Does money measure everything? Is it the arbiter of success, genius, some innate quality that defines self-worth? Is money worship itself a uniquely American phenomenon? I’m curious because I’ve recently heard someone call Elon Musk the smartest person alive. An idea that never occurred to me because it’s the kind of assertion that would elicit riotous laughter. He’s a successful businessman, sure. He’s taken risks, timed the market, and it has paid off for him on a scale many of us can never imagine. The same goes for Jeff Bezos and any other fabulously wealthy entrepreneur. Their monetary success isn’t up for debate. But geniuses? The smartest people on earth?
Let’s assume it was true. We would be in dire straits as a society, nation, and even global community if the best minds among us were dedicated to attaining material wealth. It would be an indictment of the civic order. It would have to mean that we are not far removed from running around in a survivalist daze, armed with giant clubs, and bashing each other’s skulls in. It would denote that we are living in a social darwinist hellscape. Which may be the case. I guess I’m no longer sure. We aren’t equipped to honestly evaluate our present and come to a definitive conclusion about how it compares to other eras or how it will be remembered. History does that. People with power I mean. Maybe this is the era of naked winner-take-all monetary competition as a proxy for individual worth. Who knows what comes after that.
There are tens of thousands of people out there every day doing the hard work of endless trial and error to answer big and small existential questions. They aren’t on television, don’t have twitter accounts nor a cadre of acolytes doing their bidding on social media. Their heads are buried in books and laboratories, solving complex problems nobody will ever know or care about. Those are the real geniuses. I’m sure they would agree the idea of identifying someone as ‘the smartest’ is an entirely subjective exercise not worthy of any serious person’s time. And that’s the problem isn’t it. Silly rankings and commodified personhood takes up so much of our headspace. It’s the currency we trade in and convert into monetary value so we can compare ourselves to each other.
Money is nice but you don’t have be nice, good looking, talented, or smart to get it. I think it’s important people don’t ever forget that.