Sunday, December 29, 2013

Money Wisdom #241

"...the ultimate illusion, the ultimate trick behind this whole play of mirrors, is that power is not, in fact, power at all, but a ghostly reflection of one's own potential for action; one's 'creative energies, ' as I've somewhat elusively called them.

However elusive, creative potential is everything. One could even argue that it is in a sense the ultimate social reality. For me, this is what is really compelling about Bhaskar's 'critical realism.' Bhaskar suggests that most philosophers have been unable to come up with an adequate theory of physical reality because they see it as composed simply of objects but not what he calls 'powers' - potentials, capacities, things that are of themselves fundamentally unrepresentable, and in most real-life, 'open-system' situations unpredictable as well. It seems to me it is quite the same with powers of social creativity. What makes creativity so confusing, to both actor and analyst, is the fact that these powers are - precisely - fundamentally social. They are social both because they are the result of an ongoing process whereby structures of relation with others come to be internalized into the very fabric of our being, and even more, because this potential cannot realize itself... ...except in coordination with others. It is only thus that powers turn into values."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.259-260

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Money Wisdom #240

"What I want to focus on here is the peculiar role of objects in situations of historical agency - in particular those which, like money, serve as the medium for bringing into being the very thing they represent... ...Money , in a wage labor system, represents the value (importance) of one's productive actions, at the same time as the desire to acquire it becomes the means by which those actions are actually brought into being. In the case of capitalism, this is only true from the particular, subjective perspective of the wage-earner; in reality - that is, social reality - the power of money is an effect of a gigantic system of coordination of human activity. But in a situation of radical change, a revolutionary moment in which the larger system itself is being transformed, or even, as in the case of West African fetishes or so many Malagasy charms, a moment in which new social arrangements between disparate actors are first being created, this is not the case. The larger social reality does not yet exist. All that is real, in effect, is the actor's capacity to create it. In situations like this objects really do, in a sense, bring into being what they represent. They become pivots, as it were, between the imagination and reality."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.251

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Money Wisdom #239

"Religion thus becomes the prototype for all forms of alienation, since it involves projecting our creative capacities outward onto creatures of pure imagination and then falling down before them asking them for favors. And so on."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.239

Money Wisdom #238

"The really striking thing is how often people can see institutions - or even society as a whole - both as a human product and also as given in the nature of the cosmos, both as something they have themselves created and as something they could not possibly have created."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.232

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Money Wisdom #237

"Let me begin with a warning. There is a great danger of oversimplification [of Mauss's work] here, particularly of romanticizing 'the gift' as a humanizing counterweight to the impersonality and social isolation of modern capitalist society. There are times when things can work quite the other way around. Let me take a familiar example: the custom of bringing a bottle of wine or somesuch if invited to a friend's for dinner. It is common practice, for example, among American academics. In America, though, it is also common for young people of middle-class background to move, from the time they first begin to live independently of their parents in college, from relatively communal living arrangements to increasing social isolation. In an undergraduate dorm, people walk in and out of each other's rooms fairly causally; often a residential hall is not unlike a village with everybody keeping track of everybody else's business. College apartments are more private, but it is usually no big deal if friends drop by without warning or preparation. The process of moving into conventional bourgeois existence is gradual, and it is above all a matter of establishing the sacred quality of the domestic threshold, which increasingly cannot be crossed without preparations and ceremony. The gift of wine, if you really think about it, is part of the ritualization process that makes spontaneity more difficult. It is as much a bar to sociality as an expression of it.

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.227

Monday, December 16, 2013

Money Wisdom #236

"...'total prestations' [the offering of social totality by way of a gift that encompasses, but is not limited to, the spiritual, material, and relational aspects of one's reality] created permanent relationships between individuals and groups, relations were permanent precisely because there was no way to cancel them out by a repayment. The demands one side could make on the other were open ended because they were permanent... ...This is why Mauss considered them 'communistic': they corresponded to Louis Blanc's famous phrase 'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.' Most of us treat our closest friends this way. No accounts need to be kept because the relation is not treated as if it will ever end. Whatever one might conclude about the realities of the situation (and these can vary considerably), communism is built on an image of eternity. Since there is supposed to be no history, each moment is effectively the same as the last." [my definition]

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.218

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Money Wisdom #235

"Another focus of rivalry was oil feasts, in which hosts would pour oulachen oil [a flammable and precious fish oil] into the central fire of their houses until their guests clothes were scorched, daring them to flinch; a rival guest might - especially if he felt he had thrown a greater feast - rise up and try to 'put out the fire' by throwing in blankets, coppers, and canoes, forcing the host to answer him in kind, which could, on occassion, turn into what seemed to outside observers like paroxysms of destruction, in which rival chiefs vied to express their contempt for wealth and their absolute dedication to the magnificent gesture."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.208 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Money Wisdom #234

"More daringly, Mauss appears to be suggesting that a certain degree of subject/object reversal - in certain contexts, at certain levels - might act not as a mystification and tool of exploitation, but as a normal aspect of creative processes that may not be nearly so dangerous as its opposite, the reduction of all social relations to any sort of objective calculus."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.163

Money Wisdom #233

"But much Roman largesse was quite obviously meant to wound: a favorite aristocratic habit, for example, was scattering gold and jewels into the crowd so as to be able to revel in the ensuing animalistic melee. Understandably, early Christian theories of the gift developed in reaction to such obnoxious practices. True, charity, in Christian doctrine, could not be based on any desire to establish superiority, or gain anyone's favor , or indeed, from any egoistic motive whatever. To the degree that the giver could be said to have gotten anything out of the deal, it wasn't a real gift. But this in turn led to endless problems, since it was very difficult to conceive of a gift that did not benefit the giver in any way. At the very least, doing a good deed put one in better standing in the eyes of God and thus aided one's chance of eternal salvation. In the end, some actually ended up arguing that the only person who can make a purely benevolent act was one who had convinced himself that he was already condemned to hell. From here it's hardly much of a step to the sort of cynicism... ...where any apparent act of generosity is assumed to mask some form of hidden selfishness..."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.160-161

Monday, December 9, 2013

Money Wisdom #232

"Whenever one examines the processes by which the value of objects is established ... ... issues of visibility and invisibility almost invariably seem to crop up."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.92

Money Wisdom #231

"Any notion of freedom, whether it's the more individualistic vision of creative consumption, or the notion of free cultural creativity and decentering I have been trying to develop here, demands both resistance against the imposition of any totalizing view of what society or value must be like, but also recognition that some kind of regulating mechanism will have to exist, and therefore, calls for serious thought about what sort will best ensure people are, in fact, free to conceive of value in whatever form they wish. If one does not, at least in the present day and age, one is simply going to end up reproducing the logic of the market without acknowledging it. And if we are going to try to think seriously about alternatives to the version of 'freedom' currently being presented to us -- one in which nation-states serve primarily as protectors of corporate property, un-elected international institutions regulate an otherwise unbridled 'free market' mainly to protect the interests of financiers, and personal freedom becomes limited to personal consumption choices -- we had best stop thinking that these matters are going to take care of themselves and start thinking of what a more viable and hopefully, less coercive regulating mechanism might actually be like."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.89

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Money Wisdom #230

"It's actually rather difficult to pick out any single theme uniting the works of the various authors (Foucault, Derrida, Bourdieu, Deleuze and Guttari, Lyotard...) normally brought together under this rubric [of poststructuralism]. But if there is one, it is the urge to shatter totalities, whatever these may be, whether 'society,' 'symbolic order,' language,' 'the psyche,' or anything else. Instead, Poststructuralism tends to see reality as a heterogeneous multiplicity of 'fields,' 'machines,' 'discourses,' 'language games,' or any of a dozen other cross-cutting planes, plateaus, and what-have-you, which - and this is crucial - do not form any sort of overarching structure or hierarchy. Rather than contexts encompassing one another as in Dumont, one has a mosaic of broken surfaces, and on each surface, a completely different game played by a different set of rules. Moreover, poststructuralists usually insist that one cannot even talk about individuals moving back and forth between these surfaces; rather, the players (or 'subjects') are constructs of the game itself; effects of discourse, and our sense that we have a consistent self, largely an illusion. Ultimately, language speaks us. Where previous debates asked whether one should begin with society or the individual, here both society and the individual shatter into fragments." (my emphasis)

