How many of your heroes died in poverty?
I guess this has a little to do with what you'd consider to be your hero. Is it a personal figure, family member, or a celebrity, or a political or historical figure? In order for someone to be considered a hero, we must believe they have achieved some kind of measurable success, but what success even means varies from person to person. Is it fame, fortune, power, health, beauty, family, strong moral character, happiness, enlightenment, as many of these things as possible for one person to have? That's tough to define, but I think whatever we identify as success has a lot to do with what we strive for in our life.
I think about what I want to do with myself; comedy, travel, blog, art. I want to make a living doing those things, but those are all paths that are notoriously impoverished. Part of me is fine with that; I'm a minimalist. I own as little as I can, and I don't want to accumulate much. My definition of success is just to live the way I want off of these passions of mine. They give me a sense of purpose. They drive me, make me ambitious. I would like to be able to do these things regardless of my monetary situation.
Coming to that realization made me understand something else; in order to do those things regardless of money, I would need influence. Okay, so what is influence?
In a nutshell, influence is the ability to have an effect on another person's behavior. There's two ways to have influence, then. One, as a method to elicit cooperation when no incentive is apparent, or two, dominate and force cooperation when there is no apparent incentive.
I think a lot of people, at least if I'm any indication, are inclined to like the idea of influence to incite cooperation. We're social animals, and generally speaking, social animals have adapted a survival strategy in which the individuals benefit the group in order to maintain numbers. It's pretty common among complex predators. Cooperative hunting has been adapted by everything from whales to wolves in order for their numbers to be sustained. The more the groups work together, the easier it is to protect and nurture their young as they develop, as the more complicated an animal is, the longer it tends to take to mature. Living in communities allows more complex organisms to develop and develop their young with less risk. In this sense, cooperation is implicit, and there's no real need for influence among animals.
Using animals as an illustration for human influence has its caveats. For one, the understanding of how the different social structures of social animals work is still being developed. It's no longer believed that there's an alpha male and female in wolf packs, for example. New evidence suggest that some alpha male primates are simply better at being social with all members of their troupe, because being likeable allows them to maintain their position when they get older and more likely to be usurped. Partially, our understanding of animals is too limited to really carry on the comparison, but likewise, we've done something with our sphere of influence to make it far more complex than a natural social group would allow for; we developed barter, and later, money.
In its origins, money was a great equalizer. It was a way to insure cooperation between different territories. Unlike animals, who would have to invade territories and take food from other packs, humans developed a system of barter so items could be exchanged peacefully. You have more meat, we have more pottery. Having an item to exchange was a method of influencing another social group or person. If you give me yours, I'll give you mine.
Barter leveled the playing field even further with the development of money that made different items equivalent in proportion to a standardized item of value, be it coins or cowry shells. By giving a material form to influence, and then standardizing that material so that it could be redistributed, we created a way to offer influence to people who had none. Shoemakers wouldn't have to starve just because the baker already had shoes. The shoemaker had money now from the merchant who needed shoes, which he could then offer to the baker and buy bread.
Money, in its infancy, was a great opportunity to encourage cooperation, but having this standard, material symbol for influence didn't come without repercussions. Stealing money from someone offered a far more effective form of influence than simply stealing their bread. Because it was standardized, money became capable of doing pretty much whatever someone wanted to do with it. Like a proverbial Klondike Bar, everyone potentially has a price for everything. If you have enough to cover it, you can control someone.
You could convince a mercenary to murder somebody for you, or, as we're more apt to witness, you could run the country. If you were born into money, it means you have a continued influence over people even if you have no real right, skill, or need to do so. With that capability, it's not hard to see how so many people seized an opportunity they simply would not have had if they weren't born into it. You could sway the way that nations were run despite the opinion of the masses, the opinions that are meant to influence the people in power.
A very blunt (and hopefully not particularly controversial) example of this is current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
DeVos was born into the family of a billionaire, and is married to the heir of the Amway corporation. Devos has been politically active (in terms of education) since the early '00s and a consistent donor to the Republican party. To quote:
My family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right.
DeVos' policies aside, and the fact that she has influence over public schooling despite never having gone to one or sent her children to one, she is openly admitting the divide that money as influence has created. She wanted power, and she obtained it through being wealthy. It's not something she worked for or has even really demonstrated any prowess at. The policies she proposes show little if any understanding of how education funding can help impoverished children or the consequences of charter school vouchers. To see what she does over the next four years will be interesting, and if nothing else, completely illustrative of one person's influence obtained solely through money.
If someone openly admits buying a political presence, does that then concede that in our capitalist culture, money is the only way to achieve influence? Did our creation of dollars and cents knock down basic human elements that make a person influential into the footnotes of someone's qualifications? What would the policies proposed by a teacher who simply ran on the backs of the support of people who believed they had simply figured it out, and is such a thing possible?
For that matter, can any position of power be considered sustainable without money as a concrete symbol of one's influence? We tend to reward positions of perceived prestige with more money (school teachers being one of the most bizarre exceptions). That's the difference to a comedian of selling out thousands of seats with name only compared to a small fry struggling to fill a local show not only with their name, but bribes to friends and family members.
We invented money as a way to level the playing field, but its development over time has left some pretty rocky terrain, but that's unanimous, right? Currency was developed in pretty much ever civilization, and we all have a way of using that system to our benefit. Turns out, yes and no. The rejection of money isn't reserved to millennial cynics and communists, empires and prominent influencers of history have found ways around it...
Looking at how groups work as a whole rather than as individuals. Or something like that.