Sunday, November 30, 2014

Record of Burn

I've been meaning to do this for a while.

So now if you look to the right of this post there is a link to Record of Burn - as the title suggests it lists my money burning events. And shows the total burn currency value.

First I need to do a bit of housekeeping.

There is no burn recorded in 2010. I have made a note of this on my burn spreadsheet but it doesn't seem to want to show up on the public version. So here's the full story.

My intention in 2010 was to burn £100, but I lost my nerve. When I started burning in 2007 I got the idea in my head that I would, more or less, double the amount I burned every year. An ambitious plan. I mentioned the plan in this post from 2009. And I had intended to do the £100 burn right up until the last moment as this tweet from 23/10/10 testifies. But things were very tough for me at the time. I was exhausted after finishing an extended summer tour and had returned home to considerable domestic strife. Not only was Sally extremely unhappy, but the money I'd earned, which might have offered a crumb of comfort to the both of us, was snapped up by some eager bailiffs who visited on the morning following my return. That sort of thing can test your spirit.

So anyway, burning the £100 would, I think, have been regarded as an aggressive or petulant or just plain insane act. Not only by Sally, but by my kids too. 'Why have we got no dinner tonight?' 'Because your Dad just burned the last of our money'. The fact that I would subsequently have blogged about the philosophical nature of money and what burning means would have rubbed salt into the wound. As I looked back at the archive of my tweets from that time to write this post, I do seem desperate. I was playing a lot of low-stakes poker, and tweeting about the bad beats I'd gotten.

A bit on poker. It'll make sense later on in the post.

With the exception of £100 I lost in one sitting at a cash game in the West End (straight after I attended this, and around the time Sally and I separated), I've always been pretty tight with what poker players refer to as 'bankroll management'. This issue with my poker playing has generally been about the time and head-space I give to it, rather than the money. I do win occasionally. And like all poker players, I like to think I play well.

I've always seen poker as a tax on hope. I used to say this to Sally back in 2010. If you're facing bailiffs, or if your worried the constant strain of your financial position is having an effect on your relationship, or whatever your financial woes and their effects, a poker tournament is a respite. For the time you're playing, a potential future exists where you win and your financial problems are alleviated. Of course, most of the time you lose, but when a tournament just costs a couple of dollars to enter and will last for several hours (even if you still lose) that 'tax' is a light burden for a blessed relief. (I play much less these days. The rule I have - aside from the bankroll ones - is that I must 'want' to play, that is, I must play for the pleasure of playing, rather than the pleasure that winning will bring in the form of money).

So it ended up that on the night of 23/10/10 I chose not to burn £100. Instead I wrote out my own promissory note and burned that. Somewhere, I have a record of the promise I made on it. I can't find it at the moment, but it was to the effect that when I die, and in the unlikely event I leave any money behind, someone should burn a £100 of it for me. I owe £100 to karma.

The non-burning still bugs me. Although, the fact that it does still bug me, is quite instructive. I can access the feeling I have about it every time I read 'money is just credit' or similar statements that try to wish away the profound and sacred reality of Money. There seems to be a critical point - a psychical one - between burning a bit of paper with my promise on it (no matter how solemnly made) and burning a £50 note (with the BoE's promise on it). I guess it has to do with the difference between individual and collective belief. At that critical point you pass from the purely imaginary into the very real.

Recently, I re-watched Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty being interviewed on the Irish Late Late Show (sometime around 1995). At the point I've linked to in the video Bill is trying to explain that their burning of a million quid doesn't mean there are any less apples or loaves of bread in the world. This is of course absolutely and indisputably correct.

The interviewer, Gay Byrne's line of argument is that 'there's not less, but there could have been a little more'. He then confusingly says, 'you could have bought loaves of bread for people who needed them'. Bill stands his ground as says that the only thing less in the world is a pile of paper. But you can see from this freeze frame, Bill looks uncomfortable.

The blond bloke sitting next to Jimmy is Joe Elliott, from Def Leppard. He says of Bill's argument that 'I used to talk to my dad like that when I was sixteen'. Bill's reply is 'I'm still talking to my Dad like that and I'm 42.'

If I owned any Def Leppard records I'd burn them. No. In fact, burning would be to good for them. I'd reverse sell them. I'd stick a tenner in them and sell them on ebay for a fiver. I bristle when I'm told that these arguments around the nature of money are wrong because they're naive or immature. As if, a common sense, grown up, hometown, belt and braces, bread and butter, look after the pennies, know the value of money wisdom is what really penetrates the nature of money. Its completely the other way round. All those common sense views are a distorted reflection of money itself. Money has penetrated them

Let me briefly try to unpick the argument here. Not Joe Elliot's, but Gay Byrne's and Bill's.

Essentially Gay Byrne is saying that by destroying the million quid, Bill and Jimmy have destroyed 'demand'. That demand would have caused more apples and bread to be produced in future so long as it was spent and not destroyed. This line of argument is an economic one, although in the interview it is pursued (albeit quite gently by Gay Byrne) as a line of moral inquiry. I've dealt, and am dealing, with the moral aspects of burning elsewhere (for example in my Horse Hospital post) but for now, I just want briefly to focus on the economic.

The crucial difference in the economic perspective is how you regard money. Is it a social relation or a commodity? However, the arguments that are overlaid on the basic conceptualization of money quickly become confused and twisted round one another - and that happens on TV chat shows and academic journals. Gay Byrne's argument is based on money being a social relation - demand-side economics needs money to be a social relation. And yet in his reaction, he seems to regard money as commodity - as if the money, and its direct equation into apples and bread, were a real thing that was destroyed. Bill's argument too is a little confusing. He's saying that money is all just bits of paper - a social relation - and yet he is denying the conclusion drawn by demand-side economics that increases or decreases in the amount of money in the economy have a real effect.

