Thursday, July 10, 2014

Money Wisdom #290

"Mythology is the ghost of concrete meaning."

Owen Barfield Poetic Diction - A Study in Meaning (1928 [1984]) p.92

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Money Wisdom #289

"[On Ricoeur's reading of Freud] the conscious component of intention (so important to Brentano) is pushed aside for a deeper psychic intention, namely, that which froths forth from the reaches of the unconscious mind. There intention exists as psychic drives or biological forces, and when integrated with the intention of consciousness, the mind becomes unified. Accordingly, intention goes all the way down, and thus Freud created a theory in which multiple layers of intention exhibit themselves for interpretation."

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.47

Money Wisdom #288

Endnote 18 to Chapter One - The Challenge (and Stigma) of Philosophy

"Richard Wollheim described Freud's use of intentionality as a 'philosophical assumption' that Freud retained throughout his work and probably derives from... Brentano... And that assumption is that every mental state or condition can be analyzed into two components: an idea, which gives the mental state its object or what it [sic] directed upon; and its charge or affect, which gives it its measure of strength or efficacy"

Richard Wollheim Sigmund Freud (1981) p. 20-21 emphasis added 
quoted in Albert Tauber Freud - the Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.235

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My review of Albert Tauber's 'Freud - the Reluctant Philosopher'

This review is on amazon here. If it lies on your couch and tells you its secrets then be a sweetie and pop over there and click the like button. 

Tauber exposes the shaky metaphysical underpinnings of psychoanalysis as science but recasts it affirmatively as moral inquiry 

This is a brilliant book.

I learned my Freud from someone who had dedicated most of his academic career to giving psychoanalysis a scientific (genetic) basis. In the end, after twenty five years of trying he gave up and subsequently disavowed himself of his Freudianism. So, the questions Tauber explores in this book go right to the heart of my own understanding of, and relationship with, Freud and psychoanalysis. I was really looking forward to reading it and have not been disappointed.

It's not an easy read. But then, questions of metaphysics and the philosophy of science aren't easy either. Tauber lays things out as clearly as is possible. His writing is assured but gentle. He quietly repeats key points, highlighting their salience without interrupting the rhythm of his narrative or patronizing the reader. He is honest about his own view on Freud's scientific claims without being over-bearing or hostile. The pace and length of the book are also spot on. Tauber uses comprehensive endnotes rather than footnotes thereby avoiding any stalling within the reading experience but without compromising on the background detail of the arguments.

What helps Tauber cut through the knot of philosophical problems is a sharp focus on the notions of reason and freedom. From these two themes, and their inter-relatedness and co-dependency, Tauber constructs a convincing metaphysical argument to which he marries the story of Freud's intellectual history. We are left with the picture of Freud alive in the real world. Someone who on the one hand felt the need to present psychoanalysis as science to ensure rigor, method and authority. But also on the other hand, someone with quiet doubts and uncertainties about his claim to knowledge.

This is no simple biography of Freud's intellectual struggles, though. It does very effectively describe to the reader the intellectual current in which Freud swam. But in maintaining both balance and empathy for his subject, Tauber somehow - paradoxically - manages to ground the metaphysical arguments. He doesn't rely on metaphor or analogy so much, but instead we see the intellectual problems Freud faced and the perspective from which he faced them. The solutions to those problems are subtly suggested through an imagined discourse between Freud and the various philosophical schools.

I've generally found criticism of Freud frustrating, whether that comes from a post-structuralist/post-modern orientation, or from a materialist/positivist orientation. Of course, both ways of viewing reality can work to highlight deficiencies within Freud's thought, but all too often I find that, in developing their arguments, they tend towards an ideological rather a scholarly critique. I think this is in part why I found Tauber's book so appealing. His central thesis - his orientation - is an affirmative one. Tauber recasts psychoanalysis as a form of moral inquiry and so Freud himself, becomes a moral philosopher.

The central reason for my holding of Tauber's book in such high regard though, stems back to those early experiences of my teacher determined, but failing, to give a genetic basis to psychoanalysis. I think both my teacher and Freud held up science as a kind of moral goal; the truth as 'the good'. Whereas the feeling I got from reading Freud, particularly his later works and especially things like his correspondence with Einstein, was of a man concerned primarily with 'the good' who understood how unfaithful truth can be. Tauber references Stuart H Hughes 'Conscious and Society' - there's a few lines in that book that stuck with me and seem prescient to the thrust Tauber's argument. (Hughes quotes Ernest Jones).

