Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I Promise to Pay the Bearer (if he gives me his details)

Yesterday I went to the public counter at the Bank of England. I wanted to get a fresh crisp £50 note. I gave the cashier two twenties and a ten and asked for a fifty. He asked me to fill in a form (to be precise this was a requirement, not a choice - no form, no exchange).

I asked the cashier for a photocopy. He obliged and this is what you can see above. I've blanked out my home address and phone number.

Last April 2016, I did something similar. I went to the public counter with £230 and exchanged it for some new notes. That time I wasn't asked to fill in a form or give any details. Apparently, the policy of asking everyone to fill out a form was instigated a month or so ago.

The Bank have for a long time had a policy of requesting identification whenever larger amounts of money are exchanged - I think that means anything over £1000 pounds a day.

The Bank now have a data record of me, my home address and phone number, and the fact that I changed £50 on Tuesday 15th August 2017. They also have my declaration about where the cash came from. I told the truth about this but I do wonder if there would be any punishment for lying.

Here is the note I got.

What I intend to do with this note, or what I did with the £230 last April, is not really relevant*. It's not relevant because if you look underneath where it says 'The Bank of England' you'll notice it says 'I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of fifty pounds'. What it doesn't say is 'unless we don't like what he'll do with it'.

It also doesn't say I promise to pay the bearer only if the bearer gives me his details.

Now, being a pragmatist I can understand that if I turned up with £10K in old £50s in a hold-all, it might be reasonable to ask details and demand identification. Perhaps the serial numbers of the notes might match bundles of notes stolen in a violent robbery decades before? It's not right that people should get away with cashing in ill-gotten gains. But the onus should be on the authorities to pursue investigations in those cases rather than pointing the finger of suspicion at everyone who holds the Bank to their promise, by making data gathering mandatory.

Because, ultimately - forgetting all the Bank regulation that is in a constant process of evolution - what the note exchange at the Bank of England is about, is them keeping their promise. The Bank's notes are issued in perpetuity. Old BoE banknotes are always valid at the BoE.

What's going on here is a steady march toward cashlessness; a drive (possibly from the best of intentions, although equally, possibly not) to gather every scintilla of knowledge about cash transactions. In effect, to eliminate cash itself**. This broad movement also appears in the aesthetic of polymer. The path that is appearing (or perhaps being presented) as inevitable, is paper to plastic and then to silicon; the non-existence of non-knowledge, the total elimination of uncertainty.

In their decision last month then, the State - via the Bank of England - has just taken a stride forward into my sovereignty by reducing my ability to transact with them anonymously. This isn't the thin end of the wedge, its actually the thick blunt bit. Be careful of dismissing this as a ridiculous 'consumer complaint'. Anyone seeking fulfillment of the Bank's promise 'to pay the bearer' is now being held in suspicion.

It would be nice if the Bank of England would appreciate Phillip Goodchild's words in the Theology of Money;

The promise of value, is not the value of a promise.

I think they should just uphold the promise written on each one of their notes, as best they can. That strikes me as the appropriate moral action. And, perhaps naively, I believe it's important for the Bank (to at least) be seen to behave in a moral way.

Perhaps, I sound a little puritanical. I think though, that especially since 2008 we've become more exposed to and understanding of the truth about banking and finance. We now appreciate that when we put money in a bank what we are actually doing is buying a claim on the Bank's money. They aren't looking after our money. The minute you hand it over, it becomes theirs. This has little practical impact for people like me who don't earn much. But this practical impact should not be confused with it's significance. The BoE note exchange was a symbolic bulwark against all this. It declared that the banknotes are ours, forever.

The Bank of England should always strive to allow individuals to have a direct one-to-one relationship with value - as much as is possible. This form I had to fill in was an unnecessary and unwelcome barrier. And it speaks clearly about the lack of regard financial institutions have for our individual sovereignty over money.


[* I guess most people reading this will know why get new notes form the Bank of England and what I do with them. But just in case and in the interests of full disclosure; with the £230 from last April I made The Money Flame collage, and the £50 is due to be my Ritual Sacrifice on Jura on 23rd August next week.]

[** Now, if you've read my stuff you'll know I don't think it's possible to eliminate cash because it's money's default position. We'll always find someway to transact anonymously and instantly. The trouble is the push towards cashlessness creates pain; a minor inconvenience for me, but much more serious if you live under an especially authoritarian state doing things they don't like.]

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ninth International Critical Finance Studies Conference

Last Friday and Saturday, I attended the Ninth International Critical Finance Studies Conference at Leicester University. It was presented as 'a celebration of the live and work of Randy Martin'.

Unfortunately I was unable to make the opening keynote from Joyce Goggin on the Thursday. Joyce was presenting on the Financialiazation of Childhood and the Gamification of Finance'. I did turn up in good time for start of play on the Friday though and jumped straight into a session on 'Moral Economies'.

Before I get into the various papers and the thoughts and ideas they sparked off in my head, I should first say a few words about the conference as a whole and about what I understand from the term 'Critical Finance'.

My approach to the academic study of money is very simple (which suits me as being a philosopher/van-driver means taking my head out of books and calling everyone 'mate' for extended periods and so I need an easy way to slip back into the groove of academic thought and analysis). My approach then, is to put MONEY at the centre, and work out from there. So, I never claim to be studying within one particular discipline and examining Money through that lens, rather I focus on Money and try to view it from various perspectives. This is a rather promiscuous way of doing things. Although I always seem to be in a long term relationship with psychoanalysis and so my view of Money is probably always to some degree influenced by that (and the philosophies underscoring or implied by it) .

I'm not actually sure what Critical Finance/Critical Studies/Critical Theory *is*. But two things. I get the feeling that at some (deep) level Freud is always present (which suits me). And I like the idea that society, and economics particularly, operate with 'ideologies' and that all institutions - including academia - are subject to and operate, in some sense, from within these ideological perspectives. Therefore a perspective that is inherently critical serves - at the very least - to tease apart this ideological architecture. Obviously there is a symmetry here with my arguments about money burning - my friend Cassie Thornton recently suggested that it might be the a very powerful form of 'decolonization' (a term which I think Randy Martin used a lot).

My musings on Critical Theory etc aside, it's really interesting and challenging then, to come across the ideas of someone like the late Randy Martin. Randy's work on finance, money and economy was born from his understanding of movement gained through dance. He was a dancer before he became an academic. (Check out this piece via John Hogan Morris)

Randy's perspective has the enticing advantage of being completely new to me. I'd never even considered even thinking about money in this way. I have often thought about how I DON'T understand/appreciate dance. I occasionally get glimmers of what I'm missing. Indeed I had one just a couple of weekends before the conference. I was in a pub garden with Sally and Amy on a live music night. There were loads of kids running around. During one song a young girl, who'd have been nine or ten, I guess, took herself off under a tree just beside the temporary stage and danced by herself. She wasn't just bopping around though, she was making fluid, considered movements and look totally lost in what she was doing. Watching her I realized that even if I couldn't appreciate the beauty (and therefore the truth) of dance, that she could. And that 'appreciation' - and understanding of its truth - was not in a direct logical relation with the movement.

However, as that last paragraph might suggest, the problem of using 'dance' as a way of understanding money resides in language used. There is a communication barrier to cross. The last keynote at the conference confessed that he often had trouble understanding what Randy was saying in his writing. And the language used within Critical Studies generally - all the 'tivities' and the 'logics etc - can create a little distance. But none of these 'language problems' should be used as a means to dismiss or negate the value of the understanding of these different perspectives. I'm very clear in my own work that materialist/objective techno-scientific rational functionalist approaches to understanding money are very limited and will always fail to give a complete and deep understanding of the nature of money.

Plus, of course, every area of academic study - and every economic niche - has its own language and/or dialect. We should all *try* to understand one another.

I don't tend to take notes. I never have. Not even in lectures when I was student at the LSE. I might draw a diagrammatic picture with a few key words, or just note down a couple of words, but I'm not a note-taker. It just doesn't work for me, personally.

So I'm not going to give you a run-down of the papers presented. But instead this will be more a scatter-gun approach and maybe you can get the flavour of the conference from that.

Going back to the dance thing, let me start with the session I found most perplexing which was on 'Alternative Logics'. The first talk by Dr Christian De Cock told us all about what sounds like a really exciting project that you can read about on - if I can find a way to lever in Money Burning to their activities then I will.

It was the second talk by Ann-Christine Frandsen, Keith Hoskin, Skip McCoun and Solmaz Rohani that left me intrigued but perplexed. So much so, that despite what I said a second ago, it caused me to take the following notes 'Naming and Counting - Non-GlottoGraphic'. I'm still not sure what it means. But those of you who've read The Money Burner's Manual will know that I have a particular fascination with counting (as the product of the primal psychoanalytic trauma) and especially with 'naming'.... I talk about 'becoming' Money Burning Guy.

'in naming the mental being of man communicates itself to God.'
'[naming] .... is the innermost nature of language itself.'
'God's creation is completed when things receive their names from man...'
Walter Benjamin On Language as such and on the Language of Man

Keith, who talked about naming and counting in terms statements and discourse (instead of language), was the one who body-slammed me intellectually. I was softened up by Ann-Christine who started the talk with a lot of physical movement and visual imagery (oddly enough a video of a van driving along a road, something which I live, about eight hours each day). But as unusual as this mode-of-communication was, I kind of got what she was saying. It was when Keith put those ideas into an academic language that my head exploded.

I have the dim apprehension then that something at the boarders of language studies/linguistics, and a perspective built from dance and movement, offers the possibility for a new and deeper understanding of money.


I was marginally less flummoxed by the other sessions I attended across the two days but no less fascinated.

The one most directly related to Money Burning was William H Carter's presentation on Michael Haneke’s The Seventh Continent. A twenty minute cut of the most infamous scene is below. When interviewed Haneke claimed that he'd correctly predicted to the producer that audiences would be upset with that scene, and remarked that in today's society the idea of destroying money is more taboo than parents killing their child and themselves.

Flushing cash down the toilet draws on the (psychoanalytical) links between money and shit - Filthy Lucre - that Norman O Brown found so fascinating.

In a session on Art and Architecture Anne Murphy gave a paper 'Building Trust in the Financial Market' which looked at how finance is represented within the architecture of the Bank of England and other key institutions. She revealed a fact about the BoE's early construction certain to grab the attention of any decent hard-working money burner. In the C18th the BoE aggressively bought up properties surrounding its site in order to lessen its susceptibility to a great fire.

The BoE website describes it thus:
Over the next 100 years [from 1734], the Bank gradually acquired adjacent premises until the present three-acre island site was secured.

One of my ambitions is to do a burn in the Governor's garden in the central courtyard of the Bank of England. This adds even more symbolic weight to that action.

