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.
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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.
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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.

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