Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Brief Story of Money

I want to tale another look, in story form, at money and profit as we currently have them, and the long term systemic consequences of both. There is still much demystifying to be done.

Money does not grow like organic matter does, by taking in other organic matter and transforming it into growth. Likewise, money is not engendered organically by value creation throughout the economy, such that someone working hard discovers fresh, new money in his pockets at the end of a long day. Money creation occurs before anything 'valuable' can take place in the economy. Money is not biologically, organically or otherwise linked to work or other forms of effort in the economic sphere. It is an invention created by humanity to assist/enable economic activity, not the consequence of such activity. The truth is that money is created by banks and 'grows' via a mathematical trick called interest. Someone has to create it, and establish the correct amount and the best rules.

First no-brainer question: if there were only savings, with no one or thing in debt anywhere, would that be good? Answer: Not possible. All banks would be in debt to their customers, unable to pay the interest owed. People's ability to save depends on other people being in debt. 'Thrift' on one side requires 'profligacy' on the other.

Second no-brainer question: if there were more money-as-savings than lent-as-credit, would banks be happy? Answer: No. For the money guys, profits are eveything. Banks need to lend more than they borrow, which means, crudely speaking, money systems need more people in debt than in the black.

When banks create money by lending it, they do so as a business, so must earn a profit. They must be earning more from repayments on loans than they are paying out to savers. They will otherwise go bust. Governments create money by issuing treasuries, bonds and guilts, each a form of borrowing ... borrowing, that is, at interest, from private individuals and institutions.

So let's take this a step further and assume, initially, a fixed-size pool of money out there in the world, created by God for us to use. As economic activity takes place, amounts of money move around from person to person, from entity to entity. From the point of view of worker A, money is earned by doing something another person is prepared to pay her for. From her point of view there is an expansion in wealth when she gets paid. A successful business sees money coming in too, sees money-growth. Conversely, people going into debt experience a contraction in the amount of money they have. So, at this level of perception, there appears to be money growth and contraction. But, seen from the point of view of the total money pool, there are only movements of funds from one place to another. Growth and contraction are narrow perceptions of money movement, from us or to us.

In this basic model, what are profits? Net movement of money to some person or business. And what is loss? Net money movement away from some person or business. There is no money growth or contraction, only movements, or eddyings, in the money pool.

Let's play with the pool. It is now made up of loans, and no longer a divine creation. It is therefore owed back to the various lenders, plus interest of course. The pool is $10bn, the amount owed $10.5bn (readers have been here before with me). The only thing that can happen in this difficult situation, is that one or more people competing to pay back what they owe have to fail. The maximum possible amount that can find its way back to the lenders is $10bn, since this is the amount that was created in loans to the population. An amount to cover the interest was not created.

Of course, no respectable controller of money wants the game to end after round one, which would happen were the loans to be paid back (minus defaulters of course). That would be counter-productive. What happens in the world as people compete for their share of the too small money-pool, is that they are 'pressured' to become creative by money scarcity. They invent stuff and produce stuff, which they buy and sell. Those who succeed are demonstrating themselves as 'money earners', while those who fail and default show themselves to be unfit to play the game. So the winners are loaned more money — since they have proven their ability to pay it back — to keep the circulation going. Some are net winners, that is, they suceed in accruing more money than they owe (which means the lenders don't get it back), whereas others fall off the treadmill. The money pool therefore contorts as a consequence of this bumpy balancing out, this sorting of the wheat from the chaff, pooling here and trickling away from there, just as before. Soon though, fresh injections (as loans) are necessary to keep the game going, because, for one thing, the lenders will not see their entire $10bn again, only a part of it, and ambition to expand businesses, as well as desire for houses, cars and other large items, arrive at the lenders' doors as demand for more money. Scarcity set the game in motion, and must be maintained to keep it going. No free lunches here!