"Kindness and integrity he [Freud] regarded as absolutes. In Freud, 'honesty... was more than a simple natural habit. It became an active love of truth and justice... A moral attitude was so deeply implanted as to seem part of his original nature. He never had any doubt about what was the right course of conduct,' and he cited with approval the saying: 'Morality is self-evident.'  (p. 139)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Money Wisdom #287

"...[Freud] created the most influential depiction of human beings offered in the twentieth century, one that has guided contemporary understandings well beyond the couch and past the strictures of his own biological and anthropological commitments. That description depends on rational insight, moral purpose, and ultimately a promissory note of personal redemption."

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.216

Money Wisdom #286

" and narrative are vehicles of knowing or expressing. One might assign them as tools of an interpretive faculty, which confers meaning. From this perspective, meaning cannot directly arise from epistemology or any of its branches, but rather arises from a dynamic synthesis - the moral orientation of the knower who weaves facts into their fabric of signification (Tauber 2001; 2009). Thus the epistemological and ethical components of Freud's theory must be scrutinized separately and then put back together into a moral epistemology (Tauber 2001; 2005; 2009). Psychoanalysis joins these two domains in a complex dialectic, where the standing of knowledge depends on the fixture of values arising from, and responding to, human need. Indeed, psychoanalytic facts become elements in a narrative created by a constellation of subjective interpretations, and in this sense, Freud offered the analysand the opportunity to create his or her own narrative - an autobiography based upon return, recognition, and reconciliation. Thus a rigid separation of facts and values collapses on the analytic couch, for no psychic fact exists independent of its interpretation.

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.213 (My emphasis)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Money Wisdom #285

" Despite the importance of Freud's linking evolutionary thought to psychoanalytical theory, the Lamarckian speculations, namely, the reconstruction of family conflict and its reenactment, have been generally condemned 'never to pass from the realm of the fantastic to the realm of the real' (Parisi 1989, 487). Nevertheless, a psychology lodged in the instinctual domain is hardly radical, and today as testified by the vast literature in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, efforts to trace communal behavior and moral agency to earlier primate behavior is hardly innovative (e.g., Sober and Wilson 1998, Joyce 2007), albeit contested (e.g. Buller 2006). However, describing the biology of complex behaviors is not our subject, for we are concerned with how Freud's commitment to placing the psyche in its archaic biological substrata becomes transformed by a ruling reason. To do so, we contrast Nietzsche's construction that minimizes the role of rationality in understanding agency (rational 'higher' faculties are subordinated to the demands of the 'lower' instincts), which in turn reflects a deep skepticism of reason, and Kantian reason in particular. Indeed these views irreparably separate him from Freud. Below [in Chapter Five - Kant, Nietzsche and Freud] their complex intellectual relationship is summarized around two related issues: on the one hand, Freud afforded an autonomy that Nietzsche denied, and on the other hand, Freud formulated the psyche much as Nietzsche did by adopting an organic perspective and thereby committed himself to a Darwinian biology - a biological science of understanding. In short, whereas Nietzsche celebrate the Will, Freud would endeavor to control it.

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.164

Money Wisdom #284

"The self must reflect upon itself to attain its autonomy: 'Being in a subjective state... does not count as having experience of and so being aware of that state unless I apply a certain determinant concept... and judge that I am in such a state, something I must do and be able to know that I am doing' (Pippin 1989, 19)

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.151

Money Wisdom #283

"The entire enterprise [of psychoanalysis] rests on reason's autonomy and the capacity to exercise freedom of choice and thereby assume ethical responsibility (Sherman, 1995). Psychoanalysis thus becomes a moral philosophy of investigation underwriting an ethics identity."

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.134

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Money Wisdom #282

"A deeper complexity underlies Kantian reason: If the noumenal reality can only be refracted by reason's own laws, if the real is a synthesis of mind and nature, if the very self that knows the world is itself a noumenon, what could reason's own foundation be? Kant's answer: 'Reason operates according to laws that it gives itself' (Neiman 1994, 91). In other words, reason is independent of the natural world of appearances and causation.  [...]

...Kant meticulously derived reason's 'laws,' which include the unrequited search for the unconditioned (the ground or foundation of the world) (Neiman 1994, 86) Simply, reason becomes 'the capacity to act according to purposes' (88), which is comprised by the search for its own grounding. Further, by seeking 'its own reflection in nature' (88), reason structures reality according to a human perspective, not as the world really is in any final sense, but only in reason's terms. In other words, human minds are 'the lawgivers' to nature. [...]

Thus the 'concepts of the understanding give order to experience, the principles of reason are the standard by which it is judged' (Neiman 1994, 6).


