anthropology, Philosophy, Religion  Comments Off on Money
Oct 192017

The first epistle to Timothy is frequently misquoted as “money is the root of all evil.” The actual quote (plus context) is:

9 Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. By craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. 11 But you, O man of God, flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

Pedants will correct you if you come out with the misquote, but I actually like the misquote by itself. I’ll explain.

I’ll start by saying that the epistle is quite right in saying that the love of money leads people astray. I’m impelled to this topic by my post today on Gerrard Winstanley in Book of Days Tales:  Winstanley was the kind of leader who comes along once in a while and asks, “Have you really read the Bible – ALL of it?” Many people get attracted to Christianity because they follow leaders who pick and choose the bits of the Bible that suit them and explain away the bits they don’t like. So, we’ve got televangelists in the US who preach that their flock should give them a ton of money and they will be rewarded in turn. As Ray Stevens once asked, “Will Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?” Of course not. Jesus preached the importance of the spiritual over the material, but a lot of so-called Christians didn’t get the memo apparently.

Winstanley was what I would call a true “Bible-believing Christian” – not what politically motivated scum think that phrase means. Winstanley looked at the early church and saw a group of believers living together communally, and sharing everything they produced for the betterment of the community as a whole. If they earned money, they pooled it. If they produced food for a living, they shared it. Everything was held in common. The Acts of the Apostles is very clear on this point. The Pastoral Epistles, which include 1 Timothy, come out of late 1st or early 2nd century attempts to codify what the church was all about. I’m reasonably certain that these epistles are treated as “minor” these days, not just because they are short and lacking in the sophisticated theology of Paul’s epistles, but also because they preach socialism as inherent to the Christian way of life. Heaven help us !!! Socialism ???? Well, in my oh-so-humble opinion, capitalism and Christianity are mortal enemies, even though I’m happy to go along with the general idea, espoused by Max Weber, that puritanical Protestantism was the breeding ground of capitalism in Europe.

To be fair, it was Weber’s contention that the puritanical aversion to the love of money was what bred capitalism in the first place. He argued that the Puritans saw it as their Godly duty to work hard, which led to financial success – BUT . . . they could not spend their hard-earned money on frivolity, so it grew and grew. All they could do is re-invest it in their businesses. Bingo – you have capitalists. Fair enough. There have been some thoroughly decent Christian capitalists. The Cadburys are a great example. Their Bournville factory and model village were paragons of how a capitalist industry could be both profitable and profit the workers. But it was, still, a master/worker system. The Cadburys were Quakers, but the Quaker ideology of consensus and sharing did not extend to their business model. They were the bosses and made the rules.

Without the proclivity towards love and fellowship enshrined in Acts and 1 Timothy, capitalism simply breeds greed. You don’t need capitalism to breed greed, however. 1 Timothy was written well before capitalism came along. The uneven distribution of wealth is the key issue. Rich and poor have existed for millennia.  The rich are rich because the poor are poor. Karl Marx saw this clearly but his words got perverted as Jesus’ words did. So-called Marxists are no better than so-called Christians. Even “communism” is now a dirty word because of the likes of Mao and Stalin, even though it is patently obvious that the early Christian church was communist in the basic meaning of the term: work together, live together, and share equally – no rich, no poor.

The inherent problem nowadays is that everyone wants to be rich, so that the ideas of sharing and equality are anathema. Put simply, a lot of people (not all) are happy with inequality as long as they are on the plus side of the ledger. And, all the time that the people with the money have all the power things cannot change. Matters are not helped by the fact that the poor, while not happy with their personal situation, are happy with things in general as long as they are given hope that one day they will be on the plus side of the ledger themselves. Hence, you have poor people voting for Trump who promised riches for all. Riches for all cannot happen in an inherently unequal system. Someone has to be poor. Duh !!! But fair shares for all can lead to a comfortable situation for all.