Indeed, money lenders themselves also have to be successful against other money lenders (their competitors), as they compete for their share of the now growing amount of money in the economy (though thanks to interest always too little). The pool is expanded to, say, $15bn. Thus the game can continue, thus, via interest, is scarcity maintained despite an expanding money supply. It is even imagined it can go on and on indefinitely. The money pool grows and grows as time goes on. People fail and succeed (including money lenders), and the battle to stay in the game makes humans creative and inventive. So far so good. We have ourselves an Invisible Hand running a beautiful perpetual-motion machine.

Essential ingredients are: sufficient time to win and lose; lots of people playing; a playing field (planet Earth in our case) with sufficient raw materials and healthy enough living conditions to support game play; a growing population, ready, willing and able to play along, and a perpetually scarce money supply.

What must not happen is a stop in the circulation of money. The debts must never, ever be paid back in total. All money would disappear if this were to happen, and the game would stop. Because of this systemic rule, the size of the money pool therefore has to grow and grow and grow, in perpetuity, because of interest's role as a necessary part of the money creation process. Note this 'growth' is a function of the rules of the game, not a function of economic activity per se. Indeed, increasing economic activity is a function of the rules of the game, a consequence of interest. Interest is the whip, economic activity the beast whipped. It was not always this way, nor is money the only incentive, but money-technologies, that is, incremental changes in the way humanity deals with money, have made it so in our model. That we tend to think of the whole thing arse-backwards doesn't alter the fact of how the money system works today.

The amount of money owed back necessarily increases as the money-pool increases. Population growth supports the game as more people come to the table. Production and consumption increase inexorably, driven on by incessant whipping from the money system. The technological developments inspired by the fight over perpetually scarce amounts of money enable, pretty much as a side-effect, more and more people to live on the planet for longer and longer. And, because humans are not about money alone — other things interest them too (in fact everything does, one way or another) — while the money game is being played, other things happen alongside it. Developments and discoveries happen in farming, medicine, media, computing, automation and so on, and even in how deeply we understand reality.

But everything is interconnected, so things change within the game too, slowly at first, but increasingly quickly as yesterday's developments accelerate today's. As a part of the struggle to own as much of the money-pool as possible, automation plays an increasing role in the production process. On top of employment fluctuations as one consequence of contractions in the money pool (as central banks fiddle to get a good economic balance), and of money-distribution problems generally, over time those jobs humans can do are automated more and more, leading to a migration of human labour from agriculture, into factories, and finally into services. As services themselves slowly become automated, so humans find paid labour harder and harder to come by. We become increasingly unnecessary in the production of goods and services. It slowly becomes apparent that only our spending power is needed to keep the game going. But humans want to be more than mere consumers. Dreams of escape, of 'something else' emerge in the culture and spread, the speed of their spread assisted by ever improving communication technologies.

Additionally, humanity's successes worldwide result in a population perhaps as large as the planet can happily host, or close to it. For the game to go on, the planet has to be able to play along. The problem is that we are blinded by the brilliance of our perpetual-motion machine, forgetting the underlying factors that make the whole thing possible. On top of this we have a calcified social hierarchy, in which a small elite runs the show, while a far larger number of punters mans the treadmills. Change though, ever-present, slowly rouses the punters from their repetitive labours, as new technologies spread information faster than the elite can police and massage it. The system must be defended at all costs. Without it there is chaos, and the elite would not be the elite any more. Information and disinformation infect each other, trust evaporates, life becomes somehow bland and colourless, while at the same time strangely dangerous, despite the brilliance of what we have achieved.

In the inevitably tiny winners' lounge, the control centre for the now incomprehensibly complex system, a window looks out over the powerful machine as it hisses, steams, and pumps away. For the first time the thought occurs that the machine is in control, not the proud elite, that its inbuilt hunger for more and more is threatening its own functioning. The thought is quickly repressed. Alarming groans are fixed only to erupt from some other part. The machine is cancerous hunger that cannot be transformed into anything else.

