Monkey Logic no.7 – Means to an End

Some things are just that; a means to an end.
Sex for example. Sex is an intermediate step in the process of reproduction; but in the heat of the moment, as one is energetically pursuing the means, it is easy to let the end — a demanding, screaming ball of potential humanity — entirely slip one’s mind. Chimps, and certainly Bonobos, make the same error. They are all at it all the time, implementing every possible topological variation, most of which are logistically unlikely to have anything to do with reproduction. Pursuing the means, not the end.

Money is another means. Money is not happiness. It can’t buy you love, but it can be exchanged for things that make survival or reproduction more likely — e.g. food or sports cars. But most of our waking lives are lived as if Money was the end itself.

Money is not happiness.
The map is not the territory.
The stock market is not the economy.

Apes don’t fetishize money as we Saps do. This is not because they are too dim to understand it. They are quite capable of grasping it as a means to an end. This is witnessed through the sad story of Chantek the Orangutan. Chantek was brought up by humans at the University of Tennessee. He was taught sign-language, attended class, and was introduced to money in the form of washers he could exchange for ice-cream. Unfortunately, as he reached puberty, he became a little bit too frisky for a university sociology department and had to be moved to a far less stimulating environment — I told you it was a sad story. He was locked in his cage for many years and there he frustrated his jailors by regularly using his incredible monkey-strength to twist open the bolts of his enclosure to collect washers. It is possible that Chantek idolized the washers themselves, but I suspect it is far more likely that he was just acquiring the means, hoping one day to be in a position to exchange them again for the end — ice cream.

Money is not an end. It is a story. Only if we all believe, is it able to perform its function and facilitate the transfer of resources, labour, and cognition. This is not to be disparaging. Money has proven to be a very useful story which has enabled us Saps to achieve indistinguishable-from-magic improvements in the routine of our daily lives, but it is not an end. It should also never be taken for granted. Every now and again, people tend to wake up, look around in confusion at all the mangy notes overflowing their wheelbarrows or stuffed into the suitcases littered around their apartments, and wonder what the heck to do with all this suddenly meaningless waste paper—and, more importantly, how they are going to pay for dinner.

At our current point in the money-cycle story-arc, governments are squirting cash about like foam cannons at an Ibiza beach rave. The plot holes in the story have become so glaring that even a casual audience now has difficulty continuing to suspend its disbelief. Typically when a story-arc ‘jumps the shark’ like this, the viewers move on to something new; but this is much easier with a Netflix series than with an intersubjective shared narrative which supports a tower of leveraged obligations rising out of the primal jungle into the teetering heights of almost-godhood…

Money is a means to an end. Poor people know this because it is almost immediately transformed into real things like shoes and food.

Ultra-rich people don’t understand this anymore because shoes and food just are; like air.

Money ceases to be a means because a surplus of everything makes the connection between money and value tenuous. Money becomes the end when it is the only way you can differentiate yourself from those pretenders down the road…

This is supposed to be a bright upbeat issue of Monkey Logic, so here goes for a happy ending —

We live in a period of ‘late-stage-capitalism’. The ageing system’s loopholes have been so thoroughly excavated, and the current system is so hollowed out, that it is no longer structurally sound. Its rickety nature shows up as maladies like the massive and unjustifiable wealth disparity between the richest and the poorest; or the suppression of innovation — technological or social — by an inchoate cabal of loyalty signalling stooges all silently conspiring to suppress any change which might threaten their shadowy masters of capital. Think cigarettes and petrol engines!

When it first occurred to me that money was on the way out — probably around 2007 when the previous mini-cycle was wrapping up its season-arc with a sub-prime mortgage finale — I was a little freaked out. Since then, however, I have noticed the first beams and struts of a new system being put into place. This act is coming to an end and the set of the next scene is already being constructed in the wings — I know I am being rather free with my metaphors here.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) says we should pay everybody a basic living wage. People used to laugh—who will pay? But this was before printing a Trillion Euro’s became so mundane that it is now unworthy of even mentioning.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) goes further, suggesting that printing money is actually fine, as long as real people who do stuff, have a use for it. When it starts piling up in wheelbarrows — or ideally a little before then — MMT says just raise taxes.

