Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Money, post number 2,000,000 ($,€,£, you pick..)

Toby, I have NOT FORGOTTEN your request on the meaning of the word "idolatry", ALL of my religious resource books are STILL boxed up because we are doing our bedroom over, so they are INACCESSIBLE for the moment, and "idolatry" is a subject that requires CAREFUL ATTENTION (and probably 2,000,000 posts too) to do it justice AS A COMPLEX in the Freudian sense, A BIG KNOT, or hub through which countless strands of ideological discourse from different sectors MEET for our civilization. (I'm sure that one (hé hé) could use physics models to treat this, but I am not savvy enough on physics to do it...) (Just last night I was skimming through Shakespeare's sonnets, and my eyes rested on sonnet 105, of which the subject matter is... "idolatry", maybe I will stick it down next, who knows...)
Now that I have overspent half this post talking about "idolatry" when the original subject was MONEY, let me settle down into topic.
I think I mentioned in my comments a while back that I spent a day in the London reconstruction of the Globe Theater, looking at all the STUFF, the beautiful WORK that a dedicated COMMUNITY of people are doing to resurrect Shakespeare's contribution to humanity for OUR time, to give life to the bard and his words, to EMBODY THEM in such a way as that they will still speak to OUR minds and imagination, and those of our children too. All the while maintaining and creating CONTINUITY between our past and the present, continuity without which ANY society is ultimately doomed. (I'm harping, I'm harping...)
This venture stems from the project of an American actor, a man who spent the greater part of his life BRINGING ABOUT the creation of this structure, initially in the face of British indifference to it, and CONSTANT WORRIES ABOUT WHERE TO FIND THE MONEY TO GET THE PROJECT OFF THE GROUND.
But that is not the subject of my post....
During the visit, there was a handwritten list of THE PROPERTY of Shakespeare's company (the companies were TRUE DEMOCRATIC ORGANIZATIONS ; everybody had his say in what was produced, etc etc) around 1600 or so.
On that list was... a cloak purchased for £20.
Ho hum, right ?
What comes into your head when you read that ?
In 2010, £20 EXCHANGES FOR (just barely...) a night in a cheap youth hostel in the U.K. A bite to eat in a middle class restaurant for two people (nothing fancy, careful).
But in 1600... £20 PAID FOR a hand worked, embroidered, velvet cloak that TODAY would exchange for... £10,000. And in the 1600's, £20 was a LOT OF MONEY.. It was EXPENSIVE.
Yeah, that's right.
I SHOULD ADD that £10,000 OF TODAY'S MONEY COULD NOT BUY a cloak like the one made in Shakespeare's time. Because CLOAKS LIKE THAT ARE NOT MADE ANY MORE. The INITIAL FABRIC that goes into the clothing (for the aristocracy, essentially, but not just...) IS OF MUCH BETTER QUALITY. The weaving is much tighter ; there are more strands to the centimeter, it is woven DENSER than NOW. The CRAFTMANSHIP is better. The work is individualized. And, of course... it was all made from hand. NO MACHINES.
Let's try to draw together some lessons from this, now, according to my brow beaten hypothesis that IT ALL HANGS TOGETHER.
LESS MONEY bought (MORE) STUFF of BETTER QUALITY in the 1600's. (This is a sweeping generalization ; it may be wrong, but I think not.. IF YOU LOOK at what money is worth over a very long period of time, and not just the past 50-100 years or so.) Please remember that we have been talking about repetition of cycles, (classic economic theory, I think) and that THIS cycle is a bigger, and longer cycle than the ones we usually see. In my opinion.
Let's think about scarcity (one of Toby's big subjects...).
Let's think about it as a psychological phenomenon, for a change. (Classical economics MADE A BIG MISTAKE DENYING the psychological aspects of money, but then, I seem to remember that classical economics has been in heavy duty denial of the nature of money ITSELF for up until very recently, dixit Bernard Maris, my favorite (marginal) economist.)
When you go into the mass produced box store, a carbon copy of other box stores or department stores all over the country or world, and see MULTIPLE identical copies of the SAME poorly OR well made (relatively) item of clothing, what goes off in your head ??
Don't you tend to get THAT HUNG OVER FEELING that comes from being force fed ?
Force feeding creates a JADED appetite IN THE LONG RUN.
And the MULTIPLICATION (like loaves and fishes..) of IDENTICAL items, of clothing, of food, of computer components (think uniformization again), whatever, generally MACHINE MADE , goes hand in hand with...
the exponential multiplication of the NUMBERS attached to MONEY.
We are churning out anonymous, indifferentiated SHIT on a very large scale.
Now I fall back on my Freud.
We KNOW we are churning out anonymous, indifferentiated shit on a very large scale, and we KNOW it is worthless too, BECAUSE WORTH is intimately associated in our own eyes with the quality of IRREPLACEABILITY.
The shit we are churning out is light years away from being.. UNIQUE and IRREPLACEABLE.
And so... our money reflects our own knowledge of how WORTHLESS our stuff is.
OUR MONEY TOO, is worth LESS AND LESS.
The MORE we churn out worthless, undifferentiated SHIT, THE LESS our money is WORTH, in our own eyes...
I welcome your comments.
Back to the Globe.
The good news is... there are people who are interested in resurrecting the OLD, HAND MADE techniques of WORKING. Resurrecting these techniques gives new luster to the word "work", by the way. Working, NOT SOLELY to make money or to earn a living (yuccky), but to make beautiful, ENDURING things. With our hands.
The people who are WORKING in THIS adventure are HAPPY TO BE WORKING.
AND... they are putting meat and potatoes on the table.
Good... JOB, huh ?


