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In which John wonders whether enough is actually enough.

Awesome Socks Club opens on 11/4:

(All proceeds go to charity, not least because Hank and I have more than enough.)

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So there's this story about the novelists Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller attending a party together-- by the way, good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.
The party's an extremely lavish affair hosted by a billionaire, and Vonnegut says to Heller, "Jo, isn't it funny that our host makes more money in a day than you ever made from your beloved best-selling novel, "Catch-22"?" 
And Heller is like, "Yeah, that is funny, but I have something our host will never have." And Vonnegut says,
"What's that?" And Heller says,

I've used this story for years to remind myself that I have enough, but also to remind me that most people on earth do not have enough. Many people do not have enough food, or enough clean water, and most people do not have enough savings or enough to access excellent medical care.

But in my experience, even those of us who do have enough often feel as if we don't. There's always something missing; more security, or power, or money, that stands between us and true "enough-ness". 

For me, it's always been about security. The feeling I am trying to avoid all the time is "precarity", the feeling of being close to the edge, and not having a say in whether I go over it.

But of course having adequate distance from precarity turns out to be 1) impossible, and 2) In so far as it is possible, actually a pretty terrible idea.
Let's start with why it's impossible:

Wealth and privilege insulate people from many kinds of precarity in profoundly unjust ways, and I think that is important to acknowledge. But ultimately there is no getting around the big precarity, which is that I and everyone I love will die.

When I was young, I thought I could solve this problem by writing books that would last, books that would survive even though I wouldn't, but I eventually realised that is , of course, a fool's errand. Books also don't live forever, and anyway, like, that's not why books exist. They exist to be helpful to the people who find them. And then my next idea was that even if my work couldn't last, my legacy could, through philanthropy. Like, I would build up this huge charitable trust and then once it was really big, it would start donating 5% of its resources per year or whatever, to create charities, and then my impact would stretch through the years.

The problem with this strategy is that I was still trying to maintain some kind of control or agency that would survive even after by body didn't, right? Also, I was conveniently forgetting the fact that if you donate money now, it's true that it no longer grows under your control, but it still grows. It grows in the form of more kids surviving to adulthood and more people having educational opportunities and so on. And that growth is actually much more transformational and important than, like, the appreciation of stocks. 

Now, I want to be clear that I insulate myself from precarity in as many ways as possible. Like, I quit smoking 20 years ago because it was making my life more precarious, I have insurance to make my life less precarious, and I have financial security, which makes a billion things less stressful and more possible, from taking professional risks to getting my kids any support they need.

And of course it's human, wonderfully human, to try to protect those we love. There's nothing wrong with that. But one thing I have noticed over the years is that when rich people only spend time with other rich people, they do not feel rich; they feel normal.

And this arrives at what I really don't like about the people who have enough: it is so easy to forget that we have enough. In fact, let me stop using "we" and start using "I". I forget that I have enough because, in trying to insulate myself from precarity, I can also make myself distant from the reality of suffering. And if I were more proximal to that suffering, I would use more of my resources to try to alleviate it. And too often, in trying to insulate myself and those I love from the realities of suffering, I am also looking away from injustice, and inequity, and impoverishment, and if having enough means having enough to not have to face those realities, then enough is simply too much.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.