Happiness can’t buy you money

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

Money complicates everything. Always has. But money is the most necessary of all tangible evils. Without at least some of it, a person is doomed to a squalid existence of struggle and dissatisfaction. Money is power, they say; money is good. Money can make you an important person. Money can transform things. Such is life.

What is money? More importantly, what is wealth?

Money is the tool used to attain wealth. Money is not the key to happiness or purpose, and it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of one’s life pursuit. Money is an enabler. It allows one to purchase necessities of life and do a number of things in a lifetime. It purchases comfort.

Historically, America is rooted in communal values. America was founded partly on Puritanical work ethic, a notion summarized by labor omnia vincit, or Latin for “work conquers all.” Over the years, this country has decided that the goal of work is individual material and monetary wealth rather than communal wealth and social values like the Puritans tried to practice.

Today, we idolize money and the possessions it can buy. We can gossip and speak about personal matters like sex openly in society; yet talking about personal finances is considered among the biggest of faux pas.

On paper, Marxism, socialism and communism are arguably near-perfect systems of social and political economics. In practice, man screws it all up with his greed. Hobbes was right: human nature—however you define it—gets in the way.

I find it staggering that the sole reason many students are in college is to just get a job and make a lot of money someday. Shouldn’t the purpose of an education be to learn in an environment where it’s safe to sit around and think day and night? Shouldn’t students be in pursuit of knowledge?

Unfortunately, this is a deeply idealistic fantasy that needs to be let go. We live in the 21st century where the internet, iPhones, drones, television and constantly emerging technology rule our lives. The need for deep thinkers is dwindling in American society.

Take the developmental progress around robotics. A half-century ago, Henry Ford’s assembly line still dominated the automobile manufacturing industry. Last week, a friend sent me a History Channel exposé on American BMW factories. I learned production floors were almost exclusively populated by machines rather than people.

Case Western Reserve University is no different from the rest of society. Maybe it can’t be, but its obsession with money is getting more prevalent as each day passes.

Our culture demands recognition of money. For example, look at our bastion of egotism, the Tinkham Veale University Center. The 82,000 square-foot building’s name itself pays homage to a prolific donor. And there are other names all over the space, offering politicized recognition of the people who funded the project.

The Tink’s Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Ballroom has been the talk of the town since the building’s opening. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has written about it, university administrators are quick to cite its prominence and annual events are already calling the space home. (Having been to a few events in this centerpiece, I personally think it’s a glorified barn. It offers nothing special but a window wall with a view of the bright yellow Guilford House. How exciting.)

All this raises a bigger question for me though. What is a “university center”? What is the purpose of the Tink?

It appears the building is not intended for student-dominated use, and calling it a student center will garner a corrective comment or two. Meal prices are too high, and room rental is too expensive. With university offices tucked into obscure corners there is a lot of open area, but for what?

Clark Hall is falling apart. There has been scaffolding shrouded in transparent green material erected around its entrances for at least two years now. Why is it we have the money to build a new athletic facility, a new dormitory and a new university center all at the same time, yet we can’t seem to fix the buildings we have?

I have also witnessed Thwing’s roof leaking substantially during a rainstorm. By leaking substantially I mean water was flowing like a faucet and spilling onto the floor. Are these projects on some list that just takes forever to complete? Or is it no one care about these buildings because they cost money rather than make it?

The last time I checked, a university exists to provide students an education and conduct research. Thus, a university’s primary responsibility is to its students. Furthermore, no matter how much money CWRU acquires from gifts or fundraising efforts, without student tuition, administrator, faculty and staff salaries do not get paid, and CWRU as we know it shuts down.

To return to the purpose of the Tink, perhaps the true answer will reveal itself after it has been here a while. Right now, however, a “university center” means money. It seems the purpose of our already hallowed mausoleum to excess is to show off to the public, appealing to potential donors and mass man alike.

Jacob Martin is one of The Observer’s weekly opinion columnists. Reach him at jem189@case.edu. He thanks whoever’s responsible for finally fixing Merging—our wet/dry fountain on Mather Quad—just in time for winter’s impending cold.