because of that great living–which once included a book by an equestrian, believe it or not–I can do more for animals, people and the planet.

If you don’t appreciate everything money can do for you, you’ll never be in a position to appreciate everything money can do for you.

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