And here we all are, components of a process centuries in the making, unwitting contributors swept up in currents whose great motions lie outside our abilities to see directly. Only stories and analogies can help bring some focus to what is historic in scope, cultural in breadth, and psychological in depth. We are the story which is changing, but we have to see it from the outside if we want the coming waves of change to take us higher, not crush us down. Money and money-profit are merely themes of a particular chapter, the products of our inventiveness. They are not divine acts we must accept as commandments for ever more.

And I didn't once mention fraud!

We must seek:

Money-as-lubricant, not money-as-wealth
Wealth as an outgrowth of health
A system which can deliberately promote profit in measures such as literacy, societal cohesion, low crime rates, trust and so on
A worldwide rethink on value as it relates to paid labour, alongisde a recognition of what humanity can do to automate boring and unstimulating work
A recognition that all systems are emergent and subject to constant change
True sustainability
Lasting transition from fossil fuels

17 comments:

Debra said...

Toby, I am going to comment in detail on your post here, and I intend my comments to further OUR dialogue here.
When you say that money does not grow like organic matter does, I am going to say that... our understanding of what growth means is based on organic growth, and that we must take this into account in our paradigms, and our analysis of our world.
Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice", Act 1, scene iii, PLEASE READ THIS SCENE IN DETAIL as it is very important towards understanding money, and I will say that I myself do not understand all the implications of what is said here.
The whole play is about the economy...
"Shylock : When Jacob grazed his uncle Laban's sheep --
This Jacob from our holy Abram was...
Antonion : And what of him ? Did he take interest ?
Shylock : No, not take interest--
Not as you would say directly interest. Mark what Jacob did : When Laban and himself were compromised that all the eanlings (lambs) which were streaked and pied should fall as Jacob's hire (belong to him), the ewes being rank (in estrus) in end of autumn turned to the rams ;
And when the work of generation was between these woolly breeders in the act....
This was a way to thrive, and he (Jacob) was blest ;
And thrift is blessing if men steal it not.
Antonion : This was a venture sir, that Jacob served for, a thing not in his power to bring to pass, but swayed and fashioned by the hand of heaven.
WAS THIS INSERTED TO MAKE INTEREST GOOD ?
OR IS YOUR GOLD AND SILVER EWES AND RAMS ?
Shylock : I CANNOT TELL ; I MAKE IT BREED AS FAST."
So.... what do we do with the realization that our MODEL for growth is necessarily an organic one ?
Our ideas come from somewhere, and many of our ideas come from... observing the way nature works.
And by basing our ideas on the way nature works WE MAINTAIN CONNECTION WITH NATURE in our minds, and in our society.
This connection in our own minds is even more important than money, Toby.
I think that our ideas drive our world. And our ideas are... words, of course.
Money is one symbolic system, and it is a symbolic system which is subservient to language as a symbolic system EVEN THOUGH WE ARE GETTING ALL EXCITED ABOUT IT, AND THINKING THAT IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SYMBOLIC SYSTEM FOR US.
While money changes hands, and moves around... WORDS change mouths, and move around too.
In my last post, I talked about grace as the lubricant that kept things going in our society.
I believe that while we are avidly looking towards the OBVIOUS agent of money, we have NOT BEEN LOOKING at what REALLY drives the system, or at least drives it AS MUCH as money does : gratuity. What is the DIFFERENCE between all those words that make up the circulation in the economy ?
buy
sell
lend
borrow
give
receive
earn
win
owe
ALL of those words are activities of the economy, and are about.. EXCHANGE, in one form or another.
And I have probably forgotten some in that list.
I'll return later.
Critical reading is hard work...

Toby said...

In "Web of Debt" Ellen Brown talks about interest as being rooted in paying with livestock, which of course does grow organically. And yes, the roots of money growth are in an ancient understanding of organic growth, but we know more now, namely that energy is never created or destroyed, it is only exchanged, moved from place to place, has its many patternings altered and so on. We also know that non-stop growth is cancerous.