The Art and Architecture session also included a talk by Andrew Hurle on the Reader's Digest sweepstakes literature. I had forgotten all about this until I read Andrew's abstract. Then the memories flooded back. My Dad would regularly get enticing looking letters from Reader's Digest - they looked very official, like money itself. Have look here if you need reminding. I could never understand why my Dad didn't tear these letters open and jump about with excitement. It said in bold print 'YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY WON £25 000!'. He'd let me open them up and choose the interior of the car, or decide on the schedule of the holiday, or decide whether we'd take lump sum or lifetime payments..... and then bin them without me seeing.

Andrew looked at the ways in which Reader's Digest uses the language of finance in its sweepstakes literature. A short write-up of his project is available here.

Matthew Brannan gave a talk on his ethnography of telesales in finance. One of the general themes of my own work (work is not really what it is, but you get what I mean) is the idea that 'meaning comes from doing in mysterious ways'. I therefore wholeheartedly approve of academics getting out in the field and experiencing this sort of thing for themselves. As was clear from Matthew's presentation this methodology serves to ensure an empathy with the people who actually rip people off/do this sort of work. Maybe one day I'll write about my own experiences of being in business with a convicted fraudster. The reality of these sorts of worlds and experiences is - in someways - quite subtle and nuanced. It isn't as simple as saying that people just decide to act immorally or unethically through greed. In my experience there is always a moral framework (albeit perverted) and in some sense within the world of the fraudster/rip-off merchant it is more strictly enforced and adhered to than outside it.

Having said that off course NEVER BUY PPI OR INSURANCE AGAINST IDENTITY THEFT ETC ETC. When someone lends you money the risk of non-payment is theirs, not yours. Fuck the banks and their fear-mongering.

And while my justice ardor is raised. I must mention an idea that cut across two of the keynotes; Dick Bryan in 'Trading on the financial risk spreads of daily life: strategies for risking together' and Bob Meister in 'Justice as an option and the shorting of capitalism itself'.

So here my friends is the radical political bit. I know you're not used to such things from your friendly Money Burning Guy, but you know, only yesterday after I claimed that money burning etc is apolitical, a friend said to me that he failed to see how what I'm doing could be remotely apolitical. Another friend has always maintained that my actions are deeply political and that there is a direct connection between the sacred and the political.

Well, I'm still not sure about all that. But, for what its worth, THIS IS POLITICAL. And more to the point - if this plan of action possible (and that's a big IF) - IT WOULD WORK.

Some background: five years ago I did this post which offered a criticism of the Rolling Jubilee project. The idea was to buy up old debt at say 10c on the dollar and then forgive it. My argument is that this wouldn't work in the long term or as a wider solution because it would make old debt more expensive and therefore more worth its owners spending money trying to recover it. Eventually debtors would face more pressure from bailiffs etc etc. The project came to wider public attention when Jon Oliver bought up and forgave $15million of medical debt. But of course - other than the benefits to the folks lucky enough to have had their debt bought and forgiven - it doesn't seem to have had much effect on capitalism itself.

Dick and Bob's idea is a different beast. It plays on the sensitivity of derivative pricing (my piece on the Finance and Society conference actually delves into this quite deeply and includes pictures of Susie Dent, Carol Kirkwood and Rachel Riley). Here's the idea (as I understand it).

1. Pick a suitable derivative product (say a bundle of medical debt which attracts a regular flow of cash in repayments).
2. Pick a suitable bad-guy financial firm that owns such a derivative.
3. Find out the individual debts that make up the derivative.
4. Get those individuals to do a co-ordinated debt strike.
5. Negotiate the price of the interest/debt down with the bad guys.
6. Resume payment or not depending on negotiation.

There seem to me two (possibly insurmountable) practical problems with this; getting the information and coordinating the non-payment.

BUT and this is a massive BUT if you could solve the practical problems IT WOULD WORK. So its a very different idea to Rolling Jubilee because the success of that project would ensure its failure. With (let's call it) DERIVATIVE DEFAULT any success would be met (I expect) with a legal challenge and legislative response. But such a response would be confirmation that DERIVATIVE DEFAULT is dangerous and worrisome for financial systems. It could be a way of curbing the actions - and ensuring a more ethical basis - of the nastiest of the financial bad guys. Something that legislation itself fails to achieve. It would give unethical behavior a cost - it would be talking to finance in a language it understands.

Of course, if there were a million active money burners in the world all regularly performing sacred sacrificial ritual the second of the practical problems - the coordination of default - might be easier to achieve. Not that you should ever burn money to achieve a purpose, but just saying.


Anyway I must end this post by saying a huge Thank You to all involved for a wonderful couple of days - thank you for having such open arms to a non-academic money burning weirdo. And Thank You to John Hogan Morris especially, for encouraging me to come along in the first place.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Bowie, McLuhan and John-Joseph Goux

Watch the above 1999 interview for one minute (from 10.45) and you'll hear - in response to Paxman's claim that the internet is 'just a tool' -  David Bowie saying 'no'; that the internet will, in fact 'crush our ideas of what mediums are all about'. I've heard another interview with Bowie where he said he wanted to be a medium - in the sense that he wanted to be the embodiment of, or vessel for, a trend.

Back in 1999 I was similarly excited about the prospects for the internet. I'm sure I can remember seeing that interview at the time and no doubt I hurled abuse at Paxman's 'internet is just a tool' comment. Even several years before then, around 1995/96, I'd fallen out with a friend of mine over his dismissal of the world wide web as 'just a glorified shop window'.  By the time I left the LSE in 2000 the internet was absolutely where I wanted to be. I'd first been online in 1994/95 and I felt my foray onto it as an entrepreneur had been a long time coming. 

You'll recognize in the above a theme that relates directly to my work on money; that phrase 'just a tool'. My first complaint about it is the idea that something is 'just a tool'. Most accounts of human evolution mark the development of tools as one of our defining characteristics. Simmel said that money was the purest example of a tool. The passage below from The Money Burner's Manual 2nd edition, shows how significant a thing Simmel considers a tool to be:
For Simmel, the idea of a tool symbolizes what it is to be human. We stand between an animal, who depends upon the mechanism of instinctual drives, and a God, whose will is identical with its realization. Thus the tool illustrates both the grandeur of the human will and its limitations. Simmel even suggests that the tool, by introducing and recognizing the practical necessity for a series of intermediate steps between ourselves and our ends, creates ‘a watershed between past and future’.
My second complaint is that functional explanations of money tell only a very small part of the story. This is something I regularly go on about.... off the top of my head try this review of Dave Birch's book. They define money within a very tight boundary of rational, logical and mathematical thought, and thus ignore what is obvious to each and everyone of us in our interactions with currency, which is that money sits deeply within our psyches, our lives and what it is to be.

And undeniably, the internet has a similar depth of relationship with how we are as humans and how we relate to each other, as money does. Bowie gets the measure of this depth, straight away.


I posted the above image of the first edition cover of Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media on Twitter recently. I did so for my Cosmic Trigger friends, pointing out the synchronicity of a number 23 appearing on the cover. McLuhan reportedly gave Tim Leary the phrase 'Turn on, tune in, drop out' (or at the very least encouraged Leary to develop a catchphrase by which to market his .... er.... philosophy). McLuhan was one of the most famous academics in the world during the sixties. He was interviewed by Playboy, met the Beatles, and was a regular on the television. And it was of course the television and its effects which were the object of his study, and in part, the reason for the massive interest in what he had to say. In a sense, the television was to the sixites, as the internet was to the noughties.

McLuhan's methodology of study was to class phenomena such as radio, tv, written word.... and nearly every other representational form you can conceive of...  as 'media'. And it wasn't  just representational forms - basically for McLuhan media were the extensions of man, of the human body and so anything outside of the body therefore became 'media'. He then sought new ways by which he could understand and classify those 'media'. And he recognized that although new media shared elements with those of the past, it was also impossible for us to know or predict where new media would take us, because we would always see them through the lens of old media. Our understanding of the new is necessarily built upon our vision of the past.

McLuhan recognized in television, what Bowie recognized in the internet.


John-Joseph Goux was a young man in the sixties. He attended Jacques Lacan's famous lectures in Paris and they had a profound effect on him. Like many others (including Norman O. Brown) Goux wanted to marry the thought of Freud and Marx. In May 1968, just as the protests erupted in Paris, Goux sat down to write an essay in theoretical numismatics.

By this time, McLuhan's masterwork Understanding Media had been out for 4 years. It was published in 1964 the same year that the Beatles played Paris, appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, and made A Hard Day's Night.

McLuhan's academic heritage was Cambridge University where his focus was on literature. As he took up various academic positions his obsession was not with Marx and Freud (via Lacan), like Goux, but with Joyce's Finnegans Wake. His study of it, he claimed, yielded some of the most important discoveries in media studies.

You'd think then that McLuhan's and Goux's views on money would be an ocean apart. But they're not really. And the differences and similarities between them are quite elucidating.


The key point of difference is Freud. Or rather, the recognition of Freud within their respective works. In Goux, Freud's influence is explicit. In McLuhan it is disavowed. The only point in Understanding Media where Marshall McLuhan mentions psychoanalysis directly is in the opening lines of the chapter entitled Money. And then he quickly dismisses it.
“ Although this idea [of Ferenczi’s] of linking ‘filthy lucre’ with the anal has continued in the main lines of psychoanalysis, it does not correspond sufficiently to the nature and function of money in society to provide a theme for the present chapter. ”
[I agree with the idea that McLuhan's work is essentially psychoanalytical - see Alice Rae 2008]

For McLuhan, of course, money is a medium. He draws parallels between the turning from commodity money to paper money with the switch from oral and hieroglyphic cultures, to written and alphabetic cultures. “Money”, he says “is an adjunct” of alphabetic technology that raises even the Gutenberg form of mechanical reproduction to new intensity. “As a translator and amplifier, money has exceptional powers of substituting one thing for another.”

Goux doesn’t rely on the psychoanalytical association between shit, gold and money (that McLuhan thinks insufficient and that we see explored elsewhere in Norman O Brown's work). He goes much deeper. His analysis is based on Lacan’s idea of three registers of psychical subjectivity. These registers are three mental fields within (and between) which, we experience what it is to be. Lacan named them the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. In this way, the psychical ‘content’ of any object - in other words, our subjective understanding of things - must be understood in terms of their relations to these three registers.

Goux suggested that money possessed the special quality of being the universal equivalent, above all others. This is very much in accord with McLuhan’s idea of money having exceptional powers of substitution. However, Goux said that the reason for this power relates to money’s psychical development from the Father (whom Goux says plays the role of universal equivalent in the Oedipus complex). Money arises from the movement of the Father within and between the registers. He appears to us symbolically as the phallus - also a universal equivalent which Goux says is ‘erected [!] as the general equivalent for objects of desire’. And then, perhaps in its most powerful form, the Father appears to us as Gold - the God of all commodities. Commodities ‘aspire to gold as their hereafter’.

And of course the movement continues. The process repeats itself. Gold becomes a symbol of itself in paper money. And now paper money which was a symbol of gold is abstracted further into digital representations.