...unlike certain human behaviors that have an obvious empirical content and thus deterministic causality, reason possesses no temporality (or what we perceive as natural causality) 'and thus the dynamic law of nature, which determines the temporal sequence according to rules, cannot be applied to it'.

Thus to fulfill its function, reason must be free of experience, and, on this view, the ability to survey the world and make judgments depends on reason's independence of that world. Reason, accordingly, resides outside the natural domain, free and autonomous, to order nature through scientific insight and regulate behavior through rational moral discourse."

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.125-127

Money Wisdom #281

"Freud, through a complex convolution, extrapolated neurophysiology to psychology, and thereby aspired to establish mechanisms of disease. In configuring psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline, he simply ignored the gapping [sic] chasm between the causal mechanistic laws of the natural domain, which defined his idea of scientific explanation, and the interpretative reconstructions he devised to explain mental phenomena. In short , Freud applied what he thought were scientific causal links, because he believed he was dealing with natural phenomena that could be discerned through spectacles devised for physics and biology, when in fact he supplied reasons that were derived from inferences and interpretations of mental phenomena that had no explanatory power in the natural sense he wished to apply. Simply, he mistook two different ontologies as the same and in the process applied the same epistemologies when different strategies were required. In a sense, he ignored one of Kant's cardinal tenets: two kinds of reason were required to address the physical and the metaphysical, and [...] Freud failed to recognize the metaphysical character of the unconscious and thus made a fundamental category error in his analysis of the psyche.

If Freud had succeeded in making the unconscious a natural object suitable for scientific study, then his naturalization of the mind would be credible. The position taken here, albeit in debt to the vast critical literature, accepts that he failed. On that view, the 'mind' and 'the ego' and 'the unconscious' serve as placeholders for the corresponding targets of scientific scrutiny. On this account, the unconscious, then, is a metaphysical construction whose definition has served useful purposes, but it cannot be confused with the brain functions from which behavior emerges. This hardly denies its reality, but that reality is configured in a universe that excludes natural objects and forces. Kant, and in a different voice, Wittgenstein, considered each domain as separate and distinct, so the character of knowledge and reason employed to achieve its ends were also distinguished. In this vein, Freud's triumph rests on the successful application of 'practical' reason, when ironically he thought he was employing 'pure' reason. That misassignment accounts for Freud's error (or in Whitehead's term, 'misplaced concreteness,' to characterize this general mistake [1925]), which nevertheless yielded success. Ironically then, whereas Freud thought he was doing science, he in fact was conducting a highly novel, creative, and fecund interpretation of how humans think, conduct their lives, exhibit character and create personal identity. Simply, he conducted a moral investigation, one that remains a steadfast testimony to his insights."

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.127-128

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Money Wisdom #280

"Windelband's understanding of the place of value in epistemology introduced a challenge to positivist ideals, since he was dissatisfied with the philosophical grounding of objectivity. The aspiration of positivism to lead the human sciences to the naturalistic ideal required a value system that would order the respective inquiries. Positivism's approach depended on a dichotomy between facts and values, the objective and subjective ways of knowing, respectively (Putnam 2002). Long before the current post-Kuhnian views of the value structure of science achieved wide acceptance (Tauber 2009), Windelbund would ask, What is the relationship of facts and values? What is the standing of 'facts', and how are they qualified? Where did 'value', specifically in reference to the human sciences, find its philosophical place? The ability to define or maintain a system of values to support the notions of a radically objective science (Tauber 2009) rested upon the fact/value distinction (traditionally strung on an objective/subjective axis), but the basic division could not be maintained, because facts assume their meaning through a much wider constellation of values than the particular objectivist values positivists embraced. Indeed, facts attain their standing through the values that structure the very acquisition of data, and another array of values determine their significance and meaning. On this view, the dichotomy of 'facts' (products of a stark objectivity) and 'values' (typically construed as subjective) collapses in analytic practice. (This line of criticism proved important, since the collapse of the fact/value distinction became the fulcrum of positivism's fall in the last half of the twentieth century).

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.106

Money Wisdom #279

"As a neo-Kantian, Windelband recognized that the limits of pure reason (directed at the natural world) espoused by Kant could not support science's epistemology and that other element, 'value', not only defined knowledge (its basis and application), but also conferred a necessary telos for reason's direction in the pursuit of any epistemological enterprise."

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.105-6

Money Wisdom #278

"Freud connived to walk on both sides of the street: On the one hand, he followed an idealist course in explaining the unconscious and applying transcendental principles for its development (Bergo 2004), and on the other hand, he professed a positivist confidence in establishing laws of the unconscious through empirical methods that seemingly ignored transcendental commitments. The unconscious scrutinized as a natural object thus presented itself as both a biological entity suitable for positivist examination and a deduction from some transcendental requirement for establishing cause in the psyche realm. [....]

