Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Review of Identity is the New Money by Dave Birch

My review is here on Amazon so if it successfully validates your attributes on the public key infrastructure then please remit by hitting the like button. Ta muchly.

Engaging but unconvincing due to its technological perspective

This is a short engaging read that explores Dave Birch's ideas about the future of money and identity; the book's central claim is that they are linked. It's non-technical and helped along with anecdotes and case studies. Dave draws upon his experience in the payments industry and also references some academic texts on money, as well as his wider reading from science fiction to Shakespeare.

Dave makes no bones about being a technologist. For him money is a means, not an end. It is, what it does. Dave's reality tunnel is hard-walled by function and utility (as are most techno-reality tunnels). The identity he writes about is similarly bounded. There are, he tells us, three kinds of identity; personal, social, and legal. Social identity is his focus. It's the new paradigm that will disrupt business, commerce and government. Somewhat enigmatically Dave also says that social identity will lead to a 'fundamental shift in our mental models'. And it's precisely this sort of claim that bothers me. Changes to our 'mental models' of identity, to our sense of who we are, provoke profound questions. Yet Dave's adherence to tidy technological definitions of identity (and money) allow only for the most fragile of conceptualizations. It's thin ice covering deep water.

In short, his book lacks ontological depth.

Now, this may seem like a overly harsh criticism of a book that's just over 100 pages. But even though it works well within its own terms (hence, the 4 stars) I feel my criticism is justified because the book is essentially an argument against anonymous cash and for digital currency. It is a book with intent. Dave wonders 'Who would want to live in a society where transactions are anonymous? (his answer is criminals) and ends with an explicit call to action for the UK payments authorities to adopt tactics to reduce cash usage. Some may regard such suggestions as illiberal. Dave rebuffs them by emphasizing the privacy and security solutions that digital money technologies can offer. But the underlying issues remain. Where is the locus of freedom, in the individual or the state?

It seems crass - but it is necessary - to point out that Dave's livelihood depends upon those firms who have most to gain from the death (or murder?) of cash. Dave's book contributes to a positive imaginary of a cashless future; I'm sure it's a vision, of which Visa and Mastercard, would very much approve. It is however difficult to sustain a critique that there's something fundamentally illiberal in Dave's nature that is causal of his disdain for anonymity and cash. He effectively turbocharges the Hayekian ideal of denationalized money by mooting local, or even personal currencies. Rather, my feeling is that Dave's position is not based on illiberalism, but is his genuine moral and intellectual judgement; he believes that digital money will reduce crime, that privacy can be protected by technology, and he thinks that both these things are for the greater good. The problem is that his judgement is flawed due to the narrowness of his 'techo-reality tunnel' perspective.

Dave dedicates the book to the late Glyn Davies who wrote 'A History of Money' and whose work, Dave says, forms the bedrock of his own understanding. Writing about the origins of money Glyn Davies reminds us that money was, in the first instance, 'associated with loving and fighting'. Both of these activities are primal. They are about what it is to be human at a fundamental level. They do not depend on technologies. And their expression was, in the first instance, not subjugated to rational thought. Indeed, there is an alternative historical narrative - one that I find convincing - that places money much more deeply within this primal mindscape.

The other money historian Dave quotes is Jack Weatherford who wrote the much underrated and considerably shorter, 'The History of Money'. It begins with a very vivid account of the relationship between money and human sacrifice among the Aztecs. Here, there is a 'sacred logic' around money inaccessible to technological inquiry; understanding requires an effort of empathy and imagination supported by intellectual commitments to a theory of mind and knowledge of the Aztecs cosmological conceptions. In the same way, identity cannot be understood in isolation from our sense of sovereign being and its psycho-sexual foundations.

Ultimately Dave's conclusions, and his bold statement that 'Identity is the New Money', are at best only a partial reflection of the nature of money and identity, and their relationship. His calls to action maybe a reflection of genuinely held beliefs and moral concern, but they are misguided. Dave's description of money and identity - in line with most similar technological and economic descriptions - is a wholly inadequate basis on which to call for fundamental changes which could irrevocably link money to identity; many will fear that such a link is dangerously prejudicial to our liberty whatever safeguards are put in place.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Money Wisdom #339

" ...the initial function of art..... is the expression of subjectivity."