The residual quality in that movement is not primarily to do with physical features of precious metals (such as rarity, portability, durability etc) - it is the conception, quality or 'psychical feature' of universal equivalence. [Here one can draw parallels with more mainstream idea that the most fundamental feature of money is that it is 'a unit of account'.] Alongside the quality of universal equivalence - isomorphic to it, as Goux says - is the relation between the ideal of universal equivalence and less-than-ideal forms. This is the relation we can perceive say, between the Heavenly Father and his Son on Earth. It’s worth pointing out that logically, what is ideal and what is less-than-ideal can only exist in relation to one another. One without the other would have no meaning and no existence. Goux emphasizes the significance of this to money in the following:
“ ...the oppositions between the divine and the terrestrial, universal and particular, sacred and profane, the one and the many, transcendence and immanence are summed up … in the opposition between money and commodities. ”
Goux’s says that the ‘march of history is the evolution of the social organism as a whole towards its arrangement, in all domains, under the general equivalent’. We have climbed, he says, to an historical peak. And this culmination - this ecstasy of the idealization (or perfection) of the money form - shakes the very foundations of history itself. We are, insists Goux, experiencing a ‘crisis of representation’. And, reminiscent of McLuhan’s ‘reversal of an overheated medium’, Goux suggests that our response will be, in part, a reversal. We will re-discover ourselves in a repetition that is simultaneously regressive and progressive.


I'm not wholly convinced by either McLuhan's or Goux's stories. I tend to find psychoanalysis at its most powerful when its metaphysics are laid bare and its implications are considered in broad and general terms. I find myself turning off to tightly-specified highly-technical analysis. For me what McLuhan did in Understanding Media was side-step a lot of those problems by creating what were in effect representations of psychoanalytical ideas. But the language and those ideas soon became as complex and difficult to understand as Lacanian-based psychoanalysis.

It was when I read more widely about McLuhan the man, watched some of his TV appearances, and most importantly learned about his devotion to his faith that the penny really dropped for me and I began to see quite how important his contribution and thinking was. 

McLuhan was a devout convert to Catholicism. He was devoted to the Church, more so than the Bible, because he considered the Church as an institution to be closer to the Divine than the written word. In other words, the medium between his experience of the divine in the ritual of the Eucharist (which he took daily) and THE DIVINE itself, was the most transparent and least distorting. It was the purest extension of man (towards God)

[ All of this has had an impact upon my own money burning rituals. It's led me to de-emphasize the ritual words, and instead to allow (as much as I'm able) the theatre of the ritual to form itself around the doing of it.]

Goux, comes from completely the opposite direction to McLuhan. For McLuhan VALUE ultimately comes from God, but for Goux VALUE is a creation of the human psyche. (I did a post on this in relation to Mark C Taylor's analysis). In the most basic of terms, McLuhan has effectively developed a theology of media, where as Goux has created a science of media. (I make no judgement here on the efficacy of theology vs science, or their individual work, nor on what each of them claims for their work, I'm only talking about their 'perspectives' as they relate to ultimate values.).


The section above perhaps goes some way to explaining why we expect to see differences in McLuhan's and Goux's conception of money. But its when we get to the question of how those two perspectives work themselves out in the their arguments that something really worthwhile is revealed. It's about that 'secret connection' between money and time that Walter Benjamin noticed and I set out to explore in The Money Burner's Manual.

McLuhan’s chapter on money is always sliding towards the telling of an origin myth for money. He is a little coy about it, perhaps because it overly simplifies the origin of currency and conflicts with evidence that was available to McLuhan. But McLuhan’s story of money is about cause & effect and function. It says that the language developments, especially from speech to the written word, had an effect on our consciousness and that this in turn was reflected in money. McLuhan’s money is not a fundamental psychical fracturing like language was. For Goux however, language and money develop in a' logico-historical simultaneity'; money is more than an ‘adjunct’ of alphabetic technology. In treating money as he does, Goux manages to escape somewhat the evolutionary cause-effect way of thinking - or economic thinking as I refer to it in TMBM. Although the same is true for McLuhan generally --- in that his conceptualizations of 'media' are helpful in terms of facilitating an escape from the dominant economic function-obsessed thinking that Paxman displays to Bowie in the opening video --- I think that as far as money itself goes, McLuhan's conception falls very short. Perhaps this is why he fell so far out of favour in the 1980's amidst the resurgence in ' naturalized economic thinking' whilst the post-structuralists and Continental philosophers (having a coherence of theory and backed by an explicitly Marxian and Freudian framework) to were at least able to flourish in opposition to the rise of free-market ideology?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Money Wisdom #429

"There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. His singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stock in all respects suitable the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions; in which, though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?"

Henry David Thoreau Walden (1854)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Quick Ramble Around 'Making Money'

I was just going to finish talking about Ole's 'Making Money' with my review of it. I covered quite a lot of ground in it, so thought it'd be enough. But as I was on a long drive yesterday a couple of thoughts kept popping back into my head. I'd had them while I was reading the book..... but because they'd have taken the review too far off the beaten path, I decided not to fully explore them, there. But I can't let them rest.

I sort of veered toward them in the review when I said:
"..he doesn't tackle the unconscious directly, but he does talk in philosophical terms about 'known unknowns' (which is a decent characterization of the unconscious) and he introduces Heidegger's notion of Seinsvergessenheit very early on in the book (this describes 'the forgetfulness of Being' - that our thinking takes place within a distinct landscape which is invisible to us). All this is to be commended."
As has happened on more than one occasion, when I read anything that relates to how our thoughts seem to arise within invisible walls, my mind turned to something I read by the heretic biologist Rupert Sheldrake. In short, it's the idea that genetic assimilation (i.e. the process by which characteristics which were originally 'acquired' become 'inherited') involves canalized pathways, or 'chreodes'. The page below shows the four diagrams that seem to be lodged firmly in my head.

Of course, Ole's ideas about how our thinking is guided by invisible or 'forgotten' walls or paths, and Sheldrake's ideas about the materiality of biological processes, appear to be taking place at two different levels. One in the mind, the other within the body (or at least, the body of a fruit-fly). But those of you who know Sheldrake's work will realize that it is precisely this duality between mind and body, or between the material and the spiritual, that he challenges.

(I could mention here Alan Moore's ideascape which seems to me to share similarities to the notion that we think along defined pathways that its important to carve out new spaces to birth new ideas.)

I share Sheldrake's view that mind body duality is a phallacy; ultimately thought and matter are in some form of unknown (maybe unknowable) unity. So I'm going to assume away the distinction between the biological and the psychological henceforth.

[In the soon to be released The Money Burner's Manual Second Edition I've re-written the chapter on the ontology of money. In the second edition I have used a layering concept to explain my thoughts. Although I think linguistically this gives a better understanding of my ideas about money, it is dangerous because it inevitably frames things within a developmental, progressive or evolutionary context. These are conceptualizations that arise from, and exist within, spacetime and the psycho-sexual. And so the risk is that in explaining money this way, I drag it back down into a walled garden of thought, rather than show it where it really is..... which where neither words nor numbers can reach.]

So. The psychological is the biological, and vice versa. How then can we understand these pathways - or chreodes? Especially as they relate to money? Well, here is where basic psychoanalytical concepts are especially helpful. We can think in terms of repression creating 'mental' pathways; of psychical energies being sent on repeating journeys from subject to object and back again and leaving an indented pathway in the mind. And this is a concept we can take; (1) toward metaphysical speculation and talk about the eternal return of the eversame, (2) toward the spiritual and talk about repetition and ritual or (3) toward the mundane and talk about my cat. Nelson creates little furrows across my lawn at the back and hard muddy patches across the borders to the front of my flat, where he follows the same pathways, day after day. Some of this is due to environmental factors. The hard muddy path through the borders winds through plants. But his winding pathway across the lawn seems much harder to explain in this way. It might make sense (or feel right) to him, but he could get to his favorite perching point on the table near the fence by a much more direct route. His choice of pathway is not 'economic', its guided by something else.

I have to give the standard warning about repression, before I get into it a little more. Repression - in psychoanalytical theory is not a bad thing - or a good thing. It's the description of a process. As a process its ongoing, not static. Think about it like trying to push a football underwater, rather then burying something. I mentioned this little piece on Twitter the other day.... its got the video of Hayek making precisely this mistake in thinking about repression.

Now having cleared the air about 'repression' lets get into the sticky subject of 'sublimation'. I'm never quite clear about what this word means. To me it seems to be taking the neutral term 'repression' - admitting that in fact it does have negative connotations - and then finding a new word 'sublimation' to describe those 'repressions' that we approve of (in a moral/value sense). Any attempt to describe differences in the processes of 'repression' and 'sublimation' seem to me to be tagged on after the fact. This fascination with the difference between the two terms occupied Norman O Brown's mind in Life Against Death. Rather than offer my own analysis - which I think might touch on theological 'value conception' issues - let me bring this ramble to a close and draw it back to money and Ole's book.

One of the money wisdom quotes I put up was this;

"Cash is the sublime object of the ideology of credit money."

In line with the framework of Ole's book this draws explicitly on Zizek. And so inevitably (because of Lacan) it is grounded in psychoanalytical ideas. I urge you read Ole's book if you want to know what he means when he says this. I'm only going to talk now about the thoughts this phrase triggered in my head (and as they've developed they've de-contextualized from Ole's text and meaning - so read Ole's book if you wanna know what he means)

One of the phrases I use about cash is that 'it's money's default setting'. [This caused the anti-cash campaigner Dave Birch to say this is clearly wrong (because Graeber/Debt etc).] But maybe you can see that what Ole says and what I say share 'a symmetry in opposition'. I read Ole's statement as saying the sublimation of the psychical flows extant within the financial system creates cash; or, the pathways through which 'desire' flows gives expression to the purest ideology of finance in the form of cash. What I'm saying is more in line with Ingham, that the whole thing works the other way around, that the sublimation of CASH creates the ideology of credit money. That CASH created our CONSCIOUSNESS of money.

[This is an odd thing for me to argue because I always maintain that to understand money we have to work outside of time and space - we have to try to float above the psycho-sexual waters. So 'which way around' it happens is therefore not really important. I think the reason I want to argue it, might be to do with the Dave Birch comment, in that conceptualization of money that sees it as an emergent property of a financial system (and this is the thrust of Ole's book) tends towards a mythology that either, venerates or seeks to destroy, the financial system (or the political system, that supports it). I, of course, advocate destroying CASH. And by that I mean not CASH as a social object (I think that must be defended) BUT rather our own personal CASH. This, to me, is our best chance at carving out new possibilities in the mindscape and hence offering a new forms of sublimation.]


