Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dispatches from Operation Mindfuck

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

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

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

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

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


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

From the Daily Mail:

userpete86, IrvineCA, United States, 2 months ago

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

Rick Jamey, nO, United States, 2 months ago

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

jrg, Winnipeg, 2 months ago

As a Canadian, I am disgusted and ashamed.

usadarling, allNutsinFlorida, 2 months ago

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

markish99, kent, 2 months ago

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

Bagpiper13, Calgary, Canada, 2 months ago

I voted to burn it. Pretty cool. eh?

From Adbusters:

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

and in reply to the above comment;

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

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

and in reply to the above comment;

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

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

and in reply to the above comment;

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, May 30, 2014

Money Wisdom #275

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

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

Money Wisdom #274

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

Albert Tauber Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher (2010) xv

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Money Wisdom #273

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

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

Money Wisdom #272

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

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This is getting silly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know what's coming.

That did make me smile.



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


Dad, you think everything is about money.


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


Thank God. We're home.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Rambling Addendum

So in the last post about the Cosmic Trigger play I decided not to worry about, among other things, the use of the word 'money'. (Their crowdfunding site is now live btw)

I said things such as 'money was invented'. I really had to force my fingers to tap that into the keyboard. My intention was to attach an addendum to the piece saying - 'money was not really invented' and 'we should distinguish carefully between money and currency'. But I ran out of time. And I'm not sure it would have been a good idea, anyway. I've pointed out before that there is (or perhaps, I have) a huge problem with money and language. The reason for relaxing my normal rather more stringent approach to the use of the words 'money & currency' was not only to do with the style of the piece, but also the other book I read on my holiday, aside from Cosmic Trigger. I can't talk about that yet because its not out until October, I'll just say that it gave me the confidence to try, at least, and be a little freer with my use of the word 'money'. After all, the meaning of words is determined by consensus rather than diktat.

Something that occurred to me through thinking about time, the evolution of consciousness and the way Robert Anton Wilson tended sometimes towards a 'developmental' framing of conceptions was the chronology of my own journey with money burning. It wasn't that long ago that every ramble I ever did seemed to end with an appeal for us to distinguish between money and currency. And now I'm thinking that perhaps this is a sort of primary intellectual response to money burning. The question forced upon us by our action.

There's an obvious caveat to this though. It doesn't really feature too strongly in John Higgs' account of the KLF. In John's book, and also in the interviews with Drummond and Cauty, the question is framed in terms of 'the meaning of money'. So I'm aware that my 'primary' intellectual response maybe just my own particular take on it. Although, the more visceral response, of the feeling of 'what the hell was that I did?' is present I think in my earlier accounts of my burning. In those I describe money as a 'power' or 'force' the first piece from 2008 is here. The problem - if it is a problem - is that I'd been thinking about the nature of money and all that (often in a [quasi]academic way) for a long time before my first burning. Which is why I'm not sure that the chronology - from money burning to a dual conception of money and currency - is a universal response. But perhaps it could be.

The time is drawing closer when I know that I'm going to have to write something accessible to general reader about money burning. So I've been thinking about these sorts of questions more and more. And that word 'money' is a central question. I've tried before to use Money (with the upper-case 'M') to mean the idea of money that exists outside spacetime, money (with a lower case 'm') to mean Money and currency in the more normal way, and currency to mean that aspect of money (i.e. that bit of money that isn't Money) that exists inside spacetime. But you can see already that's quite cumbersome. I'm wary of things like 'cis'. I've read numerous times what that means, but even here, now, I have to look it up. Its one thing feeling that words should have a particular meaning, its another to force that meaning upon them. It not sure its possible.

The other thing about the money/currency duality is that the academic debates around it have been fierce. I'm hoping that I'll get to read shortly all of the related journal articles on the most recent spat. I'm intending to do a write up here. My practical concern is that if the academics are so divided on it, how on earth can any intellectual argument I make persuade people that an understanding of the distinction between money and currency is worth burning fifty quid for? I reckon you'll know it when you've done it - and I reckon its a hugely important thing to get your head around - but I'm less sure that its a great line with which to persuade people to open their wallets and strike a match.