Language is an example of an abundant medium of exchange, and we have a rich language that works and everyone can use. Media of exchange do not have to be scarce.

My long struggles with money are not based on hatred or fear, but on trying to understand the functional consequences of it, and how it is changing over time. That's it. The way we use money technically has indeed changed over time, and will change again, not perhaps in its pure essence as a medium of exchange, but certainly in terms of speed and complexity, and certainly its effects on culture and politics, especially when you include changes in our technical abilities and the amounts we can now produce and consume.

Also important is the notion of scarcity, which to my mind is an inspirer of greed and fear. When you use livestock as your medium of exchange, you can have scarcity, but you can have abundance too, so perhaps we could call this more natural than the current situation of a medium of exchange logically bound to scarcity and only scarcity. Indeed, abundance is anethema to modern money. This is a problem.

Another reason I'm looking at money this way is to get under the skin of the myth about The Market and The State. My idea is that The Market differs from The State because it circulates money more effectively, at least in theory! However, things like education and health, which are so important to societal cohesion, should not be money circulators, and this is also a problem. Right now the measure of success is profit. So, if States are in deficit they're doing something wrong. With money-profit as ultimate denoter of success there is less and less room for grace.

Then comes technological unemployment, unkown in Shakespeare's day, and a functional problem for the necessary circulation of money. It's not hateful or emotional, it just is so. Change is always happening...

Debra said...

How do we KNOW that energy is never created or destroyed ? Do we know it, or do we believe it ?
And as a rather heated discussion on SD showed, it depends on your perspective, the conclusion that energy is never created or destroyed.
I am not a physics person, so I will not comment more than this. I am not competent to comment on this. But I am definitely not functioning on ANY postulat that I don't believe in, EVEN IF THE PHYSICISTS TELL ME THAT THIS IS TRUTH. There has always been somebody, and there will always BE somebody to TELL us what the "truth" is. But, a lot of the time, this gets in the way of OUR thinking.
As we have moved (not evolved...) from a society based on agriculture to an industrial society, our paradigm has shifted, as you point out.
But as I said a long time ago, our social body is NOT homogenous. The ideas of the Ancien Regime (like clemency in the U.S., for example...) are still present in our society. They are present in our society alongside of more recent ideas founded in industrial ideology. (Hey... I never thought of it before, lots of people out there are reasoning within industrial ideology, and NOT agricultural. I will say that I DO NOT LIKE industrial society, Toby, and that I am doing all in my power to limit MY actions within it, and ITS actions on me. A futile enterprise certainly, a lost battle, but one that allows me to get up in the morning with a sense of purpose (not JUST negative, that purpose too...)
I believe that Ancien Regime ideology ROOTED us in nature, whereas... industrial ideology UNROOTS us, and seems to make US, our bodies too, like the capital that goes from one place to the next, BELONGING nowhere.
And I'm pretty experienced at being a rootless person. It is very demanding, rootlessness. It CAN be managed, but with great effort, great intellectualization, on an individual level, and that is a choice that not everybody is willing to make. And I believe that everybody should not HAVE to make that choice because of societal imperatives, either...
What you say about abundance being anathema to modern money makes me think that its ideology is based on... exclusion.
Something is WORTHLESS is EVERYBODY has access to it. (Look at how this is playing out with respect to water...)
How true IS this ?
When we talk about.. democracy in the Western world, aren't we in converting mode on it ?
Aren't we saying that democracy is such a good thing that EVERYBODY has to "have" it ?
So... how is scarcity applicable there ?
But our ideas of value being a fixed pool that supposes that if somebody has something, it is BECAUSE somebody else was... DEPRIVED of it, those IDEAS will certainly NOT help us to move beyond the ideology, the prejudice of scarcity.
In the last post, I said that I think that modern scarcity theory is derived in part from the Protestant attitude towards grace. Some people "had" it, and others just didn't.
And most, if not all of our ideas we THINK are original are more or less old ones that have been repackaged with new vocabulary to allow us to feel more.. modern than our ancestors.
Gotta feel more... "modern" than our ancestors.. What are all those cars good for if we aren't ?