Current economic orthodoxy - if there is such a thing, as it does seem to be dissolving fast - is that money is neutral, so that the destruction of the million quid will have no effect on the quantities of apples or bread, now or in the future. Money for orthodox economics is a veil over the real economy. Weirdly though, and in direct contradiction, orthodoxy sometimes seems to regard money philosophically like its a commodity with inherent value, and all the time seems to regard money as a divine measure of well-being or 'the good'. Perhaps its a hang up from the days of Gold and Silver.

This 'neutrality' point of view is strongly contested. It's what underlies the recent debate in the House of Commons. To characterize the two strands of criticism, both Left and Right (Democrat and Republican, for American readers) regard money, and its creation, as non-neutral. Groups like Positive Money on the Left want to move money creation into the democratic process. They regard money as a social relation. Those on the Right - and I include alt-currencies like bitcoin in this characterization - want to liberalize money and its creation, making money a pure product of the market. Although its more popular to talk about things like bitcoin in terms of it being an emergent value from networks, essentially its conceptualization as money is akin to commodity.

[Only this morning, Francis Coppella posted 'Magical Thinking at the G20' which explores the contradictory nature of economic orthodoxy from her viewpoint. Its not a viewpoint with which I concur but the demand/supply contradiction is neatly illustrated. And of course, although Francis means 'Magical Thinking' negatively, the title really appeals to me !]

So if Bill's argument does sound a like a naive confused sixteen year old, he's in very good company with the rest of the world. The difference being that Bill and Jimmy actually did something about it. Something that still has people talking and thinking 20 years later. Fucking Joe fucking Elliott. Dick.

Anyway. my take on the economic arguments is that ultimate source of confusion lies in our ontology and epistemology of money. We seem to have difficulty in understanding being, other than in terms of possessing something of it. That's why the burning is so confusing to us. Bill and Jimmy have given up their possession of the million quid. And we're left wondering about what it actually is that they have given up possession of. The million quid only seems to be when it's possessed. The moment it's freed, it becomes a phantom that we can't quite see or grasp, As a consequence of this ontological uncertainty we also get confused as to how we know about money and it's effects. We all understand that no apples or bread were harmed in the burning of the million quid, but when you add the element of time to that basic equation of equivalence, that certainty disappears. We don't know in the future whether there would have been more or less apples and bread because of the burning. This knowledge is fundamentally unknowable. Certainty of knowledge only exists in the moment of the burn, and perversely that certainty, is about the certainty of not knowing. Burning crystallizes the unknowing. By burning money, you know you can't know.

This epistemological problem echoes through the great economic debate of the C20th. For those on the right, marching under Hayek's flag to the tune of The Law of Unintended Consequences we cannot know the effect of collective spending. So we shouldn't spend. For those on the Left under Keynes' flag life is short. We should whistle while we dig holes and fill them up again. Precisely because we don't know what its effect will be we should spend. Pessimism versus optimism, or realism versus wishful thinking? You decide.

Part of what I want to achieve with my 'Record of Burn' is to set a kind of new Cosmic Clock for myself. I've put the time and date of burning in the second column, and described it as 'a marker'. I want the burn itself to be the tick of the Cosmic Clock. Each tick being a point where we know, we don't know.

This relates back to what I was saying about poker. When we know we don't know, the possibility for hope is alive. 

I've made my own stumbling attempts to make this argument philosophically (mainly in un-posted essays) when I talk about the inside and outside of time and space and the way that a £20 note and the burning of it joins them. Particularly influential upon me, and directly connected to the ontological and epistemological status of money is the work of (a) Norman O Brown in Life Against Death (and specifically his development of a psychoanalytical theory of time) and (b) Nigel Dodd (who is also a fan of Norman O Brown) and specifically the ideas Nigel approaches in his earlier Sociology of Money where he distinguishes between Money and currency (money and monetary networks, in his words) and their relationships to time and space. Nigel also attacks 'the epistemological claims on which its [economic reasoning's] significance for the role of money in contemporary society fundamentally depends'.

What we all seem to be striving for (and I don't just mean me, Nigel and Norman, but all of us - including Bill and Jimmy) is an understanding of the relation between Money, Time and Knowledge.

[If you look at this bitcoin twitter exchange I had with Jonathan Levin while writing this piece you'll see that this issue won't go away. Its fundamental to our understanding and conceptualization money and so too, any currency... even ones that most folks consider to be radically different like bitcoin]

Between the iron gates of fate,
The seeds of time were sown,
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known;

~ Peter Sinfield Epitaph

I recently did a burn that wasn't on the 23rd of October. I thought about doing another burn since the 23rd of October and then burned £10 on 23/11/14. This happens to be the holy day of Discordianism and, as you'll know if you follow my twitter stream was the wonderful weekend of the Cosmic Trigger play and conferestival.

I'm keen to explore incorporating a burning into my life at different intervals. But I don't just want to follow a set pattern, like on the 23rd of every month, or every Sunday, or at Easter and Christmas, or on the summer and winter solstice. I want my burning to find its own path, to create its own time. So it may well be that my burnings do indeed coincide with a particular festival or cosmic event, and also that I repeat them annually. But I want to let the events lead me there as much as I can, Although I have a feeling that this awful US import of Black Friday will be an entirely appropriate Burn Day next year, 

It seems to be that the space between the burnings is the time of knowing, and the burnings themselves combine the crystallization of unknowing with a ritual of pure forgiveness. 

Looking back through my posts to write this one, I came across a little thing I did on hope. It's really embarrassing now, but it does express something important. It's the idea that there is no such thing as false hope. There is hope, and then things don't work out. The hope itself cannot be false, or else it is not hope. This seems to me quite an important philosophical point. And I think perhaps the purity of money burning, the 'certain space of unknowing' it creates, and its essence of forgiveness relate to this idea of hope being un-falsifiable. 