Okay.... one more thing then. Just quickly. In my review, I mentioned the analogy Ole made about the earth and moon orbiting around the 'barycentre' and financialization being akin to an increase in the moon's gravitational pull. I loved this so much because of the experience I had when I first mooted this idea that money exists at a much deeper metaphysical level. I tell the story in The Money Burner's Manual about submitting an essay to my Philosophy of Science Professor exploring the idea that money is 'more like gravity, than it is anything else'. That was 1998 and I've modified this idea since - I call money 'an aspect of being' now, so its even deeper, even more fundamental. But back in 1998, at the time, even though I was just an undergraduate, I felt nervous about making the claim. The Professor was okay about the paper but commented that the central idea was 'plainly crazy'. So, it was nice to read Ole's analogy. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Money Wisdom #428

" the Global South microcredit grew thanks to state welfare retrenchment, deregulation, and the globalisation of financial markets, but also due to the moral promise of mass empowerment through small enterprise. This promise was anchored in the public imaginary among other things through the Gandhi-esque presence of Muhammad Yunus, who promised a poverty-free world by ending “financial apartheid”, and argued that credit was a “human right” (Mader 2015, 62). In short, changes in the moral narratives around money and finance go hand-in-hand with changes in the forms and boundaries of money and finance."

Philip Mader Card Crusaders, Cash Infidels and the Holy Grails of Digital Financial Inclusion in BEHEMOTH A Journal on Civilisation 2016 Volume 9 Issue No. 2

Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of 'Making Money' by Ole Bjerg

Here is my first book review in a long time. Soooo busy last year with shenanigans (good shenanigans, obvs). Still, it's nice to get back into reading, especially with a book like this. Anyway if my review symbolizes your desire in a way that allows your imagination to create a reality out of clicking 'like' on Amazon, do please pop over there commence your actualization within this timespace materiality. Ta, muchly. x

4 stars - A Zizekian analysis of money and the financial system.

This book sat on my bookshelf for a year before I got round to reading it. I was a little worried after an initial skim through, that its focus would be too much on the financial system and not enough on money, itself. I found my fears to be both founded and unfounded.

Bjerg's analysis builds upon Zizek and so money is conceptualized accordingly as a fundamental 'lack'. Bjerg shares Graeber's view that money is 'nothing really'. This being so, Bjerg's engagement with the financial system is necessary for him to begin to explain how we 'make money' (in the sense of how the phenomenon of money arises, emerges or is constructed) as a way of probing money's ontology (or lack of it). Unlike Graeber, who was satisfied with subsuming money to debt, Bjerg doesn't shy away from a philosophical engagement with the idea of 'nothingness' and how it can become constitutive of money. And this is very much to his credit.

By invoking Zizek, Bjerg becomes indebted to Lacan (and this is acknowledged). This means that Bjerg's analysis relies heavily on a notion of 'desire'. And although Bjerg goes some way to philosophically engaging with 'desire', in the way that he does with 'nothingness' and money, his exposition of 'desire' is not as effective.

On one level this is because of a failure to explore the metaphysical commitment to the unconscious that underscores psychoanalysis, itself. Specifically, Bjerg fails to elucidate the proposition of a unconscious life as essentially a metaphysical commitment that can never be proved. This has epistemological implications (that the unconscious cannot be 'proven' makes all knowledge less certain). In Bjerg's defense, although his lack of consideration of the unconscious makes it difficult to work out what he thinks 'desire' really is, he does go much further than most in respect of 'money'. Here he doesn't tackle the unconscious directly, but he does talk in philosophical terms about 'known unknowns' (which is a decent characterization of the unconscious) and he introduces Heidegger's notion of Seinsvergessenheit very early on in the book (this describes 'the forgetfulness of Being' - that our thinking takes place within a distinct landscape which is invisible to us). All this is to be commended.

However on a second level exists an even more fundamental problem which is about Value. I'll take a slightly circuitous route to explain why this problem is so fundamental and how not recognizing it impacts on Bjerg's work.

A book I was surprised to find un-referenced in Making Money was John-Joseph Goux's Symbolic Economies. I was surprised because Goux's work draws directly on Lacan, and so uses the same theoretical framework of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real. The critique of Goux's work by Mark C. Taylor is telling and can be applied to Bjerg too. Both Goux and Bjerg seem to rely on a conception of Value that is fundamentally Neitzschean: this says that nature is valueless, and that it is we who bestow Value upon nature. Taylor, conversely, is a theologian. My reading of his critique is that such a conception of Value is necessarily ideological. For the theologian the ultimate Value is extant within God; Value comes from above, not below. Of course, there is no way to know which is true. What is important is to recognize that both opposing notions of Value are ideological. If you choose to make a commitment to one or the other, you should do so explicitly so as to give exposition to your commitment's impact on your conceptualizations and arguments. Bjerg fails to do this.

Ultimately this leads us to a final chapter that seems to assume the author and the reader share a unity of moral outlook. But we arrive there but without any explanation of how this unity - this conception of 'the good' or of some ultimate Value - has arisen. If Value is created a-fresh in each moment by our desires flowing from the imaginary through the symbolic to the real and back again, how does any enduring and universal morality arise? Bjerg provides no answer. If it's not God, then what draws us to this shared sense of morality. What makes morality self-evident?

Bjerg's unwillingness to explore these questions of moral philosophy actually shows up quite well in what is otherwise a brilliant and elucidating thought experiment. He creates a story of an imaginary counterfeiter whose loans of fake currency nevertheless create real prosperity within his town. Bjerg uses this as a means to explore relations within the creation of credit money. What he doesn't do is explore the moral questions. This is frustrating because a brief encounter with Derrida's work on Baudelaire (which is about the morality of the counterfeit) may have opened up a vista for exploration which would have given Bjerg a moral or ethical subtext making the statements of his final chapter (about our revolutionary potential) even more powerful.

Moving on from this lack of clear exposition around Value and his avoidance of moral philosophy, I find Bjerg could also - like most other writers on money - have better developed a distinction between money and currency. He does distinguish between various forms of money according to how they are created within the financial system. But the most basic and common of distinctions 'money & currency' isn't mentioned. He instead adopts Zelizer's approach of talking about 'monies' and so misses the opportunity to float money off into the Mind and allow currency to sink down into the material world. Making such a distinction might have enabled a more productive engagement with psychoanalytical ideas, and helped create a watershed between reason and desire.

This brings me onto a point about 'circulation'; I felt that the idea of money flowing around the financial system wasn't really examined sufficiently. Money, as I'm sure Bjerg is aware, does not flow, it is emitted. This has psychoanalytical and temporal implications which were not drawn out, and so we fall back into the same economic metaphor (of money flowing around a system like blood through a body, or water in a Moniac machine.)

As I'm sure you can tell, my criticism of this work focuses on what Making Money could have been, rather than what it was. This is a little unfair of me, although perhaps it shows that Bjerg's book inspired me to think about what he was saying. I would like though to redress the balance a little and end this review by making a few more explicitly positive statements. Bjerg is brilliant at analogies, metaphors and thought experiments. My favorite concerns the earth and moon orbiting around the 'barycentre' and financialization being akin to an increase in the moon's gravitational pull. I should also say that, despite my earlier criticism, I very much enjoyed his final chapter. As always with academics I was pleased that he took the risk of speaking his mind, and showing us a little of how he feels as well as thinks. Making Money is a book that works very well within its own terms. It is clearly written and keeps up a good pace, even when it's talking about the financial system, which is the point where I often glaze over in my reading on money. It's fantastic that scholars such as Ole Bjerg (and Noam Yuran whose 'What Money Wants' is similarly Zizekian and desire-based) are writing books that directly challenge mainstream functionalist accounts of the nature of money. And I have no hesitation in recommending Bjerg's book.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Money Wisdom #427

"Just like language, the money system of an economic community works only because the members of the community have structured their social interactions around this money system. In this sense the beggar and the billionaire equally to the money system insofar as both act as if the token circulating as money in the community is in fact money. The beggar and the billionaire may differ in the amount of money they own as individuals, but they have an equal share in money as the system which structures their economic interaction. 'Most thing in life - automobiles, mistresses, cancer,' says John Kenneth Galbraith, 'are important only to those that have them. Money in contrast is equally important to those that have it and those who don't'. The point here is that the opposite is equally true: People who have it and people who do not are equally important to money. The money of rich people has value only insofar as even poor people accept this money as money."

Ole Bjerg Making Money (2014) p. 258

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Money Wisdom #426

"What is so interesting about the discovery of the blockchain by banking and finance professionals however is that they envision it will bring new life to old ways of making money—exciting ways, too. Fees are boring. Critical theorists’ objections aside, finance professionals I spoke with just don’t see them as particularly compelling from a business standpoint or from an intellectual standpoint. These people did not get in the business to devise new ways of generating fee income. They got into the business to trade in risk, and to devise new ways of speculating on the future. They want to move away from rents. Fees are “weird” and “dumb” and “being regulated away”, anyway, they say. At least some of the people having these kinds of blockchain dreams want to get back to the business of finance. They want to get back to trading in risk. The blockchain is exciting precisely because it can permit a new, re-risking of finance.
And a re-risking that is “safe” for the financial system. "

Bill Maurer Re-risking in Realtime: On Possible Futures for Finance after the Blockchain in BEHEMOTH A Journal on Civilisation (2016) Vol 9 Iss 2 

Money Wisdom #425

"I brought up Stephen J. Gould’s (1984) essay on the contingency of human equality with my programmer friend. This is the essay where Gould argues we humans are lucky that there is no other extant hominin species concurrently occupying planet Earth. Things would have turned out quite differently for our moral philosophy if there were. What if, I said, we create new consciousnesses in our experiments with smart contracts? Even if we didn’t, what if the law decided it needed to treat smart contracts as having promisees, promisors, and beneficiaries and thereby concocting for them legal personhood? Would we have to contend with whether those persons had the same rights as natural persons? But the corporation is a person, he said. And then trailed off. I was left to ponder whether the distinction between natural and legal person would be something that could be tracked in a blockchain. How would we account for that?"

Bill Maurer Re-risking in Realtime: On Possible Futures for Finance after the Blockchain in BEHEMOTH A Journal on Civilisation (2016) Vol 9 Iss 2 

Money Wisdom #424

"Our watchwords will be real freedom and post-pilgrimage.

Stuff the country, we want our souls back.

Together and separately, we’re going to make empathy great again. So great.

Let us explore this world made alien and conspiracy-theoretical, seek spaces where the gaps and voids and contradictions and cosmopolitan canopies afford a variegated individual an escape from malevolent gazes. Seek out these spaces and share their presence with other postpilgrims; try to expand those spaces where freedom is possible; where personal preference (harming no one) can be expressed without algorithmic exploitation, where spiritual identity (that is exclusive of no one else’s) can be explored without dogma, and where we are free of that fake ‘freedom’ (of the Brexit, miserablist, resentful kind) which ‘frees’ us from our responsibility for each other. Nothing new here, but instead of legislating this liberalism, we should inscribe localised sites with it.