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.26-27

Money Wisdom #229

"In fact, insofar as state structures do succeed in legitimizing themselves, it's almost always by successfully appealing to the values which exist in the domestic sphere, which are, of course, rooted in those much more fundamental forms of inequality, and much more effective forms of ideological distortion - most obviously, gender."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.86

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Money Wisdom #228

"...theories of value have (at least since the '60's) been swinging back between two equally unsatisfactory poles: on the one hand, a warmed-over economism that makes 'value' simply the measure of individual desire; on the other, some variant of Saussurean 'meaningful difference.'... ...In either case, what's being evaluated is essentially static. Economism tends to reify everything in sight, reducing complex social relations between people - understandings about property rights, honour or social standing - into objects that individual actors can then seek to acquire. To turn something into a thing is, normally, to stop it in motion; not surprising, then, that such approaches usually have little place for creativity or even, unless forced, production. Saussurean Structuralism on the other hand ascribes value not to things but to abstract categories - these categories together make up a larger code of meaning. But Saussure himself insisted quite explicitly that this code has to be treated as if it existed outside of action, change, and time. Linguistics. he argued, draws its material from particular acts of speech but language, the rules of grammar, codes of meaning, and so on that make speech comprehensible. While speech (parole) exists in time and is always changing, language (langue) - 'the code' - has to be treated as 'synchronic', as if it existed in a kind of transcendent moment outside it."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.46

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Money Wisdom #227

"On some level, what Bordieu is saying is undeniably true. There is no area of human life, anywhere, where one cannot find self-interested calculation. But neither is there anywhere, where one cannot find kindness or adherence to idealistic principles: the point is why one, and not the other, is posed as 'objective' reality"

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.29

Money Wisdom #226

"All they [maximizing models] really add to analysis is a set of assumptions about human nature. The assumption, most of all, that no one ever does anything primarily out of concern for others; that whatever one does, one is only trying to get something out of it for oneself. In common English, there is a word for this attitude. It's called 'cynicism'. Most of us try to avoid people who take it too much to heart. In economics, apparently, they call it 'science'."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.8

Monday, December 2, 2013

Money Wisdom #225

"Economics is all about prediction. It came into existence and continues to be maintained with all sorts of lavish funding, because people with money want to know what other people with money are likely to do. As a result, it is also a discipline that, more than any other, tends to participate in the world it describes. That is to say, economic science is concerned with the behavior of people who have some familiarity with economics - either ones who have studied it or at the very least are acting within institutions that have been entirely shaped by it. Economics, as a discipline, has almost always played a role in defining the situations it describes. Nor do economists have a problem with this; they seem to feel it is quite as it should be."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.7

Money Wisdom #224

"...economics has always been the social science that could make the most plausible claim that what it was doing was anything like a natural science; it has long had the additional advantage of being seen as the very model of 'hard' science' by the sort of people who distribute grants (people who themselves usually have some economic training). It also has the advantage of joining an extremely simple model of human nature with extremely complicated mathematical formulae that non-specialists can rarely understand, much less criticize."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.6

Money Wisdom #223

"It will become easier to see why a theory of value should have seemed to hold such promise if one looks at the way the word 'value' has been used in social theory on the past. There are, on might say, three large streams of thought that converge in the present term. These are:

  1. 'values' in the sociological sense: conceptions of what is ultimately good, proper or desirable in human life.
  2. 'value' in the economic sense: the degree to which objects are desired, particularly, as measured by how much others are willing to give up to get them.
  3. 'value' in the linguistic sense, which goes back to the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure (1966), and might be most simply glossed as 'meaningful difference'.

When anthropologists nowadays speak of value... ...they are at least implying that the fact that all of these things should be called by the same word is no coincidence. That ultimately, these are all refractions of the same thing. But if one reflects on it at all, this is a very challenging notion. It would mean, for instance, that when we talk about the 'meaning' of a word, and when we talk about the 'meaning of life', we are not talking about utterly different things. And that both have something in common with the sale price of a refrigerator."

David Graeber Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value - The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (2001) p.1-2

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Alan Moore and Me


I just yesterday finished Lance Parkin's biography of Alan Moore Magic Words. Its not my usual sort of book. I complained on twitter about quite how much comics industry history and politics was in the first 200 pages. You may well argue, that given Alan Moore is a comic's legend, I should have expected this. You'd have a fair point.

Anyway, I'm very glad I read it.

As far as comics go, I'm ignorant. The last comic I bought was Whizzer and Chips about 40 years ago. So until I did this post, An idiot's Guide to Money - 3. Burning Money Alan Moore was unknown to me. I'd been searching the internet for commentary on the K-Foundation's burning of a million quid (detailed in John Higgs' awesome book The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds - an ideal Christmas present for anybody interested in being alive) when I came across a paragraph by Alan Moore who was described as a Writer & Occultist. I liked that he mentioned Newton, Blake and Charity in relation to the burning (although it wasn't Newton pictured on the £50 notes - he was on £1 notes) but stupidly I didn't bother to find out any more about Moore.

This is a shame because I feel certain that had I caught sight of Lost Girls his sexually explicit graphic novel the little Alan Moore ball-bearings rolling around the puzzle game of my mind would have slotted straight into the appropriate holes. All that sex, money and pornography stuff has been a bit of a thing for me

____________

I wanted to share this with you. According to the biography Alan Moore had prepared himself well for dealing with any negative reaction Lost Girls might elicit. As it turns out it was received very positively. But the line of defence he presents in this comment is unbreakable.
'Even porn's most uncompromising and vociferous feminist critic, Andrea Dworkin, has conceded that benign pornography might be conceivable, even if she considered such a thing highly unlikely. Given that we don't want "bad pornography" and can't have "no pornography", it's in this mere suggestion of the possibility of "good pornography" that the one ray of light in an intractable debate resides.'
Alan Moore quoted in Lance Parkin Magic Words - the Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore (2013) p. 345

I'll write more about that sex/money nexus in the future. I'm not ready for it yet. It's my wedding anniversary today and eight months since Sally and I separated. When I feel able to say something meaningful about sex and money, and I can bear the pain of doing so honestly, I'll put pen to paper. For the moment, here very briefly are the two keys things that reading about Alan Moore's Lost Girls experience triggered in me.

Firstly, there is something of an untold story about naturalsex. Our intention was to create 'good pornography' like Alan Moore says, but I intended to drive a proliferation of this 'good pornography' model by creating a 'digital sex currency' - which I called x. I did a business plan and even got an offer of funding - in fact, I managed to get a piece in a venture capital magazine. But it all came to naught, in the end. There were a lot of very appealing distractions.

And secondly, I felt some affinity with Alan Moore and his experience of making Lost Girls public. The first big thing for us was doing the Observer piece with Simon Garfield. We rehearsed our justifications and our 'moral' position. But like Alan Moore, we needn't have worried. Friends and family were amazing about it. It was acknowledged, then ignored. Which was pretty much a perfect reaction. I do remember hearing about one LSE classmate (who was religious) annoyed that I was 'wasting' my life, presumably after getting a proper education. But that was about it for negative reaction. People seem to like 'good pornography'.

______________

Enough with the sex thing, already.

There was another theme to the book. It's in the title Magic Words but its not something that is hugely emphasised within the book. However, its clear that Alan Moore thinks there is some very special connection between words and Value (substitute your own word for value if you like - God, Magic, Cosmos, Universal Consciousness, etc).  

I think that too. But I've found it impossible to write about. More tricky than sex. I was actually intending to approach it in part three of this essay Insane Prices, Crazy Money but only part one ever saw the light of day and I subsequently abandoned the attempt.

I do keep coming back there though. There's a lot of work I've not read on semiotics and the like. And clearly my hero Marc Shell (with his Money, Language and Thought) inhabits this sort of universe. I remember John Higgs in his Horse Hospital talk saying that the links between language, consciousness and reality are very important in Robert Anton Wilson's work. I have a limited knowledge of RAW's work, but I do know that he was a fan of Alfred Korzybski; author of the dictum 'the map is not the territory' (a quick wiki reveals that this phrase links to Robert Pirsig too).

But I still have this feeling that you can't really write about words and Value. Words about words, are a map of the map. They actually you further away from the territory you want to know.