Whilst I'm on practical matters I need to clear a few thing up. I appreciate that its probably only me that worries about these things but....

No-one 'invented' money. Not really. You could if you like - as I did in the crowdfunding post - point to some guy in ancient history and say 'he minted the first coin'. Indeed, you could point to some girl in history - such as the Greek wife of Midas, Demodoke, daughter of the ruler of Cyme, and say she did it. We will never know for sure. (My reasons for choosing Gyges didn't have to do with the '23' thing - I only found out about that subsequently).

The crucial point is, of course, to remember that coinage is a form of currency. Its a hugely important and interesting one - but its not the totality of money. There seem, broadly, to be two ways of approaching the first appearance of coinage. One is to look for small metal discs in the sand of ancient lands and try to decide which is the oldest. This is fraught with problems. Not only do coins move around easily making the space part of the spacetime issue tricky, they can also be melted down and restruck (the first coins were struck rather than cast). So the fact that no extant coins of Gyges have been found (the earliest examples the British Museum have are from his grandson or his great-grandson) doesn't put me off. As Taleb says 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence'.

The other way to think about early coinage is to look at what was written and try to get a handle on money in culture. The academics who approach the issue this way - although they would balk at the certainty with which I claimed Gyes invented money - would, I think, at least say that, yes, the first coins probably did come from that part of the world at around that time and so the possibility that Gyges was the first to mint a coin cannot be excluded.

If you're interested in such things try Philip Grierson's The Origins of Money (1978) (pdf here) for the metal discs in the sand take, Marc Shell's The Economy of Literature for the money in culture take, or Richard Seaford's Money and the Early Greek Mind for a mix of both. All three of them are utterly brilliant.

The reason I'm so big on Gyges of course is the sex thing and its role in the conceptualiztion of money. I consider that to be the biggest clue to - and the most important factor in - the origin of currency.

I haven't done a ramble for a while. Part of the problem I always have with writing them is never knowing how to end them.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cosmic Trigger Crowdfunding on 23/5

The lovely folks involved in the Cosmic Trigger play are holding a Crowd Fund Launch Party tonight at Passing Clouds in Dalston, London. I couldn't make it and it is fully booked so if you haven't got a ticket you've missed out. You'll have to content yourself with sending in a substantial wedge of cash once the crowd-funding site goes live. I want to send Daisy and her company my best wishes by way of this post. And, in keeping with the Wilsonian weirdness of it all, and perhaps as an offering to Eris on their behalf in hope of a fecundity of fund-raising, I want to share with you a few odd things.

Cosmic Trigger is a weird book. I read it at 37 000 feet over the Atlantic ocean. As any physics student will tell you, because of time dilation if you and I had read the book simultaneously, you on the ground and me in the air flying over the Atlantic, we would have experienced time differently. That's an strange idea to get your head around.

The recurring thought I had during my reading was about Bob's view of time. There seemed to me to be some conflict between Bob's ideas about time and his actions toward time. What I mean by this is that on the one hand he is happy to consider what physicists refer to as block time (the idea that all points in time are equally real) and also the strange but appealing (at least appealing to those of us who have ever experienced a sense of deja vu) models of 'non-locality' which allow for future-to-past causality. So in this sense Bob is outside time. And yet on the other hand, Bob seems to rage against the flow of time. He is earnest in his desire for immortality and of course investigates optimistically all the promises made by the longevity studies of the 70's. And underscoring some of Bob's important ideas and projects - especially those associated with Timothy Leary - is an evolutionary or developmental nature. And that very much places Bob within time.

I get the sense though, that Bob knew all this. Of his contact with Sirius he says that the entity 'always intently urged that I should try to understand time better' (p.91). In the comfort of my own mind - not knowing that I would later feel compelled to share the thought - I wondered if this message Bob had received, was not from an alien intelligence on Sirius, but was my future thought on reading his book above the Atlantic in an out-of-time place.

So what follows from here then, is not a chronological list of odd things that have happened to me. Its order reflects a record of my own entry into Chapel Perilous.


