Charlie Kaufman on Consumerism

I discovered this excerpt Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter and producer, gave at a lecture and thought it was profound.

People all over the world spend countless hours of their lives every week being fed entertainment in the form of movies, TV shows, newspapers, YouTube videos and the Internet. And it’s ludicrous to believe that this stuff doesn’t alter our brains.

It’s also equally ludicrous to believe that—at the very least—this mass distraction and manipulation is not convenient for the people who are in charge. People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colorful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, “What can we do to get people to buy more of these?

And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now. Politics and government are built on this, corporations are built on this. Interpersonal relationships are built on this. And we’re starving, all of us, and we’re killing each other, and we’re hating each other, and we’re calling each other liars and evil because it’s all become marketing and we want to win because we’re lonely and empty and scared and we’re led to believe winning will change all that. But there is no winning.

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How Much Money Is Enough?

Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave, let him know he has enough. — Walt Whitman

Back in undergrad, I met the founder of a successful brokerage company, Mark. He was in his late 50s, and by all accounts was the definition of success — at the top of his industry, had more than enough money, and was a nice guy.

At the end of our conversation, however, he admitted he was miserable. Some of his buddies from business school were making tens of millions of dollars — even hundreds — working at hedge funds, and despite the success of his company, he couldn’t keep up with them. He told me he’d been wanting to retire for many years, but he felt he had something to prove. The only way, of course, was to make more money than his colleagues. Retiring would mean that he had lost.

This made no sense to me at the time. For one, I was a freshfaced 18-year old who would have been happy to retire off of a fraction of what he was worth. But really, here was a guy who seemingly had it all and yet wasn’t satisfied. His idea of money as a measuring stick for success simply didn’t allow for him to retire, despite his waning interest and old age.

When I think back on this now, I’m reminded of a story Kurt Vonnegut recounted about his fellow writer Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, while they were at a party hosted by a billionaire hedge fund manager.

[more…]

“Joe,” I said, “our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel ‘Catch-22′ has earned in its entire history.”

Joe said, “Yes, but I’ve got something he can never have.”

“What on earth could that be, Joe?”

“Enough.”

It’s a beautiful story that reminds us of another perspective, that there is indeed more to life than the sole accumulation of money. I’ve seen this sentiment echoed by many millionaires and billionaires who reached the same conclusion after amassing great fortunes themselves. Peter Peterson, founder of the private equity group Blackstone, committed $1 billion to his charity foundation with the words “I have far more than enough.” Felix Dennis, publishing legend and self-made entrepreneur, regretted not stopping earlier in his pursuit of money. He writes, in his book ‘How to Get Rich’:

If I had my time again, knowing what I know today, I would dedicate myself to making just enough to live comfortably as quickly as I could. I would then cash out immediately and retire to write poetry and plant trees. But like an old, punch-drunk boxer, I couldn’t quit. I always craved just one more massive pay-day. It’s no excuse, but making money is a drug. Not the money itself. The making of the money.

Up to just seven years ago I was still working twelve to sixteen hours a day making money. With hundreds of millions of dollars in assets I just could not let go. Like I said, it was pathetic. Because whoever dies with the most toys doesn’t win. Real winners are people who know their limits and respect them.

Knowing what I know now, I’d send Mark this article if I could. To let him know that he had enough, that he had nothing he needed to prove. That he could and should retire in peace, with the knowledge that he had already made his dent in the universe.

Unfortunately, Mark is no longer with us. I’m not sure if he ever did retire, but I hope that he enjoyed the time he still had left. So while I can’t tell Mark now, I can still relay the message for myself and to others. I write this now as a reminder that one can always have enough money, but never enough time.

And if I ever do fall prey to the money bug, my only hope is that I’ll remember this post I wrote when I was 21, fairly broke, a bit naive, but happy with all I had.

Life Quotes From Marcus Aurelius

I was first introduced to Marcus Aurelius from Ryan Holiday, who has stated Meditations is his favorite book. I’ve found the wisdom profound, and have written here some of the words that spoke most to me.


It’s all in how you perceive it. You’re in control. You can dispense with misperception at will, like rounding the point. Serenity, total calm, safe anchorage.

The foolishness of people who are amazed by anything that happens. Like travelers amazed at foreign customs.

It never ceases to amaze me: We all love ourselves more than other people, but we care more about their opinion than our own.

Practice even what seems to be impossible. The left hand is useless at almost everything, for lack of practice. But it guides the reins better than the right. From practice.

i. That you’ve made enough mistakes yourself.
ii. That you don’t know for sure it is a mistake. A lot of things are means to some other end. You have to know an awful lot before you can judge other people’s actions with real understanding.
iii. When you lose your temper, or even feel irritated: that human life is very short. Before long all of us will be laid out side by side.

To live a good life: We have the potential for it. If we learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.

As you move forward in the logos, people will stand in your way. They can’t keep you from doing what’s healthy; don’t let them stop you from putting up with them either.

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