Both MMT and UBI can work together to feed money into the system bottom-up—poor people first—which seems more sensible to me than letting already rich people magic it up and then spend most of it on bonuses to themselves or in buying more stocks of the banks they already own and which incidentally are the same corporate-persons whose incestuous, nepotistic relationships with government allows them to magic the money up in the first place. Whatever trickle is left, after the ghoulish servants of undead capital have slathered themselves in its greasy green caress, can finally, grudgingly, be loaned, with interest, to real people who actually need it to feed themselves or start companies which build spaceships or windmills.

This is the tortuous route that money must take today to get into the hands of the people who need it. It’s like those wildlife films of wildebeest fording a river full of crocodiles. Some money makes it to the other side — across actual shop counters — but that’s only because so much of it was plunged into the river that the corporate-crocodiles couldn’t physically snaffle it all.

Money, trying to make the hazardous journey into your wallet.

Most of the money today is with the ultra-rich, so most money is not used for its original purpose of purchasing stuff. It is used instead to status-signal and compare net-worth high-scores. Because of where it sits, the value of most of the world’s money comes not from its scarcity or utility, but from the media’s traumatic, PTSD inducing daily reminders to the super-rich of what happens to people who don’t have it.

When UBI takes care of the people at the bottom, perhaps the people at the top will be a little less terrified of losing some of their hoards.

Money, or at least fiat currency, is so last-century. It is time for something new, but this time we need to be clear on what the end is before we try and come up with a new means; otherwise, we could just listen to Chantek and go with Monkey Logic.



Monkey Logic no.6 – Tough Love!

In the tooth and claw world of Monkey Politics, we might expect it to be the biggest and baddest ape who always ascends to alpha-hood; it is true that often a bullying thug will get ‘elected’ to power-

Note: apes choose their leaders in pretty much the same way as humans do, i.e. with public shows of support, presenting of gifts, and offers of sex.

-The troop’s new Tough-Monkey will terrify his enemies with shock and awe acts of violence and authority. Neighbouring troops will quail in fear. Sadly, the reign of terror is usually pointed inwards too, and the weak and out of favour in the bully’s home troop will also suffer.

More often than we would expect though, it will not be an egotistical thug who ascends, but a wise and friendly contender who is helped by his allies to climb the greasy-branch. A successful Love-Monkey’s authority will not come from threats and fear, but from a coalition network built on trust and reciprocity.

Monkeys are not moral philosophers. These two styles of Ape governance are a record of what works—Darwin has taken care of all the strategies that don’t—and not abstract utopias thought-up by inscrutable bearded academics pontificating about how the world ‘should’ look.

The politics of Love-Monkey and Tough-monkey—the embryonic Left and Right—are both valid answers to the question of how to structure a primate society.

Monkey-left believes that all apes are inherently and fundamentally good, and if you treat them with respect and dignity, they will reciprocate and behave in an acceptable manner.
Monkey-right, on the other hand, understands a tooth and claw world. It knows that when the shit hits the palm, the neighbouring troop will always be looking for an advantage and even unsupervised members of the home troop are watching for an opportunity to cheat and steal.

Taking these ideologies to human extremes:
Right sees a hard-knocks jungle out there,
while Left wants a garden of unconditional love.

Any parent knows that neither extreme is viable.
Too much love without tough discipline builds mollycoddled, indignant, tantrum-prone children—who will probably grow up to take positions as entitled social sciences professors.

Tough discipline, with too little love, will give rise to a brood of cowed, uncreative monsters who will one day make daddy proud by becoming bullying sociopathic CEOs.

Listening to the Monkey within, we recognise that we actually need a mix of both: leaders who are realists and accept the world’s inclement truths, while still possessing enough compassion to protect us from that beastly base reality.

Tough, without the Love, is just survival of the thuggish.
Love, without a dose of tough, only suffices to pave our paths with the fragile good-intentions of wishful thinking.

Success depends on a mix. A society run on only unconditional love will eventually be eradicated by any violent neighbour who sees their world a little less rosy; just as any society ruled by authoritarian tough guys will inevitably become irrelevant as the free-flowing creativity of the peoples around them produces better ways of doing stuff—including napping flint and sharpening sticks…

But I’m repeating myself!
We know all this!
Even Monkey knows this!

So why do we spend all our time fighting about whether Red or Blue is best?

If this was a Disney film, it would probably come back to the pantomime troop of evil baboons hiding behind the curtain of palm fronds… the ones expertly playing one side of chimps against the other so that they can steal all the bananas… [you know who I’m talking about].

