The Library of Suffering

A building of metal and glass,
filled with the lives of flesh and blood.
Rows of stories next to each other,
stacked one by one.

Indexed, organized.
Last name, first.

Each one a portal,
a mirror to another life.
Glimpses of what could have been,
and what could be.

Returned, readmitted
checked out, discharged.

An old institution,
bringing all together.
Tales of being,
waiting to be told.

This is the hospital,
the library of suffering.

Privilege and Luck

I was at the optometrist about a month ago and I overheard a conversation a customer had with the clerk. Apparently, frames are not taxed. In response, the customer right in front of me and I communicated to each other that we didn't know that.

After a short conversation about the topic, I said, "I don't really think about what's taxed."

She responded by saying, "That's privilege."

I nodded. (To be clear, I don't think she was trying to single me out. I suspect she was expressing that we were both privileged.)

This experience got me to realize that I prefer the term "luck," because it can't be earned, whereas privilege can be. And the fact that I'm not that poor is largely due to luck. I just happened to be born in a middle class family, in a developed country, in the 20th century. In the context of every human being that has ever been born, my luck probably puts my quality of life in the top .01%.

Responsibility and Financial Independence

I've recently learned a lot about personal finances, because I've reached that stage in my life where I should start saving for retirement. I've learned about stocks, bonds, actively-managed mutual funds, index funds, traditional IRAs, ROTH IRAs, etc.

Besides being overwhelmed with new information, I've struggled with the ethics of investing. On the one hand, I'm uncomfortable investing money in companies that behave unethically. And let's face it, every major company is probably unethical in some nontrivial way. On the other hand, I want to be financially independent. I don't want to have to rely on others when I'm old. No one wants to be a burden.

One approach that I've taken to rationalize investing is that I already support these major companies, just in different ways. For instance, I use Facebook and Amazon all the time. I own multiple Apple products. Is it really that much different to buy their stocks? Probably not, but investing in their companies would mean that I'm further supporting them.

I'm aware that the proper response to such a scenario is to stop engaging in unethical behavior, instead of trying to justify an additional unethical act. Assuming it's unethical to support these companies, I should stop using Facebook and Amazon, and stop buying Apple products. But the fact of the matter is, I don't want to. I enjoy using their services and buying their stuff. I love my iPad Pro; it's beautiful.

I suspect what's going to happen is that my desire to be financially independent will win.