This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Money as Ritual and Cult
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Belonging Charisma and Credit Enthralment and Ritual Earlier Globalism – The Empire and its Cult The Modern Economy as Empire and cult Reconciliation and Unity Anticipating Another Economy
What is money? In this chapter we consider money as the idiom in which we grant one another licence to act in certain ways and do certain things. Money is a series of ceremonial and ritual forms by which we grant one another this approval and permission. Who gives this approval? We give it to one another. Everyone who buys or sells looks to the rest of us for affirmation of that transaction and the relationship it creates. We are all witnesses and guarantors of every transaction. There are three parties to every transaction – the buyer, the seller, and all the rest of us who affirm these two parties in these roles. Modern economics assumes that there are just two roles. But the witness and approval of a third party is required to make this event a contract and so an economic transaction. It is a valid and complete transaction to the extent that watching audience are convinced that it is so. In this chapter we will examine money as (1) an idiom of our belonging and being together (2) the ritual of our mutual recognition and deference (3) the ritual by which we claim a particular place in the world and by which (4) we make an object material in this relationship, and (5) the ceremonial that makes up the world we share.
Belonging is the first purpose of all the action that we call ‘economic’. The point of the transaction is not simply to possess or use this commodity, but so that others see us in its light. It reveals our identify to them in such a way that they wish to be with us. The modern economic account that concentrates on goods without reference to the social context which determines what things are desirable, and are therefore commodities, it is solipsistic. Modern economic identifies two sides to a transaction, the buyer and seller, the Supply and Demand side of the economy.1 But we are not going to observe these separate discourses of inside and outside as these are laid out by modern economics. We will considering all human interaction as a single continuum, and treat humanity as a single household. We will regard every particular instance of human interaction as an action within a continuum so that the action of one is part of the action of all. The Club Let us start with the simplest form of belonging. You join a club. You become a member of the golf club, say, or of the union, trade association
or rotary club. You become a member in order come into relationship with other members, who you hope will be pleased to give you a welcome. They give their affirmation and so they help to secure your public identity. You become a member so that you can be with your pals. Belonging is everything. The club gives its members social standing. If the club is small enough, no explicit record of who owes whom is necessary. It is a is a primitive economy in which everybody knows Every voluntary association may be said to be a form of credit union in that it members extend social credit to one another. This takes time and requires face-to-face encounters, which are provided by all those drinks, receptions, competitions and away days. A glance at a credit union may help us to realise this. A credit union is a group of people who give one another social recognition in the most explicit way, by extending credit, lending one another money which has to be as explicitly repaid. Again if that credit union is small, the panel of all members may interview each applicant and each decide whether they are a good risk. The panel can meet to review the progress of borrowers, so each is reminded of the progress they are making towards re-payment and respectability. Each can be shamed or encouraged towards repayment. The kudos of being a member of this club, is a powerful incentive to meet re-payments and remain in good standing. Once they have demonstrated that they are a good risk they may become lenders, full members of the club who are able to monitor the credit-worthiness of others.2 Perhaps the credit union shows us something about the function of all clubs. Any society is made up of many forms of associations, in each of which any member can say who is up and who is down. Each institution functions as a credit union, in which credit appears, not in explicitly financial terms, in terms of a broadly-conceived terms of credit-worthiness and authority. Each is extended to varying degrees the approval and licence of his peers. A member is involved a myriad relationships in which he is sometimes debtor, sometimes creditor. Informal accounting depends on our ability to monitor changes in status among our peers. In such a group, each can remember who is up, who is down, and whose turn it is to deal next. One indication of the success of a society is that its members do not have to be too concerned about which of them in credit or debit: it can afford to assume that a member who is in debt now will be in credit later. This is possible as long as the question of his departure from that association, and so the question of whether he can rack up a debt and then leave, never arises. The bank is held in common in the memories of all members of this economy. This is not the case only where the group is small or its members known to each other. Such exchange without records is the basis of all exchange. Exchange made explicit by records is a function of exchange which runs without explicit record-keeping.
Mohammad Grameen Banker to the Poor: Creating a world Without Poverty (Public Affairs 2003), Beatriz Armendáriz, Jonathan Morduch The Economics of Microfinance (MIT Press 2007).
Keeping records has its own cost. Groups evolve ways to avoid these costs by avoiding the keeping of explicit records, dealing not in money (the formal system) but in credit, the informal system, because it is cheaper, faster and more exclusive. We use money because it saves on the effort of paying honour specifically and fully, but we use the informal system of favours, that works on an implicit understanding of credit and honour, because it saves on the cost of explicit accounting represented by money. ‘There are purely cognitive costs of organising and monitoring transaction, such as the calculation of bill.’3 No calculation is made within the family, the association or firm. ‘The function of the firm is not simply to maximise transaction costs, but to provide an institutional framework within which the very calculus of costs is superseded.’4 The informal and formal systems are not necessarily rivals. Without simultaneous use of both systems, and tactical decision-making about when to resort to explicit record-making and when not, both systems would grind to a halt.5 The firm There are two reasons why we have to go to work. We go because we have to and we go of work because we want to. Let us think over the second since it is the neglected reason. We go to work because we want to be with other people. Being a member of this company is the reward we seek. The firm bestows your identity on you and so your identity is secured. Belonging is everything. Being united to your fellowman is the fundamental union towards which every transaction gestures. We get a job, become an employee and come into relationship with these other employees, our fellow members in this household. We join them, so there is an unmediated form of reconciliation and united between us here. We go to work to be with our mates; a bond, of honour, of humour, holds us together. We perform for their praise, and bound to one another by a common distrust of some other group, our managers or customers. This is the ‘economy of regard’.