Rupert said...

As the sphere of my existence bounds and rebounds against many others my ego has developed a list of needs whose priorities change on a daily basis. The clash between sencient and non-sencient nature continues to baffle me. I have witnessed, and engaged in, a variety of philosophical debates and, I don't know if it is beyond the depth of my perception, the conclusions that I fumble into being have sated me. I continue to fine tune my understandings as my relationship with the world blossoms and my happiness grows.

Toby said...

I can't prove that no energy is ever created or destroyed, that is WAY beyond my ability, but the idea at least represents a new phase of our understanding which differs from the prior understanding. What becomes of what we 'know' is anybody's guess, my point is that change is the only constant. And while we must try never to throw the baby out with the bath water, it is sometimes unhelpful to point to the past and say, ah, then it was good, then we really knew what it's all about. There has never been and never will be such a time, and besides, change is the only constant.

What is also inescapable is that some feel happy in their time, while others don't, with all the shades in between. What the human animal, embedded in nature (there is only nature) can achieve, and how this incredible animal copes with the fallout of its own accomplishments, is also uncertain, particularly if we think forwards in millennia. Nevertheless I think it valid to look at, as best we can, what is changing, and which of our old received wisdoms are possibly in the way of smoother and wiser coping strategies for the changes we bring down upon our own heads.

Money is a variable which itself changes as it effects and changes those systems and variables it impacts, while those systems which impact it bring pressure to bear to change it further. I believe that ultimately (I don't know how long) there will be no further need for money in human society, but in the meantime, due to quickly changing conditions, we need to tune how money works, so that it functions in a healthier manner. An example: I just heard that "fresh" as in "fresh apples" in the supermarkets means not older than 2 years! They are plucked very green, and ripened slowly in special storage conditions. There is much controversy over whether this is healthy. It is certainly done for monetary reasons, not for health.

Air has no economic value, and water becomes more economically valuable the scarcer it becomes. This is a simple part of business. Economic activity though is not zero sum in total. Economic activity is wedded to technological developments, which do improve living standards generally. Everthing is interconnected -- technology, money, economics, politics, art... Everything is nature. To talk of unnatural things is to talks of impossibilities. Humans are as natural as ants, industry is as natural as agriculture. Before agriculture there was hunter gathering. Hunter gatherers were uniformly egalitarian. As humans settled social structures became hierarchical. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. I happen to think we are about to choose, culturally and globally, between deeper, more rigid hierarchy, or a move towards greater egalitarianism.

Time will tell which way this cookie crumbles, but the battle to shape money is a key battle ground, and the war is well underway.

Debra said...

Everything MAY be nature, and then again may NOT be.
I don't think that we look at... a computer or a tree with the same perspective, the same eyes.
In a certain way, I feel that saying that things are zero sum is unfortunately a way of saying that in the long run there is NO DIFFERENCE.
But... to me these are lies that we are telling ourselves.
Because deep down we FEEL that there are differences, and we BEHAVE as though there ARE differences.
When we tell ourselves lies, alienation is the result.
There is currently great alienation between us and the world of the trees, the birds, the animals, to define nature THAT WAY, precisely.
But there is probably greater alienation WITHIN our minds...
Does water gain economic value because it becomes scarce or because we start looking at it a different way, we start SEEING IT with new eyes ?
Is water REALLY scarce now ? I don't think so.
Did some of the Indian cultures NOT see economic value to water because they didn't make it enter a system of numeric, monetary exchange ?
To me.. industial agriculture is an abomination.
And it is definitely... NOT rational.
What is rational about.. not composting our material waste to return it to the ground in order to fertilize it (without having to go through Montsanto, thank you.. or buying seeds from Montsanto every year instead of keeping part of your crop to reseed) ?
Is this progress ?
WHAT is progress, and why are we so convinced that it is a GOOD thing for us ?
That it is an advantage that has NO disadvantages...
If I talk so much about the Ancien Regime, it is because for very good ideological reasons we have tons of prejudice about who we were, as human beings, under it.
Too bad. But... we will be returning to some of its ideas. We already are. Human beings ALWAYS return to the past for models in times of crisis.
A way of ensuring continuity for the society.

