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.