In Sidmouth (of all places) there is a “Dissenters Wall” outside an old protestant chapel, where people are invited to sit and share dissident opinions. Let us propagate such spaces invisibly; share maps of the less explicit and more accidental ones. To begin, nothing need change in these spaces but your understanding of them. Take your friends to visit them. I am talking here about the construction of a secret architecture, a giant glassy structure without glass, a structure of many imaginary structures, to all appearances transparent and non-existent, immense and wholly subjective, multiple in its forms – beginning with the Chapel Perilous of Robert Anton Wilson, with the giant invisible forms that appear at the end of Jeff Nichols’s movie ‘Midnight Special’, with the different kinds of ‘chorastic’ spaces described by Julia Kristeva and Elizabeth Grosz, and so on. One thing that held back the situationists in their opposition to the Spectacle was their hatred of art and image. The invisible post-pilgrimage that I am proposing, with its raising of a shared invisible architecture, is both more and less iconoclastic; for it is uninhibited about drawing on any art source, while shunning mimesis and leaving no exploitable trace of its own.

This post-pilgrimage is not an attempt at a counter-culture, but an invisible anti-empire that sits to the side of, or folded within the organism of, a living world of things about which we renounce all ideas of ownership.

This is not the poisoned and infected ground imagined by the conspiracy theory ruling class as beneath its dome; this is the imaginary and real terrain of a heaven in Earth, where the only god is an un-god (which remains godlike, a nothing or darkness within us from which all creativity comes). This heaven in Earth, where the abiding myth is of individual self-respect and realisation, is characterised by a quest, with excitement and self-discovery and queer treasures, and an obligation to the stranger; its sub-plot is the underpinning meshwork of empathy and care for others, hence the importance of the apparently un-magical world of democratic politics and national health and care services. Yet, whatever success there is in such planning there will always be cracks in which to begin building the invisible.

This world is wholly different from the one you fear; it is wholly different from the dull and stodgy materials of conspiracy, repeating over and over; rather, it is the generous seat of your quest."

Mytho Dreaming Invisible Things - A New Politics of Hope for Difficult Times (2017) link  pdf

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Money Wisdom #423

"Translating Heidegger [Being and Time] into the study of money, we can say that 'the primordial ontological basis for the existentiality of money is temporality'. This means that the reconfiguration of the temporal horizon of money itself, created by the proliferation of derivatives trading, is a reconfiguration of the ontology of money itself."

Ole Bjerg Making Money (2104) p.197

Monday, January 23, 2017

Money Wisdom #422

"An efficient interbank market has the ideological function of effacing the difference between commercial bank credit money and state-created fiat money. The unconditional willingness of the central bank to exchange central bank money for commercial bank credit money at the nominal value enables commercial bank credit money to circulate in the general economy as if it were indeed central bank money. The effacing of the difference between credit and fiat money is established through the myriad of ways in which the central bank accepts different kinds of credit and securities in exchange for central bank money. When the interbank market functions most efficiently, the central bank does not even have to actually perform these transactions. The mere commitment to doing so if needed is enough. The central bank's commitment to accepting credit money at the nominal value from any of the banks in the interbank network allows the banks to exchange credit among themselves at nominal value without considering the creditworthiness of each individual bank. As we have already noted, the central bank functions as a 'believer of the last resort', which allows each of the individual commercial banks to believe unconditionally in each other."

Ole Bjerg Making Money (2014) p. 180

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Money Wisdom #421

"Cash is the sublime object of the ideology of credit money."

Ole Bjerg Making Money (2014) p.140 

Money Wisdom #420

"Fractional reserve banking is constituted by a fundamental lack. This lack is veiled by the imaginary fantasy of convertibility. And as we know from Zizek, fantasy operates by producing precisely those effects in the real for which it serves to compensate. In the case of fractional reserve banking, the fantasy of convertibility produces the effect that credit money comes to function as if it were indeed real money endowed with real value, thus making the need for actual conversion redundant."

Ole Bjerg Making Money  (2014) p.139

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Money Wisdom #419

"The function of fantasy is to fill the opening in the Other, to conceal its inconsistency... ...Fantasy conceals the fact that the Other, the symbolic order, is structured around some traumatic impossibility, around something that cannot be symbolized."

Slavoj Zizek The Sublime Object of Ideology p.123 quoted in 
Ole Bjerg Making Money (2014) p.30

Money Wisdom #418

"Zizek often uses the terms 'imaginary', 'fantasy', and 'ideology' interchangeably. The function of the imaginary should not, however, be confused with the popular notion of ideology as a veil covering up the true state of reality. On the contrary, if we keep in mind the distinction between the real and reality, ideology is art of the very fabric of reality. In a key formulation, Zizek puts it this way:
Ideology is not a dreamlike illusion that we build to escape insupportable reality; in its basic dimension it is a fantasy-construction which serves as a support for our 'reality' itself: an illusion which structures our effective, real social relations and thereby masks some insupportable, real, impossible kernel... the function of ideology is not to offer us some point of escape from our reality but to offer us the social reality itself as an escape from some traumatic real kernel. (Zizek The Sublime Object of Ideology p.45)
The imaginary may indeed serve to cover up an underlying traumatic split, but the cover-up is an inherent part of the very functioning of reality. The imaginary is not a derivative form of ontological order, the neutralization of which would result in a state of truth. The truth does not reside somewhere behind or beyond the order of the imaginary, but in the very imaginary interweaving of the real and the fantasy of the market."

Ole Bjerg Making Money (2104) p.32

Monday, January 9, 2017

Money Wisdom #417

"The individual user of money does not have to believe in money as long as he believes that there are others who do believe and who will accept money in exchange of commodities or the settlement of debt. The individual user of money does not have to believe in money as long as he nevertheless acts as if he believes in money. In other words, money does not care if people believe in it. Perhaps it is money that believes in people rather than the other way around."

Ole Bjerg Making Money (2014) p. 110-1

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Money Wisdom #416

"The most curious thing about the contemporary philosophy of money is that it does not exist. This is perhaps a crude and arrogant postulate, since there are indeed a number of contemporary philosophers who write about money. Nevertheless, the philosophy of money is not an established field of research, and it is certainly not regarded as an obligatory part of a philosopher's education in the way that the philosophy of science, the philosophy of ethics, the philosophy of language, or the philosophy of art are. At best the philosophy of money resides at the margins of the discipline."

Ole Bjerg Making Money (2104) p.81

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Money Wisdom #415

"In the neoclassical account of financial markets, there is no gap between the symbolic and the real, between price and value. The market price is always already an accurate reflection of the value of the underlying asset.
Since there is no gap between the symbolic and the real, there is also need need for the order of the imaginary to manage the gap. Neoclassical finance is, seemingly, a theory without fantasy..."

Ole Bjerg Making Money (2014) p.54-5

Money Wisdom #414

“Truth lives, in fact, for the most part on a credit system. Our thoughts and beliefs ‘pass,’ so long as nothing challenges them, just as bank-notes pass so long as nobody refuses them. But this all points to direct face-to-face verifications somewhere, without which the fabric of truth collapses like a financial system with no cash-basis whatever. You accept my verification of one thing, I yours of another. We trade on each other’s truth. But beliefs verified concretely by somebody are the posts of the whole superstructure.” 

William James Pragmatism (1907) p.207-8

Money Wisdom #413

"Defining money in terms of the four functions [medium, measure, standard, store] is as misleading as answering the question 'What is a gun?' by saying, 'A gun is a thing that promotes peace by protecting innocent people'.

Ole Bjerg Making Money (2014) p.9

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Ramble around Ayache and Johnson in Finance and Society

Susie Dent, Rachel Riley, Carol Kirkwood just prior to coalescing into the fearsome Countdown Goddess

What made me decide to write this blog post?

I once read that the 'best blogs' have infrequent posts. I have a tendency to reverse cause and effect, so naturally I thought leaving a six month gap between the last post and this one would be a good strategy for making this a 'best blog'.

No. Not really. Even though it strikes me as a wholly reasonable strategy, it isn't why I've decided to write this post, now.

And, as a matter of fact, I did do one post at the beginning of December. It was up for about 8 hours or so, before I took it down. The post took my new commitment to spontaneity a step too far, giving (near) stream of consciousness consideration to the dangerous territory of sex and money and how they are related to ideas about purity. In it, I consider Marc Shell's brilliant essay 'The Want of Incest in the Human Family'. Somehow, and I think rather appropriately, that post is now 'forbidden' and we shall talk of it no more. (It appears in sublimated form in the Epilogue to TMBM 2nd ed)

So why, then? Why post now?

I'm not going to fob you off with stories of how busy I've been. I could talk about; Ben Nevis with The Staff (All Hail, The Staff !) The Cockpit Burn, Burning Issue The Special Edition, my talk at Finance and Society Conference, Money Magic in the City (video writing), the writing of The Money Burner's Manual Second Edition, and much more besides - all of have which have happened in the six months between posts. But each of those events is surely a reason to post, rather than not to post.

I was of course unfaithful to my blog too, posting a big piece on on the F23 Burning. (It handles images and videos better than Blogger and was just a better place to post a 'general reader' piece.)


Every now and then I get an urge to produce a finished piece that has a bit of polish to it. But, I also like to ramble on about money stuff, too. Those rambles were my favorite bit about this blog. Reading them might not have been an enormous pleasure, but writing them was fun. It's nice to have that sense of freedom and exploration. I'd noticed my rambles were tending to follow a similar pattern. They start off jauntily enough as I skip out of the car park looking forward with hope to a bracing walk through the metaphysics of money, but gradually they witness me get into difficulties on boggy ground. I'd veer off wildly, outside the specified landscape. I always struggled to give them any sense that I'd climbed a hill, or reached any sort of conclusion. Invariably, I just break the meandering narrative by claiming that we really should think a little more deeply about what money is - and that academics often fail to make the distinction between money and currency, and to do so might prove very helpful to them. I can't say this particular ramble will end any differently. But I do feel that because I've finished my book The Money Burner's Manual Second Edition I've shed a lot of weight. I certainly feel like I'm traveling more lightly, with less need to emphasize each point with a jabbing finger. We'll see how it goes.


Oh. I see. Well, because #23. I was reading the articles that the post is about ('about' in a roundabout sort of way) and in one Tim Johnson suggests the 23rd November 2020 as a date for two possible future events - an asteroid hitting New York and Tim's daughter becoming a world famous artist. I asked Tim why he chose that date, he said he couldn't remember. Then I watched this video. It's Elie Ayache on 23rd March 2011. 18 seconds into it, after he says that his talk is going to be spontaneous, he tells us that 'this' all started 23 years ago when he became a trader. He also talks about his first day on the stock exchange on the 19th October 1987 - the day of the great crash. That was also my birthday. The first day of my 23rd year on Earth.  A clustering of 23s within the place of this piece - within the landscape of the ramble - was why I decided to write this post, now. No BS. That is the genuine reason.

  • This post would not exist were those 23s not clustered around the materials considered within it.
  • This post exists in relation with those 23s clustered around the materials considered within it.
  • (WARNING: you may not like this one) The 23s clustered around the materials considered within this post, would not exist, if this post did not exist.

