Does Money Own You?

Press Start for “Does Money Own You?” by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.

Ep.37: Does Money Own You?
Georg Simmel
We love money. People with it love to flaunt it, and those without it wish they had it. Money can make possible our deepest fantasies: big yachts and lavish parties for some, or, for others, a sizeable video game collection and the time to play it all. But despite our desire to acquire more money, many are left to ponder the eternal question: does mo’ money equal mo’ problems?

Written by: Eugene Wolters
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Animation Consultant: Matt Reichle
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon

Does Money Own You?

We love money. People with it love to flaunt it, and those without it wish they had it. Money can make possible our deepest fantasies: big yachts and lavish parties for some, or, for others, a sizeable video game collection and the time to play it all. But despite our desire to acquire more money, many are left to ponder the eternal question: does mo’ money equal mo’ problems?

But first, let us imagine a world without money. A world where we’re simply stuck with all of the useless power-ups we’ve acquired through our journeys. You could, in theory, try to trade somebody 500 turnips for a nice frog suit, but it’d be a hard bargain. Without money, we’re stuck bartering for goods that only both parties directly want. Until the widespread adoption of money, this was the reality for many peasants and farmers. If you grow nothing but turnips, you better hope the person you want to trade with needs them.

In a money economy, life becomes much easier. Money lets us turn what we own and produce into anything we want. Excess mushrooms can become cold hard cash, and that cash can become a fire flower, a super leaf or even a warp whistle. Money allows people to explore their inner desires, by enabling them to exchange their goods and services for much more than they could achieve by bartering alone. This money economy, according to German philosopher Georg Simmel, was deeply liberating.

But money has a dark side as well. Money, according to Simmel, doesn’t simply stop at economic liberation. When money becomes symbolic of all value, it allows anything to be exchanged for anything else, until everything has a price. Everything can be bought: experiences, friends, armies, governments, even romance. Money erodes the social relations that used to dictate behavior, like community, religion or family, and puts in its place the laws of exchange. We’re instead left with a world that encourages us to put opportunity ahead of family, if the price is right.

Take, for instance, Yoshi. Yoshi is not only how Mario gets around, he’s a trusted companion and friend to Mario. Yoshi may not be the most efficient way to get around, or even the best dinosaur companion. But Yoshi is part of Mario’s life either way. In a money economy, the Yoshi can be reduced to a mere economic value, he is interchangeable and disposable. Is Yoshi too slow? Get a car. Not fierce enough? Get a T-Rex.

What does it say of our own humanity when our self-worth can be compared with and exchanged for a super star or a nice goomba shoe? Are we just replaceable cogs in a money-driven machine?

Money doesn’t just dehumanize us, it also affects our inner psyche- it has turned us into cynics.

In a world where everything is a simple number, everything starts to look the same. Every experience and sensation can be bought and sold. A once-coveted raccoon suit is just a few coins and a click away from being yours. The difference between a turnip and a castle is now entirely quantifiable. We become unimpressed and uninterested in the world around us. So we latch onto novelty. We like new music, until it becomes too mainstream. We complain about the tireless reboots of Hollywood films. Morality, politics and culture seem to be an endless repetition of the same.

For others, money doesn’t make us cynical; it makes us indifferent to the quality of things. We want more, not better. We want super-sized food, cars and houses. We become Mario, endlessly collecting coins that don’t do much of anything anyway.

Money, it seems, both liberates and entraps us. The question, dear viewer: is it possible to maintain our humanity in a money-driven world? Or does money own you?

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