This point is essential: the sacred and the profane are defined by a formal discontinuity, by the sharpness of their contrast. But if we contrast sacred art with profane art, this discontinuity is absent."


In principle, eroticism is linked to the profane world in that it cannot be the object of general communication, which the expression of the sacred is in society. The communication of erotic subjectivity, even if it is literary, appeals confidentially to the one who receives it as a personal possibility, separate and apart from the multitude. It does not address itself to the admiration, to the respect of everyone, but to that secret contagion that never rises above others, that does not advertise itself, and calls only for silence."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share Vol 3 Sovereignty (1988 [1967]) p.413-414

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Money Burning in Breaking Bad

Yep. Everybody's doing it.

Episode One in Season Three, btw. 

Money Wisdom #338

" 'All the beauty and sublimity we have bestowed upon real and imaginary things I will reclaim,' [Nietzsche] said. He did not reclaim them only for himself, but 'as the property and product of man.' The game that was played in this way was that of the being that we are against the being that we have created, that we have imagined, and for which we have renounced the possibility of seeing the magnificence in ourselves. "

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share Vol 3 Sovereignty (1988 [1967]) p.375-6

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Money Wisdom #337

"...the autonomy of Hegel's 'absolute knowledge' is that of discourse unfolding in time. Hegel situates subjectivity not in the object's disintegration (always begun anew) but in the identity that subject and object attain in discourse. But in the end 'absolute knowledge,' the discourse in which the subject and the object become identical, itself dissolves into the NOTHING of unknowing, and the vanishing thought of unknowing is in the moment."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share Vol 3 Sovereignty (1988 [1967]) p.369

Money Wisdom #336

"We agree to give ourselves, as men, a dignity that animals don't have. We assert that reason justifies it, without seeing that this function bestowed it on us only after giving us weapons."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share Vol 3 Sovereignty (1988 [1967]) p.336

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Money Wisdom #335

"There ought not to exist any means by which man might become sovereign: it is better for him to be sovereign, in which case sovereignty cannot be taken away from him, but if he does not possess it, he cannot acquire it."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share Vol 3 Sovereignty (1988 [1967]) p.226

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Money Wisdom #334

"If we live sovereignly, the representation of death is impossible, for the present is not subject to the demands of the future. That is why, in a fundamental sense, to live sovereignly is to escape death, for the present is not subject to the demands of the future."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share Vol 3 Sovereignty (1988 [1967]) p.219

Monday, February 16, 2015

Money Wisdom #333

"Every man and every woman is a star, that is, an aggregate of such experiences, constantly changing with each fresh event, which affects him or her either consciously or subconsciously.

Each one of us has thus a universe of his own, but it is the same universe for each one as soon as it includes all possible experience. This implies the extension of consciousness to include all other consciousness."

Aleister Crowley The Book of the Law (1926 [2004]) p.11

Money Wisdom #332

"Moral isolation signifies the removal of constraints and, moreover, it manifests the deep meaning of expenditure. Anyone who believes in the worth of others, is necessarily limited; he is restricted by this respect for others, which prevents him from knowing the meaning of the only aspiration that is not subordinated within him to the desire to increase his material or moral resources. There is nothing more common than a momentary incursion into the world of sexual truths, followed, all the rest of the time, by a fundamental denial of those truths. The fact is that solidarity keeps man from occupying the place that is indicated by the word 'sovereignty': human beings' respect for one another draws them into a cycle of servitude where subordinate moments are all that remains, and where in the end we betray that respect, since we deprive man in general of his sovereign moments (of his most valuable asset).

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share Vol 2 The History of Eroticism (1988 [1967]) p.178-179

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Money Wisdom #331

"At the most intense moment of fusion, the pure blaze of light, like a sudden flash, illuminates the immense field of possibility, on which these lovers are subtilized, annihilated, submissive in their excitement to a rarefaction which they desired."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share Vol 2 The History of Eroticism (1988 [1967]) p.116

Money Wisdom #330

"Everything that 'justifies' our behavior needs to be re-examined and overturned; how to keep from saying simply that thought is an enterprise of enslavement: it is the subordination of the heart, of passion, to incomplete economic calculations. Humanity is letting itself be led the way a child submits to a professor; a feeling of poverty paralyses it."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share Vol 2 The History of Eroticism (1988 [1967]) p.105

Monday, February 9, 2015

On Bataille's Accursed Share - a quickie

I've been busy writing a thing about some stuff (my desk is a mess of books as you can see). I ended up staring my computer screen without typing for a couple of days, so to break my trance I figured I'd jump into Bataille's Accursed Share. I'm always a tad worried about breaking a writing session for fear I'll not return to it. But this thing is a long thing - and Bataille's work is very much related to it - so I'm crossing my fingers that I can just jump straight back in.