This bivalency would plague psychoanalysis throughout its development and offer critics ample opportunity to attack its weak flank, the putative scientific theory. By insisting on making psychoanalysis an objective science, Freud betrayed the more fundamental commitment to the deductive understanding of the unconscious. That inconsistency would leave psychoanalysis open to scathing criticism, for instead of claiming the approach as a method of interpretation through inferences and narrative constructions, limited by constraints easily identified and embracing a circumscribed skepticism, Freud sought to establish psychoanalysis as a means to decipher psychic cause - a positivist science of the mind - and thereby lost the support of those who understood the philosophical errors he committed."

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.104

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Money Wisdom #277

This basic tension, arising between a scientific explanation and a hermeneutical interpretation, resides at the foundation of psychoanalysis and has been recognized by many. Stan Draenos succinctly states the conflict, one embedded deeply in Freud's bivalent approach:
A contradiction runs through Freud's writings like a fault line. It arises form the fact that psychoanalysis presents itself as knowledge of two different kinds. On the one hand, psychoanalysis takes the form of an understanding of mind obtained through the disclosure of hidden meanings in dreams and neurotic symptoms. On the other, psychoanalysis takes the form of an explanation of mind secured in the elucidation of the mechanisms and systemic relations of a 'mental apparatus.'
  To bring these two forms of knowledge together within one science is like trying to square a circle. For they carry with them visions of mind that are fundamentally at odds. In seeking to understand mind through interpretation of meaning, Freud takes the mental as a property of a subject and his inner life. In seeking to explain mind as a mechanism, he places mental phenomena among the natural objects of the external world. Mind as meaning and mind as mechanism, however, lie on opposite sides of a great divide first enunciated by Descartes's famous dualism, in the distinction between res cogitans and res extensa, consciousness and matter, subject and object.
Freud, of course, straddled the line."

Stan Draenos Freud's Odyssey: Psychoanalysis and the End of Metaphysics (1982) p.7 
quoted in Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.67

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A brief note on Fact/Value dichotomies

You'll know I'm a fan of Tim Johnson's Magic, Maths and Money. His most recent post is Scientific Facts and Democratic Values. The comment thread is worth reading. The EP (experimental physicist) that Tim mentions in the post has recently added his thoughts, and identified himself as Philip Moriarty.

As I say in my own comment on the post, I'm exploring these fact/value issues in psychoanalysis at the moment through my reading of Albert Tauber's book Freud - the Reluctant Philosopher. I've barely got beyond the first chapter so I'm not going to say too much on Tauber here, but there are a couple of notes I wanted to make.

Tim thinks that the definition of science should be broad enough so that it can incorporate claims from the social as well as the natural world. He backs up this idea with the following striking statement;
.".. I believe it is equally justified to claim the "E=mc2" [is right] and that "Raping three year olds is wrong" and I need to have a framework that acknowledges the equivalence of these claims. The reason I use an extreme example is that the question of raping children is clearly predominantly a moral question, so what I am claiming is that my intellectual framework needs to be equally robust in supporting "facts" as "values".
In his comment Philip says that Tim is over-reaching here and that his 'attempt to equate universal physical laws with the idea of a universal moral framework makes no sense at all'. He agrees with an earlier commenter - Kaleberg - who claims that 'there have been, and quite likely still are, societies where raping toddlers is seen as perfectly acceptable.' In other words, moral values are inherently relative, whereas scientific facts are not.

I'm not so sure about Kaleberg's claim from both a practical and a philosophical position.

First, my practical objection. Freud's claim was that society itself - i.e. the very idea of society - was based upon some form of sexual repression. Indeed, some form of prohibition on incest is the closest thing anthropologists have to a 'universal social law' [the closest thing to 'a truth' given certain error bars  :o) ]. Marriage too, is a pretty widespread phenomenon both geographically and historically. So much so that even today, most of the world take some form of monogamous marriage to be a 'natural' state. To identify a variance in sexual norms over time and space does not falsify the claim that our social being is fundamentally built on sexual prohibition - or put another way, it doesn't disprove the idea of a universal moral framework.