Clearly in the capitalist situation the LOVE of money creates all kinds of evils. But there’s more to it than that. The existence of money itself is a problem. Some foragers (hunter/gatherers), notably the Bushmen of the Kalahari, have become legendary for their indifference to money. They don’t need it and see no point in accumulating wealth of any kind. The world provides them with food, clothing, and shelter. What else would you want? Need food? Pick fruits and vegetables or hunt for meat. Need clothes? Weave some cloth from natural fibers that you collect. Need shelter? Cut down some trees and build a hut. They live in a modern Garden of Eden.  Of course, they don’t have cell phones and cars and dishwashers and whatnot, so most modern people would not want to live in the same way. Just as well, because the contemporary world cannot support the current population through foraging alone. We need modern agriculture to survive, and, even so, millions barely do.

Where the idea of domestication of plants and animals came from is fiercely contested among anthropologists. It was certainly independently invented 5 times, and maybe more, and the impulses were probably different in each case. What we do know with absolute certainty is that domestication led to social inequality in all manner of ways. I won’t wear you out with the details now. In a (very small and limited) nutshell, with domesticated plants and animals you get social divisions between sedentary agriculturalists and nomadic pastoralists, cities, divisions of labor, war, empires . . . and vast inequalities. In the process, the development of a medium of exchange becomes inevitable. Very simple economies can use barter or other forms of exchange of goods that do not require money. But the more complex a society becomes, the more it needs money as a neutral intermediary. If all I do is raise vegetables, I cannot rely on finding a person who has something I want or need who will barter that thing in exchange for my vegetables. But if I sell my vegetables for money I can use that money to buy the things I want/need. Money greases the wheels, but it’s also a trap. When money becomes an end in itself and not a means to an end, the game is lost. Marx knew this.

Marx distinguished between “use value” and “exchange value” and that to me is a crucial distinction. Use value is the inherent purpose of a particular product: clothes keep you warm; soup nourishes you. Exchange value is the price in money someone is willing to pay for a product. So, a $5 shirt is equivalent to a $5 meal IN MONETARY TERMS.  They are not the same at all when viewed according to use value, but exchange value evens them out. Without money this equivalency cannot exist. Furthermore, in a society based on sharing through loving-kindness, there is no need for such a medium of exchange. You can parse this fact in many different ways, but at heart money is a problem whether it is a product of inequality or the cause of it. Whichever way you look at it, money is a problem. Money reduces everything in the world, including people and ideas, to a common denominator. The worst equation of all in my mind is the expression, “Time is money.” NO !!!!! Time is time. Capitalism equates time and money, but they are different – very different.

The sting in the tail of this analysis is that there is nothing that I or anyone else can do to change the system at this point. Even if I were able to effect an enormous cultural revolution that would set the world on a path of sharing and cooperation – which I can’t – we’d still be stuck with money as the basis of the system, and as long as money exists its weaknesses stay with us.  Apart from anything else, the existence of money breeds greed. It’s built in. So, for the moment I’ll disagree with 1 Timothy slightly and say that the love of money does indeed breed all manner of evils, but money itself is an evil to begin with.

To be continued . . .

 Posted by at 4:51 am

Dreams, Visions, and Plans

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Dreams, Visions, and Plans
Oct 072017

The English words “dream” and “vision” can have many meanings, but here I am using them to mean “thoughts or hopes about the future” (somewhat consonant with “plan”). They do have significantly different meanings from one another, and it’s those differences I want to explore in this post. Let me start with “plans” first, though, and work from there. In a previous post I mentioned my acronym GPA, which stands for Goal, Plan, Action. This is one of my many guiding mantras. Action of any significance is not much use without a plan, and to make a coherent plan you need a goal in mind first. So, my plans in life are always in pursuit of a goal. The thing is that I have not had an awful lot of luck with my plans in the past 5 years or so.