‘Even the largest multinational corporation, even the largest factory is made up of small groups, the paint shop, on the assembly line, or in the boardroom. In face-to-face settings the economy of regard kicks in.’6
This elective household is a thing of many levels. Each member goes to work in order to sustain their position in it. There is no absolute security of tenure. Together we play the game of deciding which of our fellows we will combine against next and attempt to demote or eject; the frisson this gives is part of our reward.
Geoffrey Hodgson Economics and Institutions (Polity 1991) p. 203 Hodgson Economics and Institutions p. 207 5 Landa Trust, Ethnicity and Identity: Beyond the New Institutional Economics of Ethnic Trading Networks, Contract Law, and Gift-Exchange (Michigan 1995) p. 49 ‘It is implicitly assumed in the standard theories of exchange that there are no costs in the making of transactions. In such a world of zero transaction costs, institutions such as money, middlemen, and the legally-binding contract would be redundant. Recent contributions have emphasised the costliness of the barter exchange process and the positive role played by money and middlemen in reducing costs.’ 6 Avner Offer The Challenge of Affluence (Oxford University Press) p. 89
We intend to survive by reinforcing our own position. We work in order to grow the business, bringing more customers, and as it becomes necessary to deal with them, we will have to employ more people. We work to build our department by recruiting those who will promote our vision and perhaps even be personally loyal. Each employee can hope to rise as new employees arrive at the bottom. Our work is never merely the work of our bodies but always of our persons, mind and body. Yet the firm is the person of which the employee is the body, so the logic of their relationship separates the product of the work of the individual employee, reducing him from person to body. The firm is like the household of the ancient world made up slaves and masters, in which the work may always got from the slaves by a beating, so that they remain mere bodies.7 During office hours we work for our slave-master; in the evening, in our own household we go spending, and as consumer over service providers, we exercise this same status of slave-master over a myriad unseen slaves. We take it in turns to be the slaves and then the tyrants of one another. Our professional career consists in breaking into more exclusive households. We work for promotion. We do so by creating lower levels of participation beneath us which raise the profile and visibility and desirability of that household, while creating newly exclusive versions, and thus a gradient of participation that is gentler at the bottom and steeper at the top. We bring in customers at the bottom, while at the top we create new and more exclusive services to which only a tiny number may aspire. What happens if we regard customers as members of the same household as employees? Can we see customers as members of the firm too? Rather than describe the firm in terms of employees and customers, those who are inside and those who are not, we may see the firm as a set of levels within which all seek advancement. For we are also members of those multiple identities and households represented by a brand. Increasing the quality of member The firm provides an identity, and a set of steps that take us deeper into it. each firm creates the imaginative-space represented by this identity. Not only employees, but customers and suppliers of the firm have to struggle for admission and promotion within this imaginative space. Each customer and employee is a courtier and plaintiff within this court who hopes to rise by paying homage to that court, by offering their account of that reputation. In the fashion house each designer presents images of the firm’s ‘look’ to the founder who has given his name to the firm – Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Armani. The firm offers the customer a preliminary foot-hold within this imaginative space, and each member sells a right to belong at an increased level to those on the rungs below him. Each member of the firm's staff is employed to sit in judgement on the customers, to decide what status and priority to award them. Should this applicant be plucked out of the queue at the door, to stand awestruck in the foyer, and then be allowed to proceed up to the first floor? Some will be recognised as preferential customers, who bring the cachet of their
WJ Booth Households: On the Moral Architecture of the Economy (New York 1993).
own celebrity to our brand, and whom be recognise as worthy bearers of the firm’s image. Some we identify as wholesale customers, franchisees or as sales force, or as designers and suppliers and market researchers who sniff the wind and tell us what tweak to give the product in order to give it more cachet next year.8 Our marketing people want to allow our products to drift slowly down the market, and into ever bigger markets. In the short-term at least, this will make us more money, but only in the shortterm. Our designers tell us to place the product further up the market and they tell us how to do this. We must make ourselves more exclusive in order to maintain our desirability, and the level of aspiration, for over the long-term, this is money in the bank. The firm is a sorting mechanism. We pay in order to be selected and promoted above the mass. Customers and clients beg to be admitted to the demographic to which the firm gives its name. They seek to become members of its household and they do so by buying the good or service that is totemic of the identity of that household. Whatever the commodity, you are buying that label and that cachet, that charisma.9 Perhaps all may be admitted to the first and lowest level of admission by buying the firm's simplest product and using it to display their own identity as the customer of the firm. The good they purchase is simply a badge of our firm; to buy the badge is to seek admission to the identity that the firm creates, controls and reserves as its own.10 This Louis Vuitton badge makes this a Louis Vuitton bag: When you arrive with this bag we see that badge and that name, so the bag is a large badge that helps us to see your quality. But are you the right person to be carrying this bag, or wearing this garment? Seeing it in your hands, others may decide that the brand is not what it was.11 They will make a new purchase further up the market. We operate within a vast set of sumptuary laws.12 Each salesperson is a doorman, tasked to decide whether a plaintiff would look right in the court the firm assembles around its label, and thus whether to admit them to its hospitality. It is in the interest of those even at the lowest level – the retail customer – to ensure that the firm's identity is not debased by the wrong sort of customer. We pay our fee to
Jeremy Rifkin The Age of Access (Tarcher 2001) p. 46 ‘Some of the biggest names in the manufacturing sector have successful metamorphosed into design studios and distribution houses, leaving plant and property behind and handing over manufacturing to outside contractors.’ 9 Arjun Appudurai (ed) The Social Life of Things: Commodities In Cultural Perspective (Cambridge University Press 1986). 10 Jeremy Rifkin The Age of Access p. 47 ‘In the new network economy what is really being bought and sold are ideas and images. The physically embodiment of these ideas and image becomes increasingly secondary to the economic process.’ 11 George Ainslie Picoeconomics: The interaction of successive motivational states within the person (CUP 1992) p. 368-69 ‘tastes often have realised diminishing returns of reward. From what may have been the optimum returns as determined by evolution, competitive goods like power and fame reward fewer people, because they become winner-takes-all markets, and consumer goods reward less effectively because the goods’ (369) ready availability keeps people near their saturation points. Political science, like economics, needs to adjust to a world where people have enormously cheapened familiar rewards by the same mass production that cheapened bread and nails. We have only begun to understand the consequent loss of rewarding effect.’ 12 Pierre Bourdieu Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (Routledge)
its doormen in the hope that the firm will admit us, but bar the crowd behind us. Life in the modern economy is lived as a perpetual search for the shelter represented by each of the households of the divinities. We go from gate to gate, begging admission, gathering charisma as though it were nectar, and so accumulating our identity. Consumer culture is an elective tribalism, our form of the pagan life.