Secondly, my philosophical objection. I regard the idea that 'morality is inherently relative' as an axiom, rather than a truth. Its a powerful axiom, for sure. And perhaps a very useful one that helps guard against all sorts of horrors. But it is a truth before the fact, not after it. My own take it - which comes primarily from considering the relationship between value and money - is that of value monism; that there is one value that we perceive as manifest in different forms. It's an axiom too, but one that works better for my experience of life and my understanding of money. I should add that I see a equivalence between the terms 'value and moral'. There's a good quote here from David Graeber that explores the notion of value as its used in an anthropological sense and, for me at least, hints at a kind of value monism.

'Value monism' is not a popular philosophical position. But I'm always struck how if one can frame some of the ideas it encompasses - of universality, the absolute, the 'good' - in an appropriate term, it is readily accepted. One such term is 'humanism'. Its the term Tauber uses about Freud to describe a sort of moral dynamic that he identifies in Freud's work. We're all humanists, aren't we?

I think much of what Tim has been doing in his work generally is to try to uncover how humanism and science relate to one another. The focus on value and fact in Tim's latest post is, in this sense, a specification of that wider humanism/science relation.

The following quote from Tauber contains a couple of ideas that I think are very relevant both to the 'micro' fact/value debate and to the 'macro' humanism/science relation.
Freud's 'physics envy' belied his scientific aspirations, for he could not overcome the insurmountable normative structure of his enterprise. Scientific theories generally fall into two camps: Some are simply descriptive with no judgments about optimal or suboptimal states.  Such theories, which characterize the natural sciences, for example, Newtonian mechanics or general relativity, are value-neutral (i.e., relative to human or subjective values) and thus non-normative. Of course, they are not value-free, but rather judged and governed by their own hierarchy of values, for example, objective, universal, coherent, parsimonious, 'aesthetically elegant,' or simple. Older kinds of theories embed different social or personal values in their descriptive structure that are necessarily derived from human experience, and, accordingly account for conditions on a normative spectrum of values. Physics is not evaluative in this way, because there is no value judgement on whether an eclipse of the moon, itself, is good or bad, better or worse (at least not in Western secular society). Needless to say, the effects on human life of such phenomena are valued, but the phenomena themselves, at least in their descriptions, are neutral and only elicit a normative judgement relative to how that phenomena or theory affects well being.

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.33
The key terms then, are value-neutral and value-free.

Science has the goal of value-neutrality, in the sense that it seeks to neutralize certain values in experiments so that it can measure and therefore confirm the effects of certain causes. This is perhaps why facts - such as E=mc2 - are presented as value-free, because for most practical purposes they are indeed free of value. Strictly speaking though, they should properly be regarded as value-neutral, and not value-free.

Now, Freud (if he wasn't such a materialist physics-envy type concerned with the status of psychoanalysis as science) could have a field-day with the associations between castration and neutralizing. All I want to do though, in terms of psychoanalysis, is, in just a few sentences, explore a theme that this distinction between value-neutral and value-free suggests.

I came to Tim's website because of its title. When I read that he was a fan of the work of Joel Kaye, I knew Tim's work would be of real interest to me. Tim's (and Joel's) exploration of the moral framework within which proto-science (or natural philosophy) developed and that framework's relation to money is very important. But there is always a problem with these historical stories about the relation between money and thought. Simply put, its difficult to know when to start. Broadly, Joel Kaye's idea was that the monetization of society, and the reaction of scholars to it, was the driving force behind the advances which led ultimately to Newton. The difficulty is that Richard Seaford in his brilliant Money and the Early Greek Mind tells pretty much the same story, only set in a different time and with different characters.

The theme then, that I think links these stories about thought and money, is repression (we could get technical and talk about it being sublimation, but let's not). This is important to understand in respect of the issue of value-neutral vs value-free. For me, Tim's work can be read as story about how values in finance have been repressed (literally neutralized). His recent efforts seem to focus on the idea that we need to bring those values back to consciousness.


A last couple of points:


I said in my comment that 'Facts are the currency of science'. I don't mean this as analogy. I think they really are. Value, Money and currency between them seem to traverse the boundaries between subject and object, and transcend the distinctions we create - or that exist - between the real and the abstract. It may help here to repeat one of my axioms;

  • Money is an aspect of reality that mediates Value and enumerates certain relations through currency.

What links currency and facts then, is their relation to Money and Value.

I conceptualize Money a 'bifurcating force' which has a unique (and primary) relationship to a 'value singularity'. I consider the truth of a fact and the value of a coin as related in a fundamental way. 