John Higgs posted this picture to twitter the other day.

That book, to the immediate right of John's as you look, is Debt - the first 5000 years by David Graeber. It's probably the most influential - certainly the most widely read - academic text on money this century. The book's author is a leading light in the Occupy movement and currently an academic at the London School of Economics. Debt is certainly an important book for me. I've been studying money for a long time, so to see a book on money be so successful - and inspirational to so many - was hugely significant to me. The KLF Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds has also been hugely significant to me. If John hadn't written it, I wouldn't be writing this post. And - I don't know for sure - but I doubt Daisy would be running the fundraiser for the Cosmic Trigger play either. 

The strange thing is that John's book and David's book are connected, not only by the theme of money, but also by Cosmic Trigger. Part One of Cosmic Trigger opens with a quote from Nasreddin (Wilson spells it 'Nasrudin') a 13th century Muslim philosopher. His stories appear several times in the course of the book. The one that particularly appeals to Bob is the story of Nasreddin's donkey which questions the nature of reality and what we believe. The same tale appears in David Graeber's book (p.192) - albeit in slightly altered form - and again, Nasreddin's stories (Graeber spells it 'Nasruddin') appear multiple times. In fact, I liked them so much that when I read Debt I put up one up as a Money Wisdom quote on this blog.

The meta-themes, of questioning the nature of reality and belief - particularly as they relate to money - also link John and David's books. John suggests that the KLF's burning of one million quid set the scene for the global economic collapse of 2008 and so created the 21st century. David wants to bring about a new consciousness around money through a debt jubilee - not only will this help relieve the yoke of debt from the poorest members of our community but it will also he claims 'clear our conceptual baggage' around money and reveal it's true nature. 

Perhaps the person who put John and David's books together in the Cowley Club knew all this. Or, perhaps they just thought that two books on money should go together. Either way, if it had been me passing by that window I'd have definitely been reeled in with my wallet open. But then again, I'm not such a difficult catch. I'm a sucker for a bookshop with or without a sprinkling of magic in their window displays. I find the more chaotic secondhand ones especially attractive.

I picked up Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 in my local charity bookshop back in March. I read it unsure whether or not I'd actually read it before. When reading Cosmic Trigger a few weeks later then, I raised an eyebrow seeing Bob mention Billy Pilgrim, the main character in Slaughterhouse 5. Billy is someone who comes 'unstuck' in time and this is an experience Bob empathizes with. Billy also communes with aliens from a planet that can't be detected from earth. I loved that Bob, later on in Cosmic Trigger, slips in the recurring motif of Slaughterhouse 5 - 'So it goes' (p.101). I felt like he did that just for me.

Bob attributes the 'law of 23's' to William S Burroughs, who no doubt will feature in Daisy's adaptation of Cosmic Trigger (he was in one the excerpts staged at the Horse Hospital on 23/10/13). You'd expect Burroughs to sprinkle a few 23's in his work. So noticing that he wrote a short story called 23 Skidoo was unsurprising. But it did ring a bell with me. Eventually it clicked that 23 Skidoo, or rather Skidoo 23, was in mentioned a book I read long ago by the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith called The Age of Uncertainty. It's the true story of a remote town in Nevada called Skidoo 23; apparently the 23 refers to the number of miles that water had to be pumped over the mountains to get to the gold mines around which the town grew up. What happened there on 19th April 1908 (Easter Sunday) was the town's 'no-good boyo' murdered its most respected and upstanding citizen. As a result, a few days later - yes, on the 23rd April - he was lynched by the town-folk who later re-hung his body on a telegraph wire in order for the press to take a photograph. You can see the photograph and read the reports here. (While we're on matters of such morbidity did you know 23 Skidoo was mentioned in the Titanic inquiry? scroll down to 6341)

Anyway, so far so good. Joining the dots between books, finding literary references, the law of fives, and even finding that I had a nice, little, long-forgotten 23 tale buried in my head are things that arouse my interest rather than push me into a state of paranoia. Chapel Perilous was in the distance.

But I was about to get a good deal closer. Allow me to set the scene.