15 comments:

Toby said...

This is a very important post, despite the somewhat inaccurate generalisation. However, my shoulder is stiffening and therefore I must be brief.

What you say about generic, characterless crap is massively true and mass-production indeed cheapens our lives. This is a serious challenge to resource-based economy folk like myself who seek the automation of boring, repetitive jobs as part of the process of producing abundance to transcend the need for a medium of exchange and ownership. What I imagine is that craft finds a new form as part of a gift-giving society, and takes place in the space above the basics. Crafts and arts and the sciences and so on will become 'work' or passion or play in a way we do not know today.

I have to stop. Shoulder is shouting at me!

Debra said...

But... we have FIXED the world these days so that we DON'T TRUST OURSELVES TO BE GENEROUS to be able to PUT MEAT AND POTATOES ON THE TABLE FOR OTHERS. AND WE DON'T TRUST OTHERS TO DO IT FOR US.
That's a new idea, Toby...
We should be working towards putting meat and potatoes on the table FOR SOMEBODY ELSE, and not for us. And OTHERS should be working to put meat and potatoes on the table for US.
HALLELUJA ! I'VE GOT IT !!
My new utopia.. Good job, huh ?
Careful with your shoulder, now...

Rupert said...

What if you could fully automate the production, distribution and management of food. No human labour involved, from field/factory to plate? What if the recent work on food 'replication' proves successful and we have a situation that removes any human labour from putting meat and potatoes on the table? How do we value that food? Maybe it should be provided FOC along with shelter, energy and education.
In the ever more competitive market of production of either goods or services human labour is fast becoming too costly, both monetarily and ethically. We need shorter and shorter consumptive cycles (our throw away society) just to sustain the current perpetual growth paradigm. It's like watching a junkie thirst for more crack just to get the same high.

Debra said...

The problem, Rupert, is that I don't think that we VALUE (as much, at least...) what we don't WORK TOWARD in a culture that associates value with work.
At least, at a particularly unconscious level this is true. Can we change this ?
I don't know.
Our attitudes towards aristocracy are really frightful these days.
But it is really important to be able to RECEIVE WITHOUT WORKING, AND WITHOUT PAYING, too. See following post...And what I've written about grace.
And Rupert, through the automation AND CONCENTRATION OF FOOD PRODUCTION IN THE HANDS OF AN ELECT FEW, most of us have become very... DIVORCED from the land, too.
Catastrophic for us, the feeling of ALIENATION FROM NATURE that is a major symptom of our society.
In my opinion.
And you're right, Rupert, we have moved into a toxicomaniac relationship with our world.
We move from ONE SUCCESSIVE BUBBLE to the next, CONCENTRATING all our effort, our energy on the bubble that is in front of our eyes, rather than DIVERSIFYING OUR ENERGY into several areas, which would allow us to keep a living, vital, economy.
Because... people want to make lots of money.
Period. That is their GOAL in life. It has become the supreme good.
Yuccky.