(If you really hate that last one try a softer 'space-time sensitive' version..... that this post is what gives meaning (VALUE) to the clustering of 23s, and without it, that meaning (VALUE) would not exist. I consider that VALUE is the ultimate reality, so the whole spacetime thing makes no odds to me.)


The new cross-disciplinary journal Finance and Society just recently put out Vol 2, No 2 Art and Finance. I hooked into its first edition last year. It was the article by Angus Cameron that I really enjoyed Where has all the money gone? Materiality, mobility, and nothingness (anything with 'money' and 'nothingness' in its title is a winner with me). The journal has also included pieces by Noam Yuran, Ole Bjerg, Max Haiven, Martin Konings all of whom have produced excellent work that has fallen under my eye at one time or another. Its also freely accessible, which is a major bonus for me. My admiration for the journal was exponentially compounded when Max invited me to speak at their conference, back in early November just gone.

The specific landscape of this ramble is three pieces that appear in the latest edition; a review by Tim Johnson of two books by Elie Ayache and Jon Roffe and their responses.

There's a lot that's good to be said for cross-disciplinary journals, but one problem is that some of the time the reader (i.e. me) can easily get lost, bamboozled and befuddled. It's tricky to balance in-depth technical writing about a specific subject with the accessibility required for that writing to appeal more broadly. But it is easier to find the thread again these days. Especially for those (like me) who are outside not only of the particular academic niche but also outside academia itself. I can't pop along the corridor to find a friendly probability theorist when I get stuck, but I can use google and youtube to help me unlock the meaning of 'stationary ergodic processes' or other secret incantations of the probability wizards. Reading and understanding journal articles like these is hard work, but it can be done.

My personal method to avoid glazing over and giving up when the work seems too hard, is to remind myself that the presentation of journal articles as dry technical statements of intellectual positions IS A MASSIVE CON TRICK. It's a misdirection so good, that even the conjurers themselves are fooled by it. Bankers use the same technique. For a start there's the long cumbersome, you're-gonna-have-to-be-real-smart-to-read-this titles; my personal favorite in this vein is 'O sacred hunger of pernicious gold! What bands of faith can impious lucre hold?' (European Journal of Sociology) by Geoffrey Ingham which might more succinctly have been titled 'A review of David Graeber's Debt.' There's those bracketed issue numbers, too. I guess academics persuade themselves that they are purely functional, in that they allow for accuracy in citation. But really? A date or title would do the trick just as well. The numbers in parenthesis give an added weight; they codify and enumerate 'the knowledge' in service of a process of abstraction. Ultimately this process will lead (every academic hopes) to the blessed citation; a fair and just price bestowed on their knowledge nuggets. This price is not merely talked up by the academic's peers, but it is set by the market, and it is therefore (we tend to think) real. And of course, talking of abstraction, that whole process of abstracting value from knowledge is reflected within the very opening paragraph (the abstract!!) of the article itself.

Then, there's the deification of authority and the power of legitimacy. (Harris, 2017) Putting names and dates in brackets after a statement is a terrible idea and we should all stop doing it immediately (and thereby help undermine the valuing of knowledge in terms of its citation price). But more important is to realize the bankruptcy of the moral code which wraps itself around authority and legitimacy. The thrust of this says 'it is right and proper to recognize on whose shoulders we stand.'  But this is always, at its core, a political action. An appearance of subservience. It certainly might feel like a moral action. We might fool ourselves that it is - that it recognizes some form of divine copyright over ideas. But it feels good because it enables us to bathe in the reflected glory of the Gods (whom we ourselves create with these very actions). Even when we challenge their authority, we are involved in a battle that empowers us. The Gods on whose shoulders we stand don't care. They've left the game and gave up their ownership of those knowledge nuggets long ago.

Those cumbersome titles, numerical codes, and subservience to authority all serve to chisel the specificity and exclusivity of journals to a fine point - a crossing of spears between reader and the meaning.

But the truth about journal articles - the wizard behind the curtain, the card up the sleeve, the angle of the con - is that they are imbued with as much sex and death as any tabloid expose. The dry technical exposition of intellectual positions is just the window dressing. And sometimes, as with the three articles mentioned here (and with the series of journal articles I mention later), sex and death are plainly visible.

[Remember, I say all this as a massive academic fan-boy.]


If we can't even imagine the possibility that some event will happen, then it happens, did its possibility really exist or not?

It's impossible to give an example of what I mean. Whatever I imagine, will have existed as a possible imagining by virtue of the fact that I imagined it. (According to the usual 'spacetime cause/effect' way of thinking, anyway). We're not talking here about imagining impossible events, we're talking essentially about events that are impossible to imagine.

But let's try anyway. See where it gets us.

I imagine that Carol Kirkwood, Susie Dent and Rachel Riley are somehow transported from my television, where they're doing Countdown as I write this, to deliver a quiet knock at my front door. I imagine opening my door to find them in their slinky TV studio attire shivering in the cold, desperate to cup their hands around the base of something hot before placing it between their quivering red-lipstick lips and letting the warm liquid fill their eager mouths to satiate that most common of (British) desires.


I wait. I even put the kettle on and warm the pot as a method of invocation. But there is no knock. I guess the event was very unlikely to happen. But very unlikely is not impossible. The clustering of 23s that persuaded me to write this ramble was very unlikely. And yet it still exists.

Perhaps, I should try harder. Imagine something that's really impossible, rather than something that's practically impossible. How about something like Carol Kirkwood, Susie Dent and Rachel Riley coalescing to form a Goddess who reaches out through the TV, literally rips out my heart, and presents it to me still beating, as I die and orgasm simultaneously? Does that event exist as a possibility? And if so, how does its possibility compare to Carol Kirkwood, Susie Dent and Rachel Riley knocking at my door in want of a cup of tea? That massively unlikely event now seems almost 'reasonable to anticipate' compared to the manifestation of the Countdown Goddess.

[I don't feel such a fool putting the kettle on now.]

My choice of Carol Kirkwood, Susie Dent and Rachel Riley as mediators of the possible and impossible hopefully makes the point that all observed 'events' and their possibilities occur within a psycho-sexual landscape. This is true for the most distant collisions of the most distant celestial bodies, because our knowledge of them is necessarily mediated through our consciousness (which long before the Church of Reason was built was formed by the shifting tectonic plates of the psycho-sexual). As Bataille said, 'eroticism, could no more be isolated from the reflection of the universe in the mind, than [the mind] could be isolated from eroticism'. (Bataille like to distinguish between the erotic and the sexual, but let's skip over that bit.)

The point that all three articles in Finance and Society seem to cluster around, is that probability is born from price and our attempts to understand it. Ayache is concerned with the price of derivatives; that is, the price of a contract that is abstracted from some underlying asset. Johnson is concerned with how probability arose from what were initially moral and theological attempts to understand price; because of the aversion to interest, medieval scholars tried to arrive at a concept of a 'just price' that would offer a fair return against any risks assumed by entrepreneurs. Later, as the scientific world view developed, the intellectual (and practical) challenge of defining fixed odds gambling games led to probability theory. Roffe is really concerned with digging down into the metaphysics. He is less concerned with the historical sequencing and more with the ontological positions of probability and price.

Johnson, Ayache and Roffe all seem to be orbiting the same planet. As their thoughts close in on it though, they generate a lot of friction and heat. According to both Ayache and Roffe, Johnson cannot read their books without deep misunderstandings, and according to Johnson, both Ayache and Roffe make some very basic errors in their approach. How is this - to... er.... coin a phrase - possible? All are expert in theories of probability. Up in orbit, as their thoughts flow free of the planet's gravity, their three 'imagined probability worlds' coexist peacefully. As their orbits descend and those thoughts are more fully immersed in the media of written language they glow red and expand (!). And then finally when their feet are fully on the ground, when they make their displays and parade their positions, a violence (of sorts) erupts. The words 'limited scholarship', 'misreading, and 'failure to grasp' are hurled like rocks.

What's going on here? Is one of the three an impostor? Someone who claims to have knowledge of probability theory but is actually a dunce or a chancer? Or is there something else going on? Has the gravity of the planet pulled them into a psycho-sexual landscape* which is effecting their thoughts and their interactions?

Well, of course it has. It is the medium of our being.

And think about it. The alternative is worse. The alternative is (a) that two books written on probability cannot be read and understood by someone who teaches that subject at the highest level, or (b) that two books written on probability by writers of held in high academic regard have got their subject wrong. If either (a) or (b) is true, then what chance have you or I got when we read?

[*I'll come back to the psycho-sexual landscape and its difficulties later. Don't get too het up about it for now. Although it'd be fun, this won't turn into a piece of homo-erotic academic fan fiction so don't worry.]

[Disclosure: I've been a fan of Tim Johnson's blog for a good few years now. We share an admiration in particular for the work of Joel Kay and Richard Seaford and (I think) we both believe it is very important in dealing with money and finance to try and properly understand the historical context in which our conceptions and theories about it arose.]


In Confidence Games Mark C. Taylor considers the avant-guard art world's fascination with abstraction and considers its relation to the abstraction of financial products.

'Industrial and information technologies transform life by creating abstract economic processes and dematerializing financial instruments. Throughout much of the twentieth century, art follows a parallel course: as art becomes more abstract and progressively dematerialized, it becomes further and further removed from the everyday world. The aesthetic equivalent of religious transcendence is the autonomy of the work of art. This autonomy, we have seen, is expressed in the self referentiality of l'ouvre d'art, which mirrors the self-reflexivity of capital. At the moment when abstraction seems complete, however, everything changes. Just as the transcendence of God reaches a tipping point at which in inverts itself and becomes a radical immanence, so artistic abstraction eventually reverses itself and reengages the world'. (p.117-118)

(Taylor then proceeds to point out that Simmel said as much in The Philosophy of Money back in 1907)

The fifth of Alan Moore's five choices for creative writers is 'to create a narrative so complex and self-referential that it becomes to all intents and purposes alive.'  

Ayache argues that the price of the notoriously complex financial object 'the derivative' is, infact, the base 'material' for the mathematical machinations which orbit it. 

Isn't there a symmetry here? Something shared between the theological, artistic and econo-mathematical? That when something becomes sufficiently complex it passes some threshold of becoming*. Past that threshold is it no longer an abstraction or representation, it simply is (it's sovereign). This idea of increasing complexity giving rise to sovereignty is counter-intuitive. Being within the is, we experience this immense complexity, in the simplest of ways. Of all we do, simply being is the easiest. And yet, the moment we seek to understand being - or more specifically to have knowledge of being - that is outside of our own being, we are faced with a mystery of infinite complexity. The thing in itself is unknowable to us.

[*obvs.... I could veer off here into biological conceptions of life and complexity, but I'm staying ramble focused.]


Alongside 'sex and money', there has been another theme that has consistently eluded my abilities to write about it. It relates specifically to money burning and probability and its the idea that in burning money we create a certain moment of uncertainty.