Since the beginning of the April I've been writing an essay with the working title 'The Messy Business of Conceptualizing Money'. Its an essay which, in various forms, I've been trying to write and subsequently abandoning for the last three or four years. I'm exploring the idea that property and possession are underscored by our sexual relations, and most importantly, how property, possession and sex relate to money and currency. It probably sounds a bit dry when I put it like that. But what informs my thinking on it is not only my study of money but also my experience doing something called 'naturalsex'. To cut a long story short, after studying at the London School of Economics, rather than go and work for a bank I decided to set up a sex site with my wife Sally, and her friend. We called the site naturalsex and we tried our best to make 'good' and 'real' pornography - whatever that means. 

It was a lot of fun. And we learned a lot. 

I came to see that the themes of sexual jealousy, possession, and non-monogamy are not accessible to the intellect alone, but need to be experienced and assimilated. The theme of visibility and invisibility was important too. The boundary between the private and public space was shifting for everyone because of the internet but obviously in revealing one's sex life online one feels that quite acutely. Perhaps the most important thing we learned is that you can't talk about sex without being sexual. This became very apparent to us from the media interviews we did. As objective, non-sexual, and matter-of-fact as a journalist tried to be, their own kink would always shine through in the end. And there was one particular word which was a dead give-away and everybody used despite it seeming a little out of context - the best of the journalists noticed it too. Sally and I would smile secretly to each other when people said 'Really? That's fascinating!' It became something of a totem for us.

So all of these themes - visibility, fascination, jealousy - come together with some ideas on Money and my experience of my yearly money-burning ritual, in the essay that I've been trying to write for the past three or four years. I've been quite pleased with my progress on the latest incarnation and I'm hopeful that I might actually finish it.

What's different this time is I've begun at the beginning. I've been studying the myth and reality of Gyges. For me, Gyges is the guy who invented money - in so far as he was the first king to mint a coin. He was a Lydian tyrant king living around 2800 years ago and he was, alongside his neighbour King Midas, associated in the minds of the ancient Greeks with the birth of currency. Myths have been built around both kings and passed down to us through the ages - making it easy to forget that they were both real flesh-and-blood people. We all know the one about Midas and his touch turning everything to gold. But for me, the Gygian ones are much more powerful.

The most widely known story of Gyges was told some 300 years after his rule by Plato. You may recognize some key elements from a rather more widely known story (although there is apparently no 'material' connection). According to Plato, Gyges - originally a simple shepherd - found a magic ring. This ring bestowed upon its wearer the ability to become invisible. The power of it had a corrupting influence on Gyges who quickly went to Sardis the capital of Lydia, killed the king, seduced his widow and claimed the throne. The myth is still discussed in Ethics classes to consider the idea that people will do, what they can get away with.

But that's not my favourite story about Gyges. Oh no. There is a much better one that doesn't rely on magic rings. It was written fifty years or so earlier than Plato's tale in the first factual historical record of events that we know of, by the 'father of history' Herodotus. And its kinky. Candaules the incumbent Lydian King had a very beautiful wife - we never find out her name. Gyges was Candaules most trusted guard and minister. What the kinky devil Candaules wanted most was for Gyges to see the Queen naked so that he could see with his own eyes - and so have certain knowledge of - how incredibly hot she really was. The trouble with his plan was that nakedness was taboo. So Candaules insisted that Gyges hide himself in their bedroom so he could get an eyeful in secret. Well, the Queen clocked him. She didn't say anything right away. Instead, she waited until the following day when she sent for Gyges. She told him that dishonored he'd her by seeing her naked. To recover her from shame, Gyges must make a choice. He could either be put to death himself, or he could kill the king and take the Queen for his wife. Gyges hid in the bedroom once more, but this time he killed the king in his sleep and so took the Queen and the throne for himself. A scene from 'The English Patient' tells the story brilliantly as does this picture by William Etty from 1820;

You can see that for someone, like me, with some strange ideas about sexual undercurrents in the origins of money this story is pure gold. Hence, my 'fascination' with the Gygian story and my 'belief' that Gyges invented money.