_________________


Another thing that the book has prompted in me is a desire to finish off a little project I started in the summer. Alan Moore has a fancy stick and I want one too.

This is my stick. Its been around for ages since (I think) Sally picked it up from a welsh beach. I started sanding it down in the long evenings with the idea of making it into a walking stick. 

I came up with a few ideas about design. I found out that with a soldering iron I can easily inscribe it. So I thought it would be nice to create a little motif using the phrase 'Money is the and between the One and the Many' (link)

I also thought it would be really neat to inlay a coin into the handle. You can't really see it in the picture but there is a nice round flat surface at the top which fits nicely in the palm of your hand. 

And I have the perfect coin !

This is my lucky coin. I've had it since I was a child (about 7 if I remember correctly) and it was always my favourite in my coin collection. 


I could tell you a story about the lead-shot marks.

I even took the stick back with me to Wales this summer to ensure it was full to the brim with magical energy. I revisited a few of the places where my grandfather had painted pictures in and around the coastal village of New Quay. I was staying just a few hundred yards from where he painted this one that's currently hanging on the wall above my head.

.
I also retraced his steps to where he painted the picture below - the bridge at Llanina.


This is what it looked like in summer 2013.


Anyway, I've skewed off my Alan Moore theme, and slipped into writing a post I meant to do just after returning from holiday, but never got round to. 

If I had got round to it, I would have played up the Dylan Thomas connection. There's a few people who now think that Under Milk Wood was mostly about New Quay and its residents (you can read about the theory of David Thomas [LSE alumni so he must be correct] here). My Grandfather used to drink with Dylan (as did every drunk in the village) although I never got to hear the stories first hand as he died before I was born.

_______________________


So yes. Alan Moore. Magic Words. Dylan Thomas. I guess it ends neatly after all.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Money Wisdom #222

Then, the next Monday [5th Jan 2004], he [Alan Moore] received a phone call from DC's Karen Berger;
She said, 'Yeah, we're going to be sending you a huge amount of money before the end of the year because they're making this film of your Constantine character with Keanu Reeves.' And I said, 'Right, OK. Well, take my name off of it and distribute my money amongst the other artists.' I thought, well that was difficult, but I did it and I feel pretty good about myself. Then I saw David Gibbons who I had done Watchmen with and he was saying, 'Oh Alan, guess what, they're making the Watchmen film.' And I said, with tears streaming down my face, 'Take my name off of it David. (sniffles). You have all the money.' Then I got a cheque for the V for vendetta film. It was just, this was within three days.'
Alan Moore quoted by Lance Parkin in Magic Words - The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore (2013) p.316

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Time, Money and Charity

I keep coming back to this at the moment.

I not very happy with the last post I did Children in Need - An Heretical Thought Experiment. I'll leave it up, of course. But on re-reading, it seems as if I'm coming back to the subject of charity just to try to make excuses for myself. I'm also aware that it would be easy to read my 'problem' with charity as a consequence of some libertarian or anarchist ideology. This sort of thing; "Charity must be recognized for what it is: another aspect of the institutionalized humiliation inherent in our economized existence which must be destroyed so we can fully live." from Feral Faun formerly of Insurgent Desire (check out The Anarchist Library). I sympathise with this sort of view - I think there's some truth in it - but its not really where I'm coming from.

At the risk of hammering the nail more firmly into my coffin lid, I'll try to put a few thoughts into words that might help explain.

There was a line in that Children in Need post that stuck in my head. I just get this feeling that, for me, resisting the immediacy of charity is important. It's about creating the space for those answers to appear. The link between Charity and time seems to resonate with me. Every time a charity ad has come on the tele since, I've been noticing 'the call to action'. Act now. Call now. Give now. People are suffering now. I guess this has been accentuated by the devastation caused to the Philippines by the hurricane and the subsequent calls for support. Something that's hard to resist. A real emergency requiring immediate action.

Although, taking a step back, one does wonder why there isn't some sort of properly funded international response that can give immediate aid in such situations without the need for fundraising at the time of the crises. If I were being cynical I might be tempted to believe that fundraising occurs at such times precisely because they are the most effective time to raise funds. Are the charities replenishing funds that they have already committed to support the aid, or is the money from the donations actually used itself to fund the aid?

That might seem like an inane question. I mean, does it really matter? Certainly not I expect to the poor folks in the Philippines.

Unfortunately though, it does seem to matter to me. And I think I'm figuring out why.

A theme in my reading lately has been the relationship between repression and time. The psychoanalytical idea is that repression (and neurosis/sublimation) creates the flow of time within our minds. (Check out Norman O Brown or Herbert Marcuse for example). The manifestation of these behaviours are the ceremonies and rituals by which we punctuate or measure our lives. To Freud, the origin of all such 'civilised' behaviour is the primal crime (the killing of the father) and the means by which we alleviate our guilt for this crime. (Such ideas as they relate to money can be found in the work of Desmonde, Laum and others).

So - whether you want to think of it as symbolic, semantic, psychological, or indeed magical - within currency itself there is the concept of history. Currency is a link back to the sacrifices and redemptions of times past.

Obviously, I'm exploring sacrifice and redemption in my money burning. But what I'm interested in here, is the way in which those actions relate to time, and how that in turn relates to the act of giving in charity.

What I think happens when we see terrible suffering in the world is that we have an often overwhelming need for redemption. We need to be released from the guilt we feel for the suffering of others. I think that this is cause of the immediacy present in the actions of charities. It's why their calls are so powerful. They offer us something we really want. Forgiveness. Redemption. The feeling that we've done something to help.

You might ask, isn't it just that kind, good people want to help? Well, yes. But then do we divide the world into kind and good people, and bad and nasty people (something I was trying to get at in the Children in Need post)? At the core of Freud's explanation of mind is the concept of ambivalence. The idea that contrary emotions and feelings can exist at the same time and in relation to the same thing. It seems a pretty obvious idea, but its also a key reason why science really doesn't like Freud.

So Charity perpetuates a cycle of redemption. It is a repetition of sin and forgiveness. I'm tempted to mention here the papal indulgences that Luther railed against in the reformation - because in a sense an act of charity that involves currency commodifies Sin and Forgiveness. To remix Marx, its a S-m-F relation. This repetitive redemptive process is like a ticking clock in our mind, creating the flow of time. We project it onto our environment and experience seasonal changes as Life and Death rituals.

And even though, we may claim to be secular for the large part (at least here in the UK) the rhythms of Life and Death, of sin and forgiveness, of the redemptive cycle remain with us through currency. In secular life it is currency that creates the flow of time. Time consists in either earning it, or spending it. The moments in between these two activities are liminal, they are where we find our noumenal self, they are when we feel emancipated from the tyranny of time. The act of charity actually collapses that blissful state of noumenon (sorry, its my word of the week) and plunges us back into the redemptive cycle; into the world of 'becoming' rather than the divine state of 'being'.

So I think money burning creates an end point to a redemptive cycle. It is a noumenal act. In spiritual terms it takes you closer to God/Zen/the-result-of-subtracting-the-universe-from-itself because you are stepping outside the S-m-F relation. This is weird I know, but given that in three days, on the 23rd it'll be the 50th anniversary of Dr Who, perhaps you'll allow me some latitude to say that, by burning currency you are escaping from time itself.

________________________

Anyway, I'll let that bizarre thought linger, and try to bring things back down to earth with a thought that seems very much related to what I've been discussing above. I'm just not sure how.

Bitcoin. The thing has been going crazy lately. It looks set to reach $1000/BTC soon. Not only did I miss out on mining it when I first came across it just a few weeks after the client was unleashed, I even ignored my own advice to buy when the price dropped to $70/BTC earlier this year. Oh well.

The interesting thing about Bitcoin and this discussion of time is that the problem fundamental to crypto-currencies - and the one Bitcoin seems to have solved - is the double spending problem.

I'll illustrate this with a little story. Times were tough when I first moved out of home in 1984. Sometimes having enough money to eat was a problem. The banks were no help. I learned to hate the hole in the wall (ATM) for the disappointment it would deliver. One day I was really short of cash. I needed £40, and only had £25 in the bank. I knew already that they wouldn't give me an overdraft (I'd asked) despite the fact that money would be going into my account in a few days. Then I had a brain-wave. I went up to the counter and cashed a cheque for £20, leaving just £5 in my account. As quick as I could I went outside and jammed my cash card into the machine, keyed in my PIN, and asked for £20. The machine delivered. I had beaten the system. I'd already formulated the excuse of not being properly aware of my balance should the bank call the police (they didn't of course, they just charged me an exorbitant unauthorised overdraft fee). What I'd done was exploit the fact that (back in 1984) the recording of my withdrawal by cheque was not instantaneous. I'd manage to double spend my balance.

