“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” –John Adams
Have no doubt, we are a conquered and enslaved nation, and debt is the method of our enslavement. Each made-out-of-thin-air dollar is an invisible link on an invisible chain that keeps us codependent on a corrupt system. Most households are drowning in various forms of debt. It is a way of controlling us; making us weak, afraid, and financially unstable. But as Malcom Gladwell wrote, “There comes a point where the best-intentioned application of power and authority begins to backfire.” It doesn’t matter if the people who implemented the system had good intentions. The system has backfired, and it’s up to us to fire back.
Here’s the thing: All equations drop to zero when debt is our slave master. The heart is greed and bloody-mindedness in such a state, unless it’s tricked out of its condition. Death sleeps on the one-way-only-street of this heart, a pigeon for a pillow. What’s needed is a kind of rebirth. What’s needed is a kind of Phoenix rising out of the ashes. What’s needed is the David of our heart finding the courage to face the Goliath of the debt system. Here are three powerful ways to turn the tables on guilt and debt.
Transform Debt Into Audacity
So you’re in debt. What does that even mean? In the basic face-to-face sense, it means you “owe” someone money. Sometimes you’re able to pay someone back, and sometimes you’re unable. In a person-to-person agreement debt is what it is. But in the postmodern sense it means, as Ambrose Bierce defined, “Debt, n: An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slavedriver.” It is this type of debt: aggrandized debt, hyperreal debt, illegal and illegitimate debt, and debt used as systematic oppression, that this article is attacking.
Let’s say you kicked the bucket right now. What would your debt “mean” then? Like Shakespeare said, “He that dies pays all debts.” Let’s say you owe 100K in student debt. So what? They can take away a car. They can take away a house. They can take away land. But they cannot take away your education. They can, however, garnish your wages. So you have to be cunning. You have to muster an outside-the-box type courage that verges on impudence. You have to turn the tables on caveat emptor (buyer beware) with –the way more relevant– caveat venditor (lender beware). In short: you have to transform debt into audacity. Like Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton said, “Youth is in danger until it learns to look upon debts as furies.”
Here’s the thing: you only live once (as far as we know). So it behooves us to make the best out of it. Getting an education is a stellar way of making the best out of your life. So what the system is corrupt and makes us pay too much for higher education. Get an education anyway. Debt be damned! Carry your debt with honor. Then transform it into audacity. Use your student debt as a sword of truth: money is an illusion, debt is an illusion. The only reason it “means” anything is because we agree, psychosocially, that it means something. We can just as easily agree that it “means” less than life, less than the heart, less than human flourishing, less than almost anything that has real, objective value: food, water, shelter, and basic human needs. We could agree with this, and thus properly align ourselves with cosmic truth. Debt is a fiction. The problem is, we too often confuse fiction and non-fiction. So it goes.
The man of courage, the man of audacity, the man who realizes that debt is nothing more than a cartoon in the brain, does as Henry Longfellow wrote: “He looks the whole world in the face, for he owes not any man.”
Transform Fear and Guilt Into Fearless Forgiveness
Metaphorically speaking: Fear is a dragon. Guilt is a king. Both must be “overcome” in order for our authentic self to emerge, in order to buy back our soul. Each one of us has our own dragon to slay. Each one of us has our own king to dethrone. Nobody else can do it for us. It is our responsibility alone. We slay the dragon of fear by transforming fear into courage. We dethrone the king of guilt by transforming guilt into forgiveness. But it’s not easy. There are pitfalls and setbacks galore. As George Orwell said, “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” And even if we should achieve a state of fearless forgiveness, there is always power tempting us into becoming too powerful, enticing us to make our power absolute.In order not to become a tyrant, we must ––after slaying the “dragon” and dethroning the “king,” after bringing peace and order back to the “Kingdom”–– give up our power, relinquish the throne, and then continue our journey. Wisdom comes with a curious mixture of taking responsibility for our prior choices and actions while being as creative as possible in finding new ways to continue our journey. The journey is the thing. Even at the expense of power, and maybe even especially at the expense of power.
Here’s the thing: self-pity is poison. Don’t act out of self-pity; act out of self-love. Make peace with the too-heavy guilt inside you. Untangle the Gordian Knot of your heart. Confronting your demons is the only way to unravel the binds that have bound you to your own fear and guilt. A courageous person sees that fear and guilt are always an invitation to growth. Like Warren Buffet warns, “the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” Don’t wait until the chains of fear and guilt are too heavy to be broken. Break them now, before “now” becomes obsolete. Free yourself now, before freedom itself is outlawed.
Transform Moral Duty Into Amoral Duty
I’ve often said, “In an immoral system amoral action is a moral duty. One must amorally rebel so that morality may exist.” This is a powerful concept precisely because of entrenched systems of power and the complacent and inert human beings that mostly unknowingly uphold them. It’s powerful because, if taken and applied sincerely, it compels us to live adventurously, playfully, and it inspires deep intimacy with the cosmos.
“How many adventure films does it take to compensate for a lack of adventure? How many superhero movies must one watch to compensate for the atrophied expression of one’s greatness? How much pornography to meet the need for intimacy? How much entertainment to substitute for missing play?” –Charles Eisenstein
“Moral duty” is a tool used to keep you complacent, contented, comfortable, unworried and smug. “Amoral duty” is a tool used to keep you aware, uncomfortable, vigilant, imaginative, and proactive.
In an unhealthy, unsustainable, unjust, and immoral system such as ours –one that forces us to sell our souls to it in order to survive– it behooves us to be amoral agents of the first order, and to buy our souls back. But the currency isn’t monetary; it’s dealt in courage. The exchange is done through fearlessness and insouciance, despite existing power structures or so-called authorities.
In order to “purchase” our souls back from the clutches of tyranny, we must be bold in the face of the cowardly. We must be audacious amidst the pusillanimous. We must be brave and thoughtful amongst all the spineless unthinking hypocrites. In order not to be the Devil’s plaything, we must be able to trick the devil. We turn the tables on evil by amorally rebelling against both heaven and hell. Like Albert Camus said, “I rebel; therefore we exist.” We must rebel in order for our souls to be our own, so that we can realize that our souls are interdependent with all things. Indeed, in order to reap a healthy evolution, we may need to sow a little amoral revolution.