Toby said...

I don't know what progress is, except trying to change things for the better. If we feel it to be good then it is, if we feel it to be bad, then it's bad. Typically, it seems people who live in poverty and have to struggle to stay alive in a hand-to-mouth way, most often prefer to live the Western way, surrounded by the trappings of what we call progress. That progress is thorny, patchy and troubled is a given.

But I have to insist that everything is nature, even perception itself. I see computers and trees differently because they are different, just as bird nests and ant hills are different. They are all though, as is everything else, products of nature. There is only nature. To believe otherwise is to be entangled in the unfortunate Cartesian split that has so bedevilled modern thought, even though Decartes was merely making clear what was already quite visible in Christianity and other overly paternalistic religions. But we must be careful not to hate the sky god while re-embracing mother earth. Both are parts of nature, and parts of our projections.

Rupert hit the nail on the head, though with a dyslexic hammer ;-) Sentience and non-sentience are quasi-remnants of the Cartesian mind-body split, a false dichotomy if ever there were one. It may be that this is our joker in the pack, culturally speaking, because it is even more key than money. If we can nail this sucker down, look at this openly and bravely, other things might fall better into place.

There is The One which gives rise to infinite diversity. It is the blind watchmaker, or God, or whatever you want to call it. But it is The One.

Debra said...

I don't feel that there is a clash between sentient and non sentient nature, if I'm understanding you correctly, Rupert.
But... I DO think that there is a BIG difference between a computer and a worm.
Men can MAKE computers.
They CANNOT... make worms.
Nor can they... ressuscitate worms once they have killed them. They can... repair machines.
That is a BIG difference in my book.
The fact that there are carbon atoms in the worm and in the computer do not dull the distinction in my mind that the worm is alive and the computer is NOT.
Descartes also happened to think, as per his time that the animals were machines... because they lacked (self) consciousness.
No go, for me on that one.
I do NOT follow him there.
And... I think he was wrong.
I authorize myself to pass judgment here.
Because... look what we do to the machines when we finish USING them... They go on the junk heap. They are blithely destroyed, with NO conscious regret. No conscience.
Do we really want to continue on this course, and do this with... animals, and men ?
Not me. I don't want to be any part of that.
Certainly that is an emotional reaction, if you like.
But... our emotions also serve to LIMIT our conscious actions in certain cases.
And that can have VERY positive effects.
Why do you think that the Nazi command expended a great deal of energy trying to find ingenious ways to gas the Jewish people that would NOT elicit emotions in the people participating ? (Not sadism. Dispassionate killing.)
Because they KNEW that emotions also induce identification which limits our actions.
We can justify ANY course of action on the grounds of REASON ALONE..

Toby said...

Well, we kill animals when we want to, as do other animals that eat animals, or hunt them. Our cat, for example, kills birds for fun. Then nature has in its lexicon viruses that kill their hosts. Death and destruction are part of life.

We repair machines when they are repairable and it makes sense to do so, and we heal animals when we can and believe to makes sense to do so. Or we throw them away. We are animals produced by nature, and interact with nature as it interacts with us.

The differences you describe are of course there. There are differences everywhere; hearts are different from bones, and yet they are both part of the human body. Computers are different from worms but both are parts of nature, both are natural. As termite mounds with air conditioning are acts of nature, so are skyscrapers with air conditioning. Some things are made by animals, others are made less purposefully by other systemic processes (animals are also systemic processes, but are very visible and easy to identify as individual units so to speak). Something is making something, it's just a matter of defining "making" and the processes involved.

