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August 02, 2012 8:39 am

CULTURE SHOCK: Understanding the golden rule

Written by Dante Geoffrey

The Olympics are well underway, and I’m as enthused as most any American — which is to say I’m not all that enthused.

Michael Phelps has proven he is human, USA basketball is predictably crushing the non-competition, and the other athletes I’ve never heard of are doing things in their sports I’ve never cared about.



The most interesting story I’ve read about the 2012 summer games is about how the Netherlands’ field hockey team has been gaining a lot of popularity — mainly in the Internet community.

Why the sudden interest in this team? Well, mainly because its players look exactly how you’d imagine female field hockey players from the Netherlands would look.

And you know, you can see pretty women on TV and the Internet only once every four years.

But despite my overall Olympic apathy, I have been watching, and one thing above all others has captured my attention.

The gold.

It’s what every Olympic athlete strives for. To have the bright gold medal hang from your neck is to signify your greatness. You are the best. And you deserve gold. Because gold is the best.

Gold medals, the gold standard, gold stars — all throughout our lives, we associate gold with supremacy.

But why?

I’ve never understood what makes gold so great. The fact that it has such extreme and enduring value perplexes me to no end.

Now to be fair, there’s a lot of things I don’t understand: door knobs, car transmissions, exoskeletons, the stock market, wind, why people like “The Big Bang Theory,” pluots, most Coen Brothers movies, quicksand, Australian-rules football and the concept of love, just to name a few.

So it’s quite possible this is just a “me” problem. But I think of myself as a fairly smart guy, and I’ve put plenty of thought into this. Yet, gold’s significance absolutely baffles me.

When I’ve brought this up with friends, they have jumped at the chance to flex their non-knowledge.

“Well, you see Dante, gold is a rare commodity, so therefore it’s valuable.”

Look, I may have just barely squeaked by two economics classes at a mediocre state school, but I still know the single-most basic fundamental of the subject.

I understand gold has value. My question, which I’ve asked over and over, is why?

Once, in a journalism class, a finance reporter came in to talk about her experiences in the field and to give advice. When the Q-and-A portion began my hand shot up as if I was going to ask a very in-depth question that my future career depended on.

She acknowledged my eagerness.

“Why is gold valuable?” I asked.

She looked at me a little dumbfounded, then proceeded to talk to me like I was a precocious 9-year-old who had wandered onto a college campus to pretend like he was a grown-up.

“Gold’s value is based on its supply,” she explained.

“I understand that, but it doesn’t do anything. It just is,” I said. “So why is it valuable?”

“Well, it’s a rare mineral that has been traded for thousands of years,” she continued.

“I know, I just don’t see why that makes it valuable,” I said.

“We used to back up our money with gold,” she said.

“So we told other countries to trust our worthless paper because we had a huge supply of worthless rocks?” I didn’t say, but wish I had. “The lint between my toes is in pretty limited supply, what’s the market like for that?”

This back-and-forth continued with her reminding me that there’s not a lot of gold around, and with me reminding her that that doesn’t mean anything to me. After a couple of minutes we both realized no progress was being made, and we both gave up out of mutual respect.

So a finance expert has nothing more to tell me than my dumb friends, though at least she had the decency not to tell me that I “just don’t get it.”

I think people who claim to understand gold’s value just don’t get it. They think they know, but I doubt they actually know.

If they did, I’d be able to get a better answer than “It’s valuable because it is valuable because it is valuable.”

I mean, am I missing something? It’s just a rock, right? A rock! I suppose it’s valuable if you don’t have a rock, but really need a rock.

It’s not a natural resource in the same way oil is. It’s not turned into anything very useful.

But, oh! It’s shiny! It can be worn around necks and melded into a shape that holds Cristal for rappers.

Again, it’s just a (Samuel L. Jackson’s favorite word) rock!

It seems to me the world got the idea of gold being valuable stuck in its head, and now people can’t fathom a world in which gold isn’t anything more than an aesthetically pleasing metal.

Gold is as valuable as your head makes it out to be. And I trust my head, which says gold is pretty much worthless.

I doubt a satisfactory explanation for the world’s love affair with gold exists. But if it does, I can’t wait to hear it, even if it means this column is stupid and I don’t win.

To understand gold, I’d happily take the silver.

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