Its easy enough to (practically) eliminate the double spending problem with a central authority. My little scam wouldn't work so easily today because the cashed cheque would be marked  pretty instantly against my account - back in the day they used to just pile the cheques up and then send them to a back office for processing. But eliminating double spending without a central authority is a different matter. Bitcoin achieves this by the clever way it records transactions across its network. Effectively it achieves a consensus on what has been spent and received across the network. Part of the 'experiment' of Bitcoin (its easy to forget at $650/BTC that it is really an experiment) is to find out how effective this method of dealing with the double spending problem without a central authority really is. It seems to be doing pretty well so far.

_________________

The important lesson both from my little bank scam and from Bitcoin is that the closer to the transaction you get, the greater the chance there is of double spending (or if you prefer - fraud). This is interesting. It seems to me to suggest a connection between time, currency and morality; that the moral possibilities are broadest in that 'liminal' area closest to the transaction. This makes some sense in terms of our Marxian S-m-F cycle. To have the greatest chance of turning sin into forgiveness you need 'm' to have the broadest moral possibilities. Essentially, you need money not to be amoral (which is the way it appears to us) but to be super-moral - to contain within it a universe of moral possibility.

A donation to charity then seems to have its own kind of double spending problem. It is a gift which gives both to the recipient and to the giver. It creates (hopefully) a good event for the recipient and a good feeling in the giver. But it also has the effect of maintaining the redemptive cycle (and of maintaining hierarchy), of creating a flow of time and taking us one step closer to death. In other words, time is the unauthorised overdraft fee that karma charges us for our double-spending through charity. To not incur such a fee in future burning is advised :)

And by the way, if you think I mean that the folks in the Philippines shouldn't be helped, you are wrong.





Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Money Wisdom #221

"Will is... ...a prisoner because it has no power over time: the past not only remains unliberated but, unliberated, continues to mar all liberation. Unless the power of time over life can be broken, there can be no freedom....

...With the triumph of Christian morality, the life instincts were perverted and constrained...

The past becomes master over the present, and life a tribute to death...

The traditional form of reason is rejected [by Nietzsche] on the basis of the experience of being-as-end-in-itself - as joy (Lust) and enjoyment. The struggle against time is waged from this position: the tyranny of becoming over being must be broken if man is to come himself in a world which it truly his own. As long as there is the uncomprehended and unconquered flux of time - senseless loss, the painful 'it was' that will never be again - being contains the seed of destruction which perverts good to evil and vice versa. Man comes to himself only... ....when eternity has become present in the here and now."

Herbert Marcuse Eros and Civilization (1956 [1998]) p.121-122

Money Wisdom #220

"The Humean analysis recognizes only the events as experienced through sense data, and thereby stipulates that causation must consist of only the succession of events, plus contiguity and temporal sequence of these events, so that the way to discern causal laws is to observe the succession of events, that is, the constant conjunction of events....

...In the standard empiricist view, constant conjunctions of events are both necessary and sufficient for a causal law. In the realist view, constant conjunctions of events are neither necessary nor sufficient.

....To base one's analysis on the constant conjunction of events is to conflate three domains, according to Bhaskar (1978) (a) the empirical, which consists of experiences and sense impressions; (b) the actual, which consists of events; and (c) the real, which consists of the entities and structures that produce events.

...Reality... ...is stratified. Events are explained by underlying structures, which may be explained eventually by other structures at still deeper levels.

Ernest R House Realism In Research from Educational Researcher Vol 20 No 6 (1991) p.4-5


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Children in Need - An Heretical Thought Experiment

Children in Need (a charity event run by the BBC here in the UK) was doing its thing yesterday. It was on the radio while I was driving my van around London and on the tele when I eventually collapsed onto my sofa at midnight. By the end they seemed pleased with the £31 million they'd raised on the night !

I wondered what would happen if one year they just burned the lot.

What would that mean if Terry (Sir Terry Wogan - the main presenter) just piled up all the cash, joker style, and set fire to it? In my imagination, he's dousing it in petrol saying, 'It's all so pointless. I've been doing this 35 years, and every year we need more money but the suffering never ends.'

There'd be unprecedented moral outrage. It wouldn't matter that banks destroy and create that amount of money every day, every hour, indeed with high speed automated trading, probably every second. People would go fucking nuts.

There'd be calls upon the Bank of England to honour the value of the burned notes and Terry would be stripped of his knighthood and sectioned. Imagine then, if the Bank of England said there was no way they could legally honour the notes. That the money for the kids was gone.

All the good deeds that could be done, gone in a puff of smoke.

I think we'd paper over the cracks. There'd be another telethon or maybe some rich philanthropists in need of an image boost would step in to replace the money that Terry burned. The few million quid that Terry has stashed away would be sequestrated. He'd die in shame and we'd have a scapegoat so that we didn't have to think too hard about the difficult questions his burning asked of us. About what this money stuff is, and what the hell does having it, or not having it mean? Is it really real? Or is it just numbers and paper?

Then, 23 years after his death we'd reflect on his actions. His words would haunt us. 'It's all so pointless. I've been doing this 35 years, and every year we need more money but the suffering never ends.' A few subversive souls would wonder if he could be right. Is the very act of charity is helping to create the conditions that give rise to the need for charity?

Could it be that Charity... is a way of maintaining hierarchy, not undermining it? Does charity actually sustain those structures and ideologies which work against freedom and equality. Is charity a consequence of poverty, or is poverty a consequence of charity? Is it just a sugar hit when what we really need is a proper meal?

Who knows.

The powerful thing about charity is the immediacy of its argument. It's Bob Geldof's 'there are people dying now, so gimmi the money' thing. It makes going to the pub seem self-indulgent and silly, let alone burning money. If a child dies for the want of a mosquito net, then anytime you waste money or spend frivolously you must be acting immorally, right?

Charity can tie you up in a guilty knot. But then you find out that the boss of Save the Children takes home a salary of £163K, has £12K put into his pension, and claims £3K in expenses - and perversely - that guilty knot starts to unravel.

I don't claim to know the answers I just get this feeling that, for me, resisting the immediacy of charity is important. It's about creating the space for those answers to appear. So, generally speaking, I don't donate to charity. And I didn't give last night. If you think that makes me a bad person, or not as good a person as you, then fine. That's not how I feel.

Just bear in mind that the BBC licence fee is £3.6 billion, gathered on pain of imprisonment (107 people actually did go to prison for non-payment between Jan 11 until March 13). To put the money in perspective Children in Need raised 0.86% of the licence fee last night. Or about the same as the BBC spends on libraries, learning support and community events, or around a 1/3rd of what it spends actually collecting the licence fee itself (that costs £111 million).

If you donated last night or did something silly to raise money then I hope the money you gave brings the good you want to the world. Dance, sing and bathe in baked beans to your heart's content, but do remember that supporting (or indeed, not supporting) charity doesn't mean you're good.





Saturday, October 26, 2013

Money Wisdom #219

The Phenomenology of the Spirit [ Hegel ] leads to the overcoming of that form of freedom which derives from the antagonistic relation to the other. And the true mode of freedom is, not in the incessant activity of conquest, but its coming to rest in the transparent knowledge and gratification of being. The ontological climate which prevails at the end of Phenomenology is the very opposite of the Promethian dynamic:
The wounds of the Spirit heal without leaving scars, the deed is not everlasting: the Spirit takes it back into itself, and the aspect of particularity (individuality) present in it... ...immediately passes away.
Mutual acknowledgement and recognition are still the test for the reality of freedom, but the terms are now forgiveness and reconciliation:
The word of reconciliation is the (objectively) existent Spirit which apprehends in its opposite the pure knowledge of itself qua universal essence... ...a mutual recognition which is Absolute Spirit.
Herbert Marcuse Eros and Civilization (1956 [1998]) p.115
quotes are from GWF Hegel The Phenomenology of the Spirit (trans. Baille p679-680)
 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Money Burning at the Horse Hospital

On Wednersday 23rd October 2013 I burned the twenty pounds sterling note OA37 598019 at a Fortean Society event at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury, London. The event was a talk on Robert Anton Wilson given by +John Higgs followed by Daisy Eris Campbell and friends performing a scene from a dramatisation of 'Cosmic Trigger' (a book by Wilson) that they hope to stage in the near future.

