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#35: The ABC of money, part 6: financial nobility, step 3
17th May, 2021
Welcome to the Idiot Money newsletter. The newsletter that figured it was about time for some good news.
This week: becoming wiser with money by understanding that you can put a stop to self-deceptive, self-destructive beliefs.
This is part six of our series on using Axiomatic Buddhist Concepts as a practical means to help us live better with money. See also Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. This part covers The Third Noble Truth, including the cheery news that we’re not all completely doomed.
The biggest problem with money is acknowledging the self-deceptive, self-destructive beliefs we’ve built up that determine how we live with it (because, of course, the point of self-deception is that we’re sure it’s only a problem for other people). After acknowledgement comes better news: these bullshit beliefs can be overcome.
That the same human machinery that enables greatness commonly leads us to spiral into a meaningless abyss is a bit annoying at times, but an infantile and inhuman division of the world into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ has never done anyone any good. No abyss would mean no greatness; only vampires cast no shadows.
Still, even if you’ve grown out of being afraid of the dark – by acknowledging the inevitable and incessant threat of being led astray by your own maps – dwelling there does start to drag. Fortunately, this part and the next – covering the Third and Fourth Noble Truths (aka ennobling provocations) – aim at something cheerier.
For the Third tells us that the cessation of ‘suffering’ (self-deceptive, self-destructive behaviour) is possible, and the Fourth tells us how to bring it about.
To make the most of this marvellous news, recall from the First Noble Truth what this self-deceptive, self-destructive behaviour is; namely, a loss of agency – a narrowing of one’s view of who they could become, or how the world could be. Acting like an addict, in other words.
The forces that shape your relationship with money are a constant threat to your sense of agency over your life.
This is important, because it is only when we treat the things we do that we deep down don’t want to do as addictions that we can hope to stop doing them. The alternative – brushing such acts off as quirks – leaves us so confused that the solutions we try never work that we keep on trying the same idiotic ones to the same idiotic ends, reinforcing unhelpful behaviours rather than rescuing ourselves from them.
Remember too that:
Our self-deceptive tendencies are a complex, self-organising, adaptative system – a system that adapts to try to preserves itself as you try to destroy it. Change it in one place and it reorganises in another to compensate.
We saw some examples of this in Idiot Money #32, where surface-level solutions act not as inspirations to dig deeper, but as substitutes for doing so. Like believing you’re dealing with uncertainty by slamming some numbers into a cash-flow model.

Monstrous cookies

There’s an undignified trend in certain circles for the word ‘complex’ to trigger a reactive ‘you just don’t understand it well enough’ accompanied by a motivational-poster meme suggesting nuclear physicists are all wasting their time because they’d be better off reading a couple of Richard Feynman books.
Sometimes this is welcome. For example, as an antidote to the belief the finance industry invests so much in maintaining – that investing is scarier and more complicated than you could possibly imagine – so even when it takes half your future growth without you knowing, you end up thanking it for doing so.
But most of the time it’s garbage. As I went into in Idiot Money #3:
True complexity is irreducible. When people see scary numbers-based ‘complexity’ in finance, what they are seeing isn’t complexity, but complication. Because people are either being stupid or trying to sell you something, simple things are made complicated such that we praise those who cut through the crap, rather than blaming those who put the crap there in the first place. While complications can be dissolved, to ‘simplify’ a complexity is to distort it, resulting not in simplified, but simplistic. It’s comforting, but crap.
By all means break a life down for analysis, but if the aim is the living, not the analysing, don’t forget to put it back together again.
You don’t need a degree in Dynamic Systems Theory to make better financial decisions, but you do need to stop acting as if existential addictions are cured with fortune cookies.
This is where the Third Noble Truth comes in. Because it tells us how to deal with the irreducibly complex, self-organising, adaptive, dynamic system that is you, and all the silly things you do, while trying ever so darn hard not to.
The First Noble Truth told us that our human machinery leaves us constantly threatened by a loss of agency over our lives. The Third Noble Truth tells us that we can recover this sense of agency. How? If a killer Twitter thread isn’t the answer, how do we deal with a complex dynamical system that is operating against us?
Remember from The Second Noble Truth that if there’s a spiral down, there’s also a spiral up: the same forces that mislead us down into addiction and attachment can be channelled to lift us up towards enlightenment.
Which is to say: we need to cultivate a counteracting complex dynamical system that is operating for us. The Fourth Noble Truth is that this counteracting complex dynamical system – the means to dissolving self-deceptive, self-destructive behaviour – is The Eightfold Path.
We’ll cover what the Eightfold Path can teach us about being better with money next time.

The act of grasping matters more than the thing being grasped

Before we go, it’s worth noting that embedded in the lesson of The Third Noble Truth is that ‘suffering recedes […] to the extent that we let go of the whole framework of grasping.’ (Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche). The forces that deceive us are overcome not by fighting, or by swapping one addiction for another, but by unhooking from the whole addictive circus.
Anyone who’s ever transitioned from treating meditation or yoga less like a CrossFit workout to more as a means of connecting with their body and their breath will understand the difference between relaxing into rather than resisting. You can hold a pose by struggling, or surrendering. One is both less stressful and more sustainable.
To be truly transformative, this letting go needs to go beyond not buying garish new wallpaper. It needs to operate on the level of your character, instead of what you have, or even what you believe.
To let go of worries – be that about money or anything else – requires more than being told to chill.
It requires letting go of the framework that generated those worries, and will continue to generate new ones, and relaxing into a less friction-fuelled framework instead.
You don’t do this by denouncing the objects of your or other people’s obsession. For that is to keep the object as the focus: denunciation is still stuck in the framework of grasping.
You do it by playing a completely different game.
That’s the subject of next time.
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