So this quick and dirty, type and read-once thru post, is really about purging myself of a few thoughts around Bataille, so that they don't pop up subconsciously in my longer thing. That word thing being a case in point.

One reason Bataille uses the word thing is to describe the profane aspect of objects. I put up Money Wisdom #325 about it. A thing has usefulness for us, and in one sense, its that usefulness that anchors the thing in the profane world; its what makes a thing, a thing. For something to enter the sacred world that usefulness must be dispatched, destroyed or wasted. For example, when we describe an object as only ceremonial we are saying that at least part of its utility has been lost.

I'm of course, exploring these sorts of ideas in my Stick to Staff project. But what I want to mention here is a line from Charles Freeman's Holy Bones, Holy Dust. I've had the idea for the last few years that I'd like to trace a history of the totem object through to Holy relics and look at their interaction with the development of the economy. I couldn't help but mention in the Stick to Staff post my fascination with the Crown of Thorns (which I claim to be the most valuable monetary object that has ever existed) and the Saint Chappelle. Anyway, last night I picked up Holy Bones, Holy Dust for a quick skim and this line jumped out:
"Relics were part of the medieval economy, with a monetary as well as a spiritual value". (p.4)
There is a story to be told about how the balance between the profane and sacred transformed and shifted during this time. It'd be really interesting to set it alongside Joel Kaye's work Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century which looks at how monetization effected the development of proto-science.

Another way in which Bataille uses the word thing is in respect of intimacy. A couple of quotes on this #326 #328. Ostensibly, Bataille is talking about an intimacy with the Divine - but as you'll see it doesn't take much to link it to another phwoarm of intimacy. As will be apparent from that thing I'm writing, for twenty years or so now, I've had a fascination with the opening few pages of Freud's Civilization and its Discontents. It's where Freud talks about the oceanic feeling which his friend the writer Romain Rolland says he experiences and is, he (Romain) claims, the source of religious sentiments. Freud suggests that such feelings are in fact an echo from an early stage in our psychological development. He's clear that religion is illusion.

I suppose one way to think about this is wonder whether or not God exists (No need to get too hung up on this. I use the term Value Monism and recently explored these ideas in my posts on Philip Goodchild's The Theology of Money). But both Freud and Bataille owe so much to Nietzsche that the question seems somehow redundant here. Another approach would be to consider the role of reason. As Albert Tauber's Freud the Reluctant Philosopher reveals Freud din't give up on reason. Bataille seems much much more aligned to Nietzsche in this respect. If reason gets in the way of the Will to Power it should be crushed like everything else. There are some hints that privately Freud was a little less strident on reason, especially in his later years, but in the main body of his work, reason is venerated.

I've only read fifty of so pages into Vol2 of The Accursed Share at the time of writing this post but that's enough to know - alongside what I've read around the internet and in Nigel Dodd's The Social Life of Money - that Bataille recognizes the same problem with reason that I do. At least, I think 'its the same. I've never been able to express it properly. It's about reason and passion or thought and sex. Bataille's opener is Eroticism and the Reflection of the Universe in the Mind. So many of the themes that I consider important for a better understanding of money are considered - reason, thought, sex, the One and the Many. (A reminder - from where I'm standing an understanding of our being requires theories of money, value and mind as a starting point)