[If I'd read it, at this point I'd divert off for a ramble on Derrida's Given Time:Counterfeit Money. The notion of the impossibility of false (or counterfeit?) hope seems very Derrida. And no doubt there are very many other things that we talk about (like pure forgiveness for example) that are actually impossible. I'd be tempted to talk about despair and consider the idea of false despair too. And I might wonder if the 'certain space of unknowing' money burning creates manifests hope because it is a ritual of forgiveness. And wonder too if despair becomes manifest through rituals of guilt. My mind would flip back to the performance of Electra I saw earlier in the week. And I'd talk about the opposite of redemptive cycles - the cycles of vengeance manifest in Electra and how despair is manifest through the 'certain space of knowing' where there is an exact price of payment (a life for a life). Then I'd go back to the performance of Oedipus Rex I saw at the National - I'd wonder about Oedipus plucking out his eyes and think about the visibility of value, Gyges and Marc Shell's work. It would all get very messy and deeply Freudian. But fortunately I haven't read Derrida, so you can relax.]

Another thing about the burning that came home to me most especially doing the £20 burn with the GMT marker 23/10/14 23:23 (I'll try to remember to refer to specific burns in this way in future) was that doing things like taking photos during the burn really do distract from my experience of the ritual. I'm torn between my desire to share the ritual with an audience (last year's Horse Hospital burn had a powerful impact) as a means of evangelizing (and amplifying) its power on the one hand, and wanting to lose myself in the ritual itself, on the other. I don't think those two things are necessarily incompatible, but I just get the balance wrong sometimes. 

And actually putting up this public Record of Burn helps with that. I'll feel under less pressure (self-induced of course) to shout about a burn as I do it. Indeed, I think the spaces in between the burn will soon become the place where I shout about it most loudly, and the burns themselves will become the quiet points in between. 


Monday, November 24, 2014

Money Wisdom #312

"The power of money is spiritual, not purely social. It calls individuals into the state of subjectivity of the one who participates in the market; it calls them out to be individuals, characterized by violent claims to property, the self-discipline of labor, and enjoyment of freedom and prosperity. It is not sufficient, therefore, to point out the destructive effects of market society and to advise people to return to local or traditional economic activities, for the blessings of enhanced productivity and prosperity available to individuals through the market can always be contraposed to the curses and limitations of traditional life. The morality of the market will always prove more attractive to those who stand to benefit from it than other bases for morality. The theology of money, with its promises, its narcissistic self-positing as the supreme standard and measure of all value, its speculative detachment from current conditions, and its despotic power expressed in debt, can be transformed only by a stronger spiritual power."

Philip Goodchild Theology of Money (2009) p.129

Friday, November 21, 2014

Money Creation and Society

Yesterday there was a general debate in the House of Commons on 'Money Creation and Society' - which was, as noted in the debate itself, the first time 'money creation' has been a subject of parliamentary debate since the Banking Act of 1844. (You may remember in the post I did on the Giro that there was no need for a new act of parliament to get it going, and so there was no debate)

By way of marking this momentous event then, I thought it'd be appropriate, at the very least, to post the video of the debate.

I'd guess that if you're reading my blog you'll already be familiar with the ideas discussed. This Quarterly Bulletin from the BoE is referenced as a good explanation of 'modern money creation'. The reform group Positive Money lobbied for the debate. I'm not sure how the process works but the debate was secured by a cross party group of money-reformers [Michael Meacher (Lab), Caroline Lucas (Green), Douglas Carswell (UKIP) and David Davis (Con)] but the leader of the pack seemed to be Steve Baker who is the conservative MP for High Wycombe. Steve comes across as a fairly hardcore libertarian, quoting Mises, referencing Hayek, extolling the virtue of crypto-currencies and name-checking bitcoin.

As for the debate itself, all participants seem to share a dissatisfaction with the current situation where private banks have an effective monopoly on money creation. This they claim - and I think they're right - is the cause of many social and economic ills. Broadly, their suggested remedies divide along political lines. The Left suggests that money creation should fall under the remit of parliamentary committees, the Right thinks the market should decide.

No surprises there, then.

It was a special moment for me to hear the question 'What is Money?' being asked in the House of Commons. It was in Steve Baker's opening speech at around 18.40 in the video. He asks "What is Money? and then answers with 'Money is the basis of our moral existence'. That perked me up. I thought for a moment that he might talk about Value monism and money in the moral universe and all the weird stuff I love. But no. It was wishful thinking on my part. He was meaning it in a Hayekean free-market sense. And as I've explained elsewhere there is a fundamental ontological problem with Hayek's idea of Money (For Hayek money comes through price from markets; but actually money precedes markets and prices - chronologically, logically, and ontologically)

This links into a troubling theme for me. It seems to be received wisdom - accepted and unquestioned by all those in the debate - that money is a social institution subject to political will. This will expresses a desire for freedom and equality, and depending on the balance of those desires, finds its form in actions that seek either to bureaucratize or to democratize currency. The problem occurs when those alternate actions inevitably fail. The response that follows is a greater expression of political will and a subsequent energizing of the particular action. This too inevitably fails. And so, when a critical point is reached the action is switched, from bureaucratization to democratization or vice versa, and the process begins a new. The eternal reoccurrance of the eversame.

There are two basic problems.

Firstly, the assumption of causality - of money creation as subject to, or a function of, political will - is wrong. (Money cannot be wholly defined as a social institution either, but we'll deal with that another time).

And secondly, Money has the capacity to reflect back any duality - the political duality, of left and right; the economic duality of supply and demand; the moral duality of right and wrong. And the louder we shout at money, the more deafening its echo.

And there is one much more fundamental problem for the political will in regard to money.

(For me) Understanding money requires a total prestation of being. Of our being, to money's being. By their very nature political prestations are partial and so will always be in a confused conflict with money, as money reflects back the schizophrenic essence of the political. As such, there is no political vision that can achieve a new and meaningful understanding of money. As far as money and politics goes there can be no new heaven, and therefore no new earth.

It is in the realm of the sacred where we present ourselves (to God) as whole; as a complete being. All our thoughts, deeds, feelings, emotions, and actions are known to God. And, so the story goes, we can only know God if we stand before him naked, with our soul exposed.