From the time that Gyges claimed it, Herodotus traces the lineage of the Lydian throne back 505 years. Prior to this there is a transition period of five semi-mythical figures the earliest of which is Heracles - or Hercules as we know him today. So, Herodotus tells us that the first king of Lydia was Agron in about 1200 B.C. and he was succeeded in a direct line, father to son, all the way down to Candaules who was the twenty-second king of Lydia. This, of course, means Gyges, the inventor of money, was the 23rd king of Lydia. 

That made me take notice. I was closer to Chapel Perilous than I thought. 

Those 5's in the 505 years of rule, and the five people in transition from myth to history don't really push Discordian buttons in the same way the a good solid 23 does. The law of fives wasn't finished with us yet, though. There was obviously some disquiet about Gyges killing Candaules and then marrying his widow. Its a difficult thing to brush under the carpet. So Gyges made a huge tribute of silver and gold to the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle then told him that his dynasty would be powerful, but due to his usurpation of the throne it would fall in the fifth generation. 

That fifth generation, Gyges great-great-grandson, was Croesus. It's not much in use today, but the phrase 'as rich as Croesus' used to be what people would say when they meant someone was extremely wealthy. Its first recorded use in English goes all the way back to 1390. The British Museum actually has one of Croesus's gold coins. I went to see it in February. You can't actually hold it in your hand - which would be amazing - but you can get pretty close.

Unfortunately for Croesus, the Oracle's prediction came true. The kingdom of Lydia did indeed come to an end in that fifth generation when Croesus was defeated in battle by Cyrus the Great of Persia (who, incidentally, attempted to burn Croesus alive). 

So all of this was very interesting for a student of money and a recent reader of Cosmic Trigger, like me. Spotting 23's and 5's way back in the origins of money - especially with kinky stories attached - that's right up my street. And, I thought, it'll make a nice post. Money being invented by the 23rd king since the beginning of recorded time, the cosmic trigger folks will love that.

You can tell though, I was still not really inside Chapel Perilous. 

It slightly concerned me that I hadn't gone looking for 23s or 5's, I'd just stumbled over them by trying to get a handle on the specifics of Herodotus's chronology. It was more like they'd found me, than I'd found them. But you know, Gyges being the 23rd king - is it significant? It was all a very long time ago. Weird things tend to hit home when there's some connection apparent to you, personally. There's nothing personal to me there. 

Then this. 

Herodotus mentions Archilochus of Paros whom he says, lived around the same time as Gyges. Archilochus was the odd combination of warrior and poet. I like those sorts of juxtapostions. My own twitter profile reads: "Money Burner. Professional Amateur." So instantly I felt a bit of a kinship him.

What follows are words that come from his mind via a scrap of papyrus through the skills of a translator and across 2800 years that had this money-burning fool, who obsesses about the relation between sexual jealousy and gold and would smile to his wife knowingly when people said they were 'fascinated', spread-eagled on the alter of Chapel Perilous for more than an open-mouthed moment.

These golden matters
of Gyges and his treasuries
are no concern of mine.
Jealousy has no power over me,
nor do I envy a god his work,
and I don't burn to rule.
Such things have no
fascination for my eyes.

(trans. Guy Davenport 1980)

Perhaps these words don't cock-slap you round the face in the same manner they do me. That's part of the point of it I guess. We all have our own unique reality tunnel and when the universe, past, present and future seems to flow down it and pulse out all over your life, it can create a bit of a mess. I mean I even got a clear picture in my mind of Archilochus sitting on a hillside surrounded by long grass and wild flowers writing his verse. I can't seem to shake that even now. The trick, Bob tells us, is not to really believe it.

That's good advice. 

Still. As far as Daisy's fundraiser goes, I don't really suppose that'd Bob would mind too much if, for just one night, you believed in the power of those 23's and 5's and their connection to money. After all, supporting the play financially will, in some way, help Bob achieve immortality.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Money Wisdom #271

"One of the first Discordian catmas* was Kerry Thornley's Law of Fives, which holds that all incidents and events are directly connected to the number five, or to some multiple of five, or to some number related to five in one way or another, given enough ingenuity on the part of the interpreter. Usually, we would state this to novices without the crucial (italicized) final clause; it was up them to discover the metaprogrammer and figure out that part for themselves.