My excuse for my many failures to relate sex to money, value and mind has always been that it is impossible to talk about sex without being sexual. This was a lesson learned from the experience of a great, wonderful and (sometimes) difficult adventure. So it's a truth I hold in high regard. Which is why I can summon up the nerve to say that I'm not sure Bataille manages to say things all that clearly either (although I wish I read French as I'm sure it works better in the original). Here's the last paragraph from his opener.
I don't intend in this way to declare a vague judgement concerning men, but rather to define a way of thinking whose movement corresponds to the concrete character of the totality that is offered for reflection. I would like to set forth this method by using rather than by analyzing it separately. But I needed to begin by saying that my purpose, to talk about eroticism, could no more be isolated from the reflection of the universe in the mind than the later could be isolated from eroticism; but this implies in the first place that reflection, thought, under these conditions, must be commensurate with its object, and not that my object, eroticism, be commensurate with the traditional thought that established contempt for that object.
There are a couple of footnotes Bataille gives. One on reflection which I'll not go into. The other is on those last lines which are where I really have trouble with the meaning. The footnote mentions John-Paul Satre and says that a sense of the erotic depends upon a sense of sin, or prohibition or transgression. So I think what Bataille is getting at (and I may well be wrong - there is a comments section!) is firstly that mind and sex need to be considered as a totality, not as one producing the other. And that in reflecting upon such things, we ourselves are subject to all the prohibitions placed upon our thinking. So like it or not, those prohibitions will be reflected in our reflections, (We can't talk about sex without being sexual).

Ultimately it is no use to proceed along lines of scientific method (as Freud did) when considering these issues because in doing so you are breaking that totality which vital to a deep understanding. If you isolate and look for causal changes you simply relegate the sexual to a function of other forces. This is exactly what happened to Freud, who started out with the interplay of sexual energies as formative of our psychology, and ended up subsuming those energies - relegating them - to be products of his metaphysical commitments to the life and death forces. Essentially, the sexual was subsumed to Freud's veneration of reason (because reason suggested the existence of those forces).

I've been liberal with my mixing up of eroticism, sex, and sexual. Bataille makes distinctions between these terms. Eroticism is the human form of the sexual which arises from our psychological response to sex. He differentiates human from animal along these lines. So animals have sex without guilt. I'm not a fan of this line of argument. Interestingly enough, I made a similar critique of Norman O Brown. He too, seemed to imagine that some form of marker between animal and human in terms of sexuality was a useful way to proceed. I don't think so, which is why I feel okay mixing the terms up.

I'll just finish off with a quick word on Nigel Dodd's The Social Life of Money where Bataille is considered in Chapter Five Waste. I hadn't heard of Bataille before I read Nigel's book so I'm really grateful that he's focused on him. Oddly enough I was aware of the other two main thinkers in the chapter Derrida and Baudrillard (Derrida more so). But it was obvious to me that Bataille was really the man for a money-burner to read.

So, I re-read the Bataille section last night too. It made me realize that my discovery that Norman O Brown called Bataille a fellow traveler on the Dionysian path - which I mention in On Demurrage and Money Burning - was not my discovery at all. Nigel mentions it on p.205. But more importantly, it helped to contextualize the Accursed Share within Bataille's body of work.

[This is such an important thing to do. I think a truly outstanding contribution that Nigel's work makes, is in regard to Simmel, where Nigel draws up Simmel's work on Money AND on Society to present an idea of perfect money/perfect society and freedom/equality. You can check this out in the final themed chapter Utopia.]

There are of course many themes on could draw on from such a contextualization. One that caught my eye (that's a Bataille in-joke, btw) is base materialism. I'm not sure I've really understood what Bataille means by this term (if such an understanding is possible) but he seems to be grasping for an understanding of the world without venerating reason to a divine realm, and so making a thing out of the world itself. This resonates with the way that I approach my money burning ritual as a total prestation of being. I believe a partial examination of money - intellectual, practical, emotional or whatever - will only ever reveal a partial truth (it tends to reveal money either as a thing or a non-thing, real or unreal). To know it, you have to find a way to present the totality of your being to it - and burning is the best way I've found to do so. Anyway, Nigel gives us the following on Bataille's base materialism.
Despite their apparent variation, Bataille’s writings display a striking unity of purpose. Underlying the many varied subjects he writes on is the ‘anti-theory’ known as base materialism. Unlike more conventional forms of materialist thought, including historical materialism, base materialism derives its core analytical framework from an appreciation of the radicalizing potential of everything that could be described as repulsive and antithetical to reason. Bataille developed the notion through the review journal, Documents, in the fifteen issues he edited between 1929 and 1931. Bataille’s version of materialism is not an ontological theory, a philosophy of matter. He never defined exactly what he meant by it, other than to suggest that base materialism is not a theory at all in the sense that it cannot be subsumed by reason.
Nigel Dodd The Social Life of Money (2014) p.169