Toby said...

We don't do anything to create air, economics does not value it, but we do. Value is a slippery thing. I believe a fully automated process from start to finish (say nature) can produce things for us (say an apple) that we value. We have done before. We had myths based on animism where everything had its own spirit. We need a new animism and Charles Eisenstein has a take on reality that, to my mind, is the beginning of this.

Imagine every single electron, and all other subatomic particles of Universe as totally unique, with their own little miniature wills. I've been doing so recently and I've started valuing literally everything, from cheap furniture and tupperware to mountain ranges, wasps, sunsets and even pain. With the right story everything is possible.

So Rupert is right, and so is Debra. We just need the right new stories to keep us connected with things like the land and crafts and cooking for each other. A new mix of automation/high-tech with 'old' primitivism is very possible.

Debra said...

I can value wasps, but not cheap furniture.
Sorry.

Toby said...

Not 'wasps' or 'cheap furniture' in the abstract, in the particular. In my kitchen stands a mass produced table (Danish) we inherited from my father-in-law's sister. It was made in the 60s. It is a cheap piece of furniture, it is one of many, but it is unique, it exists in space and time, has scratches and stories to tell, annoys, etc.; it's part of the family. I value it. To throw it away and replace it with something well-crafted and beautiful in the artistic sense would be wrong in my mind.

Debra said...

I can see what you mean.
I can see how... we can raise entire generations of people/children who will become emotionally and spiritually attached to such objects because of the memories associated with them, and we risk nevertheless losing the capacity of making beautiful, individual objects, like violins. Or embroidered cloaks like in Shakespeare's time.
I don't think that your table is an individual in QUITE the same way that a violin is an individual, but this may be debatable...
In the long run, Toby, in my opinion, life is not about being right. (Even though I have a passion about being right. ;-) )
It is about making choices, and knowing that they inevitably have an arbitrary basis, and sticking with, and believing in those choices, and acting in a way that goes along with those choices.
I don't like cheap, mass produced STUFF. When it is shoddily made. (And maybe your table is NOT shoddily made, huh ?)
What we "make" is not comparable to the creation.
It is not on the same level of existence. It is different.
A rock is not well/shoddily made. (This criterion is inapplicable to the rock.)
A table IS. In my opinion.
And in my opinion, making something shoddily that could be made well is a sign that we attach no value to it. And that we CONTINUE to attach less value to what is machine made than to what is hand made.

Rupert said...

Hand made, crafted, home cooked, lovingly bought into existence, all terms with an emotional gravitas that can never be attached to something born out of the profit motive. Something that is manufactured en mass out of the drive for efficiency has no heart, no story, although marketing does it's best to makes us believe just that. Because there is many of 'a thing' it is no longer special.
I hounded a pair of antiques dealers the other day. Asking how they priced their wares. One puffed out his chest and said that it was a combination of an educated eye and 30 years in the business, I scoffed. When pressed the other conceded that it was a combination of where you are sociogoegraphically, the size of the local purse, and keeping an ear to the ground. But mostly , he said, it was what you think you might get for it. With antiques the love and labour that was invested in the creation of said antique has been paid for, often many times over. The new owner is simply renting it until they grow weary of it or they die or they decide they can turn a tidy profit in it's resale. Or it may stay 'in the family' for generations, when it can be auctioned to pay for much needed roof repairs. I once read somewhere that you where upper class if you never had to buy your own furniture. Provenance is a very powerful tool in the trade. Imagine what the planet would look like if we all suffered from long term memory loss.

Toby said...

"And in my opinion, making something shoddily that could be made well is a sign that we attach [little] value to it. And that we CONTINUE to attach less value to what is machine made than to what is hand made."

I agree that human-made things ought to be well made, but believe monetary systems make shoddiness inevitable (the poor have to have something they can afford, right?). That's looking forward though and talking about general principles. Quality is desired, for sure. My point is that with the right myths and stories we can 'value' things we did not make personally, even if they happen to have been made shoddily. This is quite different from a defense of shoddiness per se. It's similar to loving an imperfect or 'ugly' or 'ordinary' or handicapped child. We don't throw it away, so to speak. Part of learning how to value even mass produced things that can be easily replaced (like golf-balls) requires that we see matter not as generic and 'our property' to do with as we please, but as a part of us, as part of a fascinating and infinitely unique universe.

