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.