2. Charisma and Credit
We have said that persons seek recognition and approval and that they give recognition and approval to others. Other people make us what we are. They give us the form, the substance and the occasion of our embodiment in one place and time with them. In Robert Jenson’s succinct formulation, bodies are availabilities.13 We give others the means by which they can be present to us, and they give us the means by which we can be present to them. We give them, and they give us, both the permission and the material means by which we can be present to one another. Money is the primary idiom by which we give one another this recognition and approval, and all the material goods and commodities by which each of us lives and is sustained in the recognition of our peers as a person. Each of us hopes for more recognition, and more the material means by which our public visibility can rise, and so we attempt to direct our effort towards those from whom most recognition and material support will return. Persons not only seek recognition but hope to gain more than they are obliged to concede. What we buy and sell is first ourselves, and we do so by buying into one another, and selling out again. We take ourselves to market and place ourselves before our peers in order to receive their recognition and approval. We offer them our stock and we buy theirs. Inasmuch as we do so, we acknowledge that we are worth what the market says we are. Thomas Hobbes puts it this way: ‘The value or worth of a man, as of all other things, is his price; tis to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power: and therefore is not absolute; but a thing dependent on the need and judgment of another…and as in other things, so in men, not the seller, but the buyer determines the price. For let a man (as most men do) rate themselves as the highest value they can; yet their true value is no more than it is esteemed by others.’ 14 The worth of everyone in the market is in constant revision. Even if your own stock is being bought steadily, it may still be falling if the stock of others is being bought faster. The flux of the market, and with it the measure of your being, is a function of the countless untraceable revisions created by every movement of the market.
Robert W. Jenson Essays in Theology of Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995) p. 221 ‘What bodies really are, is availabilities that enable freedom’. 14 Thomas Hobbes Leviathan
We are the product we have to sell. Others will buy into us if they believe that we will bring them greater recognition. We promise to bring to the relationship our own audience and supporters, that others can be persuaded to unite their households to ours, to create a more powerful alliance. We bring the possibility of introductions to other persons: we point to the extent and quality of our network, our mailing lists and customer details. We must demonstrate our reach, the run of our writ. We enforce it and defend it against our competitors who try to reach their hand into our nest, or seek to entice our support away from us. Some we can fend off, others we will have concede some share to in return for some share in them.15 Our credibility is our asset. But our credit is never stable; it leaches away from us and as we haemorrhage, we have to be shored up by supplies we procure from others. Putting on a Show Each of us exerts a force of attraction which works on those around us. We set out to convince and hold enthralled as many others as we can. Business, and life itself, involves convincing a public that the state of affairs is what you say it. We set out to win publics and audiences and winning them over to our view of the world. The game is market share. We want to persuade people to follow us, and so to collect people, so they become our followers. We do this by telling them a convincing story about the way things are, in which we reveal that their true identity are ours are united. We throw our cloak over them to create a pact of mutual affirmation. We flatter them, but we do so best when it does not occur us that flattery is what this is. Others want to enter this warm circle, and yet we cannot admit everybody, for we can only stay ahead by looking beyond our immediate circle for new sources of affirmation from those who will bring in new energy. Each of us is at the centre of our own little circle, and on the periphery of other stronger attractants. We all orbit around those who are stronger than ourselves, and acquire momentum by swinging by the gravity of rivals, in order to get ourselves into the orbit of stronger stars. A Big Man has to meet the expectations of his people. They are his audience. He must create a drama in which both sides are involved and lead them in this drama. He must create an aura and keep us watching and fascinated. He must make us afraid. We hope to bask in his favour and avoid the basilisk stare that puts us in peril. We must want to please him and fear of his disapproval. We will want to woo and placate him with gifts, chief of which is introductions to those who will increase his power. Life in his household consists of trying to catch your patron's eye for this makes all things possible for you, most especially the possibility that you will become a patron in our own right.16 The game is about winning people. You have to shore up your support faster than it can dwindle, and poach supporters from other big men faster than they can poach them from you. The Big Man must watch his crowd constantly for signs of boredom. When they start to drift away, he
Aristotle Nic Ethics Castiglioni The Courtier