What I'm arguing for in respect of money, is that we must expose ourselves to it in this way. I'm saying that intellectual understanding is good. That emotional, visceral, aesthetic, and even a sexual understanding of money, are all good. But our understanding of money will forever fall short until we can experience its sacred nature in a spiritual way.

I know that might sound totally alien. Even sacrilegious. But monetary reform - and by that I mean real monetary reform not just tinkering with currency - is about our relationship, both mundane and profound, with money. A change in ourselves will reflect in money, and we will see that change reflect back to us.

Burn it !

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Money Wisdom #311

I've never known what to think about that million quid stunt. if I remember rightly I think it was Drummond who was interviewed in the guardian not long after when they did that post-burn tour, something like 'is it art? is it bollocks?' like they didn't really have a clue themselves. The same arguments reactions and debates raged as now and the indignation of how could they, or what they should have done with the money. But that article really stuck with me, the timeline of events, how the bank didn't want them to draw the cash out and how it tried to make them insure the cash but they wouldn't. The solicitor or witness or whoever it was who was present with them at the burning in some derelict cottage in the outer hebrides I think it was. And how it was all over so quickly, and the emptyness after the flames went out, and the ash in the old fireplace. I told my daughter about it not long ago and she just went wide eyed and said 'wow', and we didn't talk about it any further. The conversation just petered out. I'm sort of glad they did it I suppose. It doesn't fit with logic. Just an event that has no ryhme or reason, but they did it. It was just an act that was carried out, and depending how you look at it create certain reactions. But it still leaves me scratching my head. It would make a great film with no music.
Comments on Bill Drummond the five lessons I learned from Ken Campbell 18/11/2014 in the Guardian

Monday, November 17, 2014

Money Wisdom #310

"It is no longer sufficient to oppose will and matter, representation and production, being and becoming, the one and the many, transcendence and immanence, for the relations between these dualisms are always mediated by a spectral power that authorizes their realization. It is a question of belief and desire. Even if no-one really wants money - it is always a means, never an end - everyone believes in money, or, rather, money is the reality, the interiority of belief and desire in which we dwell. It is not we who desire money; it is money that desires us."

Philip Goodchild Theology of Money (2009) p.69

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Money Wisdom #309

Money... ....reconstitutes the social order as an order of interdependence, desire, and credit, it is that which is the supreme principle of reality. In a market society, there is no higher aim than making money, for money is the reality principle. Within a market society there is an unlimited demand for profits. This power of realization and this demand are purely social forces, subsisting outside the human will in society itself. It is an impersonal and abstract force, beyond the pleasure principle. Indeed, as the means of access to pleasure, the means of making desire effective, money must be acquired through profits or hoarding. One passes through that which has no intrinsic desirability - the acquisition of money - to gain access to pleasure. This is the profound link between capitalism and the structure of the Oedipus complex.

Philip Goodchild Theology of Money (2009) p.62

Friday, November 14, 2014

Money Wisdom #308

In the last instance, representation rests on a utopian faith. Modern values are supported not by nature or reason but by nothing less than a secular theology, Theological questions may be reintroduced as soon as one places representation - that which abstracts from time - back within time. Saving time forms the essence of the modern project of emancipation. Only when one is liberated from the constraints of natural necessity that may foreshorten our life spans, and one is liberated from the constraints of social obligation that occupy our time, does one have the freedom to become what one wishes to be, The aspiration is for a condition of atheism where on is finally unconditioned by God or nature. Economic rationality depends on a symbolization of time so that a calculation can be performed that minimizes relative expenditure while maximizing control over nature through technology and maximizing control over social obligation through money. The certainty that attaches to economic rationality derives from its proofs in practice: technological invention and acquisition of wealth.  Yet the knowledge power and wealth acquired are always local and partial. Projecting a future when liberation will be complete, economic reasoning is faith seeking understanding. In this total future, abstract symbols of time will effectively represent time as open, empty, and undetermined in a glorious, heavenly future where the passage of time is no longer constrained by natural necessity or social obligation. Trust in the transcendent will vanish only when one finally attains the complete repeatability and universality required for scientific certainty, and when all knowledge is grounded on evidence. Only as such will the secular sphere be constituted, the sphere of the present age untrammeled by obligation to repeat the past or anxious expectation of the judgments of the future, where all causes are mediated to their consequence by knowledge.

Philip Goodchild Theology of Money (2009) p.53-54

Money Wisdom #307

"Democracy is corrupted at the origin because it subscribes to an impossible ideal.
      Similarly, the political ideal of freedom echoes modern humanism. It is a freedom from public representation of divine command or the scared common good; it is freedom to determine one's own will by entering into contracts in the marketplace; and it is freedom to master a portion of nature or dispose of one's property as one pleases. Lacking public representations or manifestations of a common good, free and open debate must necessarily settle on such individual freedom as its lowest common denominator.Once guarding against threats to the individual or property becomes the essence of the common good, then manipulation of fear becomes the pre-eminent tool of governance, and absolute rule by the state may be sanctioned to defend against an emergency. Yet this very perception of the primacy of threat and consequent absolutism derives not from taking freedom and property as ontological points of departure. Instead, the positing of freedom and property as a basis derives from the mechanisms of representation and discussion themselves. For freedom and property alone have universal appeal to immediate interests."

Philip Goodchild Theology of Money (2009) p.53

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Money is as Innocent as the Gun by Geoff Winde

This is so brilliant I just had to give it its own post.

It's a thirty minute talking head performance of a poem about money. Now. If you're anything like me, even with my obvious interest in money, you'll be thinking, yeah, but thirty minutes. Of poetry. I can manage Under Milk Wood, but I dunno. Thirty minutes is long.

But trust me. This is absolutely brilliant. All the themes and features of money I've been discussing on this blog these past few years are in there. Even the golden shower thing.

And everything about the performance resonates too. From the less-than-sartorial-elegance of Geoff's attire to the yellow/gold walls. It all works. If you're prepared to let it.

30 minutes.

