The Dow or The Tao

No stocks or bonds, no savings account, no credit cards. Essentially I am an economic non-person, living on the cheap. The upside of this is no debt, the downside is few luxuries, at least of the type that the mythical "average American" takes for granted. Typical aspirations or ambitions of the so-called middle class are things, for whatever reason, with which I was never burdened. One does not get rich like this.

Like many of my fellow baby-boomers, in the 60's I took psychedelic drugs and was exposed to ways of thinking - and perceiving things - that were in direct contradiction to everything that was taught in high school. These experiences also clashed badly with the assumptions of life in the (lower middle class) suburbs. Work ethic, religion, the nuclear families in lookalike boxes, the dads commuting to the city every day, the moms trapped in the little boxes with the kids, democrats and republicans...I sensed that something was wrong with all this. So I became a "bad" kid in high school, and it came to a point where the principal called my two best friends into the office and told them I was a bad influence, and to stop hanging around with me. They bought it, and the very next day I received nothing but blank stares from both of them.

After successfully dodging the draft in summer of '64 (barely a month after high school graduation, I got the letter from Uncle Sam), I began marshalling whatever forces I could muster up to get out of the oppressive little New England town. I made two halfhearted attempts to get a regular job, only to see that they were basically slavery and could eat up one's life in a struggle to maintain an illusion of "security." By the late 60's I was no longer a juvenile delinquent, but a "hippie." Beatniks, delinquents, hippies - these were my people. The hippies were a bit different, though. They were taking weird drugs and exploring things like eastern mysticism, zen, yoga, witchcraft and so on, all vaguely for the purpose of trying to figure out the nature of and reason for existence. Such ideas had not been flying around in the little boxes of the suburbs.

It didn't take long before the hippie thing degenerated into a fashion trend and a way for some men to hustle young girls. But for me the question remained - what is existence, and why? Religions pretended to have an answer for this: "Because God said so."

Wall St. had another answer: profit. The purpose of life was to make money, by means of buying and selling stocks and shares of big business operations. This was indicated in something called the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The Dow. Wow. People accumulated wealth trading, essentially nothing. Pieces of paper that said one owned a piece of something like Colgate-Palmolive, makers of toothpaste and dish soap. And this was their religion.

Sometime in the hippie era I heard about something called the Tao, meaning "the Way." About a way to live, I supposed. The Tao said things like this:

Inflexible soldiers cannot win (a victory).

And the hardest trees are readiest for an axe to chop them down

Tough guys sink to the bottom, while

Flexible people rise to the top.

I doubt that "the top" here refers to fame or financial success. Whenever I hear a news report and they come to the Dow (and they always do, assuming that everyone listening is fretting about their investments), I think of the Tao and the irony of the similar pronunciation. Depending on the mood, I either laugh or get irritated. I am, after all, flexible.

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