must do something new that will delight them, or shock and appal them, in order to keep them watching. The literature of social anthropology reminds us that in the world of honour and patronage there are no settled hierarchies, orderly queues or limits to violence, and none of the security offered by the flattish and even hierarchy established by the modern division of labour, in which everyone is good at something. Instead there is the constant business of challenge and riposte, and pushing our way to the front. The marketplace is a big playground with no adults to police it: some of the bigger children inevitably assume a vague control in order make the violence more predictable and thus reasonable. Big Men honour their supporters and are honoured by them. They have to return honour more slowly than they are paid that honour by others. They acquire power and wealth ‘by paying off those supporters whose aid is essential to them but also by retaining for themselves whatever resources they can abstract at the expense of weaker and poorer members of the group, whose claims they can safely ignore for a time.’ 17 You have to pay your supporters less and more slowly than they pay you, while maintaining the impression that you pay them more, and more frequently, than they pay you. It is all about timing your payments to ensure that more credit is flowing in that flowing out. Alfred Gell reports an observation by one New Guinean respondent: ‘The point Kisian is making is of limitless application, not just to the Kula; ie the business principle that positive cash-flow in an organisation depends on ensuring that debts owed to the organisation are cleared marginally faster than the debts owed by it.’18 Maurice Godelier describes the process: ‘The wealth and power of a big man are built upon a series of contradictory practices that ultimately undermine the basis of his power. For he builds his power through application of the principle of reciprocity. A big man must give back what he has received if he wants to go gathering into his hands an evergreater quantity of wealth for redistribution. But in order to maintain and expand his power, the big man must gradually resort to opposing methods, delaying the moment of paying back to members of his faction what they have given him to help him make his name … his social base finally collapses beneath him, at which point his followers scatter and rally to one or another of his rivals who thus profit from his fall’.19
Mervyn J. Megitt ‘Studies in Enga History’, Oceania Monographs (Issue 20, 1974) p. 82 quoted in Alfred Gell The Anthropology of Time: Cultural Constructions of Temporal Maps and Images (Berg 1992) p.282 18 Alfred Gell ‘Practice and the Timing of Exchanges’ in The Anthropology of Time p. 282. 19 Maurice Godelier The Making of Great Men: Male Domination and power among the New Guinea Baruya (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1982) p.163
Every Big man gives his own public account of himself and issues the currency which broadcasts his reputation. This currency consists in images of himself which make his reputation tangible. His name opens doors when you utter it. His image opens people’s fists. You must wear that image in order to pass the lobby and into the building. His name and image are symbolic capital, ‘the most durable form of wealth’.20 In Chapter Five we said that communication, of which a transaction is one form, is embodied and that it is a function of two parties before the third that represents the audience they desire to impress. In the transaction the two parties create a relationship which the rest of the world acknowledges. They enter this transaction in order to benefit from the support of this relationship with the other party. This relationship advances the public status of each of them. Though this modification of status may be imperceptible to laymen, but it is understood and acknowledged by the group to which it is relevant. Your peers acknowledge that the two of you have, by taking this act together, have promoted your individual statuses. By acting together in the event of this transaction, the two parties advance before their fellows. The whole watching peer group which constitutes that market, by acknowledging their act, ratifies it. Their transaction is not simply the act of the two of them, but of the whole crowd that makes up the market.21 The existence of that market consists in the serial event in which two of its members emerge to perform together an act which the market as a whole will accept as its own. Two of its members step out of the stamping shuffling crowd into the centre to dance together, each taking their cue from the other, mirroring the others’ movements, until the applause of the crowd indicates that they have performed to its satisfaction of the audience, and taking a bow each can withdraw back into the line of their approving and envious fellows. Then another two individuals must step out of the brave the floor and the eyes of their peers. Each individual in the crowd must seek out that other individual who is, in this minute, prepared to brave the floor and take their turn with them to perform the moves which will win the market’s approval. The status of those who step out most often rises, while the status of all others gradually becomes correspondingly lower. Those who seek to dance next may try to catch the eye of those who dare most, but the better dancers will avoid the eye of any but other good dancers. We take it in turns to be the big man whose performance bewitches the crowd, and the crowd begs each of us to perform this function for it. The market is that large group of people who remember, know and incessantly discuss who is up, who down, and who owes whom. Money is the stylised idiom of this ongoing chatter. The market is nothing but this chatter. The value of each member of that market, and the value of whatever is bought and sold, and the value of money itself, are different modes of the same market chatter.