The long-term goal that I established for myself 7 years ago when I was living in Buenos Aires was to live on a different continent for 2 years at a stretch in a location that would provide me with a job, but would also be within easy reach of a lot of places I wanted to visit. It was a broad goal inspired by the fact that it is hard to get much of anywhere outside of South America without significant effort. Whilst living in Buenos Aires I had traveled a lot both within Argentina and to a variety of countries in South America. Those trips, even to Easter Island, were manageable. But Buenos Aires is not a hub for major airlines, and the most common routes were to North America and Western Europe. To get anywhere other than those destinations required trips to them first, which were lengthy, then one or two more changes before you got where you were going.  I looked into going to Hong Kong or Singapore and they were three-day trips each way. I had been in the habit of going on 7 to 10 day trips, and spending 6 days in transit was not going to cut it. I figured that if I lived in Hong Kong or Budapest or Nairobi or wherever for a couple of years I could use those cities as springboards to travel around in the region before moving on. So far so good – sort of.

The goal was a good one, I felt, but the plans went awry almost straight away. I landed in Hong Kong, couldn’t find a job that would get me a resident permit, so moved to Kunming, capital of Yunnan in SW China. I stayed there for 18 months working at various jobs that did not give me much chance to leave Kunming. Then I caught a lucky break – I thought. I got a job at a university that gave me 4 months’ paid vacation. Perfect. That way I could travel to Myanmar, Cambodia etc. But . . . the government had an issue with the fact that I entered on one passport but wanted my university work visa in another (because the university insisted and checked with immigration before acting). The fact that the university had got prior approval did not matter. I was given 10 days to leave.  My hopes of traveling in SE Asia, journeying the Silk Road through Central Asia etc, went up in smoke. In fact that was the start of 4 years of planning that kept going off the rails that I won’t bore you with. Right now I am in the middle of plan Z.2.6 – sitting in the airport in Bangkok en route from Mandalay to Phnom Penh.

My point is that my general goal is in place, but the execution is not all it might be. This leads me back to goals. We can use various words such as “dreams” or “visions” or “goals” and they all have rather different emphases. The thing is that I don’t have any dreams. I think of dreams that are BIG and very difficult (if not impossible) to accomplish. They are things young people have. I had dreams when I was younger. When I was in my 20s my main dream was to write books on anthropology and become a published author. I saw that as my path to immortality – of a sort. I might die, but my books would live on. Well, I’ve done that. I’ve accomplished all of my dreams; I don’t have dreams any more. I do still have goals, though. Goals are of a different order from dreams. They are manageable, obtainable – even if they take effort.

I see visions as a subset of goals: how I envisage my goals playing out over time in specific ways. For example, I worked in Italy for 2 years and in the summer I traveled to Slovenia and Austria as well as around Italy. That’s one set of plans that actually worked out. After 2 years I wanted to move to SE Asia and a job opportunity opened up in Mandalay in Myanmar, so I took it. It was a little impulsive. I had planned to spend my summer meandering along the Silk Road from west to east, ending up in Myanmar, but the job came up some I skipped the Silk Road – AGAIN !!! My job in Italy ended at the end of May and the job in Mandalay started in June. Not ideal, but I figured I could travel at the end of the school year in March.

I did have long weekends when I was able to travel around Myanmar a bit, but I couldn’t go very far. The time between terms was only one week also, so I’d have to work for 8 months straight before traveling (with no summer holiday before starting). This September I ended up with some unfortunate contract talks with my boss, so I quit, and worked out a way to live in Cambodia for some months. As I left Mandalay this morning I was rather melancholy. The reason is that I had had a vision of my life in Myanmar, but it did not turn out as I had envisaged. I was expecting to stay for 2 years, mooch around a lot in the cracks, then leave for some new 2-year destination. Instead I am moving on after 3 months. I’m fine with the decision. I could have stayed for 2 years. My boss did not want me to leave. It’s just that the reality did not match the vision. It was not a dream; it was a vision related to a larger goal. And . . . it failed. It’s not like finding a dream falling apart. It’s just a vision that did not pan out. My world’s not going to fall apart as it might if a life dream fell apart. When you DREAM BIG (as an old girlfriend put it to me – in caps), your life is completely guided by it. This was just a vision of a component of a goal this is still a work in progress. I’ll survive. But it is sad when visions fail.

 Posted by at 1:49 pm