The thought and phrase 'a certain moment of uncertainty' popped into my head while I was watching the Bill Drummond interview with Gay Byrne (from about 12 minutes). It's never gone away, but I've never managed to give it proper exposition either. Bill and Gay were arguing about whether, when Bill & Jimmy burned a million quid, any loaves of bread or apples were lost. Bill says no. Gay say yes, because there could have been more. As I listened to them talk, essentially revisiting the Hayekian/Keynesian debate on men being paid to dig holes and then fill them in again (does this create economic value or not?), it occurred to me that what Bill and Jimmy had done by burning a million quid was create to a moment of certain uncertainty.

In other words, money burning creates maximum (or maybe radical) uncertainty; a level of uncertainty so great (or pure?) that assigning a probability to any contingent event is impossible.

[Actually, I'm going with pure radical uncertainty. I know financial economists have already collared radical uncertainty and no-doubt they've tried to specify its meaning, but I like it, and I gonna use it and define it myself. And pure I like, too. Its got a big link to sex and incest (sorry, that was in the forbidden post) and to currency, as well. I'll mention that later.]

Let me ramble on the ridge between the literal and the metaphysical for a moment.

Money burning literally creates pure radical uncertainty in the sense that there can no further economic knowledge attached to the currency destroyed; no further transactions can be recorded (around it*).

At the metaphysical level money burning is a radical change to possibility (or maybe a radicalizing of possibility). The sacrificial destruction of currency is anathema to economic models of human behavior. Nothing in economic logic accounts for it. It opens up a metaphysical vista, that was previously in the shadow of nihilism. The fact of me burning my money every now and then, means that any credit report on me should - if it wanted to be accurate - account for the possibility that I might just decide to burn the lot. This is akin to imagining the impossible. The entire logic of capitalism denies the possibility of money burning. And yet.

My musings on pure radical uncertainty - or certain uncertainty - generally stumble here as I start to cross between the metaphysical and the literal. Perhaps, I just don't know enough about probability and uncertainty to be sure-footed. Or maybe, it's something else. If I burn a note, the money is dead to me and anyone else who would have used it in exchange. But it is still alive on the books of the Central Bank. (I have contacted the Bank of England about various burnings to see what they'd do, but they never get back to me - I suppose what they should do technically is mark the debt on their books as paid, but of course this would require them to have certain knowledge that a note is destroyed and I guess my 'record of burn' in insufficient). Currency then, once burned, seems to exist in a quantum world of being both simultaneously dead and alive.

All the conclusions I've drawn then about pure radical uncertainty seem undermined by this quantum state. The question arises, in burning money have I actually done anything? (Other than deprive myself of its use). This is where I have to defer to Ritual. It's where I accept the limits of knowledge and say, that my sovereign experience - my being - recognizes money burning as a profound event. This forms my perception of the world - it is my reality tunnel. And ultimately I believe that my metaphysical commitment to what I experience within ritual is why - despite the problems I have tracing a logical/rational path - I recognized within Bill & Gay's argument, and within money burning itself, there is some radical change in the possible; certainty and uncertainty are simultaneously 'expanded to their maximum' within the act of destroying currency.

* this requires a little bit of explanation. We are experiencing an increase in the ability to record who pays how much to whom with the advent of digital technology. Cash is thought of as the most anonymous payment method. And yet, we could still, if we choose to, associate each transaction with each note. That possibility exists. There are historical examples of criminals being traced through the serial numbers of stolen notes. A state with sufficient resources, power and technologies has always had the ability to subvert the anonymity associated with cash. And its not difficult at all, to imagine a future where each note has a chip implanted that will create a data point each time it enters and leaves some defined financial system. But when we destroy cash, we destroy all those possibilities for knowledge.

[The other thing about that video is that when asked 'Do you believe in God' by Gay, Bill says 'Of course' and Jimmy says 'Yes'. Jimmy seems to me a little less certain of his answer than Bill. I'm not actually very comfortable with the question being asked. Especially given that this was Ireland in the 1990's which was a good deal more religious that the UK. Its not the sort of question you should ask if it puts someone on the spot - so its not really a fair question to ask in a televised interview IMO.]


Probability is the mathematical technology and/or medium of choice, for econo-mathematicians who seek to make predictions about, and/or acquire knowledge of, socio-economic processes. What is forgotten is the ideas about spacetime & cause/effect that underlie probability technologies have a reflexive relation with the socio-economic processes to which they are applied. Moreover, that relation sits at an ontological and epistemological depth that cannot be captured mathematically or linguistically. This unreachable, unknowable nether-world is the landscape of socio-economic processes. It is the mystery and magic of being itself. This act of forgetting the landscape, or of confusing map for territory, is then supported by denial when the landscape reasserts its immanent reality. This is when we find executives of financial firms talking about 7-sigma events and the like. Or, central bankers talking about 'Michael Fish' moments.

In short, forgetting and denial leads to the following contraction: 'This is the best answer we have available, according to econo-mathematic reasoning, although socio-economic processes don't work according to econo-mathematic reasoning' becomes 'This is the best answer'.

Various philosophies have sought to challenge the techno-scientific/material dominance in the production of knowledge of socio-economic processes. These philosophies cluster around the idea that there can be no clear distinction between observer and participant and, to put it more plainly, that as far as socio-economic processes go, there can be no objective position. We are all in the game. Postmodernism and pragmatic models generally though, tend in my view, to create a cumbersome and difficult-to-read map of the metaphysical territory of socio-economic processes. And, even though they are accepted as gospel truth within some humanities-based academic disciplines, they are still regarded with derision by the 'natural sciences', and so they ultimately fail in their challenge to techno-scientific/material dominance

Running concurrently with problems of how we think about socio-economic processes, is the question of how we value our experiences within them, how academia values experience as it relates to knowledge production, and more broadly the position of empiricism in a reality that - at the most fundamental level described by physics - seems to declare our very perception of the world around us as a transient fantasy.

As far as our debate about probability goes, both Ayache and Johnson clearly value their early experiences outside academia, and those experiences impinge upon and inform the views they put forward. Surely it is right to value experiential understanding in claims to knowledge about socio-economic processes? If so, as a consequence we must accept that science/academia's understanding of socio-economic processes exists within those social processes themselves - that science/academia's institutional experience is part of the value of the knowledge it produces. And, moreover, that the value of knowledge, and the knowledge itself, are inseparable - in other words, institutional experience resides within knowledge, itself.

This is a problem not just manifesting at the surface where we hear academics complaining how grant allocation skews research interests, but it is deep down within the scientific/academic claim to knowledge, itself. The observer/participant problem always sits lumpy underneath any epistemological wallpaper. The important effect of this, is that each time academia redecorates, it just covers over the same lumps with a different philosophical wallpaper. Academia's answer to the question 'What do we do about the world? will always tend to return the world to the same state, the state which prompted the asking the question in the first place. Because being asked 'What do we do about the world' gives academia its reason to be. Without some connection to that question it is an irrelevance - academic in the worse sense of the word. Like all institutions, academia re-generates itself by attempting to create a reality in which it is valued. It does this subconsciously and well as consciously. That reality is one in which - above all else - the question 'What do we do about the world' will be asked of it once again.

Therefore, academia is itself a recurring aspect of what's wrong with the world (as well as what's right with it).


I've been meaning to publish a piece on the debate that took place in Sociology in the noughties around the conceptualization of money and currency (between, Nigel Dodd, Geoffrey Ingham, Viviana Zelizer, Costas Lapavistas, and Ben Fine). I devoted a chapter to it - Purity, Precision and Perfection - in The Money Burner's Manual. I think its a really important debate. So much so, that even given all the objections I've raised in this ramble, I'm thinking I should edit the chapter into a more straightforward academic account of the debate itself and publish it in my empty account.

Aside from lack of time, one thing that's stopped me doing this (I actually wrote the original piece a couple of years ago) is that it's a real bruiser of a debate. Johnson Vs Ayche/Roffe looks friendly by comparison. So to really get into it - and to follow through with my metaphysical commitment to the unconscious and to recognize that the psycho-sexual impacts upon and is the medium of consciousness - I'd have to find a way to deal with the fact that the final showdown of the debate occurs between Geoffrey Ingham Professor of Sociology at Christ Collage Cambridge and his former PHD student Nigel Dodd, Professor of Sociology at the LSE. Then additionally, drawn into the final showdown directly is Dodd's other PHD supervisor the late David Frisby. The final battle takes place around Simmel's conception of money. Frisby was the foremost expert on Simmel.

[I'll talk in a minute about how actually doing this - actually following through with my metaphysical commitment to the unconscious and recognizing that the psycho-sexual impacts upon and is the medium of consciousness - is impossible. Some things cannot be said.]

While I'm reminded of that debate, it occurs to me there is a symmetry with the landscape I'm rambling through here. (Remember this is at the end of a debate that occurred over 6 years in various journals). The denouement centered around Simmel's conception of money. (Hence, you can see why Frisby's contribution was so important). Ingham claims that money (in Simmel's view) is a 'working fiction'. Dodd claims that money (in Simmel's view) is a 'conceptual fiction'. The important difference is that for Ingham 'working' means that money requires 'an authority' - it requires a social structure for its existence. Whereas Dodd claims that 'authority' is not essential - money requires merely 'an unconscious equivalence' (between the total amount of goods and the total amount of money).

Perhaps I'm trapped within my own peculiar psycho-sexual grooves, but isn't that a little like the difference between Carol, Susie, and Rachel knocking at my door ('working') and the elemental Countdown Goddess ('conceptual')? 'Working fiction' (Ingham) seems more rooted in or constrained by material reality, whereas 'conceptual fiction' (Dodd) has a much broader scope of possibilities. For Ingham the possible is constrained by the actual, whereas for Dodd the actual is created by the possible. Money as a 'conceptual fiction' is certainly much more amenable to magical thinking and so it allows us to newly re-imagine the possible and so create the actual anew (in short we would have to find a way to unlock that 'unconscious equivalence' - I'd suggest burning money would be a good start.)

[Disclosure: I'm a big fan of Nigel Dodd. I think his The Social Life of Money is the best book on theories of money ever written. He's also been extremely kind and encouraging to me, personally. In the Ingham/Dodd dispute over Simmel, I side with Dodd (although, I'd maintain that has to do with my commitment to the unconscious as much as it does any sense of loyalty/reciprocity). However, all sides in the Johnson/Ayache/Roffe debate would do well to consider Ingham's insight in The Nature of Money (it's my favorite line from his book) "The very idea of money, which is to say, of abstract accounting for value, is logically anterior and historically prior to market exchange." (p.25). I discuss this at length in Intent and Intentionality, Money and Currency where I point out that the universally accepted view (which is fundamentally a Hayekian view of money) is that the ontology runs markets>price>money. I think this is wrong (and of course I place money as primary). It is encouraging to see that this ontological categorization is central to Ayache and Roffe's exploration of probability. ].


What we (as in the human family) need much more than the next academic claim to knowledge about socio-economic process - more than another secret unlocked by behavioral economics or mystery solved by econo-mathematical speculation - is a new way of interacting and co-existing with socio-economic processes. We want that to happen now. Not later. We don't want it to be dependent upon or arise as a consequence of some apocalyptic struggle to overthrow/rearrange the current politico-military power structures.

