Kosslyn: Got monopoly money?

You have just passed Go. Collect $200 of Monopoly money. If you land on an available consulting job and have sufficient Monopoly money, you may take the job. If somebody else has already taken the job, cede them a little of your Monopoly money. If you don’t have any job lined up, pay them double.

The presidency of the Yale Prestige Club is unclaimed. You should try to land on it — it will yield considerable Monopoly money over the next few years, especially if you build a house for the club.

Community chest. Your play goes to Broadway. Collect $400 of Monopoly money. Furthermore, your five closest friends each collect $25 of Monopoly money every time they tell someone they know you.

What is Monopoly money? It’s how we keep score in this crazy social game we are all playing. Some of us are more invested in the game than others, but all Yalies have a piece on the board. The game has winners: those with hotels on Park Place, successful extracurriculars, flashy clothes, the works. The game has losers: those with all their property mortgaged, semesters spent wandering aimlessly, few friends, poor hygiene. Monopoly money permeates the world and takes its toll on our approach to life — though we rarely pause to think about it in such stark, explicit terms.

We encounter Monopoly money all over. Where you went on vacation often counts: “I went to Mexico!” cannot compete with “Well, I went to Hong Kong!” Your major counts: EP&E surpasses political science — similar material, more Monopoly money. Extracurriculars count, particularly secret societies. And your background counts: boarding school, private school, magnate school.

Monopoly money is just an idol. If you prick it, it does not bleed. Monopoly money does not inevitably satiate or comfort. To love it unduly is to engage in idol worship. In many ways, Monopoly money is a distraction — attention would often be better spent immersing oneself in hopes and fears and friends and family. Those are alive.

But hating Monopoly money is as unproductive as loving Monopoly money. Inanimate things are not intrinsically good or evil; it all depends on how they are used. If you put Monopoly money to worthwhile use — where the value accrues to others — then avarice is no vice. Look at our mini-verse: those in charge of Yale — Levin, Salovey and company — seem genuinely interested in leveraging their considerable Monopoly money for the betterment of the community. We’re not just pieces in their zero-sum game — which is probably why we feel comfortable entrusting them with so much Monopoly money.

Then look at the player in your section — the win-at-all-costs kid in the pink polo and monogrammed sunglasses. He is wrapped up in the game and likely leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. His sacred text is the Monopoly rulebook; his justice is the roll of the dice. The dice are indifferent to his feelings, so why should he care about the feelings of others? He is acting on a different set of rules — and morality isn’t in the index.

The trick seems to be creating a semi-permeable membrane between one’s core self and the part of oneself that is playing the game. Both layers are necessary — the first makes you a real human being, the second enables you to be successful in the world — and a high wall between them leads to inauthenticity and ungroundedness. So it is best to use Monopoly money as a tool without being a tool.

Reality, unlike Monopoly, is not a zero-sum game, so as long as we pay attention to other people, most everyone can flourish. While we are here, we can spend our Monopoly money to help people, ourselves included, grow. But when the lights go dim and we depart the game, left behind will be a stack, or a pile or a mound of brightly colored paper.

Comments

  • Low-Monopoly-Value Comment

    Excellent read.

    What is considered Monopoly Money in our culture usually sheds wisdom on what is in fact worthwhile.

    It's easy to poke fun at the instances when Monopoly Money is being used purely as superficial gloss, but other than that, one shouldn't apologize for being predisposed towards its pursuit.

    Examples of Worthwhile Monopoly Money:

    1) Being "cultured" in Art/Theater/etc

    2) Possessing Ivy League Degrees

    3) Pursuing High Positions in well established organizations (because most of these organizations are worthy of at least some of their praise)

    4) Reading well-established News Papers (NYTimes, WSJ) vs. the other trash on the market

    I could go on, but I hope you get my point: "monopoly money" isn't always bad - in fact, it's usually good.

    Finally, an anecdotal observation: those who point the finger and cry "Monopoly Money!" in public are almost always the ones who themselves have no Monopoly Money but wish they did (this obviously does not apply to the author).