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 medium.com on the F23 Burning. (It handles images and videos better than Blogger and was just a better place to post a 'general reader' piece.)

BUT WHY DO A BLOG POST NOW?

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.

BUT WHY NOW? (FFS)

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.)

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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.]

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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.]

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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.]

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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.]

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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).

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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 Academia.edu 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. ].

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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... ...to 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.

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Postscript

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.

-END-

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