Richard Gordon ‘From Republic to Principate’ in Mary Beard and John North (ed.) Pagan Priests: Religion and Power in the Ancient World (Michigan: Cornell, 1990) p. 194. 21 Michel Aglietta ‘Whence and Wither Money’ in The Future of Money
The grateful dupes Neoclassical economics tells us that we all act as independent agents. We know our own best interests, we have perfect knowledge, of ourselves, and of the market. We act in our own interests and so rationally, without reference to what others are doing.22 We are entirely our own masters: there is no moment in which we lay aside or forfeit our individual agency. But as long as we attempt to exercise our agency constantly and solely through the single medium of money – through shopping – we exercise our agency in ways that are trivial, and our agency becomes marginal. We give our agency, our responsibility and our own powers away. We create the hidden persuaders who exercise agency in our stead. We give them our persuaders this power to take our power and exercise them for us. The charismatic man draws other men with him. He collects them and can hang on to them so that they remain his flock. How does he do this? He issues goods. Goods extend his reach and strengthen his hold. His goods amplify his face and win him looks; we purchase these goods in order to amplify our face and win us looks. Goods are designed so that our eyes alight on them; they win eye-time for their holder. Each of us wants to identify ourselves with the model that the Big Man displays before us, and so we buy in. We move within a continuous flow of images, a torrent of simulacra and specie. We cover our goods with the attractants that will draw you to buy and do business with us. These images show us to be happy, powerful, beautiful and charismatic, and they communicate that we can share these qualities with those who come to us. The glamour models who lends her face to our product and marketing campaign shows you that you can also be beautiful – with us. The face of the company president is inside the company annual report. His image, sleek and assured, shows you that you can receive that same assurance through this good, which is a token of him, and much more through your purchase of shares in his company. This good is his presence with you. The torrent of images – sometimes arousing desire, sometimes grave and reassuring – point us to the single figure of the self we desire, the figure whom all desire and revere, but who is himself unmoved. This image leads us regularly back into the shop to re-purchase this assurance through possession of the cultic image, and it leads us back to work to earn the means to do so. All images are short-hand versions of the full account which tells us that we belong in this household, in the presence of this figure. We want to keep up, and want to show our peers that we are powerful, youthful, attractive, spontaneous. We clothe ourselves with the images and personae we gather from the image-torrent of the media. We regularly re-paper ourselves with whatever combination of cultural wrapping seems to position us best for their approval. We buy in. We dive in after those we consider cool and wish to emulate.23 We buy into the
Palgrave Economics Donald MacKenzie An Engine, not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets (Cambridge MA: MIT 2006) p. 272 ‘Another potentially crucial issue in respect to the limits
stock of whichever version of the Big Man seems most persuasive in this moment. If we get in to that market early and get out again earlier than the rest of the mob, we will survive. Those who come late, who buy high and then have to sell low, will not survive. If others pour after us and buy that stock our stock will rise and we will be able to put more into the next stock that then appears to be his next most convincing representative. The rational economic agent is engaged in guessing what the rest of the market is going to do next, and doing so before them. He is – rationally – making calculations on the roller-coaster. The market is healthy to the degree that its members maintain a degree of specialisation, and do not all follow each other. But when the market merges to become a single pack or herd, its movements become more volatile and the market as a whole more unstable.24 We make our way from bubble to bubble, from one big man to another, each of whom moves us closer to the Big Man himself – until our ride is over. Of course each such figure requires massive investment from us for purposes of display, in order to persuade others to take the decision that we have to opt into the household and bubble that we are riding. This is the idea of conspicuous consumption, the Veblen effect, that an increase the price of something to attach prestige to it and increases demand. Each is a pyramid scheme, and eventually we are caught in a collapse too big for us to recover from. The market is a form of mass compulsion. We all complicit in this all-consuming theatre and in the fabrication of desire, and which inflict it on one another, compelling the other to participate in it with us. Make-believe world The Christian account of man gives a full account of our readiness to deceive one another and to be deceived. The Christian doctrine of sin, and the economic explanation in terms of fear, greed and other lapses in virtue, are always appropriate. But Christianity is not alone here. Classical Greek and Roman authors also offer robust accounts of our ability to be fools and knaves, and those champions of modernity, such as Hume and Smith, who stand at the start of modern economics were very familiar with this literature. At beginning of is Plato’s account of Socrates, whose encounters with the Sophists appear in the dialogues. Each Sophist is a teacher who offers an education in which will enable a young man to get ahead and do well in the world. A man wants to acquire the virtues which will enable him to manage his affairs well, make a name for himself, make him a leader, even a statesman. Any student wants to gather all those disciplines we now refer to as economics, management, law, politics, media and military strategy. This is usually referred to as
of arbitrage is the apparent propensity of others to seek to imitate successful arbitragers… firms and other economic actors do not choose their courses of action in isolation: they monitor each other, and make inferences about the uncertain situation they face by noting the success or failure of others’ strategies. 24 MacKenzie An Engine, not a Camera p. 272 ‘When this leads to diversity – to firms selecting different strategies and coming to occupy different ‘niches’ – a stable market can result. But if firms imitate, each choosing the same strategy, potentially disastrous ‘crowding’ can occur.’
wisdom, but management science might be as good a description of what Socrates’ interlocutors are offering. The Sophist is offering to turn their student to acquire the most desirable human form, and so to become a big man. Socrates is sceptical. He sees these teachers competing to present the most attractive account of their wisdom in order to win the custom of their students., get the young men to buy their wisdom, and their program to – win friends and influence people. But education is not simply a matter of gathering the best techniques of self-promotion. They have to flatter those they want to attract, by appealing to what is already attractive to them, which is pleasure. They dare not suggest that learning requires more discipline than those people are ready to accept. As children think that confectioners are better than doctors, so young men will think flatterers (sophists) are superior to philosophers.25 Socrates regards these not-so-hidden persuaders, as counterfeiters. Like a confectioner or painter tricking children, they conjure up a make-believe world for us inhabit.26 But these are all cheap, untrustworthy words. Where do these sophists get their wisdom? Socrates sees that they source their wisdom as they source this flow of youth and beauty from the young men they gather. They take the beauty and spontaneity from one group of young people in order to sell it to the next. The false teacher holds his students captive, taking from them the beauty they have by virtue of their youth, and selling it back to them. He appears to give them what they don't have, but is only able to do by creating new desires for these young men and so creating needs that they didn't have. The teacher is by living off the very people he is professing to serve. The good teacher prepares his students for the moment when they must leave him to go to another teacher who can take them a little further on their quest. The Sophists are false teachers, Socrates suggests, because they do not tell them, that they, the young men that they teach are judged by impartial criteria external to themselves. Young people can never grow if their teachers hide from them that they, both teacher and student, are under the discipline of the truth. The truth is out there, beyond the group and its control. A good teacher is one who communicates the objective and elusive nature of the truth to his students. We have seen Socrates and Thucydides making the same point, about the complicity of people in their own deception, two thousand four hundred years ago. Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville made the same point in the early modern era. We are ready to be fooled. We have indicated how we provoke people to engage with us by making a deep and therefore emotional appeal at a deeper and more emotional sense of their identity. But analysis of the ‘sub-rational’ nation of our motivations did not begin with Thorsten Veblen, Theodore Adorno or the twentieth critics of consumer culture. There is nothing particular to the twentieth century or to ‘post-modernity’ about criticism of consumption or of knowledge as a form of consumption. Effective criticism of the concept of the rational economic agent, this basic tenet modern economics, has always been available. It is simply that not everyone thinks that this more mature view
Plato Gorgias 464b-466a Plato Sophist – Statesman??224
is worth having. This deeper and more complex view of man is as unpopular as the ‘economic’ view of man is popular, which is itself a point made by Socrates. As his own student Plato taught, the truth is there for the self-selecting elite who are willing to cash in everything else in order to pursue it. So far we have said that what we exchange in each transaction is something so subtle that it is not easy to find a single satisfactory term for it, but ‘belonging’ and ‘charisma’ are two candidates. At moments agency is effectively exercised by the very few, those on whom for a moment, charisma comes to rest. We have said that every commodity is a badge that offers us an identity and a token of the household’s presence with us and of our belonging within it, and that the economy is a stream of such elective identities. We exercise a form of possession over one another, in which we alternately are possessed and have others in our possession. Mankind is caught up in collective delusions and manias. There is a alternation between individual and collective identity, when mankind makes a single flock or even swarm. Any discussion of agency must include this surrender of individual agency, by which we give ourselves away. We search for someone to give ourselves away to, who will take responsibility from us. We pay over our God-given identity to whoever will take away the responsibility that we do not wish to cope with. We pay our whole self to whoever can take it from us, and lease back to be some part of it in instalments we can control. I have suggested that a robust account of the economy requires a strong conception of the readiness of economic agents to be taken in and carried along, and so not only of our gullibility but of our complicity in this gullibility. The economics that is unwilling to include an account of the failure of mankind to be a good judge, to be ‘rational’, is not only inadequate.27 It is itself an ideology – it intends to take us in. We are fooled. But this is only because we also fool. We are suckered, but we also sucker others. We are not solely rational agents. Our individual agency emerges out of a collective agency and dissolves back into it again. We live in an economy in which we receive our agency from others, and give to others both in freedom, as representative function, and involuntarily in forms of captivity and possession. Inasmuch as we experience these forms of possession as natural, and thus do not experience them as forms of captivity, it is because we inhabit a cult in which such forms seem natural. We receive and give our agency through ritual. Money is this ritual.
4. Money as Ritual
Coin – History as Code
Donald MacKenzie An Engine, not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets (Cambridge MA: MIT 2006) p. 265-6 ‘In order better to understand economic behaviour, even in financial markets, it is also necessary to enrich standard models of the rational actor to encompass ways in which we affect each other that are not reducible to calculation in the ordinary sense of the word. We are often profoundly influenced by anticipation of how our behaviour will appear to others, even if their approval or disapproval has no direct material consequences.’
Money is a social relation, given deliberate and public expression. Deliberate public expression is what ritual achieves. ‘Money is only an extreme and specialised type of ritual’.28 The functioning of depends of our ‘forgetting of the controversial and contestable nature of its value.’29 ‘Like the meaning of a word, or the proper form a ritual, [money] exists as part of a system of behaviour shared by a group of people... the joint creation of a whole society.’ 30 Let us now look at the economic transaction as an event of ritual. We shall experiment with the thought that in each economic transaction both parties, buyer and seller, are getting, not different things, but the same thing. Both of them are getting their positions in society recognised by society as a whole. They are simply pantomiming their joint act of so that the watching world sees and affirms it. If this is so we will have to examine the economic transaction in terms of spectators and spectacle. We are all public performers, and economics is the idiom of our performance together, and gives us the criteria by which we judge one another better or worse performers, and thus more or less desirable allies. This three-party account of human interaction represents a non-dualist economics. In a transaction we buy this good or service when we hand money over for it. The money reflects the commodity purchased. Now let us see if we can describe this encounter in different, though equally plausible, terms. What if we do not regard the good purchased as different from the money paid? Can we see them as aspects of the same thing? Could it be that money, records of transaction, and the goods exchanged are all equally media of this encounter? Could it be that the goods, and the records of this transaction, are as essential to this encounter as the money? Perhaps the records are as essential to the transaction as money itself. Perhaps money is a form of record, and a banknote is a form of receipt? Money is the means by which we call public attention to this encounter and so make it a public event, and as such, an economic event. We do so by spelling out through this ritual the place that this event has this place in our shared history. We locate it in the ongoing life of our economy through the exchange of these three media of good, payment and record. From this starting point we can see each transaction as a representation of the economy, and the history of the economy, in miniature. Where has the modern economy come from? It comes from our history and that history is present at every point within it. In the economy we give and receive our identity by exchanging accounts of who we are, which we do by exchanging accounts of our history, both our individual histories and our shared history. Each economic transaction represents
Mary Douglas Purity and Danger (London: Routledge 1991) p. 70. Marieke de Goede Virtue, Fortune and Faith: A Genealogy of Finance (Minneapolis: Minnesota Press 2005) p. xv. 30 Foley D. ‘Money in Economic Activity’ in Eatwell, John, Murray Milgate & Peter Newman Money: The New Palgrave (London: Macmillan 1987) p. 248.)