I added the Law of 23's, derived from Burroughs, on the grounds that 2 + 3 = 5, and Discordians were soon reporting 23s and 5s from everywhere in current history and the past.

You have achieved Discordian enlightenment when you realize that, while the goddess Eris and the Law of Fives are not literally true, neither is anything else.

(*Other religions have dogmas, which are absolute beliefs. Discordianism has catmas, which are relative meta-beliefs."

Robert Anton Wilson Cosmic Trigger Vol 1 (1978) p.59

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Money Wisdom #270

The kings of this country before Agron were descendants of Lydus, son of Atys, from whom this whole Lydian district got its name; before that it was called the land of the Meii. The Heraclidae, descendants of Heracles and a female slave of Iardanus, received the sovereignty from these and held it, because of an oracle; and they ruled for twenty-two generations, or five hundred and five years, son succeeding father, down to Candaules son of Myrsus.

This Candaules, then, fell in love with his own wife, so much so that he believed her to be by far the most beautiful woman in the world; and believing this, he praised her beauty beyond measure to Gyges son of Dascylus, who was his favorite among his bodyguard; for it was to Gyges that he entrusted all his most important secrets. After a little while, Candaules, doomed to misfortune, spoke to Gyges thus: 

“Gyges, I do not think that you believe what I say about the beauty of my wife; men trust their ears less than their eyes: so you must see her naked.” 

Gyges protested loudly at this. “Master,” he said, “what an unsound suggestion, that I should see my mistress naked! When a woman's clothes come off, she dispenses with her modesty, too. Men have long ago made wise rules from which one ought to learn; one of these is that one should mind one's own business. As for me, I believe that your queen is the most beautiful of all women, and I ask you not to ask of me what is lawless.”

Speaking thus, Gyges resisted: for he was afraid that some evil would come of it for him. 

But this was Candaules' answer: “Courage, Gyges! Do not be afraid of me, that I say this to test you, or of my wife, that you will have any harm from her. I will arrange it so that she shall never know that you have seen her. I will bring you into the chamber where she and I lie and conceal you behind the open door; and after I have entered, my wife too will come to bed. There is a chair standing near the entrance of the room: on this she will lay each article of her clothing as she takes it off, and you will be able to look upon her at your leisure. Then, when she moves from the chair to the bed, turning her back on you, be careful she does not see you going out through the doorway.”

As Gyges could not escape, he consented. Candaules, when he judged it to be time for bed, brought Gyges into the chamber; his wife followed presently, and when she had come in and was laying aside her garments, Gyges saw her; when she turned her back upon him to go to bed, he slipped from the room. The woman glimpsed him as he went out, and perceived what her husband had done. But though shamed, she did not cry out or let it be seen that she had perceived anything, for she meant to punish Candaules; since among the Lydians and most of the foreign peoples it is felt as a great shame that even a man be seen naked.

For the present she made no sign and kept quiet. But as soon as it was day, she prepared those of her household whom she saw were most faithful to her, and called Gyges. He, supposing that she knew nothing of what had been done, answered the summons; for he was used to attending the queen whenever she summoned him. 

When Gyges came, the lady addressed him thus: “Now, Gyges, you have two ways before you; decide which you will follow. You must either kill Candaules and take me and the throne of Lydia for your own, or be killed yourself now without more ado; that will prevent you from obeying all Candaules' commands in the future and seeing what you should not see. One of you must die: either he, the contriver of this plot, or you, who have outraged all custom by looking on me uncovered.” 

Gyges stood awhile astonished at this; presently, he begged her not to compel him to such a choice. But when he could not deter her, and saw that dire necessity was truly upon him either to kill his master or himself be killed by others, he chose his own life. 

Then he asked: “Since you force me against my will to kill my master, I would like to know how we are to lay our hands on him.”