Rupert said...

I'm with you on this one Toby, as you well know. I make similar correlations to 'fine' wine, cheeses or tailored clothing etc. There are many industries that rely on the perpetuation of certain myths. I run an ongoing program (in my head) which endeavors to destroy those myths.

Debra said...

Not me.
i'm the one whose daughter wants to become a string instrument maker.
A violin survives way past its original owner.
It is an object that bonifies with THE RIGHT USE.
The wood in it, which is a natural matter, CONTINUES TO LIVE. That's right, I said LIVE.
I doubt that synthetically made things live in this way. (Maybe, but maybe not.)
Most of the craftspeople I have talked with say that something which has LIVED does not react the same way as something that has not lived.
Wine, by the way, HAS LIVED. The grapes were living.
My house contains very few things that we have bought, but it still contains a few.
The rest is things that I inherited from my parents.
Their stuff is beautiful, although even it is not hand made. IT IS WELL MADE stuff.
Once again, I think that the problem is totalitarian thought.
I think that we ASSUME that the only reason that we work is for money, the way that we assume that when we sell, it is to make a profit.
But those are NOT THE ONLY REASONS.
There are OTHER REASONS, and the DIVERSITY of reasons is what is important.
It is important to be able to make things WELL, AND to make ENOUGH MONEY TO PUT MEAT AND POTATOES ON THE TABLE (not to purchase the new Porsche car, or have a swimming pool, etc.)
We don't have to settle for one OR the other, we spiritually need BOTH.
Men and women are not happy when they do not work well. It eats away at their spirit. It fosters a sense of disillusionment.
Work is a VITAL part of the human condition, whether it be exchanged for money, or for something else.
If you had been at the Globe, Toby, you would have seen that THE POOR SERVANT GIRL made her own PURE WOOL dress (ok, she only had one at best, two, but IT WAS MADE TO LAST, because SHE COULDN'T AFFORD to make shoddy stuff that would wear out overnight. SHE DIDN'T HAVE THE MONEY OR THE TIME TO SETTLE FOR SHODDILY MADE STUFF.)
Shoddily made, mass produced stuff is a symptom of the ravaging effects of TOO MUCH (worthless) money floating around our societies.
It is a symptom of a society that feels TOO WEALTHY, as a whole.
I don't care for your comparison between handicapped children and shoddily made stuff, Toby.
It ties into what I said above about rocks and machines.
Those children... they were not MADE. They were BORN. Big difference, in my book.

Toby said...

You are misreading me, Debra. I don't even think we are in disagreement, unless you want an end to all machines and all tools. Even a well-made violin requires machinery and tools, knitting requires knitting-needles and so on. The technologies that gave us things like violins and pianos also gave us fridges and automobiles as time and our technological prowess moved on. THe reason mass-made so often means 'cheap' is because we have money, which leads to rich-and-poor, cost-cutting, profit-seeking and so on. And things made by machines can be well made, as things made by hand can be of poor quality. To say 'mass-made=cheap crap' and 'handmade=high quality' is to overlook a lot of complexity.

Neither Rupert nor I are against arts and crafts. Are you against machine-made things (like fridges) in general? Or do you, Debra, believe mass-made cannot be good, nor valued, nor treated with respect at all? Leaves are mass-made and treated with respect in Berlin, where they are carefully collected during autumn and used for mulch, whereas they're burned as rubbish in other places. It's not about mass-made or lovingly-made, it's about how we perceive things, the uses we find for things, the cultural attitude we have to the planet and waste and so on.

And I was not comparing handicapped people with junk, I was saying that there is no such thing as junk once you have befriended it, got to know it, formed some sort of bond with it.

Debra said...

O.K. Toby, that's fair.
What you say is true.
I tend to have rather totalitarian thought, anyway...
I wouldn't harp on about it so much if it wasn't a problem for me...

Debra said...

BUT..
As a WOMAN, and as a woman who likes to wear pretty things, Toby, the mass made cheap crap has me retching.
I will NOT bond with it... IT WILL NOT BE MY FRIEND.
I'd rather wear my old T shirts than unsheathe my plastic to buy it...