this shared history in a particular code. Money is the code in which we reiterate the basic event in which our society is constituted. In every transaction is a repetition of the history through which this society came into existence; each event travels round the circuit established by our common history. Money is our shared past become the code by which that history creates our shared present. The Cult of an Earlier Globalism The money that passes between the two persons represents everything that has brought them together. Whether coin, banknote or whatever other form of payment, it is the history of our society, or of the history that our society considers economic, which is to say, relevant. It is that history as it serves, or fails to serve, the continuity of that economy which means the reproduction of that society. This may not be obvious to Moderns, but it may become more obvious when we look at the societies that preceded our own. Earlier societies clearly personified the unity of the human economy in a single human figure. Imagine our entire culture identifies itself with one particular personification of its identity. This is what the coin does in the ancient economy. Imagine a coin with the portrait of a ruler on it. He is the one form of sovereign man. This individual alone is sovereign: all others are subjects of him. They can participate in some degree of his sovereignty as they defer to it, but they have no sovereignty of their own. He is the one whose will must be obeyed, the autarch and tyrant who exists, according to his own propaganda, before and above all others. He is master of all, and none is master of him. He acknowledges no relationship, no past, no debt or obligation; he cannot be called to account. This autarch is the figure of autonomous man, canonised by the modern champions of autonomy. This autonomous man is the rational and self-interested economic agent of modern economics and he is the Consumer, around whom the modern economy turns. We will now examine this figure through the ideology of an earlier empire. The champions of modern autonomy were enthusiasts of the Greek and particularly the Roman conception of man, and understood themselves to be recovering those earlier traditions of human dignity. The modern conception of man derives from the Greek conception of man as the master who acknowledges no master, or in its more Roman conception, for whom all others are simply to be commanded. Since this conception of man drives the Western economy and re-appears in every economic event, we will examine this Roman conception. A banknote has a portrait of some national figure on it; the credit card has the logo of the issuing bank and security seals of credit agencies. In what follows I will refer to all means of payment simply as the ‘coin’. Each is the token of its issuer, the bank and national government . This figure is another appearance of the ‘Big Man’. To be in possession of his coin is to be in his household and economy. As long as you hold the coin that he has issued, or seek that coin, you are in the continuing hold of the Big Man. We handle his token and so are members of his economy, his subjects. We disguise his rule until it has become universal, the global
empire that we simply call ‘the economy’; since there is nowhere that holds out against him, we have ceased to be conscious that we are functions of him.31 Ancient coins make politics visible. Histories of coinage start with the seal, impressed into clay on the outside of some packaged commodity, or some record of some commodity, handed by each holder of these commodities to the next and so travelling with them.32 The seal is then the mark of ownership not just of the commodities but shows that these traders trade under the aegis of the ruler whose mark this is. He is guarantor of their freedom to trade, for he provides the peace which allows that trade to take place. The holders of a coin are licensed by him whose mark it is; they are his men. The value of his mark is that it identifies them all as members of his household, who may therefore trade and deal with one another. The elites of the ancient world were bound by personal alliances. The aristocracies of the ancient Mediterranean were joined by brotherhoods, alliances, ambassadors and customs of hospitality. Each alliance was cemented and ritualised by libations and sacrifices, pledges and the exchange of mementos of this encounter that would keep their alliance visible to both parties. Chiefs met to forge these alliances through the exchange of gifts. As Moses Finley put it ‘every quality or state had to be translated into some specific symbol, honour into trophy, friendship into treasure, marriage into gifts of cattle.’33 Trust is embodied in ritual objects, of ‘little intrinsic value, but of immense symbolic significance’, Gabriel Herman tells us. 34 Symbols were often created by breaking a single token and giving each party a half that would function as the record of an event of the cementing of some relationship. The handshake was deemed so characteristic of the process that artists used it as a visual symbol for the alliance. Some tokens took the form of model hands, that portrayed the handshake given. Each chieftain acknowledges the other in an act of reciprocal homage. One puts his hand on the subdued form of the other. Then that other gives the same acknowledgement to the first. Each signals acts with deference towards the other, each giving the signals that identify himself as junior and the other as senior in this relationship. Such is the beginning of politeness, of civility and of the civil society in which commerce becomes possible. By this act they agree that they do not need to wrangle further to establish the truth of their relative positions, sparing themselves the cost of the more extended display – or even of battle – that would establish their status more exactly. As Mark Anspach puts it, ‘The earliest and most vital function of economic exchange is not economic at all. Trading goods keeps people from trading blows.’35
Michel Aglietta ‘Whence and Wither Money’ in The Future of Money History of Coinage 33 Moses I. Finley The World of Odysseus (Viking 1978) p. 123 34 Gabriel Herman Ritualised Friendship and the Greek City (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002) p. 50
