The Folly of Money
By Ben Brangwyn 29th September 2011
As well as my day job working full-time for Transition Network, I’m involved in several projects within Transition Town Totnes. One in particular gets me in contact with some colourful characters – the Totnes Pound.
People come in to talk about local currencies from all over the world, exchange sterling for t£s and in some cases, tell me an interesting story of their own. A couple of weeks ago, Ian Faulkner, a recent incomer to Totnes, breezed into the offices to gather a fistful of t£s. He let slip a comment about his dodgy past in the world of high finance. Smelling an interesting story, I probed more and got Ian to agree to write down his tale or riches and redemption (pending). I thought it’d be good to record a personal story that illustrates what most of us know – worshipping money isn’t the path to happiness.
Anyhow, read on for Ian’s tale.
The Folly of Money!
This is a tale of rags to riches and there has been a plethora of each of these, it is true. Yet mine is a tale with an unusual twist!
As I understand our recent history, we Western humans have been dominated by a socio-political culture that has educated and groomed us towards an addiction based on material possessions – a bigger house, a new car each year, designer clothes and endless plastic ‘essential’ materialism. This culture has taught us to yearn for all the fame and fortune money can provide.
Yet, do we ever stop, sit under a tree, commune with our inner intelligence and endeavour to examine exactly what money means?
Well, that’s my role, dear reader.
In my earlier life, I managed vast sums of money for pensioners, householders, the landed gentry, government agencies, our wealthy elite and princes. All had one common goal – to avoid losing a single penny while earnestly pursuing greater wealth, and in some cases, pursuing immeasurable riches.
Despite their wealth however, one common denominator stood out amongst my clients. The almost grotesque lack of joy, of happiness, or peace. A new Ferrari or Porsche every few months, or holidays in St Moritz couldn’t change it for them. And it wasn’t long before I realised that I was now infected by this disease. But I was having such a great time with my “mile-high club” life style and its two hundred pound bottles of champagne and an endless stream of first class flights around the world to really pay attention to that realisation.
And then “the dream” ended suddenly.
I found myself in a British prison. I had been summarily arrested by Her Majesty’s constabulary who, in my case, couldn’t be bothered with the cumbersome formalities of obtaining a warrant. They kept me on remand for eight hundred and fifty long days – nearly two and a half years.
Was it hell for me? In some ways, yes. I courted suicide – the coward’s way out some say. In other ways, not. Right from the start, with that memorable apple offered by a fellow inmate to nourish me in a time of need, I found much humanity in the people around me. And beyond that, I began a spiritual practice that helped me strive towards giving selfless service to my community – at that time the inhabitants of an old archetypal Victorian hellhole.
Twenty eight months later I was acquitted. “Wrongful arrest, unlawful imprisonment, assault and battery, together with humiliating treatment” was the verdict of the European court of Human Rights some nine years later. So even a pauper (as I had become) could summon great power!
And what of money now?
I had been lucky enough to undergo a wonderful liberation from the dross and arrogance of chasing money, and my blindness to what a life devoid of real purpose and fulfilment was doing to me had been lifted. A life of managing money for the purpose of turning it into yet more money was deeply unfulfilling for me. And almost certainly was not serving the deeper interests of most of my clients who in truth had so much already they couldn’t possibly have spent it anyway.
I could have come away from my experience at the hands of the British authorities being bitter and vengeful. But I didn’t. Life is a journey with many twists and turns. And, thanks to what I’ve learned over these past years, my vision of what can be, of what’s happening is now very different.
Much is changing now. I foresee a “return” to a new way of doing things. Clusters of communities that have a proper sense of purpose. Local money for life’s necessities. Community projects, preferably organised and operated by local people, for local people. Utilising local resources, our own co-operatives that address the needs Maslow identified as being important – food, clothing, shelter, a sense of belonging, self-fulfilment.
Here in my hometown of Totnes, we’ve made an encouraging and insightful start. We have a firm platform from which to build much higher levels of resilience. Examples are our many greengrocers selling locally grown (predominantly organic) produce. Good quality butchers, selling locally reared meats. Local wines and cheeses. We’re not there yet thought – we could do with a real local bakery. Totnes Renewable Energy Society, where even the parish poor can invest in their own future. Plus our very own Transition Town Totnes, which, I would argue, provides the hub and the momentum to formulate our very own Shangri-la!
So, what about money? Give it up, please. For it is folly. Except perhaps for a single gold coin, saved for a rainy day.
Ian Faulkner, Totnes, September 2011
No longer sporting designer jackets and swanning around in supercars, Ian can be seen around town wearing a locally-sourced, locally-spun, locally-knitted sweater, swinging his leg over a rather impressive Dutch bike with a look of contentment that evidently eluded him during that time of excess.
And just thinking about the likely changes ahead for us all, how many more hedge fund managers and city brokers are going to experience their own similar story arc over the next decade?