One aspect of the monetization of life that is proceeding nearly to totality in our time is that someone finds a way to commoditize nearly any movement or concept, even those that were explicitly anti-commercial in their conception. This was the fate of “cool”: what was once an emblem of African-American and Beatnik rejection of bourgeois values became a potent marketing device: buy this car, this sneaker, this album, and you will be cool, too.
The monetization of everything is profoundly dispiriting, because it reinforces the suspicion that, in the end, “It’s all about the money.” We encounter someone espousing inspiring concepts about healing, transformation, or compassion, only to find that those concepts have been copyrighted and packaged into some kind of expensive program. We wonder whether maybe the whole thing is about the money and not the healing. Maybe these were just sales gimmicks. And so we develop a wariness and a cynicism that taints our view of life and, indeed, urges us to join the sell-athon.
The concept of gifting, and the spiritual value of generosity, is not exempt from cooptation in the service of profit. I remember as a teenager listening to televangelist called Pastor Mike who, invoking Mark 10:31, promised that God would repay any gifts to his ministry a hundred-fold. “Give till it hurts!” he said, and surely many people did, as he became a wealthy man. I once heard a story on Snap Judgment (my favorite radio show) from a man who had been childhood friends with Reverend Mike’s son, and once come across boxes and boxes of old jewelry that people had sent him with heartrending notes to the effect, “This is all I have to give, we can’t make ends meet…”