As to what we can tolerate and not tolerate, that is different from person to person. But change is always happening. Speaking very crudely, once there were no plants at all, and all sorts of life forms were probably obliterated when plants took over. Then animals came along and obliterated many plant forms. Now we have homo sapiens sapiens as yet another form of nature having its effects on its surroundings, and so it goes on. Everything is natural. Even destruction. Even sorrow and depression. Even sickness. What we value and prefer is personal to us, and dependent on a very complex set of influences, both cultural and biological. But ultimately it's all nature.

Debra said...

I don't think we're going to agree on this one, Toby...
The key word is "ultimately".
I'm not a zero sum person.
It got me into trouble a while ago...
I think that we need to establish differences in order to be able to think, and that saying that EVERYTHING is natural is eliminating difference.
I am not willing to eliminate that difference.
To a certain extent I feel that that difference is a fundamental one to even... DEFINING what civilization is. By opposition to... something DIFFERENT.
It's true that there is destruction everywhere, and believe it or not... I eat my meat with gusto, unlike my bro who has been vegetarian for years.
As a former psychoanalyst, I am aware of what sadism is, probably more so than many others.
But... there are DIFFERENT kinds of destruction, and it is not because something is destroyed and I can handle destruction that the MANNER in which it is destroyed is indifferent to me. Not at all.
I understand Ecclesiastes, and "There is a time for".
I follow that.
But... skyscrapers and trees are in a different ballpark for me. Sorry.
At heart I am Rousseauian. And a primitivist. At this time, at least.

Thai said...

LOL!

Deb, you seem to have found my... clone? ;-)

... Well, not the issue of abundance for even if we are 18 billion agreeable on this planet, those people all have to agree not to eat all the fish, etc...

Still, this blog chat must have the ring of "I've read this before"?

... If Toby starts saying "it's all very fractal" (and he is getting awfully close), the transformation will be complete.

Anyway, I just came over to say "hi" since you never responded to my earlier emails.

Be well

Toby said...

Things that are wildly different can come under the same set on a larger perspective. I am not trying to argue that trees and skyscrapers are the same, only that they are both natural products. At this level of definition -- everything is nature -- what I am NOT doing is removing difference from the equation, I am pointing out that Descartes was wrong to insist on a split between mind and body, and that all other dichotomies along those lines are wrong too.

Also, you can be a primitivist and believe that everything is nature, I don't see the two positions as mutually exclusive. I might call primitivism very conservative and romantic, but I think it sees humans as part of nature, don't you, Debra? What I think all humans have to recognise is that we are not 'above' nature looking down on it, harming it or protecting it. We are a part of it, made by it, embedded in it and cannot escape it. Nothing we can do is unnatural.

Thai, this has been my position since I was very young, so don't try and paint me as Thai II, I find that offensive. I even drove my parents to distraction with such arguments. Neither you nor I are original thinkers Thai, and, as with everyone else, we agree on some things, and disagree on others. It's natural ;-)

Rupert said...

Allow me to expand on what may well be obvious to you but I will explain my thinking none the less. The sentient elements of nature I see as those that have developed their instincts in conjunction with their language. There by greatly accelerating their abilities to adapt to their changing environment. As you travel down the layers of 'intelligence' our ability to manipulate our environment changes, for good or bad. Toby, I know our understanding of what choices we make is influenced by an incomplete list of variables, my point is that we have 'tools' at our disposal that no other animal has access to. The concept that we have to de-ego and reconnect with our nature is the battle to which I refer. We've learned a new dance but the band are playing the same tune, instruments may have changed shape but the tempo and key have stayed the same. Stop. Listen and try to pick up the beat again.

Thai said...

Toby, my sincerest apology (honest). I have simply had this same conversation with Deb so many times

Deb, please check your email frenchydotrousseauatgmaildotcom

"dot" means .

"at" means @

Debra said...