This line from Tim's post triggered a memory; 
In response, the EP raised a cup as if to drop it and the claim was made that it will accelerate at 9.81.. m/s2 and this was a fact, known within definite errors. 
I had a wonderful Spanish PHD (or post?) guy take our philosophy of science seminars at the LSE. His schtick (and I think possibly his thesis proper) was that gravity doesn't exist. It would really annoy some of my fellow students, but I loved it.  To get across the idea he'd drop a pen onto the desk and ask 'what just happened?' The annoyed students would explain, with varying degrees of detail the effect of gravity on a given mass etc. Then he'd say, 'prove to me that the whole world didn't just move toward the pen.'
How we come to know, what we think we know, is an important question that should be asked repeatedly - not so it becomes like a debilitating neurosis - but enough that it reminds us of the value of facts.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Money Wisdom #276

"Freud's grandiose ambitions have been extensively listed and examined by his biographers, an suffice it to note a single famous anecdote:
'Freud clearly fancied himself an Oedipus, defeating the dark riddling voices of the subconscious. When on his fiftieth birthday (1906), a number of his intimates presented him with a medallion engraved with a portrait of himself on the obverse, and a replica of Oedipus answering the Spinx on the reverse, he turned pale. Next to the nude Oedipus the following words were inscribed (line 1525): "Who divined the famed riddle and was a man most mighty.' (Scully 1997, 230)
Ernest Jones explained the 'pale and agitated' reaction as due to Freud's belief that he had encountered
'a revenant, and so he had.... Freud disclosed that as a young student at the University of Vienna he used to stroll around the great arcaded court inspecting the busts of former famous professors of the institutions. He then had the phantasy, not merely of seeing his own bust there in the future, which would not have been anything remarkable in an ambitious student, but of it actually being inscribed with the identical words he now saw on the medallion.' (Jones 1953-57, 2:14)
Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) p.13

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dispatches from Operation Mindfuck

If someone posted on Tumblr a picture of Emily Browning burning money in the film Sleeping Beauty how many notes do you think it might get?

What was the last date on which the Daily Mail published an article on Money Burning?

(And as if prescient - a weird thing to say about the Daily Mail, I know - a week prior to this the KLF's million quid burning on Jura was actually in one of their headlines [for a piece on holidaying on Jura])

If you were Adbusters the Canadian-based not-for-profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment organization who were important players in Occupy, on what date would you post an article on encouraging people to burn their money?

(The article was originally accompanied by a video of Greek activists robbing a shop of money and then burning it as a form of protest. This, claims the author of the Adbusters piece, is a 'shocking political act worthy of emulation'.)


The comments to the Daily Mail piece and the Adbusters piece are interesting as people try to get their heads around what burning money means. I'll pick a few of them for you:

From the Daily Mail:

userpete86, IrvineCA, United States, 2 months ago

I don't really see a problem here. If you think about it, they have burned a store of value, not actual goods. Burning $5000 worth of actual food would be a crime, whereas burning that much cash really just strengthens every existing dollar. It's a weird concept.

Rick Jamey, nO, United States, 2 months ago

What you actually do, if you know how to run a show properly, is you SAY you are burning money and then you burn something else, like...fake money? The audience would never know and no money ever gets destroyed.....

jrg, Winnipeg, 2 months ago

As a Canadian, I am disgusted and ashamed.

usadarling, allNutsinFlorida, 2 months ago

This is such a reflection of what we have become as a society when burning money instead of feeding and clothing starving children is done for the thrill and the almighty god publicity. I am sure these two hosts will mea culpa themselves after the drama into more ratings.

markish99, kent, 2 months ago

5k incinerated has generated far more exposure than it would have done had it been spent on conventional advertising. Okay, it is an obscene waste, but mission is accomplished.

Bagpiper13, Calgary, Canada, 2 months ago

I voted to burn it. Pretty cool. eh?

From Adbusters:

People can burn their own money if they want, but I fail to see how these gents are justified taking money from others to burn.
Where does money go when burned? Well the value transfers to the money that is still in existence, at least until the government prints a new batch (which is also a wrong, in my opinion).

and in reply to the above comment;

Basically, you are a capitalist who believes that we are not justified in forcing change on a society that is like a train running off the cliff. Well, I don't agree. I think we need to stop the train before it kills us all, and if that means creating a ruckus or doing things that sensitive capitalists don't understand, that is OK.

Money may be the golden calf of modern society, but unlike a "false god", it provides tangible benefit for everyone participating in society. Removing money from circulation affects everyone, even if they're just "your bills".
An ideal society would not function on a capitalist system, but we are not yet in an ideal society. If we are to get there, we will need to create another system of exchange before we can free ourselves of the one currently in place.

and in reply to the above comment;

Why are you so scared to burn money? I'm tired of hearing about how if we just buy the right stuff, everything will be fine. Personally, I'm going to burn a dollar bill and see how I feel.