I offer you a full money back guarantee should you not be entirely satisfied.


Money is as Innocent as the Gun from moneyisasinnocentasthegun on Vimeo.

Geoff's site is

Here's a few extracts

Have you ever heard, such a smoke screen of a word,
for something that’s just printed?
Well, if money is just printed, just a print!
Then deep down, deep down we’re all skint.
money is not worth the paper it’s printed on,
hold on, that’s a bit strong,
Money is worth more than the paper it’s printed on,
wait a minute that sounds like a con,
Money is worth more and less than the paper its printed on,
Hold on that’s a contradiction,
but, money is worth more and less than the papers it’s printed on …
How can what something is worth, be more and less than what it is?
Money is … more … or … less … money! more or less,
money is more or less money, more or less,
The more money there is, the less money is, the less the numbers are worth,
The less money there is, the more money is, the more the numbers are worth,
It realy does make you wonder whether money is of this earth
But don't read! Listen and watch.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Money Burning Talk at the Cowley Club

Last Wednesday night, 5th November, I took the sexy Berlingo down to The Cowley Club in Brighton to this event:

It was organised by @econoklast (aka Michael) with whom I've exchanged a fair few emails about some mad money stuff. I was honored to be asked down to say a few words alongside +John Higgs, author of the incredibly brilliant The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds

[I forgot to mention it in my Stick to Staff post, but John's book was a cheeky stowaway on my recent pilgrimage to Snowdon. I knew nothing about it until we were at the end of our trek when I caught a glimpse of the tell-tale yellow spine poking out of my daughter's bag.]

I most hugely grateful to Michael for coming up with the idea of the event and putting it all together. And of course for being foolish enough to ask me along. 

This is Mouse. I wonder if her use of eggs
was referencing
Bataille's 'Story of the Eye'?
I haven't given a talk in over a decade. The last time was in 2002 at the Sexual Freedom Coalition (SFC) conference at the Round Chapel in Hackney. Sally and I were asked to talk by virtue of Naturalsex winning an Erotic Award. I remember finding the place and taking as a good omen, 'Harris' appearing in big white letters on the corner just opposite the Round Chapel. Egoism and optimism can combine to attribute positive meaning to coincidence. In this case though, egoism and pessimism may have been more appropriate. A good omen, it was not.

The theme of my talk was commerce and sex. It was basically arguing that money and a 'commercial ethic' should be a conscious element in the events and organisations of those committed to the ideals of the SFC. My feeling was that a propagation of the SFC's ethical ideals - which were fundamentally pansexual* - required a greater engagement with the moneyed world. A rejection of the commercial may provide an effective legal buffer against aggressive police action targeting organizers of sex events (something to which the SFC had themselves been victim). A rejection of commerciality may even reflect the political sentiment of the members of the SFC, but it should not become an ethical end in itself. Well, at least not for the SFC as an organisation. Obviously, individually we make our own choices.

It didn't go down too well. The SFC has a very close relationship with Outsiders - a charity which 'helps support disabled people with their lifestyles'. 'Being conscious of a commercial ethic' was the new song at greatest hits gig. In fact, it probably wasn't even that. More like, a prog-rock cover at a punk gig.

Then came Mouse.

The SFC conference is made up of speeches interspersed with performances by erotic artists. Mouse gave a very memorable performance. Initially it involved over-sized wooden spoons and eggs. For the finale her aptly named partner, Cat, administered a milk enema. Mouse received this whilst on her hands and knees, then turned herself round so her bum was pointing at us and then expelled explosively drenching everyone on the front few pews in bottom milk.

I not sure the founding fathers of the United Reformed Church had this sort of thing in mind when they built the Round Chapel in the 1870's for their Clapton Park congregation. Still, I'm sure Mouse's energetic ejaculation served to wash any trace of my commercial ethics speech from people's minds. Even the unshockable Tuppy Owens was lost for words.

So that was the last time I gave a talk.

Anyway, Michael's 'Ghost Money' talk at the Cowley Club was an enema free event. I didn't count but I'd guess there were 25 or 30 people there, which was a fantastic turn out. Doubly so, given that many Brightonians were heading to neighboring Lewes for the Bonfire Night Celebrations - described as 'the biggest celebrated Fifth November Event in the world', There seemed to be a wonderfully resonant symbolism in having a small event devoted to the burning of money happening simultaneously and next door to a huge event devoted to the burning of effigies. Breaking taboos and controversy seems common to both; in Lewes, kids black up, crosses and effigies of political leaders both historic and current are burned. In 2012 Angela Merkel received the Lewes treatment and this year Alex Salmond was only just saved at the last moment from the flames. The tradition stretches back beyond Guy Fawkes in 1605 to some fifty years earlier when 17 Lewes men were burned at the stake under the reign of Mary Tudor. And like most such rituals and festivals you can look to even earlier origins, as events and our reactions to them are overlaid upon one another, and we struggle to assimilate into our conscious being, the darker psychical undercurrents of our mindscape.

Its also worth noting that Lewes was a very important town for the creation of money a thousand years or so ago. Records of moneyers go back to c.930 during the reign of Æthelstan, and Lewes was made an official mint town in 1006.

All seemed to bode well for a night of talking about Money Burning, then.

John opened with a reading from his book, and then talked about Money Burning and the KLF. Michael introduced the concept of Ghost Money, And then I chipped in with my bit which was essentially a pitch to persuade people to take up money burning as a ritual.

