Friday, November 2, 2012

A ramble on Thomas Crump's Boundaries

As I excitedly announced on twitter I had a short paper from Thomas Crump arrive the other day. Its called "Money and number: the Trojan Horse of Language". In it he argues that 'the words used to denote numbers in an indigenous language will change in response to increased interaction with a dominant culture' and that the agent effecting change is Money.

The closing sentences of the paper say;
"The indigenous populations were able to encapsulate the ritual of the church, adapt its calendar to their own traditional ceremonial cycle and its popular theology to their own world view, and isolate the practice of religion from the mainstream of Spanish, or at the present time, world catholicism. The integrity of the local languages was hardly threatened. But the Peso succeeded where the cross failed. For it is of the nature of money to dissolve boundaries and it is difficult to conceal the uniformity of monetary institutions under the diversity of language." [emphasis is my own]
The paper was published prior to Crump's seminal 'The Phenomenon of Money' which I've still not fully read (its £70 odd if anyone fancies buying it for me!)

What struck me was the bit about dissolving boundaries. Usually in Anthropology this sort of idea about Money's destructive side is framed as 'Money being corrosive of social bonds'. The debate about it goes back a long way. Academics build careers on it.

Boundaries, though. That set me thinking. Boundaries are rather different to bonds.

I'd come to something of an impasse over the whole 'money is corrosive' debate, anyway. There's evidence on both sides and I think the side you choose depends for the most part on your political philosophy. Plus it's not exactly a provable hypothesis is it?

But 'boundaries' is a different way to think about the problem. I can sense some echo of Derrida in the line of thought I'm going to give you here.

Firstly let's get into this word 'Boundaries'. There's the obvious geographical sense of the word. But that's not quite enough to give any meaning to Crump's idea. What he's really saying is that a boundary is a static set of habits* that differentiate one population from another; the habits of the Spanish from the habits indigenous South American Indians. It's this difference of habit that is the 'real' boundary, not the line drawn on a map. In Crump's view Money is the most potent catalyst of change. And it's a catalyst that is never fully absorbed into the static set of habits. Whereas other foreign habits can be successfully co-opted within the indigenous population, Money's dynamic capacity for change - it's power to bring 'uniformity' to the indigenous monetary institutions - is inexhaustible. And that word 'uniformity' (Crump's word) is loaded. It says that Spanish Money is the attractor, pulling older less evolved indigenous economic systems towards it.

Secondly, I want to get into the scale of the idea of Boundaries. There's something about dissolution of boundaries that references the infinite. Whereas social bonds describe a finite set of relations within a population, social boundaries describe something different. The dissolution of a social bond does not inherently imply the creation of some new social bond. The dissolution of a social boundary however, does imply the creation of some new social boundary. Or in other words, a set of habits changed by the catalyst of Money, immediately becomes a new set of habits.

The destruction of a boundary is the creation of a boundary.

And there's the echo of Derrida. A paradox in a sentence.

Hopefully my pre-amble will give persuade you that I've not created the paradox as a ruse. I've just tried to reflect Money's nature like it really is; complex and conflicting. In Money and the Early Greek Mind Richard Seaford (my review) describes some of the features of Money - its impersonal/personal nature, its unlimitedness, the paradox of its concrete abstractedness, and its simultaneous sameness and distinctiveness. Money can be both creator and destroyer as easily as I can fall off a log.

Now, please take a step with me towards some speculative science that I think has some connection to all these weird contradictory behaviours that people observe in Money. I'll just give you the quote you make up your own mind.

Here is what Rupert Sheldrake says about how habits are organised:

(This isn't the best book from which to quote Sheldake [Dogs that know when their owners are coming home p.260] - unfortunately at the time of writing I've lent 'Presence of the Past' and 'The Science Delusion' to my daughter)

Morphic fields are regions in space-time, located within and around systems they organise. They work probabilistically. They restrict, or impose order on the inherent indeterminism of the systems under their influence. They embrace and connect together the various parts of the system they are organising..... A social field organises and coordinates the behaviour of individuals within the social group...
Morphic fields guide the systems under their influence towards characteristic goals or end points.
...once a new field.. has come into being, then through repetition this field becomes stronger. The same pattern becomes more likely to happen again. The more often patterns are repeated, the more probable they become; the fields contain a kind of cumulative memory and become increasingly habitual. Fields evolve in time and form the basis of habits. From this point of view nature is essentially habitual. Even the so-called 'laws of nature' may be more like habits. 
Ten years or so ago, I did write to Sheldrake with some vague idea about Money as a Morphic Field and Price as Morphic Resonance. He was kind enough to get back to me, but he said he didn't see it. I'm not sure I still think about Money in the same way now - not exactly.

But I still have the feeling that there's something in Sheldrake's ideas that relates to Money. It may have something to do with this idea of Money 'dissolving boundaries'. Sheldrake uses the word (coined by the biologist CH Waddington) 'chreodes' to describe the 'canalised pathways of change'- in other words the boundaries of probabilities.

Oh I did say, I'd just give you the quote. Sorry. Let's leave it there, then. It's a long way to ramble in a little blog post, just because Crump decided to talk about boundaries instead of bonds.

In the spirit of confusion, here's some Yes lyrics as a reward for you perseverance and dedication to duty.

Coins and Crosses never know
Their fruitless worth
Cords are broken, locked
Inside the Mother Earth.

(Jon Anderson, 1972)

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