Friday, February 5, 2010

Money is a Door to Spirit

Something funny has been going on for a very long time. The more skillful we have become, over the millennia, at explaining rationally what Universe is, the more abstractly we can represent back to ourselves our interpretations of The Way Things Work. We are pulling ourselves higher and higher up into the air by our own bootstraps. We are climbing up on logic, building culture and collected wisdom on top of themselves. Money is a vital part of this process, one which is, I suspect, leading somewhere, a direction likewise of our making.

There is a vertiginous, dizzying aspect to such musings; nowhere can we put down our feet and be certain we have struck solid ground. The spiritual corner of my thinking believes the "physical" reality we call Universe is an ongoing creation we collectively have created as a playground for learning about the power of creativity. (By "we" I mean some form of "consciousness," but I'm not going to get into that here.) If my brief description sounds like an ouroboros, I mean it to. We cannot build on anything solid, because there is nothing solid. Except perhaps consensus, which is very hard won, and even harder to change, though change it does. "Solidity" is that which we determine to be solid, as we prod at the stuff of reality with ourselves; our imperfect knowledge and imperfect senses. The process is circular, a feed-back loop which spirals in a direction we can call progress or decay, depending on our preference.

Money measures value, but value is unclear, subjective. Money started out as something valued by everyone, light enough to carry around, that did not rot like apples or meat, and could be exchanged for traded goods and services produced to surplus. This valued thing has progressed from cowrie shells, beads, gold and so on. Now it is value in the abstract, now money represents value itself, is value, and we agree on this point sufficiently for money to “work.” The old adage "you can’t eat money" may well be true, but that hardly matters; the locomoting energy of billions of people scrabbling around to earn enough to stay alive keeps the whole show going. No one really wants to pull the curtain back, no one really wants to expose the hollowness that throbs at the heart of everything. That would say too much about us, about how we deceive ourselves, and we don’t want to know about that – yet. But I think it’s going to happen anyway, because our collective refusal to do the work necessary to see money in all its vaporous illusion cannot stop its inbuilt flaws from bringing about its own upheaval.

Money is a tool that will teach us that it doesn't matter, that life is a sometimes brutal game, and that our imagination is very powerful. It will teach us too that our relationship with our environment defines us and shapes the future. We are the environment, the environment is us. Money has focussed our attention hard on the antithesis of spirit, on zero-sum competitive games, on greed and ambition, on fear of want on a planet of almost boundless bounty, but in leading us through those doors will take us to a door that will prove its downfall. Opening it will be brightly painful. On the other side of this door is a way of being so alien to us, we can barely discern its faintest outline from where we stand now.

I don’t like predictions, but something in my water is increasingly whispering to me that this one is true. Coming soon to a theater near you.


Martin said...

I was imagining the complete absence of money too a while back. It was in reaction to something that Niall Ferguson said in an interview, although I don't think he was implying this thought. It's almost like trying to imagine the end of the universe. Trying to explain it is more like trying to explain a feeling rather than something which seems like a such an obviously possible fact. Heh, it ends up coming out more like poetry, and the response more often than not is a blank stare.

Toby said...

Hi Martin,

thanks for commenting. Yeah, the blank stare you describe is one of the most common reactions, along with wry-smiles-of-knowing, or outright you-idiot! looks. Money, though a tool we humans invented for particular reasons, is seen as essential as air, and there's the rub. Theoretically high civilisation without a medium of exchange is possible by pursuing a program of abundance, common ownership and automation. Whether or not sufficient numbers of us want to take on a challenge of this sort only time will show. Right now the interest in the idea percolates only among people like me, way out there in the wilderness, our voices (mostly) lost in the wind.

There, a little cliched poetry for you. ;-)

Thai said...

Universality is another word for totalitarianism, nothing more. I know we see it differently but that is the way I see it.

Thai said...

And by the way, I am a universalist as well ;-)

Toby said...

Universality is not something I seek out, not on purpose anyway. There are commonalities between humans and other earthlings which are useful to recognise, as it is to recognise our common dependence upon things like clean air and water. This need not however lead to some overarching prescription on how to live right down to the last detail.

But, if I figure out in my little brain that one consequence of a moneyless world would be totalitarianism, I will drop my interest in the idea like a hot potato. Diversity is the spice of life. We are the only animal on Earth which uses a medium of exchange like money to do our thing. There is plenty of diversity and wonder throughout nature, without totalitarianism, without money, and with plenty of universality. Energy is exchanged, yes, but not controlled by a central authority which seeks to make profit out of that control.