Here's a bullet point summary of my talk;

I opened with an explanation of why, how, and when I burn money. I claimed that the ritual is a transcendent experience of pure forgiveness. I then talked about some different ways of perceiving it. Namely;
  • Literal - by burning a note you are literally forgiving the promise made on it by the BoE. The interesting thing about the promise is that it is perpetual. It's a promise, to keep a promise, to keep a promise, etc, etc. By burning the note you forgive that perpetual chain of promises.
  • Visceral - there are a range of reactions to money burning, both within the burner and those around him. Pitch the amount you burn to the edge of painful and you'll be able to assimilate the emotions and feelings it provokes. This is very important and only accessible to those who have done the ritual. 
  • Aesthetic - there is a primal beauty in the burning. Everybody has stared at a fire. In burning money the new and the ancient coexist in powerful combination. Similarly juxtaposed are the mundane and the profound. Paper currency is ubiquitous and everyday, setting fire to it is deeply symbolic and uniquely taboo.
  • Intellectual - the intellectual response to money burning reveals a relation and differentiation between money and currency. Quickly one is confronted with deep philosophical issues about the nature of reality. Currency is inside time and space, MONEY is outside time and space, and the note you burn seems to straddle these two worlds.
  • Spiritual/Magical - rituals are creative of time, marking death and allowing rebirth. Money burning is so powerful in this respect because of its purity. It is an irreversible self-sacrifice that will - literally, on your first burning - reform and give a new meaning to your relationship with money.
Then the good folks who'd blessed us with their time asked questions and discussed with John, Michael and myself everything money burning. And there were some excellent questions, and thoughtful and interesting discussion. I just found it so heart-warming that people seemed genuinely interested in the KLF's million quid, money burning generally and what it all means.

On the drive home, I was thinking about a couple of the questions and wishing I'd said such and such and kicking myself for not mentioning something else. That's inevitable I guess. The joy of writing a blog though is you get to have a second go.

So this is my attempt to do justice to a couple of those questions.

The first one was about forgiveness. Whom or what was money burning forgiving? Forgiveness, the questioner pointed out, was really about self-forgiveness. 

Gosh. That's a good one. As a matter of fact, Sally always asked the same question of my money burning, albeit more directly; 'Do you feel you need to be forgiven?' I doubt there is a question that cuts any deeper spiritually, emotionally or psychologically. My answer to Sally was, 'Yes. I think we all do.'

The money burning ritual is not about a specific forgiveness. There is no object or action, internal or external, that its target. It's about the impossible idea of pure forgiveness.

Most people are used to the psychoanalytical emphasis on the importance of guilt in culture. But guilt of course, is not just about bad things we've done. It's not even about taboos we may have broken in thought but not in deed. Guilt exists in our psyches and in our cultures for potential acts buried so deeply in our subconscious, we may never be fully aware of them. And yet somehow, we feel guilt for them. Guilt is the cosmic background radiation of the psychical universe. 

These ideas, of course, annoy the hell out of materialists. Their key argument against Freud's work is that there is no material method of transference between the historic feelings that the deeds of our ancestors provoked, and our own psyches today. Genes simply cannot carry that sort of information. 

In my exploration of money I'm very clear about not being bound to materialism. I won't allow ideas born of the exploration of matter to restrict or dictate my imaginings of money's metaphysics. To do so would seem foolish to me. The maxim of my 'general ontology' is Marc Shell's opening sentence to his seminal The Economy of Literature

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

So I see forgiveness as fundamental and primal to existence itself. At the Cowley Club I think I said 'its like the ether of the universe' - not the best way to put it, but gives the idea. If guilt is the cosmic background radiation, then forgiveness is what absorbs, transforms and purifies it. Forgiveness is the green-blue earth absorbing the radiation-waste of the guilty sun. Forgiveness is a name we give to one side of primal and universal duality, guilt is the other.

Or, something like that.

If I were to talk about the importance of forgiveness to morality, or in the mindscape, or even in the moral universe, none of this would seem so odd. Forgiveness is - or should be - at the heart of religion. We all understand that its the process through we achieve any truly meaningful and vital form of psychological rebirth.

But even within this 'mindscape' interpretation we still tend to straight-jacket forgiveness. To conceptualize it we have to place it in the realm of subject and object; subjective in the sense that it is an action that takes place within our thoughts, and objective in the sense there must be someone or something toward which the forgiveness is directed (I cover similar ground to this in my Intent and Intentionality essay)

Georg Simmel noted that Value and Money seem to occupy a special place between, or beyond subject and object. I think the same is true for pure forgiveness which is why I think burning money connects to it in a special way. As I say, burning money is as close to pure forgiveness as we can get.

Another question raised was about the distinction between money and currency. I emphasized this as an important intellectual response to money burning. 

What I said was that 'currency exists inside time and space and money exists outside time and space'. But I didn't think the explanation I gave, of my view or of the wider academic debate, was particularly coherent.

I've threatened on a couple of occasions to write a brief (@1K words) summary of the academic debate**. I'll not do that here, but briefly:.

The two key protagonists are Nigel Dodd and Geoffrey Ingham. It's Cambridge versus the LSE again. But unlike Hayek and Keynes, Nigel and Geoffrey are sociologists not economists***. In fact, these days the interesting stuff on money doesn't come from economists at all. Dodd, Ingham and Zelizer are sociologists, Hart and Graeber are anthropologists, Shell is a literary critic, and Seaford is a classicist. Economics seems still stuck on the question of whether money is neutral, or not (it's not).

In his recent (2014) The Social Life of Money, Nigel describes early on (p.5) the problems we have conceptualizing money in the face of it's changing forms, and our inability to satisfactorily define even the most basic of distinctions, that between money and currency. 
During the past two decades or so there has been a growing interest in the changing nature of money. Researchers have been looking into the emergence of new monetary forms: for example, complementary currencies, and Internet or electronic monies. Scholars have been predicting that the relationship between money and the state is coming under increasing threat from ‘alternative’ monies. But for all the empirical richness that these recent contributions add to our understanding of money, there is no common view of what counts as money in a general sense. There never has been a consensus about this: the extant literature on money is replete with debates over competing definitions. Even our language is confused. Take the distinction between ‘money’ and ‘currency’. While most scholars accept that the second term is narrower than the first, they are divided as to whether it should refer simply to legal tender, or whether currencies are monies that – literally – circulate in the sense of being passed from hand to hand.
In his earlier work The Sociology of Money, Nigel split his conception of money into 'money', and 'monetary networks' which I suggested in my review was akin to the notion of money (outside time and space) and currency (inside time and space). In The Social Life of Money he develops a conception of money as a 'socially powerful' and 'socially necessary' fiction or illusion, albeit one with a huge and diverse empirical richness (the empirical richness bit is where you'll find currency). You can think of Nigel's MONEY as an impossible conceptual perfection and of currency as our bound-to-failure attempts to achieve it.

