Thursday, 26 March 2009

867 - Wild Money

I'm riffing on Jay Griffith's books, Pip Pip (which I've just started) and Wild (which was a beautiful and formative read a year back). Also a post I wrote near the start of the blog, and the pressure I place myself under, from time to time, to justify what I do in monetary terms - which is a question to do, I think, with identity.

In Pip Pip Jay writes about cultural perceptions of Time. She juxtaposes the abstract measurement of time favoured by the West, all clockwork and binary, with the innate sense of time we carry within us. The sense that is wild, and therefore of a piece with the rest of Nature, that monitors where we are in time by our hunger patterns, the impact of light on skin, the buzz and birdsong of other lives around us. Abstraction, she argues, seems thin by comparison.

Much of what she argues is concerned with the politics of cultural driving forces, and therefore that other abstraction, money. She quotes the 'miserable' Benjamin Franklin, who made the link explicitly: "time is money". And what I'm wondering is (and probably in her book she gets to this, but I've not read it yet), is there, therefore, such a thing as wild money?

I like my idea about money being a work battery, abstracted from the sheer sweaty bulk of a sack of produce (or the time taken to harvest it) to the point where it can be contained as a row of imprints on a magnetic strip, a line on a bank account. I also like the insight that all it requires to sustain the meaningfulness of that line is a massive social contract, in the same way that batteries store energy, but only if you keep them in optimum condition.

Spelling it out further: just as it takes energy to store electric energy in battery form, it takes energy to store kinetic energy in monetary form, so that all one does, by maintaining a viable financial system, is shift the burden of work from the harvester to the gold-miners, accountants, IT people, forgery prevention units, till manufacturers, wallet-makers, educators, nutritionists (because it takes wits to remember all those pin numbers) and yes, defense establishment, who perpetuate the systems of symbols that a successful financial transaction rides on. And if, in the end, all we are talking about is the reallocation of energy expenditure from one area to another, isn't it fair to say that money, as much as anything else in nature, is ultimately subject to the laws of conservation of energy?

I think this prepares the ground. If we have a spectrum of increasing abstraction, with graft at one end and financial currency at the other, and if we also recognise that neither end is more or less energy efficient than the other, we can begin to argue that exchange can legitimately occur anywhere along that line. We can proceed to argue that anything that involves the reciprocation of effort for effort is worthy of the term 'money', and that the imposition of one form of currency on a people is an act of cultural imperialism. We can start to celebrate the varieties of moneys available to us, just as Jay celebrates the varieties of time. Indeed we can start to talk meaningful of 'worth' across peoples, and even species, holistically.

I don't think this is to say, necessarily, that modernism 'got it wrong' - just that there is no reason to proceed as if modernism is the only right there can ever be. Richard Kearney, postmodern philosopher and Irish peace-broker, among other things, is right on this: Postmodernism, which gets a bad press in some quarters, is surely about the recognition that modernism is only one of many many cultural, indeed personal, stories open to us. It is therefore truly wild. So it would seem entirely reasonable if, just as postmodernism has led to the rediscovery of diversity and paganism at the heart of our cultural and religious systems, so too we should be rediscovering our place within a cosmically wild economy.

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