My burning was filmed by @sarahsparkes



I'm grateful to John Higgs for giving me the chance to do my burning at the event. I've live streamed it before, and done it in the presence of family, but doing it in front of a live audience was a first. The reaction was very interesting.

I sensed a nervousness in the audience. Burning money is taboo. I didn't really want to interact with the audience during the burning itself, so I just kind of zoned out of the comments you can hear in the video. It's important to me just to watch it burn.

The only comment that broke through to me was "How many children in Syria would that save?" The chap who asked this, repeated it. I think that most folks understood that this is a serious ritual for me. I can't break off mid-way through to engage in debate. If I had done, I'd have needed to burn another £20, contributing to the deaths of more Syrian children (in the questioner's reality tunnel).

It's not that I wanted or expected silence for the burning. Far from it. I'm really grateful to have an honest reaction. And - I'm possibly imagining this - it was good to feel the attention of the audience focused on the burning itself. In that respect it felt like I'd plugged in to an amplifier. I'd rather just not have had the 'deliberate' attempt to break my connection with the ritual. It was the repetition that bugged me a bit.

The question itself though, is entirely valid.

Similar questions were asked of the K-Foundation after their burning. After my second burning I got a comment about 'not giving the money to good causes' and my response was to examine charity itself. But the 'kids in Syria' question is not really about charity. It's more direct than that. It's about morality. I'll try my best to answer it here.

There is a terrific passage in John Higg's book The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds that I used as Money Wisdom #80. I'll quote it here in full:

"It was the pointlessness of the whole thing that got to people. When it was revealed in 2000 that Elton John had somehow spent £40 million in 20 months, including £293,000 on flowers, people reacted differently. There was much head shaking, tutting and many jokes. but generally speaking people didn't take it personally. It was Elton John's money after all, and his extravagance seemed in keeping with the personality that earned him that money in the first place. His wasted money, at the very least, had made a number of florists happy. 
When Cauty and Drummond wasted their money it felt it different. Seeing video footage of the burning was a genuine shock. Their money looked like kidney dialysis machines, beds in homeless shelters or funding for young artists in a way that Elton John's wasted money didn't. This wasn't money being wasted; it was money being negated. The argument that it was their money, and they could do what they liked with it, didn't ring true. What they had done felt wrong." (my emphasis)

JMR Higgs KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money [Kindle Edition](2012) 127/3140

John says here that people see wasting money (spending it frivolously) and burning money as two distinct moral categories. And what happened at the Horse Hospital confirmed this. If I had gone up to the bar, bought five beers and tipped the bar man a fiver, I'd have spent £20 but no-one would have mentioned the 'children in Syria'. But I didn't. Because I burned £20 the morality around money came into sharp focus and suddenly my £20 was connected to the suffering of children in Syria.

But what actually happened when I burned the £20?

First let's take things literally. I destroyed a promissory note issued by the Bank of England, I forgave them their debt and I gave up any claim to the goods and services that the £20 would purchase. But even with a literal explanation things aren't totally clear. OA37 598019 still exists in the Bank's ledger. The money is both dead and alive at the same time.

Let's look at the economics to see if that helps. There are broadly two theories about Money; one thinks Money is a commodity and the other thinks it's a social relation. Strangely, commodity theory is preferred by schools of thought at either edge of economic theory. Both Hayek and Marx adhere to commodity theory and see money as a real thing (or at least as a symbol of something real). Social relations theory on the other hand is used by economic pragmatists such as Keynes. His blend of economics builds around the idea that money is abstract. But neither commodity theory nor social relations theory would conclude that burning a paper note of currency diminishes the world's resources. Indeed, generally speaking economic theories see money as neutral.

I doubt though, that a literal or economic explanation will convince anyone. The plain feeling is that I have done something morally wrong.

So what about the morality of it? The passage from John's book makes it clear that saying 'It's my money' is not a sufficient moral defence in most people's eyes. The fact that burning money is legal (in the UK at least) seems not to matter either. What might seem relevant is what philosophers would term a 'consequentialist' moral argument. I've chosen to burn £20 rather than give it to a good cause. The consequence of my action has been the creation of small amount of ash whereas it could have provided medicine for Syrian children. But it hasn't just been the ash, has it? Without the burning this post wouldn't exist and conversations wouldn't have been started. And then there is the problem of my intention. I don't burn the money to deprive Syrian children of their medicine.

I think the key moral objection actually must lie in deeply personal terms, in what philosophers call virtue ethics. I think those who object feel a deep sense of 'wrongness' in me choosing to burn the money, and try as I might to convince them otherwise by using references to economics or moral philosophy, that sense of 'wrongness' will remain, and form itself into a judgement about my morality, rather than the morality of the act itself.

We all have a relationship to money. I've chosen to break a taboo by burning it. It may be that my thinking and writing about money is my attempt to justify an immoral act. But that's not what it feels like from this side of the taboo. It feels like burning money is a profoundly moral act and my thinking and writing about it is an attempt to explain why.

For me the act of burning money is about forgiveness; literally, economically, philosophically and most of all personally. It's about loss without gain. It's as close as we can get to the impossibility of pure forgiveness; of forgiving the unforgivable.

The event was my first evening out since my wife and I separated in May. We'd been together 28 years. The last time I was out for an evening, was in April. I went to a talk by David Graeber at the London School of Economics (David is an Anthropologist, leading light in the Occupy Movement and author of 'Debt - the First 5000 years'). I did a long post about the talk and my thoughts on what David said but the key point is the role of forgiveness.

Forgiveness has a staring role in the history of money and of mankind. The role of forgiveness in the history of money is a story I'm trying to tell on this blog. I also have some very strange sounding ideas about what money is, and how it relates to reality. And actually the idea of forgiveness is something I've stumbled upon through my burning. If you'd have asked me ten years ago about forgiveness, I'd have said its something that Christians do; it's a Christian virtue.

Christians will tell you that it's forgiveness that is the true path to Justice, not charity. I think they're right about that. So I guess that's why I don't feel the same way about burning £20 as the 'Syrian children' chap did. I suspect that burning the £20 was a more moral act than donating it. If others judge me as immoral, then so be it. Given my suspicion, in terms of virtue ethics donating it would definitely be the wrong moral choice for me.

Burning money hasn't been only an intellectual exercise for me, it also visceral. It can't really fail to be that. A fire ritual is a powerful thing. And the karmic universe seems to find its own way of testing us. The combination of the visceral and intellectual helped me understand the importance of forgiveness not only in relation to my study of money, but also in my own life. Money burning has helped me realise that life can be better if you can forgive and if others can forgive you. That's been a real comfort to me in a difficult six months.

Forgiveness binds together a moral order from the chaos of events. And its something that, if we allow it to, permeates the most intimate and deeply personal moments of our lives. I think we should reclaim it from religion.

The beautiful thing is that the potential for pure forgiveness is frozen in every note in your wallet or purse. Burn them and you'll release it.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Millionaire and the Trojan Horse of Language

You know when something has popped into your mind several times so you reach the point where you think 'I really must write that down'? Well, that's where I'm at with this. It's an obvious connection. But I need to make it explicitly.

First. I posted this money wisdom quote in Sept 2013 on the invention of the word millionaire. According to James Buchan it "was invented in the open air in a little street near what's now the Centre Beaubourg in Paris known as the Rue Quincampoix or Quincenpoix in the autumn of 1719." It was used in relation to John Law.

Second. I posted this Ramble on Thomas Crump's Boundaries in Nov 2012. Thomas's central idea was that language acts as a 'Trojan Horse' to number. 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.

They're are differences. The word millionaire wasn't foisted upon the French by an invading army, like the Spanish conquest of South America to which Crump refers. But they share the idea that a new word encapsulating some new conception of value is significant. It effects the way we think, and the way we perceive our reality. Some new potential is realised.