I have a ton of over money wisdom quotes from The Social Life of Money to go up. As I take breaks from writing the thing I'm writing I'll put them up.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Money Wisdom #329

"In the service of a power that is not used - the perfect form of the absorption of resources in growth - is found the only genuine nullification, the least slippery renunciation of life."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share (1988 [1967]) p.137

Money Wisdom #328

"Intimacy is not expressed by a thing except on one condition: that this thing be essentially the opposite of a thing, the opposite of a product, of a commodity - a consumption and a sacrifice. Since intimate feeling is a consumption, it is consumption that expresses it, not a thing, which is its negation."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share (1988 [1967]) p.132

Friday, February 6, 2015

Money Wisdom #327

"In theory, salvation in Christianity liberates the ends of religious life from the domain of productive activity. But if the faithful's salvation is the reward for his merits, if he can achieve by it his deeds, then he has simply brought more closely into the domain of religion the concatenation that makes useful work wretched in his eyes. Hence those deeds by which a Christian tries to win his salvation can in turn be considered profanations, even the mere fact of choosing salvation as a goal appears contrary to the truth of grace. Grace alone brings about an accord with the divinity, which cannot be subjected to causal series as things can. The gift that divinity makes of itself to the faithful soul cannot be paid for."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share (1988 [1967]) p.121

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Money Wisdom #326

"In his strange myths, in his cruel rites, man is in search of a lost intimacy from the first.
[..] The animal or plant that man uses (as if they only had value for him and none for themselves) is restored to the truth of the intimate world; he receives a scared communication from it, which restores him in turn to interior freedom."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share (1988 [1967]) p.57-58

Money Wisdom #325

"Sacrifice restores to the sacred world that which servile use has degraded, rendered profane. Servile use has made a thing (an object) of that which, in a deep sense, is of the same nature as the subject, is in a relation of intimate participation with the subject. It is not necessary that the sacrifice actually destroy the animal or plant of which man had to make a thing for his use. They must at least be destroyed as things, that is, insofar as they have become things. Destruction is the best means of negating a utilitarian relation between man and animal or man and plant."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share (1988 [1967]) p.56

Money Wisdom #324

"As for the present historical situation, it is characterized by the fact that judgments concerning the general situation proceed form a particular point of view. As a rule, particular existence always risks succumbing for lack of resources. It contrasts with general existence whose resources are in excess and for which death has no meaning. From the particular point of view, the problems are posed in the first interest by a deficiency of resources. They are posed in the first interest by and excess of resources if one starts from the general point of view. "

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share (1988 [1967]) p.39

Money Wisdom #323

"The origin and essence of our wealth are given in the radiation of the sun, which dispenses energy - wealth - without return. The sun gives without receiving. Men were conscious of this long before astrophysics measured that ceaseless prodigality; they saw it ripen the harvests and they associated its splendor with the act of someone who gives without receiving."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share (1988 [1967]) p.29

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Money Wisdom #322

"Incomprehension does not change the final outcome in the slightest. We can ignore or forget the fact that the ground we live on is little other than a field of multiple destructions. Our ignorance only has this incontestable effect; It causes us to undergo what we could bring about in our own way, if we understood. It deprives us of the choice of an exudation that might suit us. Above all, it consigns men and their works to catastrophic destructions. For if we do not have the force to destroy the surplus energy ourselves, it cannot be used, and, like an unbroken animal that cannot be trained, it is this energy that destroys us; it is we who pay the price of the inevitable explosion."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share (1988 [1967]) p.23-24

Money Wisdom #321

"Minds accustomed to seeing the development of productive forces as the ideal end of activity refuse to recognize that energy, which constitutes wealth, must ultimately be spent lavishly (without return), and that a series of profitable operations has absolutely no other effect than the squandering of profits. To affirm that it is necessary to dissipate a substantial portion of energy produced, sending it up in smoke, is to go against judgments that form the basis of a rational economy."

Georges Bataille The Accursed Share (1988 [1967]) p.22