She replied, “You shall come at him from the same place where he made you view me naked: attack him in his sleep.”

When they had prepared this plot, and night had fallen, Gyges followed the woman into the chamber (for Gyges was not released, nor was there any means of deliverance, but either he or Candaules must die). She gave him a dagger and hid him behind the same door; and presently he stole out and killed Candaules as he slept. Thus he made himself master of the king's wife and sovereignty. He is mentioned in the iambic verses of Archilochus of Parus who lived about the same time.

So he took possession of the sovereign power and was confirmed in it by the Delphic oracle. For when the Lydians took exception to what was done to Candaules, and took up arms, the faction of Gyges came to an agreement with the rest of the people that if the oracle should ordain him king of the Lydians, then he would reign; but if not, then he would return the kingship to the Heraclidae. The oracle did so ordain, and Gyges thus became king. However, the Pythian priestess declared that the Heraclidae would have vengeance on Gyges' posterity in the fifth generation; an utterance to which the Lydians and their kings paid no regard until it was fulfilled.

Thus the Mermnadae robbed the Heraclidae of the sovereignty and took it for themselves. Having gotten it, Gyges sent many offerings to Delphi: there are very many silver offerings of his there; and besides the silver, he dedicated a hoard of gold, among which six golden bowls are the offerings especially worthy of mention. These weigh thirty talents and stand in the treasury of the Corinthians; although in truth it is not the treasury of the Corinthian people but of Cypselus son of Eetion. This Gyges then was the first foreigner whom we know who placed offerings at Delphi after the king of Phrygia, Midas son of Gordias. For Midas too made an offering: namely, the royal seat on which he sat to give judgment, and a marvellous seat it is. It is set in the same place as the bowls of Gyges. This gold and the silver offered by Gyges is called by the Delphians “Gygian” after its dedicator.

Herodotus The Histories c.450BC Trans. A.D. Godley (1920) (link)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Money Wisdom #268

"The only other introduction Herodotus provides to the story of Gyges, the first real historical personage in the Histories, is a brief but dizzying geneaology of the Lydian royal house before the accession of Gyges (1.6-7). In this genealogy Herodotus skips back and forward in time, giving neither a neat ring composition nor a straightforward and chronological movement from father to son. He mentions first Candaules' remote ancestor, Herakles, and then skips forward in time to Agron, a less remote ancestor, back again to Herakles, forward to Candules again, and back finally to the primordial son of Atys, Lydus, who ruled long before Agron. Then Herodotus sums up in measured phrases: "They [the Hercaclids] ruled twenty-two generations of men and five hundred years, each son receiving the sovereignty from his father down to Candaules the son of Myrsus" (1.7.4). The next sentence begins with the brilliant story of Gyges, echoing the name of Candaules at the end of the genealogical proem: "Now this Candaules..."

If Herodotus' earlier account of Persian aitia is orderly and sober, his genealogy of Lydian kings is convoluted and chaotic. Herodotus' motives here, however, are artistic rather than scientific and objective, for he wants, first of all, to make a pointed contrast between the clear, organized sequence of fictional heroines and the chronologically confused list of real kings. He also wants to provide a suitably heroic and dramatic introduction for the story of Gyges and Candaules, two of the cheif actors in the story he is about to tell. Candaules must come onstage freighted with his numerous and noble ancestors, for the usurper Gyges must seem to violate this unbroken dynastic tradition, a sin for which his descendant Croesus in the fifth generation must pay. Croesus, just as Candaules is the last Heraclid king of Lydia, will be the last Mermnad, indeed the last king of all. The story of Gyges thus begins in a mood of some fateful foreboding, for Herodotus portrays the shift in the kingship of Lydia from the Heraclids to the Mermnads as a momenus event."