Crump put it like this;
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.
I think these ideas have been bubbling away as I've been reading and absorbing Tim Johnson's paper on Reciprocity as the Foundation of Financial Economics which I'll write about soon. A dominant theme in Tim's paper is the idea - most commonly associated with Simmel - that Money has played a significant role in the development of abstract thought. On this blog I've looked at the work of both Richard Seaford and Joel Kaye in relation to this idea (Kaye features heavily in Tim's work).

The dimension that Crump and Buchan add (or perhaps, emphasise) is there is not only a relationship between number and Money, but also language and Money.

Money Wisdom #218

“As soon as a man has money, he turns bad; as soon as a woman turns bad, she has money.”

Trans. of Chinese saying by Moira Weigel Devils in Red Dress (2013) (link)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Money Wisdom #217

"The restrictions imposed upon the libido appear as the more rational, the more universal they become, the more they permeate the whole of society. They operate on the individual as external objective laws and as an internalized force: the societal authority is absorbed into the 'conscience' and in to the unconscious of the individual and works as his own desire, morality and fulfillment. In the 'normal' development, the individual lives his repression 'freely' as his own life: he desires what he is supposed to desire; his gratifications are profitable to him and to others; he is reasonably and often exuberantly happy. This happiness which takes place part-time during the few hours of leisure between the working days or working nights, but sometimes also during work, enables him to continue his performance, which in turn perpetuates his labor and that of others. His erotic performance is brought inline with his societal performance. Repression disappears in the grand objective order of things which rewards more or less adequately the complying individuals and, in doing so, reproduces more or less adequately society as a whole."

Herbert Marcuse Eros and Civilization (1956 [1998]) p.46

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Money Wisdom #216

"...the discovery of the common 'conservative nature' of the instincts militates against the dualistic conception and keeps Freud's late metapsychology in that state of suspense and depth which makes it one of the great intellectual ventures in the science of man. The quest for the common origin of the two basic instincts can no longer be silenced. Fenichel pointed out that Freud himself made a decisive step in this direction by assuming a 'displaceable energy, which is in itself neutral, but is able to join forces either with an erotic or with a destructive impulse' - with the life or death instinct."

Herbert Marcuse Eros and Civilization (1956 [1998]) p.28

Money Wisdom #215

"Moreover, if the 'regression-compulsion' in all organic life is striving for integral quiescence, if the Nirvana principle is the ground of the pleasure-principle, then the necessity of death appears in an entirely new light. The death instinct is destructiveness not for its own sake, but for the relief of tension. The descent toward death is an unconscious flight from pain and want. It is an expression of the eternal struggle against suffering and repression."

Herbert Marcuse Eros and Civilization (1956 [1998]) p.29

Monday, October 7, 2013

Money Wisdom #214

"The concept of childhood enables Freud to grasp a fundamental form of human activity in the world over and beyond the economic activity and struggle for existence dictated by the reality-principle. For children on the one hand pursue pleasure: on the other hand they are active; their pleasure is in the active life of the human body. Then what is the pattern of activity, free form work, the serious business of life, and the reality-principle, which is adumbrated in the life of children? The answer is that children play.

Freud is not merely referring to all the activities conventionally recognized as children's play; he is also making a structural analysis of the infantile activities which he insisted were sexual and perverse, of which thumb-sucking is the prototype. In early infancy the child, according to Freud, inevitably takes his own body as his sexual object; in doing so, he plays with it. Play is the essential character of activity governed by the pleasure-principle rather than the reality-principle. Play is 'purposeless yet in some sense meaningful'. It is the same thing if we say that play is the erotic mode of activity. Play is that activity which, in the delight of life, unites man with the objects of his love, as is indeed evident from the role of play in normal adult genital activity. But according to Freud, the ultimate essence of our being is erotic and demands activity according to the pleasure-principle."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.32-33

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Money Wisdom #213

"Certainly, for family providers, free time was meaningless without work structuring the day; and, as the experience of the jobless in the Depression showed, men especially understood free time as a reward for labour.

Thus 'time became money' to many wage-earners. But this phrase was understood not simply in Franklin's sense of the opportunity cost of unproductive time. Rather it expressed both the equivalences of the workday and wages and of leisure and spending. Time at work became an instrument of spending while free time was expressed in those social and private acts of consumption. Money became the two-sided symbol of discipline and freedom while time alternated between compulsion and liberation."

Gary Cross Time and Money - The Making of Consumer Culture (1993) p.164

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Ramble on Life Against Death by Norman O Brown & Money and Time

I've put up more money wisdom quotes from this book than any other. And yet in my review I give it only four stars. I feel bad about that. But a book has to work within its own terms for me to give it the full five. Norman's book didn't quite do that (I talk about the problems with it in my review). However, if I were to 'score' it on the basis of how thought provoking it is, it would get a zillion stars. Mind blowing isn't hyperbole, it's an accurate description.

I was fortunate in managing to 'save up' Norman's book for my holiday. I read the bulk of it overlooking Cardigan Bay with Snowdon visible in the far distance. My only interruption was replenishing the cafetiere. It was as close to perfect reading conditions as I've ever experienced.

The section of Norman's book that contains his ideas about Money (or the Money complex as he sometimes refers to it) is Part Five Studies in Anality. I read that bit at home on my return from Wales. I'd considered reading only this part of the book. I'd seen it heavily referenced by Lawrence Weschler in his Bogg's book as being particularly interesting on Money. It was an odd coincidence that I read Lawrence's book directly before I read Norman's because I couldn't remember seeing Norman's book mentioned directly in relation to Money in anything else.

Subsequently I've checked the bibliographies of a few of my most relevant books and seen Norman listed in Chris Badcock's The Psychoanalysis of Culture (although he's only mentioned very briefly) and most tellingly in Marc Shell's Money, Language and Thought and that's about it. Shell, brilliant and insightful as ever, hands over the concluding paragraphs of Appendix III to Norman. You might remember, I said I hadn't paid proper attention to Money, Language and Thought. I can find no mention of Norman in Loaded Subjects - Psychoanalysis, Money and the Global Financial Crises. Therapeutic psychoanalysis hates Norman.

Anyway, not reading all of Norman's book would have been a grave error. I adhered to my preferred method of reading out loud in my head. For me, its this kind of immersive reading that yields the best results. It requires the optimistic belief that a lifetime of thought and years work have gone into honest writing - which is not always the case - but when it is, I find the rewards of immersive reading immense. Its how I read Freud. I was duly rewarded by Freud. And I've been duly rewarded by Norman, too.

The description of Money that guides all my rambles;
Money is an aspect of reality that mediates Value and enumerates certain relations through currency.
is worth restating so you know where I'm coming form. That description, Pirsig's conception of VALUE and Freud's map of mental life form my reality tunnel, as Robert Anton Wilson might like to say. As I explained in my On the Metaphysics of Freud  I find this to be an adequate description of reality. I'm happy to work with these thoughts - with this 'trinity' of descriptions/explanations - and let all the floaty-hard stuff, all the maths and matter form around it.

At the end of my last ramble I noted - not for the first time - that I was tending to end up in the same spot; namely Money&Currency. So, allowing myself to be guided by the wisdom of Keynes who said;
'The importance of money essentially flows from its being a link between the present and the future'
I promised that in this, the next ramble, I'd head over into Time territory. Well it appears that the good Lord Keynes moves in mysterious ways. I had no idea when I wrote the last ramble that it was to be Norman who'd take me there.

The subtitle of Norman's book is The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History which seems like its going to be historical events viewed from a psychoanalytical perspective; Luther conceiving of the Reformation while he was having a shit (yes its true, he did) - those sorts of things. Well, they're in there, but what Norman explores is something far more exciting - mind blowing, in fact. Norman attempts to build a psychoanalytical theory of TIME itself.

Now I should say that there is more than one theme to Norman's book. For example he explores how dialectics relates to psychoanalysis and Freud's dualism (he sees the death instinct as related to negation); and related to this there's a lot of Kant Vs Hegel; and then there's all the stuff on the pleasure-principle and the reality-principle; and a ton of other stuff too. But, although I'm inevitably going to wander off in different directions as I tend to on these rambles, I want to at least try to stay in the general vicinity of Time and Money. So please excuse me if I pay scant (or no) attention to these other areas.