Adbusters, I almost always agree with you, but I'm not so sure about this one. Why not use that money to buy a homeless person a meal?
This might work if you are in the comfortable middle class, but go up to a poor person and tell them to "just burn your money" and see how that goes. And would Kalle Lasn be willing to burn the money he earns from selling subscriptions and shoes? I don't think he would.

and in reply to the above comment;

I think the point the author tried to make is that we are unable to imagine the desecration of money and will create a whole series of rationalizations as to why it is important that we do not desecrate money.
The conventional wisdom is that money can buy anything, even an egalitarian society. That we need only give money to homeless people, and that will improve things.
The interesting question is: are we able to break our relation to money, no longer viewing it as anything more important than mere paper that has been ascribed value.

Burning money is a symbolic act; a desperate objection to the desecration of the world that we are all implicated in. It is not a solution, it is a symptom

A bold revolutionary burns his own money. Not the money of a shop owner.

Anybody can burn someone elses money....easy peasy. To burn your own? All it is is comparing the feeling of burning your own money compared to buying some shit. I suspect the feeling of burning your own money would last a lot longer...possibly the rest of your life.


Its interesting to me that commenters pick up on the point of whether or not you burn your own money. I think this is important. If a rich man gives you a thousand quid and you burn it that's one thing, if a poor man burns his last tenner, that's another thing entirely. Quite how you define what is your money is complicated though. Do you know at any given moment the balance of your liabilities and assets? And what about your future commitments? Any reference your future income stream surely has risk attached to it. You can't be 100% certain that you'll be able to continue paying your mortgage. In other words, being definite about whether the money in your pocket is 'yours' is more complicated than it might first appear.

I think in the end what it comes down to, largely, is your feeling about it. If you're going to burn money do you genuinely and honestly feel it is yours to burn? I think that's the important difference. 

I actually had to tackle this issue on my first burning. I burnt a tenner on 23rd October 2007 whilst I was bankrupt. So technically, the tenner wasn't mine. It belonged to my creditors. However, it did 'feel' like my tenner. I'd had it in my pocket for a couple of weeks prior and had refused to spend it going without this and that instead. Of course I had no credit cards or even a bank card (it's still tough being a bankrupt) so cash was the only way I had of spending and receiving. Key to the 'feeling' of ownership was the absolute amount. It was, after all, only a tenner. If I'd burnt a thousand quid (not that I had a thousand quid, but...) that would have been different. If a creditor had noticed, they might well have kicked up a fuss. 

So I suppose its both how you feel about it and how others feel about it, that determines whose money it is to burn. That's odd if you think about 'ownership' as a definite thing, which is easy to do. But that aspect of consensus - of something fundamentally social - seems to be at the core ownership. Another way of saying this, is that ownership needs to be visible for it to exist at all. That's an interesting thing to think about in terms of the actions of Candaules, 'his' Queen and Gyges all those years ago.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Money Wisdom #275

"An important element in the theory of repression is the view that repression is not an event that occurs once but that it requires a permanent expenditure [of energy]".

Freud (1926) Inhibition, Symptom and Anxiety p 157
quoted in Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) xv

Money Wisdom #274

"The intellectual portrait of Freud presented here regards Freud, the reluctant philosopher, expending considering [sic] intellectual (and psychic) energy in defining himself as an empirical scientist at the expense of a competing, seemingly repressed passion, and that this subordinated desire to philosophize finally emerged upon writing Totem and Taboo (1913b) and and the meta-psychological papers shortly thereafter".

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) xv

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Money Wisdom #273

"Has the world ever been changed by anything save by thought and its magic vehicle the Word? I believe in actual fact philosophy ranks before and above the natural sciences and that all method and exactness serve its intuitions and its intellectual and historical will .... Scientific freedom from assumptions is or should be a moral fact. But intellectually it is, as Freud points out, probably an illusion. One might strain the point and say that science has never made a discovery without being authorized and encouraged thereto by philosophy".

Thomas Mann Freud and the Future (1947) p. 419
quoted in Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) note 2 page 227

Money Wisdom #272

"My discoveries are not primarily a heal-all. My discoveries are the basis for a very grave philosophy. There are very few who understand this, there are very few who are capable of understanding this.

-Sigmund Freud (1933 conversation, quoted by Hilda Doolittle 1971, 25)
quoted in Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) preface (original emphasis)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This is getting silly

I stumbled across this - Lord of the Rings: How to read JRR Tolkein - the other day via a link in my Twitter feed. As is often the case with me, I've lost the original source but my best guess is that it was from the Brain Pickings people.

