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Assigning value to objects with no value

Tulips are bold. They come in many vibrant colors as well as coming in multicolored striped blooms. They are undoubtedly beautiful. It is believed they originated in Persia, now Iran, and were cultivated in Byzantium by the mid-eleventh century. Eventually, they became the symbol of the Ottoman Empire.

However, that is not what most people think of historically when they think of tulips. They think of the Netherlands and the famous, or infamous, Tulip Mania from about 1634-1637. That was when tulips became so coveted and of such value, their price skyrocketed. A bride’s dowry could be paid with one rare tulip bulb. The market became inflated and eventually, the bubble burst. People were even speculating on tulips, as strange as that may sound to us today.

However, it should also sound a little familiar. Remember the dot com bubble, or the housing one? Is that really that different? Or back in the nineties when people were buying and reselling Beanie Babies for ridiculous profits at a quick turn around? That market eventually tanked. It had kind of shot up way to quickly partially supported by a bunch of media hype.

Capitalism is inherently materialistic and can sometimes get out of control and cause these horribly inflated markets for some really weird stuff. When was the last time you heard of someone paying thousands of dollars for a Cabbage Patch Kid? Last I checked they were selling for around fifty to one hundred dollars good condition. We had been promised if we kept them nice they would make us rich one day.

What does this tell us? It is a pattern that humans have engaged in for centuries. Assigning value to objects that have no intrinsic value and making them worth more than they ought to be. Being willing to spend obscene amounts of money on frivolities. I cannot help but think of that quote from Jimmy Carter where he talks about how we were moving, as early as his presidency, to a society where we were judged not by what we do but by what we have. Being judged more by the contents of our homes than the contents of our character, in other words.

I suppose to a certain extent bubbles and materialism are inevitable in any free capitalist society, but we need to be wary of assigning too much value to things and to valuing people for what they have rather than who they are.

by Julie Moore

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