I'd only vaguely been aware of psychoanalysis's ideas about Time. Perhaps its just one of those issues like Money, where psychoanalysis gets such a slapping down that it has to keep quiet. You know how it works; Economists claim Money as their own, Physicists claim Time as theirs. Maths looks on like a proud, supportive but ineffectual parent. Science can safely ignore Philosophy as (in their eyes) its still spinning in the same 2000 year old circles repeatedly asking 'Why?'. But the young upstart Psychoanalysis? Asking questions about and proposing theories to explain the nature of reality? That's beyond the pale. To stay in the science family - albeit, locked safely in the attic - psychoanalysis had to sit by its couch and be quiet.

Norman, of course refused to do as he was told. As a consequence his work is largely disregarded, not only the broader community, but also by his peers in psychoanalysis. They're quite happy in the attic. They've accepted the idea that psychoanalysis is therapy. Well, I needn't worry that. Nor need I worry about Economists or Physicists. I'll happily take Norman's ideas (and his exposition of the ideas of others) and run with them.

The psychoanalytical theory of Time suggests that the flow of time is created by the mind. Norman suggests that the Death instinct (or d-force as I'll refer to it henceforth) splits apart the 'now-ness' of reality. (That's very much my way of explaining it). For Norman's actual words see for example Money Wisdom #182 or this;
"Not only does Freud represent a breakthrough to the 'noumenal' self, but he also lays the basis  for an attack on the Kantian equation of the time-schema with rationality. There are psychoanalytical theorems, which we can discuss only in a later chapter, anatomizing time-consciousness as a diseased consciousness and tending toward the conclusion that what Kant took to be the schemata of rationality are really the schemata of repression. It is true that Freud fails to gather the insights of psychoanalysis together to make a frontal assault on the concept of time: in fact, he recognizes his failure when toward the end of his life he writes, "It is constantly being borne in upon us that we have made far too little use for our theory of the indubitable fact that the repressed remains unaltered by time. This seems to offer us the possibility of an approach to some really profound truths. But I myself have made no further progress here.' In particular, Freud does not seem to have envisaged the mutability of the time-schema, much less its abolition (along with the abolition of repression)." p.94-95
or;
"... to complete this survey of the psychoanalytical investigation of time, there must be a connection between time and the death instinct. If the death instinct deserves its name, it must have something to do with time. Freud specifically postulated some special connection between the death instinct and the repetition compulsion; repetition compulsion like the defense mechanism of undoing, like Freud's postulated rhythmic periodicity in perception, is a temporal structure. Separation - the decisive act in the defense mechanism of isolation - is also a manifestation of the death instinct. The connection between time and the death instinct has suffered the general neglect of the death instinct in psychoanalytical literature." p.277

The later chapter he refers to in the first quote is Time is Money (actually, its a section of the chapter Filthy Lucre; page p.272 to 287) [There's a preview of the section here albeit with p.275 missing - you have to click through the pages to get to it]

Odd as 'splitting apart the now-ness of reality' might sound, its not really in opposition to what physicists say about time. Most physics explanations of reality work on the theory of 'Block Time' - the idea that all points in time are equally 'real'. There's no generally accepted explanation of how block time is 'converted' into flow time - if indeed, that's how it happens at all. In fact, physics tends to regard the way we experience reality - the way we perceive time to flow from the past, through the present and to the future - as illusory. The laws of physics work as well going backwards in time as they do going forwards.

Anyway, let's not get into all that floaty-hard stuff, entropy and the like. This ramble is about the nature of Time as it relates to my description of Money - in particular the idea that 'Money mediates Value'. I'm going to suggest that Time - both as we experience it and as we understand it - is explicable from the idea that Money mediates Value.

Unlike Norman I don't specifically ascribe 'time-flow creation' capacity to d-force (the Death Instinct). Like Money, Time has opposing qualities; fundamentally it has separateness and oneness, it has past/future and now, it can divide events as well as link them. I went through a similar thought process when considering Money in terms of l-force and d-force. The temptation was to think about Money's corrosive capacity and perceive it as a manifestation of d-force. I've recalled in my On the Metaphysics of Freud post how this was a stumbling block in my conception of Money for many years.

It is also possible, I suppose, to see Time in psychoanalytical terms as some sort of manifestation of l-force and d-force. And although I see this as a more reasonable explanation than Norman's focus on d-force I don't find it hugely helpful. (Again, I faced the same problem with Money).

Its not helpful because you end up left with a choice - and it does become a matter of choice - between Monism and Dualism/Pluralism. You're faced with the return of the problem of 'The One and the Many'. In a sense my examination of Value and Money is my attempt at an answer. I did a brief post a short while back on the little aphorism I came up with that 'Money is the and between the One and the Many.

Anyway, before we get lost and short of breath in the high ground, let me try to pose the problem in a more down to earth way. If you believe, as I do, that Value is the primary reality, how does Value bifurcate into the yin and yang of l-force and d-force, or time and space, or subject and object, or whatever dualism it is by which we connect to the primary reality?

My answer of course, is through Money.

For me, Money describes the totality of the states of attraction and repulsion, expansion and contraction, chaos and order. So in a sense I'm working the other way around to Norman (and Freud). He starts with the idea of bodily (sexual) energies and suggests a process by which (through Mind) they create reality. I start with the idea that Value is reality and manifests itself through Money. Money is logically anterior to the mental and bodily energies of living organisms (l-force and d-force) and it
"reconciles the monism of Value and the dualism of human experience through the medium of Mind""
(the third part of my description of Money - I'm not entirely satisfied with my formulation of this, but it'll do for the moment).

Hence my conception of time would be that Money mediates Value creating the capacity for the Mind to perceive both Block-time and Flow-time. So in my conception l-force and d-force don't create time as the psychoanalytical theories of time (broadly) suggest, instead Time (and Space) are created from Money's mediation of Value. Mind (and body) are logically posterior to this mediation. Put another way, both Block-time and Flow-time are real. We consciously perceive Flow-time, and we are unconsciously aware of Block-time - intellectually we can conceive of both.

Let me see if I can make my point clearer.

For a rock, its experience of time, is from when it is formed of molten lava, or sedimentary deposits, or whatever, through to when it turns to dust. This process make take thousands and thousands of years. But for the rock all those years are 'Now'. You might claim that a rock doesn't 'experience' time. I'd argue that it does. That experience may be very different from ours but its formation and dissolution are the markers to its existence. The point is that a rock does not require Mind (or Body) to have a relation with Time. What the Rock needs is for its atoms and molecules to Value their form 'as a Rock' more than the form they had prior to 'being a Rock'. The special capacity that the living organism has over the rock is that it can divide up its experience of Now-ness until eventually the perception of Flow-time goes from life-cycles to seconds.

And as I say, I think the primary process here is Money's mediation of Value. This process creates phenomena - Time, Space, currency - which seem to share some essence. Physicists have tried to reveal the essence of the Time & Space, Economists have focused their attention, by and large, on Time and currency (or more precisely on changes in currency over time). Psychoanalysis has pointed out that these phenomena are accessed by Minds formed of unconscious forces; the order of objectivity is created from the chaos of subjectivity.

My focus on Money means that I see the objective order of reality as susceptible to an analysis that uses currency as a proxy for our Mind's relationship with Money. Currency is the mechanism that converts the chaos of subjectivity into number. If we can understand better how currency correlates with Money we'll uncover a new, deeper story about ourselves.

Norman approaches these sorts of ideas in his book. For him though both Money and Time are related to d-force. He sees both as, in essence, the products of repression. In relation to Time, he explains that early civilisations saw it as cyclical. Whereas for the last two thousand years or so in Western civilisation we see time as linear. Time has 'tightened' from epochs, to lifespans, to years, to seasons, to months, to days, to hours, etc until it appears as a series of dots rather than a giant circle. For Norman the link between Time and Money is religion. This is very much in-line with Freud, Laum etc; as the human sacrifice became the totemic sacrifice, so in turn the totem animal became the votive offering, and the votive offering became currency. Death, the ultimate measure of life, is subsumed (sublimated in psychoanalytical terms) to create a measurable universe, or indeed a universe of measure. Religion gave rhythm to life.