Its quite long, and the speaker Michael D. C. Drout is smartly dressed, looking more like a CEO than a Professor of English - I thought they had to be scruffy and drunk. Don't let my prejudice put you off though. It's really interesting.

I read Lord of the Rings in the summer when I was seventeen. I wouldn't describe my self as a total Lord of the Rings geek - I didn't get into the whole Dungeons and Dragon thing - but I did really enjoy the book. It definitely stayed with me. When my kids were little - about eight and six - I used to read it to them as their bedtime story. I'd do my best Gandalf and Gollum voices and try to make it as exciting as I could for them. I'm not sure they totally got it at that young age, but I was often asked for encores and repeat performances. The possibility that they were just trying to stay up later is something I considered but chose to ignore. I never actually finished reading the whole of the book to them. It is after all, very long (this Drout tells us was all that one critic had to say about it on its publication).

But I loved reading it to my kids - that'd be my first time machine trip. And I feel I did them a favour. By the time Peter Jackson's films came out they were a little older. And I like to think my early readings successfully manipulated them at a subconscious level to be able to fully appreciate and enjoy the movies. We now have a little ritual just before Christmas when they return from university and we go and see the Hobbit in the cinema. If I'm honest the Hobbit films aren't great. But I still love the whole experience of it.

After each of the films, I talk with them (well, at them) about the meaning of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. We return home from the cinema in the car and while I have them as a captive audience I give them a precis of my thesis that Tolkein's works are essentially about money*. I am without fail met with the rebuttal 'Dad, you think everything is about money'. It's a fair point.

There's only one more Hobbit film to go, now. I'm a bit sad about that. Still, there's always box sets.

Drout mentions Tribology - the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion, or in other words, the study of ruin and decay. He mentions Alfred the Great's grave and this glass engraving that reconstructs a ghost like image of it on the site Hyde Abbey which was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries.

He does these things to illustrate a few ideas about Philology (the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary criticism, history, and linguistics). And he argues that it was Tolkien's understanding of Philology that helped him to write Lord of the Rings

This is a bit of blurb from the Carnegie Mellon site:
Drout believes that Tolkien’s immense and lasting popularity can be explained by a “perfect storm hypothesis.”  
“Tolkien took very powerful medieval legends that are inaccessible to people because of language, remixed them, and put them in the point of view of hobbits representing ordinary, middle class people in an otherwise heroic world,” Drout said. “Tolkien also dared to go where post-war literature had given up. Mainstream literature had given up on talking about power, evil and what to do about it. There was clearly a hunger in people to talk about cosmic problems, and Tolkien’s work allows readers to think and feel about these central issues, but slightly abstractly.” 
Drout continued, “Tolkien wrote a text that feels like an old text, back by a long tradition. And, finally, he writes from such a point of view that you experience what the characters are experiencing. Readers feel like they’ve had an experience – not read a book.”
Even though Drout doen't mention Gyges and his magic ring, all this is interesting to me. It makes me think about the process by which those modern translations of Herodotus and the other old Greek blokes have come into being. So, I thought, after watching Drout I best do a search on Gyges and philology. Chrome told me that I've previously searched 'Gyges philosophy', but not philology. 

Anyway if you do that search now, high up in the results and with multiple links is this paper The Tale of Gyges and the King of Lydia by Kirby Flower Smith from 1902. I guess its a very famous paper in Philology circles. It was published by the prestigious John Hopkins University Press who also happened to have published one of my favourite books on money The Economy of Literature by Marc Shell that contains what is probably my favourite opening sentence of any of my money books:

"Those discourses are ideological that argue or assume that matter is ontologically prior to thought."

It might be worth bearing Marc Shell's words in mind for what I'm about to tell you cos if you're a committed materialist this stuff could drive you nuts. The Tale of Gyges and the King of Lydia appeared in the academic journal The American Journal of Philology. The journal was founded in 1880. It's still going today and they are currently on volume number 135. 

You know what's coming.

That did make me smile.



Lord of the Rings is about a magic GOLD ring. Gold ring, marriage, monogomy, sexual jealousy, property, possession, obsession, power, MONEY. Rings as currency? Value? What makes something precious? It's all there you know. As is the destruction of the ring. Melting of gold. Burning of money.


Dad, you think everything is about money.


It is. What about that Hobbit? The whole of that fucking thing is about Money. Well, Gold. You can't deny that. Plus that Sam & Frodo relationship in Lord of the Rings. What's that about? They're so gay [.... etc]


Thank God. We're home.