For Geoffrey Ingham on the other hand, written into the essence of money is authority. In his The Nature of Money (review, ramble) the story is about how 'the very idea of money' (by which I think he means our ability to ascribe abstract value to objects) becomes manifest in currency through authority, institutional rules, and 'collective intentionality'. Collective intentionality, as Ingham means it, is a conception about shared mental states originally suggested by philosopher of language John Searle. Roughly put, it's the idea that we all believe something because we all believe something.

As far as my ideas about money and currency being outside and inside time and space goes....

My thinking about the distinction between money and currency began way before my money burning. It stemmed from wondering why there were two words for, what economists and economic historians were telling me was, the same thing. All those monetarist attempts to define M0, M1, M2 etc seemed arbitrary to me, bolted on after the fact. The two words seemed to point up some essential distinction, one which an economic conceptualization of money couldn't put its finger on. Bluntly, I just knew money and currency meant different things, as I think we all do. That's why we have the two words. (It might not be correct to describe money as a thing but you get my meaning).

What money burning brought home to me was that the twenty quid I burned seemed straddled across two worlds; the inside and outside of time and space. As currency, it seemed to be anchored in the here and now, burning it seemed to be directly connected to the manifest value of people and things. As money though, it seemed connected to the eternal, burning it seemed akin to releasing it from its earthly chains rather than destroying it. The twenty quid contained both the theoretical and the empirical. Burning it forced or facilitated an intellectual appreciation of that duality. I'm not claiming that this is a particularly unique intellectual insight. Far from it. Actually I think you can see it in all sorts of places. Most recently I've come across it in Albert Tauber's description of Freud's work straddling of the two worlds of res cogitans and res extensa, consciousness and matter, subject and object'.

Mervyn King the previous BoE governor used to have a video on the their website where he said that 'money is all just bits of paper'. This understanding of money is built upon a materialist rationalist perception of the world. There is little evidence to suggest that such an ontological conception is sufficient to understand money. Mervyn King might have found that out if he'd burned some of his own bits of paper.

When I was giving my answer I said that 'it was difficult to express all this in words'.

That does feel like a cop out. I still think its true - I reckon it's impossible to define the nature of money in words - but its also an easy excuse for my inability to find the right words.

Anyhow, to tie up these two themes of money/currency and forgiveness I thought it might be easier to draw a burning map. So here you are. Just remember, (as Robert Anton Wilson, Robert M Pirsig and Alfred Korzybski will all tell you) the map is not the territory!

The left-hand side is outside time and space; it is those things materialists would describe as unreal (although of course paradoxically they are the things that appear as most real to us, our values and the constraints placed upon our actions). The right hand side is inside time and space; we tend, in our day to day life to regard all these things as real (although spiritually of course were are always at pains to remind ourselves of their ephemeral nature, and even in a materialist mechanistic world view all these things disappear into the quantum soup). I tend to think the whole unreal/real thing whilst being in practical teems quite handy for day to day living, is conceptually pretty useless. Especially when it come to money.

In the middle of the picture is the twenty pound note you're going to burn. It's sitting there happily with one foot in the here and now (as currency), and the other in eternity (as money). I find it quite useful to think of the twenty quid as an axis around which a moral universe spins. (Kenelm Burridge said something similar).

Now imagine a circle drawn from currency (on the right hand side) that goes inside the outer circle passing through the sex and money of your twenty pound note. This circle would represent what I call a redemptive cycle - a series of events that creates the experience of time and space. Onto this smaller circle you could attach terms like debt, remorse, guilt, sacrifice and ritual - all the emotions and feeling that seem to arise from exchange (in the very broadest sense of the word). And at some critical point, at some balancing, or turning of psychical energies, you could mark a point of forgiveness.

So you can see that for me, forgiveness is not only a spiritual, emotional and psychological idea - as it is for all of us - but its also a term by which we understand a metaphysical marker as it were; a critical point where things turn back in on themselves. Pure (or perhaps it is better understood in this context as infinite) forgiveness would be represented on the map by a line whose circumference was equal to the outer circle and passes directly through VALUE.

In Life Against Death Norman O Brown speculates on a psychoanalytical theory of time
"In the id there is nothing corresponding to the idea of time.... ...If therefore, we go beyond Freud, and speculate seriously on the possibility of a consciousness not based on repression but conscious of what now is unconscious, then it follows a priori that such a consciousness would not be in time but in eternity" (p.97
This escape from time - and I love saying this its my favourite claim for money burning! - can be glimpsed when you burn your money.

If you give your twenty quid to your favourite most deserving charity you may well be helping those less fortunate than yourself, but what you are also doing is closing down the redemptive cycle. You are in effect binding the future to the past - you will experience the eternal re-occurrence of the eversame (as Nietzsche might say). And anytime time you spend your twenty quid, whether on a charity donation or blood diamonds and guns, you are - I think undeniably - supporting the very structures that give rise to injustice, and hence the need for charity, in the first place (we easily forget that charity is a means to justice, not an end in itself - this post has quite bit on this idea).

Burning money - active nihilism - stops the turning of that redemptive cycle, so that maybe, in that moment, you can glimpse new possible futures. It is the only action by which your twenty pound note can be truly subversive of the structures of capitalism.  By virtue of its purity, it is an act of forgiveness that expands the circumference of the redemptive cycle to the largest we can bear. A donation to charity, no matter how large, how deserving, or how kind-hearted will never be able to reveal those futures. Indeed, the true price you pay for the good feeling your donation manifests within you, is the closing off of those new possibilities.