Stewart Flory The Archaic Smile of Herodotus (1941) p.29-30

Money Wisdom #267

"Coins may be defined with sufficient accuracy as pieces of metal stamped, usually on both sides, with devices which relate them to the monetary units named in verbal or written transactions, so that they represent these for all legal purposes. Such coins first came to be used in western Asia Minor some time before the reign of the Lydian king Croesus (561-546), though how long before is a matter of dispute. The most recent numismatic scholarship tends to place their introduction - their invention, one can fairly say - in the third quarter of the seventh century B.C., though some historians, with greater faith in the written sources, would place it half a century or more earlier. The first coins were of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver, and bore a design on one face only. In the mid sixth century B.C. coins of gold and silver began to replace those of electrum, and it was not long before the advantage of designs on both faces, which would help to protect them from maltreatment, became apparent. These coins were intended to represent 'money,' probably metal by weight but perhaps in some cases iron spits or other forms of primitive money, prescribed in legal contracts. It is generally assumed that they were first struck in the Greek coastal cities of Ionia and that the practice was adopted only subsequently by the kings of Lydia. It may well have been the other way about, for the Artemision deposit of Ephesus included coins from both sources and the priority commonly accorded to the cities is based on the tacit but scarcely warrantable assumption that Greeks are always cleverer than other people.* From Asia Minor the use of coined money spread south-eastwards to Persia, and westwards to the Aegian islands and mainland Greece, from where it reached Magna Graecia and the Greek colonies in the western Mediterranean. Outside the Greek world it was after some delay taken up by the Semitic peoples, the Celts, the Romans, and the peoples of India, till it became part of the common heritage of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu civilization and eventually worldwide in its scope.

*See Cook (1958). That coinage was invented by the Lydians is asserted by our earliest authority Xenophanes of Ephesus (In Pollux Onomasticon, ix.83; ed. E. Bethe, Lexicographi graeci, IX.2 [Leipzig, 1931], 171), and since he lived in Asia Minor in the late sixth or early fifth century B.C. he was in a position to know.

Philip Grierson The Origins of Money from Research in Economic Anthropology Vol1 pp. 1-35 (1978)

Money Wisdom #266

"The assumption of Lydia as the birthplace of coinage shaped much ancient thought. Whether or not Gyges or his descendant was in fact the first man to mint coins, he was associated in the minds of the Greeks with minting. Like, Midas his neighbor, who turned all things to gold with a touch, Gyges turned all things into gold by his ability to purchase them with gold minted into coins."

Marc Shell The Economy of Literature (1978) p.12

Money Wisdom #265

" The greatest support to evasion comes from complexity. The problem seeming difficult, we postpone, compromise, yield to the conveniences of politics. To see how we use complexity as a device, it is good, on occasion, to go to a community or a countryside where things are sufficiently stark so that evasion is not possible. One admirable such place is Skidoo 23. It is in the Panamint Mountains in California, not far from the Nevada border, 5000 feet over Death Valley. Skidoo is a force for clarity.

It flourished as a mining town in the early part of this [the 20th] century. (The 23 refers, apparently, to the distance water was piped over the mountains to the mines.) Its greatest moment came in the 1908, the year of my birth. Skidoo's most dissolute citizen, Joe Simpson, shot and killed Jim Arnold, the storekeeper, banker and the most respected member of the Skidoo Establishment. Simpson was strung up on a telephone pole, the wires of which gave the news to the world. Reporters rushed in, and the media-conscious citizens strung Joe up a second time to show them how justice of a sort had been done.

No one can look at the deserted and empty mine shafts of Skidoo and escape the fact that resources are exhaustible and nonrenewable.

Skidoo shows also how fragile is the fabric of modern urban existence. Once it was a thriving community of 700 souls. Now the population is precisely nil. For Skidoo the problem was the economic base, as no one on this desert could fail to see. When that eroded, so did Skidoo.

Self-interest - the release of individual energies - made Skidoo. No one could imagination that any other force could bring people hundreds and thousands of miles to bury themselves in the holes one sees here. No one here could believe there is some collectivist or socialist miracle that would similarly populate the desert.

In Skidoo men mined gold. Everything there shows finally how much energy men can expend for no social purpose. Let all reflect upon the idle piles in which the gold, most of it, still resides. This capacity for wasting effort is a useful thought to take to the subject of competitive weapons manufacture."

John Kenneth Galbraith The Age of Uncertainty (1977) p.339-340