At an individual level we want to find a third option beyond either (a) stepping outside the socio-economic processes and then directing all our destructive energy back towards it, or (b) staying within the system and being co-opted by it.

My choice - at the individual level - is to explore money through ritual.

Sacrificial ritual, as has become apparent to me, is not a ritual of exchange. It is something else out of which exchange grew. If you really believe in the God of your Ritual (or simply believe in power of the ritual itself) then its very apparent that the notion that its an exchange is absurd. What the hell could God/the universe/Gaia want, that you have? Sacrificial ritual is not exchange. It is tribute. It's an offering without expectation of return. Such notions offend evolutionary psychology and economics models who would prefer to place us as self-interested agents within a defined system.

But we don't want to be part of those models anymore. And to manifest that as a reality we must perform actions that puts us outside them.*

Ritual is such an originating part of who we are a species of being, that not to explore it for its own sake (and, at an individual level, seek fulfillment through it) seems wrong. Money burning offers itself as a powerful connection to the sacrificial understanding which were the originating moments around which society, civilization and the subsequent socio-economic processes, formed. Understanding inheres within the Ritual itself. Ritual is the primary medium. Destruction of currency in ritual is undeniably adding a new dimension to modern economic life.

[There is anthropological evidence of tribal societies who organised exchange, and relations more generally, around 'destroying currency' (in whatever form that took, cattle, canoes, etc). But this is not so for modern capitalist societies for whom currency is venerated and waste is demonized.]

*Of course we are constantly taking actions that define us as something other than homo economicus my point is that those actions don't challenge or confront the socio-economic landscape - and our consciousness - in the way that ritualized money burning does.


Years ago I was involved in an online experiment to do with 'organisational psycho-dynamics'. The idea was to create a space where we could interact freely. There was no set agenda, other than a general belief that everyone participating had an interest in psychoanalysis and/or psycho-dynamics. As the group progressed, and talked about this and that, people would psychoanalyze other's contributions. 'Fred said that because he was projecting etc.....' This drove people nuts. They would then psychoanalyze those, who'd psychoanalyzed them. And this would spiral into nastiness. In the end, the moderator (who'd been very keen to just observe) was forced to split the group into two - a group which talked amongst themselves about issues from a psycho-dynamic perspective, and then a second group which analyzed the first. The experiment ended soon after.

'You're only saying that because.....' is a verbal incendiary bomb.

What use then is it for me to point out that the arguments that take place on the pages of academic journals are within a mindscape terra-formed by psycho-sexual energies? Nothing can be said about it specifically because once said, whatever is said, becomes part of the discourse. And, what is said inevitably opens up a vortex. It invites a psychoanalysis upon itself.

The answer is of course, that its no use. However skilled, any psychoanalysis, of a heated debate like the one in the pages of Finance and Society or the Currency/Money Debate, would simply have added fuel to the fire. If you doubt this, I advise you to read some of the correspondence between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Or just, next time you have a row with your partner, say 'You're only saying that because......'.

But an appreciation or realization of psycho-dynamics - rather than its use - is what's important. Whatever we do, whatever we claim to know, and however we are, all take place within a psycho-sexual landscape. It's this realization that's important. AND ULTIMATELY THIS IS A SELF REALIZATION. It is not only about Johnson and Ayche realizing how some particular claim they made has been molded by their unconscious, its about me realizing that in the act of reading I too am also chained to the psycho-sexual. We must weigh this SELF-REALIZATION more heavily in our claims to knowledge and at a greater ontological and epistemological depth, than any econo-mathematical reasoning that happens to supports such claims to knowledge. In our sense of who we are, our sense of sovereignty, we do this anyway.

I wrote a line in The Money Burner's Manual: 'the paradox of sovereign knowledge is the base material of economics'. It approaches the idea that you can never know what it feels like to be me and I can never know what it feels like to be you. And it recognizes that knowledge and sovereignty are incompatible at a fundamental level. When we say 'I know myself', we are not placing that 'knowledge' above the sovereignty that recognizes it.

Economics sets itself the task of bridging the divide between sovereignty and knowledge. The bridge is built with both material and aesthetic sensibilities. Real world economics (i.e. the application of academic economics) is both science and art. Perhaps this explains why economics produces such a huge volume of journal articles. It gives those who apply economic knowledge the broadest pallet with which to paint their picture of the world. But in all its forms economics casts sovereignty as self-interest, and then continually modifies itself to account for empirical evidence that we don't actually act as self-interested agents.

It is understandable that people (younger folks especially) believe that the solution to this problem of resisting our naming as (and becoming of) homo economicus is first to re-imagine the discipline of economics itself and then to engage in political actions which seek to realize a society that reflects those values of resistance. I think that in doing this we are just repeating patterns of 'economic thinking' (by 'economic thinking' I mean 'that which has taken form in the human mind since sacrificial ritual created THE FIRST THING and since currency was born first as a psycho-sexual event and then as a material object). I prefer to imagine the day when 'political ends as sad remains will die' and to focus my energies on re-imagining civilization through the medium of its creation, namely sacrificial ritual.


I have rather given academia and academic journals a hard time here, haven't I? I've said, basically that all journals are a fundamentally flawed con trick and that academia helps re-create all the bad in the world as a means to justify its continued existence. Sorry. You realize, of course, that my revulsion with academia is simply my desire restated. I do love academia, really. And - in all seriousness - my interactions with academics themselves over the years has been overwhelmingly positive. But the production of knowledge about money and money itself are utterly entwined, and so having a little pick at that knot seems fair enough in my book. Plus, I don't have a vice chancellor to fear. I can say what I like.

I don't read journals and academic texts to seek out academic support to conceptualize my money burning activities. And I don't burn money to 'explore' an academic understanding. I try to do each for its own ends. Obviously this is an impossibility. And the real relation between the understanding that arises through ritual, and the understanding gleaned from academia is incestuous. Each informs the other. But - as is witnessed by the reason d'etre of this very post - there are ways of experiencing that incestuous relation that sanctify it. Writing this because of a clustering of 23's helps ensure that it doesn't become function of some other purpose or agenda.

Money burning is a negation of function and so is a negation of the dominant conceptualization of money.

I mentioned that Marc Shell piece earlier. You know medieval theologians had a terrible time of it. There they were setting the incest boundaries - deciding that second cousin was okay, but first cousin was a crime against God. When all along their faith told them that we are - literally - all brothers and sisters. All blood lines can be traced back to Adam and Eve. How are you supposed to square that with 'Go forth and multiply!'

At the centre of all creation is not purity, but purification.
(I know I don't approve of names in parenthesis but it was Walter Benjamin said that)

Money burning is an action of forgiving, of purification. It is never pure. The ritual is never quite right. It always results from a series of conscious actions by the burner, and so its sovereignty can always be brought into question. But within the act, of giving without receiving, is contained the kernal of pure forgiveness (which is an impossibility). Whatever imperfections are woven into ritual to make it accessible to its participants, are forgiven by the act itself.


I always used to end my rambles with a quote - usually after saying something like 'academics need to better distinguish between money and currency to help them properly conceptualize money's ontological depth'. Why change a wining formula?

I'm a little way into Ole Bjerg's Making Money. I know a little Lacan (found him tricky to understand) and virtually no Zizek. As Ole's conceptualization of money, price and value is based on Zizek's metaphysics (which is based on Lacan), his book is already opening up new lines of thought for me. But I'll save review and analysis for a later time.

I noticed the following on page 32. Which isn't quite 23, but you must admit there's a symmetry. I'll quote it Norman O Brown style, remixing it, adding stuff from others and some of my own bits.

'... this knowledge [that the market is ultimately made up of individual trades] is suppressed in order for us to conceive of the price fluctuations as expressions of the market'. Somethings must remain unspoken. '...the hypothesis of human monogenesis - the belief that all men and women are descended in common from a single couple - ..mean[s] that any and all sexual liaisons [are] incestuous. That kinship back to any known or knowable degree makes sexual relationships incestuous was thus a frequent view of the church.' 'The secular culture of Christendom... ...generally resists investigation of its own kinship structure as a hypostatic be-all. And certainly the temptation is... forget the want [lack of, and desire for] of incest... ...implicit in the interrelated doctrines of universal siblinghood and the Holy Family ' '...the symbolic order [the fantasy of the market] is structured around some traumatic impossibility around something that cannot be symbolized.' 'Symbolism is polymorphous perversity' 'Ideology is not a dreamlike illusion that we build up to escape insupportable reality; in its basic dimension it is a fantasy construction which serves as a support for our reality itself; an illusion which structures our effective, real social relations and thereby masks some insupportable, real, impossible kernal...' 'The imaginary is not a derivative form of ontological order, the neutralization of which would result in a state of truth. The truth does not reside somewhere behind or beyond the order of the imaginary, but in the very imaginary interweaving of the real and the symbolic.' 'Pure token money [the ideal of money and the fantasy of modern finance] is not... ...reducible to sovereign [i.e. state] money of account. Pure token money is a conceptual fiction, not an institutionalised working fiction.' Money is the medium of magic. 'Knowledge is carnal knowledge, a copulation of subject and object'. Money is the AND between the ONE and the many.

Ole Bjerg Making Money; Slavo Zizek The Sublime Object of Ideology; Marc Shell The Want of Incest in the Human Family; Marshall McLuhan Gutenberg Galaxy; Nigel Dodd On Simmel's Pure Concept of Money; Norman Brown Love's Body. Words outside quotation marks are mine. Emphasis is mine.



I ain't sexist but.....

Seeing as I've been banging on about how we each need to recognize that we exist within a psycho-sexual medium, there is a bit of an elephant in the room. In this piece I only mention one woman; Viviana Zelizer (in relation to the currency/money debate). Her most well known contribution is The Social Meaning of Money and I gave it a bit of hard time when reviewing it. I'm a little ashamed, if I'm honest. Long story short, I read and reviewed her book not long after I split up with Sally. I still maintain that my critique is valid, but you know, its likely that I was just being a bit of a dick, too. I could have said what I said, differently.

I could also have mentioned Lisa Adkins, Ute Tellmann, Marcia Klotz who I saw present excellent papers on the cutting edge of how we conceptualize money (Lisa and Ute on money and time, Marcia on money and utopia). I might have told you how many women attended the Cambridge #ArtMoneyCrises conference and how it was brilliantly organised by a couple of girls (I'm allowed to say 'girls') who were around my daughter's age. But I didn't do any of that. I just focused on three blokes having a fight and included a picture of three women about whom I have a sexual fantasy. Sorry, lady readers.

But it really does all go to prove my two key points: 1) that we are each of us trapped within the terrain of our psycho-sexual landscape, and 2) that therefore making an act of forgiving a point of origination within each of our lives, is a rather good idea.

Oh, hang on someone's knocking at the door..... best end it there.