08.15.16 | Money

Everybody has money.  Everybody uses money.  You all have some of it, or you wouldn’t be here, enjoying the fruits of our civilization, and of this coming City Club luncheon.  But what is Money?  ‘Money’ as a whole is not the product of any one man, but a society. It can be used by anyone, transferred freely to anyone, used without instruction or translation, so long as one pays the fee to convert one currency to another.  

How and why do we use money? What is our relationship to money, as individuals and as a society, and how can we shift this relation in the service of the whole?  Seen one way, money is like a liquid permeating civilization, irrigating the fields of individuals after their toils so that more energy can be harvested. The most efficient harvesters of energy are theoretically rewarded.

Money is also an emanation of the human creative potential, made manifest in physical form, which every person can recognize. It is desire-energy, the ability to consummate one's desires, and to weight and transfer one's desires to another without needing to share the same values.

We didn't always have money.  The first system of resource allocation was a sort of meager socialism. Humans evolved to support tribe sizes of 50-150 people, because that was the amount of people the environment could bear, and that was the amount of relationships our sapien brains evolved to hold.  Most peoples' jobs were related to food gathering - a system of goodwill, where personal reputation and group politics mattered intensely in order for you to be trusted enough to get your meal.

Over the past 10,000 years, we've seen the development of both agriculture and village economies, from a few hundred to a few thousand people, which operated largely as a bartering culture. On the plus side, the identities of the craftsmen and professional ties were stronger, but relative to today, your profession was literally who you were - as it was the single key to you getting access to food, and your association with yourself as a job gave you a group identity, and access to good trading deals.
The development of the nation-state brought a more abstract form of group identity, and a more abstract container of value: money. Money started the with gold and silver coins of the ancient world to paper money, stocks and bonds, credit cards and debit cards to transfer energy reserves virtually, and instantaneously traded etheric currencies like Bitcoin.  These are all streams of the same development.

Some of the benefits of money as a vessel of energy:

Money supports a larger group size. This in turn allows for a less rigid division of labor, organizing socially necessary tasks by relative skill and the human desire for the social product, rather than by archaic systems like central management, caste systems where professions were allocated, or slave systems where laborers were a form of capital.

The greatest freedom money gives us is that we can now choose our professions. People couldn't choose to be 'king' or 'queen,' or to be born into the priest class. And while there are still entrenched advantages for those born into money, the current system is vastly preferable to those which came before, allowing far greater diversity and freedom.  Yet, with this choice of professions, the social safety net is dissolved.  Success or failure is attributed to the individual

Money allows energy it to be more securely transacted, and with plastic and virtual currencies, password protected, so that it can't be simply stolen like a physical good. Money is tied to a personal, rather than a tribal or professional identity. This has enormous implications for the human condition, and has introduced massive freedoms into our society.

In past eras, this power was borne by the tribal leaders who governed by force and their mastery over the will of the group. In early human society, this position was held by either military warlords, kings, or priests, generally male, who supervised the function of the transfer of wealth or had ownership rights over social connection and trade. As a greater percentage of human energy can be traded within the group society and converted into all-purpose energy, the people at the top of society - central bankers, stock traders, CEOs - who supervise the transfer of energy and own the processes which monitor the exchange of this energy, gain more power. People rebel against this, seeking a subtler exchange of energy, and it is natural to do so. Yet money is also the most ethical means of gross energy transfer mankind has yet devised. In order to move past it, we must look carefully at its limitations.

Since money is an extension of the human social group body which enables us to grow beyond the 50-150 members supported by the natural evolution of the human brain, we can see it as an essential structure of our collective body, enabling larger groups to exchange resources with greater efficiency. Money is literally the gross aspect of the nourishing cytoplasm of our civilization's collective cell, nourishing all the organelles of our society by acting as a substance for resource transfer.

Yet, there are drawbacks for money too. We need only look to the isolation prevalent in American culture, and the unhappiness that can bring, and contrast that with the pleasant, sparse tribalism of native cultures.  The use of money as an intermediary in human energetic transactions can, and so often does, bring people further from one another, leading them to distrust deep intimacy with one another and grow wary of commodification.

Money can lead people to pursue accumulation of resources rather than their most creative passion, focusing on lowest-common-denominator products which can scale to a larger audience, rather than passionate, personal creations with a narrower market value.  Both our mass-market culture and our increasingly low-brow democracy are negative testaments to the devolution which can coincide with a larger market.

Money has long failed in supporting truly new forms of creative expression, which has traditionally fallen to patrons of the arts to personally extend to individuals.  Research and development are incredibly important to our survival as a culture, yet capitalism tends to support established technologies and modes of expression, and monopolies can often restrict the emergence of new modes of life in protecting their profit models.

Archimedes said, 'give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the world.' Money is such a lever – In order to use it to move society, we must frame a clear view of what money is, and its relation to who we are, and form a clear goal of how to deploy that energy for the benefit of the group body. If our use of money is restricting our development, how can we use the lever of money more effectively?

So my question to you, is what are the limitations of money, and how can we use it more intelligently, compassionately, and effectively for the growth and evolution of civilization?  Where does money ideally suit our needs as a civilization for energetic exchanges and value transfers, and what areas can we evolve beyond reliance on money as an intermediary in human exchange?  I look forward to growing in discussion with you all!

Duncan Horst

Steve SmithComment