The picture of the world I paint here, linking a moral universe to a material universe through money, comes directly - intellectually speaking - from recognizing that distinction and relation between money and currency.

Just before the halfway point of the talk John Higgs asked the question 'Has anyone here burned money?' And to my delight and surprise we found that there was another money burner among us. I was not alone ! I had a quick chat with the burner during the break. I'd love to recount the story here but stupidly, I didn't get a name, nor seek permission to tell the tale. The circumstances of the burning may reveal the identity of the burner, so I won't tell it here without permission.

But if my fellow money burner reads this and wants to share, perhaps you can post your story in the comments? Or maybe email me, so I can tell the story? We are a rare breed, but one day we shall be legion.

There was so much else we could have talked about on the night. Not least, as John Higgs pointed out, was the idea of sacrifice. As well, the themes of debt, guilt, sacredness and time were only really touched upon. There's a lot involved in the simple act of setting fire to twenty quid. And there is too the potential for an entire library of metaphysics and philosophy treatises to be written on the differences and similarites between burning £20 and burning 'ghost money' .

Thanks again, Michael.


* Pansexual is a tricky word by virtue of its inclusiveness. It got the SFC into hot water with the tabloids in the past. But their political vision of pansexuality did not include the most taboo and morally repellent of the philias. It was - in my experience of the organisation - about including those folks (especially the mentally and physically disabled) who have difficulty in expressing and realizing their sexual life.
** I think this may be helpful in several respects. It will expose the deficiencies in my own understanding of what is quite complex debate - and hopefully allow me to rectify them. It will also, I hope, be useful to those coming to the subject afresh. And it might point up the differences and similarities between my inside/outside of time and space distinction and the distinctions drawn in academia.
*** There is a debate to be had about whether you can describe Keynes and Hayek as economists. Hayek thought Keynes a great thinker but not much of an economist. Certainly neither of them were the narrow technical economists that the word conjures up today. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Power to Waste

According to Carl Schmitt's The Concept of the Political (from Philip Goodchild's Theology of Money) 'political concepts have a polemical character because they ultimately refer to the real possibility of physical killing'. And 'the decisive political power is the authority to make war and so publicly dispose of the lives of people, whether of the lives of the enemy or of one's own people, in sacrifice'.

Freud was similarly pessimistic (or realistic, depending on your point of view) about the nature of political power being a sublimated primal violence.

The idea of 'waste' though in this context struck me. That word 'dispose'.

Waste is a chapter and organizing theme in Nigel Dodd's 'The Social Life of Money'. In the conclusion he writes about Geraldine Juarez's bitcoin burning. (Geraldine is @submarine on twitter)
Geraldine Juarez, a Mexican artist based in Sweden, launched a performance art show in Berlin during early 2014 called “Hello Bitcoin”. Playing to growing public fascination with the digital currency that was launched in 2009... ...Juarez’s performance involves burning Bitcoins, ‘postdigital style’. On the face of it, this seems to ironicize the question that skeptics often ask about digital currencies, namely, what can they be worth if they are not real? To the question, ‘What makes a currency real?’, Juarez answers: ‘When we are able to burn them for real’. What is surely in question here, however, is not the materiality of Bitcoin, but the possibility that it can be wasted. ‘The real aspect making it into a currency is not when it is spent, but when it is burnt’, Juarez suggests. What defines the ‘reality’ of money, in other words, is not how we spend it, but how we waste it. (p.204)
The central thinker Nigel calls upon in Waste is Georges Bataille. I've ordered his three volume The Accursed Share which I'm looking forward. The most profound summary of his idea of waste, for me, is expressed by the idea that life on earth is created from the Sun's waste.

[Update: The Accursed Share arrived while I was writing this! It looks appropriately luxuriant and exuberant.]

This is from the wiki on The Accursed Share
The notion of "excess" energy is central to Bataille's thinking. Bataille's inquiry takes the superabundance of energy, beginning from the infinite outpouring of solar energy or the surpluses produced by life's basic chemical reactions, as the norm for organisms. In other words, an organism in Bataille's general economy, unlike the rational actors of classical economy who are motivated by scarcity, normally has an "excess" of energy available to it. This extra energy can be used productively for the organism's growth or it can be lavishly expended. Bataille insists that an organism's growth or expansion always runs up against limits and becomes impossible. The wasting of this energy is "luxury". The form and role luxury assumes in a society are characteristic of that society. "The accursed share" refers to this excess, destined for waste.
So to return to Philip Goodchild and Carl Schmitt, it's interesting to think of the idea of sacrifice as waste, and of political power as the ultimate ability to waste (as in the ability to waste what is of most value to us) For a private citizen there really is no true possibility of publicly 'wasting' a life. There are restrictions and punishments imposed by the social body which prevent this possibility - do so and you are cast out of the social body, you are yourself wasted. However, for those few with the ultimate political power such actions are possible.

There are a couple of other thoughts I have on waste.

First, in terms of its psychoanalytical meaning I'm more interested in the idea of spunk as waste than I am shit or piss. Psychoanalysis tends to view shit and piss as primary, because we shit and piss before we have any idea about spunk. I'm concerned however with depth of meaning rather than chronology. I'm not restricted by a physics ontology and the arrow of time. The relations between spunk, salt and currency are manifest, and may be peeled back in a ontological sense to reveal something about money and waste.

Secondly, I'm interested in the purity of money burning as a form a of waste. There seems to be some meaningful difference between spending on a luxury item you don't need, or even buying a stupidly expensive bottle of wine and pouring it down the sink, and burning your own cash. On a spectrum of waste, burning money would surely represent infinite waste (or as close to it as we can get).

All of these ideas are wrapped up in sacrifice, the sacred and pure forgiveness too, of course.

And so out of all this I hope to expand my argument for money burning so that says something about politics and waste. It would sound something like this:

Burning your money subverts the political power to waste. By choosing to waste your own power, you reach beyond what you are told is possible.

Just an aphorism of sorts at the moment, but hopefully in a few months when I'm outside Bataille I can put some flesh on the bones.