Mention the Forbes Global 2000 (formerly the Forbes 500) and most people acknowledge its respectability. The publication itself, however, reads like a People magazine for the American Dream. In a section named Leaderboard, the products of 44 billionaires form a narrative that relates “a day in the life” of an ostensibly successful person. The unintentional farce strikes the astute reader as woeful. What constitutes this day? Routine, distraction, caffeinating, consuming, and indulging. In short, habitual decadence. No mention of creativity, reflection, cooperation, let alone charity. Wait, a Cartier ring is found and returned to its owner. Redemption after all.
Money or some means of exchange has been part of life since the birth of civilization. Now it takes up the whole pie. We respect wealthy individuals regardless of how they obtain or spend their fortunes. In the media, no meaningful object can be introduced without attaching a price tag; no prominent person can be discussed without referencing salary or net worth. Money has become our absolute value. We speak of the bottom line as an inviolable truth. But money is not the bottom line. For human life to evolve, planet earth is the bottom line. A lifestyle defined by materialism and consumption cannot be ecologically sustained.
Under a restless and unbridled capitalism, ultimate reality and the perceivable world have become one and the same. Of course, we reply, meanwhile hungering for intense experiences to make us feel alive and foraging for opportunities to secure our place under the sun. Perhaps what we consider obvious explains the secret abyss of our culture: the rampant depression, sickness, and violence concealed beneath the smooth, commercial surface. People who sense this disparity pursue alternative lifestyles in response, but frequently encounter frustration and unhappiness as they struggle against the dominant, ever-present value system.
Despite the abundance of spiritual options available in contemporary society, an individual’s ability to intuit a noumenal dimension that in turn tempers their behavior remains a rare trait. Cultural divides—economic, political, and doctrinal—characterize the tenor of public life. Naturally, the existence of conflict is unavoidable in human affairs, but the quality of that conflict can vary. Today we find ourselves overrun by graceless and quantitative values where people become bar graphs of wealth, fame, and power. Humility and moderation, qualities that recognize the limitations of sensory perception, are considered signs of uncertainty and therefore weakness in a world awash with convictions and framed by the culture of billionaire brands.