Money is Alive
Account – A record representing an amount owed by one party to another.
Store – An object or place that contains goods or otherwise has value.
Exchange – An act giving a product or providing a service in return for something else.
II. Maps and the Root of All Evil
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: Which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” – 1st Timothy 6:10
It's likely you've heard this story before: Some big businessman or politician gets engulfed in a scandal involving financial fraud. A foreign investment deal where they got a cut in exchange for favors, maybe they scraped off the top of some government construction project, it doesn't matter. No sooner one would hear the refrain from either someone seeing the news with you, or even the news anchors themselves – “In the end, money in and of itself isn't evil. It's what people do with it that is.” Then someone follows up with a comparison with knives.
Since I was a kid, I've always felt that this was insincere, or felt there was something wrong with this line of reasoning. I was at a loss before, but now I think I found the words to explain what's going on.
But first, we need to talk about maps.
Actual maps are a flat representation of a geographic area measured in two axes, longitude and latitude. However, the lines on the map are arbitrary, imaginary ones, and so do the borders between towns, cities, regions and nations. To disagree with the fiction of nations is folly. But, on the other hand, there are material differences, which in varying levels of accuracy, take the shape of those border lines. Demographics, architecture, shared culture and common histories, as well as the manifestations of the various agendas of those in power. Trade occurs between them, immigration of both the legal and illicit kind happens, leading to an exchange of cultures, violence might even break out, etc. Without borders, it's hard to make sense of where one ends and the other begins. Not to mention how much a colonizing force's presence could be felt in a post-colonial nation, like what could be seen in modern-day Philippines. The reality of the territories being represented by the maps are orders of magnitude greater than what could be processed by the human mind, much less represent on a flat surface, but yet we still use maps. because they are useful.
Philosophers like Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson also wrote about the “reality tunnel”. They spoke of how the human subconscious filters out details that it deems unnecessary. That it filters based on economic class, past experiences, religious beliefs, culture and other things. What we pay attention to are the things that we recognize.
Recognizable shape or form. (Longitude)
Recognizable functions. (Latitude)
What we perceive to be objects, are maps. The limits of their physical shape and functions are the borders we've arbitrarily placed upon them. Deleuze and Guattari have described their metaphysics in this way. That we need maps in order to make sense of the world, otherwise we'd go mad at the vast amount of data pouring through our senses.
III. A Map of Oppression
But now that we've gotten that map stuff out of the way, what's this got to do with money?
Back in ancient Greece, Plato postulated that all physical objects are imperfect manifestations of certain, ethereal “Forms”. That money in all it's forms, coins, paper bills, transactions on a database, etc, are imperfect embodiments of some ideal “Money”. Somewhere. You can see how this is a problem. The world is too messy, or what Deleuze would say, “molecular”, to be a manifestation of fundamental forms. That's why you need “maps”.
So how do we map out “Money”, then?
Different things have been used to represent money in the different cultures that used them. Seashells, pretty rocks, shiny pieces of metal, and fancy slips of paper. However in our postmodern omni-digital age, money is becoming more and more electronic. At first it was just banks electronically sending transactions to one another, until it has become a global network of interconnected central banks. Radically new forms of money are also being developed which do not depend on a State-managed financial entity. Whatever form they take, though, they must fulfill these three functions:
It must be useful as a unit of account. One must be able to record debts and set quotas with it. Double-entry accounting, the backbone of the modern banking system, is merely a record of what one owes and what one is owed, after the initial injection of capital.
It must be a store of value. In the past, metals and silks used as currency were valuable because of their of the products you could make with them and their aesthetic beauty. Fiat money, however, derive it's value from the State that prints it. The State does this with three things: First, it forces its citizens to pay its taxes using fiat. Second, it allows for any and all trade done within its borders be paid in fiat. And third, it pays for its servants, most importantly the Police and Military, in fiat.
And lastly, it must be easily used as a medium of exchange. Metallic coins are much easier to transport than the jewelry made with them. Slips of paper are a lot easier to transfer in bulk. Electronic signals, even more so.
As a result of how money works, one could potentially travel long distances with nothing but a sack full of coins and not have to worry about the hassle of carrying anything else, so long as there's people to buy from, of course. One wouldn't need to work their own land, because you can go to the nearby workshop or factory and spend a few hours a day and get paid every two weeks. On paper, that sounds a lot better than waiting for weeks for your next paycheck, right?
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek writes that Ideology, being more than just a collection of ideas, is completely subconscious and serves as a series of justifications for supporting authority. It's embodied in a series of rituals, objects and actions that help prop up the status quo.
So what ideas does Money embody?
It allows for the “reification”, or the turning-into-a-thing, of labor power. Hours of one's life are effectively turned into money, allowing it to be stored and used for later.
It allows for the accumulation of other people's labor power. This is why the rich are able to amass the wealth that they do, while the worker is left to survive on their wages. This is not to say that rich people are inherently greedy, no. All that this says is that because the rich owners of business own the property within which the workers perform their work, they are entitled to its profits. This allows them to earn several times (in some cases, several thousand times) more than the regular employee, even if the rich owner were to work at the same, or even greater amount, than his employees. There are only 24 hours in a day, after all.
It allows for the creation of classes between certain types of labor, by pricing their per-hour or per-project value differently.
It allows for the desires and speculation of the moneyed elites to affect the prices of goods and services.
It externalizes motivation in the form of financial incentives, encouraging people to pursue profit over personal development, in many cases even mistaking one for the other.
What then happens as a result of all this is that a minority continues to accumulate wealth, which they then reinvest into more wealth-accumulating ventures, while the people that work under them spend what little they earn in consumable goods. They do not accumulate anything. Not to mention how the uncertainty of market speculation leaves the working class in the dust while the rich essentially gamble away the entire economy.
So a brief summary of what we've talked about so far, we described how the official narrative is how “money is a tool, and depends on what people use them for”. We then briefly discussed Deleuzian maps and Zizekian ideology and interpreted money in those terms in order to illustrate how money is an embodiment of labor reification and capital accumulation. Using those same terms, we also posited that by using money, we participate in the system that keeps class structures in place.
Especially in the Philippine sense, we can see how neocolonialism is mediated by the financial system. The Philippines has become a source of cheap labor, a market for exported products, services and even cultural products. While we recognize that an interconnected world like that one we have today has real, material imprisonment's on the lives of millions, this has put the weakest of the weak, those on the fringes of society at the mercy of a few rich perverts. Their greed has now driven the world to the brink of destruction, and it may already be too late.
As anarchists, then, we recognize that all forms of money have no place in a world structured around the values of freedom, equity and solidarity. That it is a manifestation of the state's power and must be abolished along with the State itself. But until such a social revolution happens, by either force of arms or a non-violent uprising of the people, we must continue to look for ways to improve the material conditions of the vulnerable and the working class, and be mindful of how our participation in the financialized world we find ourselves in affects the those around us.