Toby, I agree with Rupert on this one.
I think that the "consciousness" experiment has introduced new... variables into nature that are not visible everywhere.
During and after WW1, Freud was EXTREMELY depressed to discover that his pleasure principle theory COULD NOT account for the fact that soldiers coming back from the front had repetitive nightmares where they went back to traumatic experiences over and over again. (Anglo Saxon vocab calls it PTSD, i don't call it that....)
How do you explain that human beings go BACK to trauma over and over again if it... hurts them and even puts them in danger ?
I think that only the phenomenon of consciousness accounts for this. The.. FACT that it can be more important for humans to be... RIGHT than it is for them to be alive... That our language and symbolic systems ARE more important to us than... eating, for example...
I don't think that this is visible in the animal world.
I am arguing that this state of affairs does NOT give us any hierarchical superiority.
If anything... it gives us MORE RESPONSIBILITY.
That's what aristocracy is all about.. more "riches" means more responsibility.
And consciousness goes hand in hand with.. MELANCHOLY.
The ability to bring THE WHOLE THING DOWN because we HATE ourselves.
This is what I see going on around us in our civilization right now Toby.
Now... is it.. NATURAL ?
I won't go that far. I WILL say that it is HUMAN, that's for sure.
But in my book, we have been cultivating ALIENATION for a long time, and I am not happy with saying that alienation is... natural, just because it's.. there.
I think that at some point we have a responsibility to MAKE CHOICES (in our daily lives...).
Not just to.. theorize about the world from whatever perspective we choose to look at it.
We are... NOT GOD, after all...We can't take his (symbolic) place.

Toby said...

Debra, perhaps you think I mean 'healthy' when I say natural. I don't, I just mean natural. The point I'm making, by being close to redundant with a definition of 'natural' that includes everything, is not to render the word pointless, but to get over the cultural sense humans have developed of being above nature, that machines are somehow 'unnatural'. They're just tools, like the computer and the plough. What is unhealthy is the way we have organized ourselves socially in pursuit of monetary profit. Our sense of being above nature still pervades the way we think and express ourselves:

"I don't think that this is visible in the animal world."

We are one of the animals in the animal world, and depression is indeed evident in other species. I watched on a documentary some years ago a young, recently orphaned chimpanzee in the wild fade away and die, so badly did it miss its mother. Dolphins live max 5 years in captivity, but about 25 to 30 in the wild. A dolphin trainer who worked with dolphins for decades claimed one committed suicide in his arms (I wish I could find that article). One of my daughter's friends has a pet bird which is right now very listless because its owner is away for a week. We are animals just like all the others.

However, we are capable of many things the other animals are not. But we do not become less animal the more complex our behaviours become. Can other animals be 'unnatural' in what they do?

Otherwise, I agree with most of what you say, just this (to me very) important semantic point lies between us. You are describing a healthy relationship with environment as 'natural' and an unhealthy one as 'unnatural.' I prefer healthy and unhealthy, and try to leave 'unnatural' from my lexicon.

Rupert, you know I agree with all that, but I feel also that the way through the ego and beyond requires the ego as a guide for that journey. It's all there in the grail legends. I also believe that consciousness is the ground of all being, and that what we experience as 'the real world' is itself part of consciousness, part of the story that we are weaving together, but that is a whole other story!

Thai, no harm done, and thank you for the apology!

Debra said...

Toby, I think we ALMOST agree here.
I am an ardent defender of our being ANIMALS.
And I am aware of what you are talking about with the dolphins, and the chimpanzees.
But I am making a difference between us and other animals on the EFFECTS that our symbolic systems and the consciousness that goes with them, generate in our civilization.
I agree with you that we are much more animal than we even like to think that we are.
In the end I will defend, with you, the idea that we are animals.
I feel that it is deeply unfortunate at this time that the REALIZATION that we are animals has... DEPRESSED us so much... Got us so... MELANCHOLY.
The "higher" mammals, like dolphins, chimps, and elephants definitely behave very much like we do, that's for sure. Or... WE behave very much like them ??