Stop wasting time bickering folks!
Accept Tough-Love!
Its Monkey logic!

To paraphrase the economist Walter Williams, ‘Dispassionate analysis [Tough], enables Compassionate policies [Love].’

Monkey Logic no.5 – Stroke the Monkey!

At the moment things are changing very fast. So much upheaval is disconcerting; even to me, who spent my first decades reading science fiction, and the past decade or so writing it. The future is uncertain and uncertainty can create stress. Social and technological disruption is way over Monkey’s head… …It’s a Monkey for flip’s sake!

But Monkey is very capable of picking up on your mood. If the simian-inside notices you are stressed, it will get nervous, and infectious unease will pull you both down into a downward spiral where everything starts to look very glass-half-empty.

We need to break the vicious circle. Unlike last week, where I said we should let Monkey run things from time to time, this is a scenario where we need to take the lead and let our analytical minds reassure ourselves—and therefore Monkey too—that everything will be okay.

I am confident about the future, probably because I have saturated myself with utopian thinking from a life immersed in science-fiction. Perhaps I can share some of the good news hurtling towards us; like a kind of mini-episode of ‘White Mirror’.

So, this week I will talk about Power…

no, not that…


Power; always in short supply: batteries go empty, petrol tanks need refilling, stomachs rumble. On a macro level, power drives our industry. We only managed to catapult the global economy out of the muscle-age by greedily burning through a mega cache of fuel set aside two-hundred million years ago.

Fallen trees pilled up in a time before insects learned to eat wood. As an aside, just imagine all those toppled trees lying on top of one another. A global jungle-gym! A monkey paradise! Sad and somewhat ironic that nothing like a monkey would evolve for at least a hundred million years.

We are not running out of this coal and oil yet, but a lot of what is left is dirty and we’ve ‘recently’ realised that it’s anyway actually pretty bad for lungs and climate. This is one of those sources of stress and disquiet. Monkey notices you’re stressed; like a big friendly Labrador watching your eyes, eager to please; you are making it nervous!

The good news is, there’s actually loads of Power everywhere! Solar is now so cheap that panels are basically free — although fitting them and wiring them still costs money. Very soon [already] power will fall like free Mana from the sky. Even your car will use it.

Before you ask, when the sun stops shining, that same car will send the electrons the other way, back into your house, to power your fridge and TV. This is possible because a typical electric car stores about three days worth of power for a normal home! This is not even some futuristic speculation, some days already nearly 80% of Germany’s power comes from wind and sun.

If you’ve got power [energy] you can make pretty much everything else too:

Water is the easiest.

Food is a little more tricky; but by pumping electricity through vats, special algae can be coaxed to produce proteins, fats, and carbs.

Finally, shelter. Think swooping lines of carbon-fibre like those huge Americas Cup yachts. The material is still super expensive today, but it will soon be free; a by-product of something like reverse-combustion — ‘backwards-burning’ could be a Harry Potter spell: ‘Retro Ardenti!’ — which will pull carbon from the air to make boards of fantastic super-materials with properties somewhere between diamond and wood.

Even with the technologies we currently have, most of the problems which stem from a paucity of power — including big ones like hunger and climate change — are essentially solved. Sure we still need a couple of decades and half a dozen more Elon Musks, but from now on its just honest to goodness engineering!

Keeping this short, I won’t touch wacky stuff like Nuclear Fusion, but let me just add that if we manage to crack that nut, then things get very silly indeed. If any of you are interested, I can do a ‘Monkey Logic 2120’ episode on monkey-compatible far-future conceptions of Utopia.

We don’t get much vision from our ‘leaders’, and when we do it’s mostly fear-mongering. Most forward-looking pop-culture is dystopian or just plain silly too. It’s no wonder we are all apprehensive about what’s coming.

We don’t need to be.

All the big problems can be solved, the only remaining challenge is believing this [and then finding somebody else who believes it too so you can vote for them!]

Relax. It’s going to be okay. Inner-ape will notice you calming down and it will be like you are cooing softly while grooming the irritating metaphorical bugs from its fur. Stroke the Monkey.

I’ll do Money and Health next, that’s pure good news too!

As always, if you’d like to drop me a note, you can email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter at @weston_toby



P.S. If you are enjoying your weekly dose of Monkey Logic, please forward it to a couple of friends!

…read the rest of this weekly column on Medium:

Or get the newsletter in your inbox every week: