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The Midas Complex

By Aaron Kipnis PhD

(Reviewed by Ann Todhunter Brode, CST)

Reading this book was like being in a long conversation with a dear friend (and he is) who just happens to know everything about his topic. Although Robert Bly, poet and philosopher, dubbed Kipnis “The Keeper of the Ugly Facts”, he is also “A Wise Gate Keeper” who encourages us to move beyond the distorted perception and influence of money to reclaim our natural inclination to cooperate, connect, and create.

With an engaging certainty we’ve come to expect from his previous books (Knights Without Armor, What Men & Women Want, and Angry Young Men), Dr. Kipnis tackles the impolite and uncomfortable topic of money head-on. Delving deeply into the history and psychology of money from an exchange of goods and services to an electronic transfer, The Midas Complex explores the all-too-human inclination for greed, addiction, power, and destruction. As the simple function of money morphs into a psychological issue, Kipnis describes how the result impacts every aspect of our lives from the personal to the institutional…from the things we take for granted today to the untenable circumstances we set in motion for the future.

How did we get here and how can we change the trajectory? Kipnis brilliantly lays out the downhill slide from a desire to be comfortable and feel good to an obsession with “having more” that is dysfunctional and self-destructive in much the same way as any addiction. No matter how much your personal Midas Complex rules your life, it’s easy to see that the single-minded pursuit of wealth has distorted the behavior, functionality, and well-being of the collective culture. From corporate greed to government deception, from environmental degradation to institutional paralysis, things seem to be disintegrating in front of our eyes.

We’re in trouble when money becomes “the central organizing principle of our cultural identity” and corporations become people. We’re in trouble when we blindly follow the seduction of advertising to consume products, substances, and experiences in order to fill “the hole in the soul, feel worthy, and fulfilled”.

Like a wise man holding a lantern to show us our folly, Kipnis offers his astute observations with scholarly intelligence, compassion, humility, and endearing doses of ironic humor. After slamming us with the depressing truth and nature of our predicament, he describes how good health, good employment, and good relationships are more directly responsible for happiness than wealth could ever be. As he shows us the shadow, he shows us how to reclaim our power and our health. The Midas Complex lays it all out: where we’ve been, where we are now and where we need to go. It becomes clear that transparency, honesty and the power of an informed collective are imperative if we want to unravel the tangled mess we’re in and form a social and financial contract that’s just and sustainable.

Again we’re reminded that each individual is a microcosm of the macrocosm. In other words, each of us needs to address our wound of emptiness/ disappointment/ betrayal in order to reprioritize our lives to include the simple, the communal, the pursuit of enduring well-being, and hope for the future. In many ways, this book is an invitation to heal our selves, our families, communities and the planet. As a culture, Kipnis says, we have a natural impulse for altruism and generosity. Just ask your body which feels better: to be generous and expand or to be stingy and contract!

The Midas Complex is a timely and essential contribution to breaking the headlock of our dysfunction so we can access the ingenuity and resourcefulness we need to save our precious planet. Perhaps as the healing proceeds, instead of Midas’ folly, we’ll begin to appreciate the authentic wealth of clean air and water, productive soils, life-supporting weather, nutritional food, family and community. Perhaps, when we’re no longer in the thrall of the Midas delusion, we’ll have more simplicity, less clutter, more free time, deeper relationships, and the satisfaction that, indeed, we “have enough”. Thank you, Aaron, for nudging us on the way!

Aaron Kipnis, PhD teaches at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria. His specialties include: Gender Studies, Depth Psychology, Psyche and Culture, Clinical Psychology, and Eco-Psychological Research. Although he used to live and practice in Santa Barbara, Dr. Kipnis currently resides in Topanga Canyon and has a clinical practice in Santa Monica.

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