Norman is not alone in putting Money and Time at the center of the story of mankind's journey to modernity. I have a vivid memory of a rare Anthony Giddens' lecture at the L.S.E. when he suggested that the invention and adoption of the pocket watch (later the wrist watch) was the most important driver to modernity. Giddens believes that the most defining property of modernity is that we are disembedded from time (and space). So the town clock, then the watch, disconnected us from nature (cyclical time) and transported us into modernity (linear time).

There are nuances to the 'disembedding' arguments, in terms of 'what' does the disembedding and 'what it is' that we are disembedded from. I can't claim to remember them. It was Polanyi's The Great Transformation that made the case most strongly to me. For him it was Money (and the pursuit of it) that disembedded markets from society. In terms of the argument I'm making here, 'disembedding' is really about focusing on the action of d-force and its capacity for disruption; its tendency to split things apart.

And its the one-sidedness of the 'disembedding' story that makes me skeptical about its explanatory power. So, while I'm happy to place Money central to the story of change, I don't think about it in terms of mankind becoming disembedded from Time, Space, Social Unity, the Products of Labour or whatever - and neither do I think about it as Money (or the pocket watch, or the Model T Ford) being an agent of those changes. Rather, I see Money itself  becoming more 'embedded' in Mind. Or more precisely, I define human progress as our mind's increasing capacity to experience Value mediated through Money.

I'm not completely alone in my take on the 'disembedding' story. It is something of a Romantic illusion; a yearning for a primal unity. (I think that we'd be much better off to attach those romantic sentiments to Money itself. In particular, we should ascribe Money an eternal aspect - because this truly reflects its nature.) To support my case that it is Money itself that has created this Utopian vision of a past unified in both social relations and with nature I'm going to quote at length from James Buchan's Frozen Desire. I'm not claiming that Buchan completely agrees with me, but I do think we share some common ground.
"Who has not sat at a Victorian railway station, anxious or delayed, and felt overpowered by the yearning in the architecture? For, in reality, those buildings are acts of worship. They celebrate, in awe and fear, the God-like power of money to bring together so many distant and estranged impulses at a single point of space and history.
It is in the reproduction of wilderness - that is, of the world that cannot even conceive of money - that the romantic artists feel most painfully the presence of money; and that feeling has, if anything, increased in intensity in our lifetimes. Whereas at school I was taught the feudal system of medieval Europe till it came out of my ears, as if to inculcate in me a Carlylean longing for social relations unmediated by money, my children are fed the rain forest or what still remains of it. Education, it seems, is in a condition of permanent homesickness for a vanished world.
The wilderness, as an object of Romantic contemplation, was invented in December 1777, when... ...Goethe was twenty-eight and residing at Weimar in Thuringia, where he was employed as a sort of economic consultant by the little local court at a salary of 1200 talers a year. A hunt had been ordered, so as to deal with some wild boar that were annoying the villagers in the Eisenach region, and as the court train [of horse-drawn carriages] rumbles and jingles through the soft countryside, in the damp early-winter air, something extraordinary happens. It was captured by Goethe in a poem of great beauty and precision, the 'Harzreise im Winter' ('Winter Journey in the Harz Mountains'). The prince's coach, as it bounces over the turf, is suddenly transfigured into Fortune's car, which we recognise without effort from the print's of Law's scheme and the Haarlem tulips and sixteenth century Antwerp:
Leicht ist's, folgen dem Wagen,
Den Fortuna Fuhrt
Wie der gemachliche Tross
Auf gebesserten Wegen
Hinter des Fursten inzug
[It's easy enough to follow Fortune's car, like the gaggle of hunt followers that trip down the trails blazed for the Prince's progress]
and then, as if he cannot control himself, and yet so self-consciously that he writes not of his feelings but of those watching him, Goethe turns off, leaves the ride, vanishes into the thicket, falls out of the world. 
Hinter ihm schlagen
Die Strauche zusammen
Das Gras steht wieder auf
Die Ode verschlingt ihn
[Behind him, the bushes whip back together. The grass stands up again. The waste engulfs him.]
These verses, set to music later by Brahms and eventually recorded by the doomed British contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, are the quintessence of the Romantic sentiment in its heroic phase.
Up to that moment, as Goethe rides off on his own and sees an eagle soaring above a hill top, the wilderness has been a place waiting for exploitation. It is seen as a value, but one that is still hidden or imprisoned until it can be released by agriculture, grazing, metallurgy, and all those economic activities that Goethe, pre-eminently among the great Romantic artists, had mastered and understood. In other words, it was waiting for conversion into money. What Goethe sees in the wilderness is not explicitly stated, except that it isn't money: a more precise definition becomes, as it were, the Romantic task or project. In the 'Harzreise' it is God's unpredictable but ever-present mercy; for Wordsworth in the 'Ode' on immortality, it is the painful residue of childish states of consciousness; while in the landscape paintings of Casper David Friedrich, it appears to be nothing less than intensity itself as a quality. These sensations arise and draw their creative and destructive power - and I don't believe this has been said elsewhere - from an agonising contradiction within the psychology of money.
The distinctive aesthetic experience of nature - what we used to call Romantic and now term environmentalist - begins at a great remove from nature. The farmer ploughs a stony field, or stays up all night on Christmas Eve to keep his new-born lambs from freezing, does not generally regard nature with a contemplative eye or feel that soft sorrow, that sense of estrangement from a lost paradise that we think of as the proper Romantic or envirionmental response to nature. He welcomes the by-pass is it will speed his journey to market. He'll grow trailers in his fields as happily as soybeans. The song 'Summertime' is a celebration not of the beauty of the cotton bush but of the strength of the market for it; the living is easy because  the price is high.
The portraiture of natural landscape, for some interior value rather than as an arena or background to human activity - a village wedding, a madonna among lillies, and English duke before a window opening on owned acres - presupposes a distance from it and a break in our ancient or ideal unity with it. It is the expression not of a rural existence but of an urban yearning; and the ghastly perversity of it all is, as Georg Simmel well noted, that only the possession of money permits us to take flight into nature. Simmel did not merely mean that money allows us to pass from city to wilderness, from Oxford Street to the Himalays; it is money that makes us need to do so!
James Buchan Frozen Desire - The Meaning of Money (1997) p. 187-189

So whereas Giddens & Polanyi see human progress marked by a disembedding of man from nature and natural relations, Buchan and Simmel see nature (or at least our romantic appreciation of it) as created by money itself. I'm more in tune with Buchan and Simmel here. Although I don't draw the same conclusions as Buchan. In his chapter Money: A Valediction he wants us to re-discover or recognise Values that are outside of the world of Money. Human progress will have have no worth if people 'are not sorry when they die, to think that they shall no longer be an expense to themselves' (says Buchan quoting Hazlitt p281).

I certainly agree with Buchan's sentiment - as we all do. But because I see human progress in terms of the capacity of our mind to comprehend and synthesise changes in the relationship of Money to Value, I think progress will entail a reformation of our relations with currency. In other words, the changes in conceptions and experiences of Time & Space in our history reflect the changes in our understanding of Money and Value. The proximal measure we have to this 'understanding of Money and Value' is currency. So its important to know what the hell currency, has to do with Money.

Bugger. Back at the same spot. Well, at least we took a different route this time.

Wherever you go on these little thought rambles you can pretty much guarantee that somebody will have been there before you. Maybe not seeing the same things you see, or at least not seeing them in the same way as you, but they've been there, all the same. And its always the artist that gets there before the thinker. I happened across this work by @shardcore  prior to writing this post. His description of the work says "This work is really about how we use these pieces of paper as markers of our passage through time. We spend to live, and live to spend. Each note we hand over gets us a little closer to death…"







Saturday, September 28, 2013

Money Wisdom #212

"This work [Money, that's what I want] is really about how we use these pieces of paper as markers of our passage through time. We spend to live, and live to spend. Each note we hand over gets us a little closer to death…"

Shadcore Money, that's what I want (2010) (link)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Money Wisdom #211

"...the money complex involves more regions of the body than just the anal. Since excrement becomes aliment, the oral region is involved; since money breeds, the genital region is involved. In other words anal eroticism cannot be isolated, and the money complex involves the whole problem of all the sexual organizations and their interrelations - that is, the whole problem of the body. The proper point of departure, in the literature of psychoanalysis, is not Freud's essay of 1908, but his essay of 1916, 'On the Transformation of Instincts with Special Reference to Anal Eroticism.' "

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.288