By a series of gestures of self-abasement a Greek offered himself as servant or ally. Offered by both parties, such gestures constituted the forms of politeness and agreement that made the polis. Herman discusses the naming and paternity ceremonies of ritualised friendship ‘stronger than kinship’ cemented by the exchange of young men from other families as guests or hostages. Sitta von Reden shows that the language of civility and citizenship of the polis relies on both parties performing homage owed by a man of lower status to a man of higher status. ‘The guise of momentary self-abasement made by both partners makes the city a place of equals.’ 36 The coin is an instrument of the imperial cult. Coins portray a king, and many portray the king offering homage to the god from whom he receives his kingdom or for whom he acts as regent. The passing on of the coin in payment is an enactment of the king’s reception of the world from the god, of our reception of the world from the king who is his regent. Ancient coins portray gods, or their temple or altar. The architecture displayed on coins represented actual temples and civic monuments.37 We could see the coin as a small shrine; or alternatively see the shrine as a larger version of the coin. The presence of the emperor extends out from the throne room in which he is bodily present as this individual, to every public square where his statue stands and wherever his coins carry his image, and so throughout the polity in which it is tendered. When we meet in an economic transaction we exchange coins that display the image of the third party that witnesses and acts as guarantor of the relationship we create. This third is our big man. We said that the big man make his power known by putting tokens of that power, bearing his own image, into the hands of every citizen. These tokens are examined every time two citizens meet and do business. As they handle these coins, the two parties indicate that they meet in his presence so the Big Man is sponsor of their relationship and enforcer of the peace which makes their encounter possible. A glance at ancient Rome may help us here. A Roman coin portrays the imperial cult that promoted the supreme authority of Augustus that held that empire together. Pictures and likenesses of the emperor were everywhere, on coins, statues and public buildings. The coin was an image and microcosm of the whole economy of power of the empire. Each coin portrays the altar or temple of the god, or the god's gift of the empire to the emperor, and the further gifts of peace and prosperity. Some coins suggest that the emperor is of divine status: all wealth flowing from his throne room, around his economy and back to him again.38
Mark Anspach ‘From Vengeance to Gift-Exchange’ in Caroline Gerschlager, Expanding the Economic Concept of Exchange p. 213 36 Sitta Von Reden Exchange in Ancient Greece; ‘The Commodification of Symbols in Seaford & Gill Reciprocity in the Ancient World; Richard Seaford Reciprocity and Ritual (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1995). 37 SRF Price Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1985) p. 180 38 Richard de Ste Croix The Class Struggle in the Ancient World (p. 397)
‘What contemporaries saw on their coins was a reservoir of simple clearly-intelligible images of ‘good happenings’ connected with the empire... that could be held in the palm of the hand.’39 Coins were part of a constant empire-wide propaganda effort that spelled out the power of the emperor as he or his representatives travelled around the empire. Public recitation of the emperor’s acts and acclamations and hymns of praise to him were part of the emperor’s progress around the empire, and at the beginning and end of any public assembly. ‘Panegyric drew together multifarious events, ideas and hopes what were pinpointed on the coinage in one coherent and cogent whole’.40 When the speeches were forgotten the coin remained – Verba volant, numismata manent – to make the ideology expressed at that event permanently present to us. Coins kept the empire up to date with the latest imperial architectural achievements and of approved portraiture of statuary. The imperial cult regularly issued stylised portraits of leaders and then as these leaders fell from power, recycled these portraits in a process which Price likens to a ‘brutal Soviet-style propaganda machine’. Paul Zanker shows that the imperial cult disseminated his account of his own divine genealogy; Augustus encouraged others to construct their account of their relationship to the divinities to whom he was related. The architecture of his cities indicated that the world itself was brought into existence by Augustus. Statues of a veiled emperor show him as priest. ‘The apotheosis (deification) of Roman emperors offers a key to understanding the power of the emperors in their capital.’41 Images show ‘the father of the gods stretching out his right hand to give to Trajan the symbol of power.. an act repeated on many coin-issues.’42 Each coin is a small shrine; each shrine a large coin. The formal speeches held at the great city festivals and the Panhellenic games were also part of these rituals of remembrance, elements of an allencompassing discourse in both the public and the private spheres that provided the Romans with a communal assurance of the continuity and loving presence of the past.43 According to Zanker, ‘the Roman aristocracy traced their family lineage back to Greek gods or heroes and identification with mythological figures, originally a kind of genteel game, began more and more to inform the noble Roman's view of himself in the late Republic.44 Roman city understood the emperor himself as integral to the cult that united all others, and for which the observance was not sacrifice at
Sabine McCormack Art and Ceremonial in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press 1981) p. 11 40 McCormack Art and Ceremonial in Late Antiquity p. 12 41 Price ‘From Noble Funeral to Divine Cult’ p. 56 42 Richard de Ste Croix The Class Struggle in the Ancient World (p. 397) 43 Paul Zanker The Mask of Socrates (University of California Press 1995) p. 250 44 Paul Zanker The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (University Michigan Press 1990) p. 44.
ancient altars, but the conspicuous exercise of generosity in the form of the games. The city needed the emperor's presence at the games, as the games were the functional heart of city and empire.45 The political display in the circus, rather than the religious display of the temple, provided the most explicit performance of the imperial cult as the source of imperial cohesion. By staging games cities competed to demonstrate themselves as the most favoured sons of this god. The games, military prowess and the business of government as a form of conspicuous consumption that depended on the sacrifice of a proportion of those involved in it. It was obvious to Tertullian and Augustine that the circus was not just about horse-racing and athletics, but was a participation in the story spun about the fascination of the imperial family and its ancestors; to watch is to give approval and be possessed by the daemon of the imperial cult.46 The imperial cult was a cult of flamboyant display that enthralled the whole world, and it did so by consuming elements of it, holding all in the fear that they might be the next victim. The cult held together an empire by regularly identifying some section of its population who were then turned upon and consumed. We need not believe that the emperor wielded the colossal power his propaganda claimed. His cult made this giddily high claim for him because it was what the empire wanted to hear; this fiction was concocted by his court and people together. The cult spread with the image of Augustus on his coinage. By the propaganda of on his coins and other images the emperor steered the empire, but the glorification of him in the eulogies, the circus and public building programme steered the emperor. The empire held together to the degree that this cult was well-performed by all parties. . The empire demanded this of the emperor and he had to oblige, for maintenance of the mythology of unity was his job. According to Paul Veyne, ‘The monarchic regime, which has truly existed only in exceptional reigns, has succeeded for thousands of years in making people believe in its existence. Its chief merit, which has enabled it to last so long, is that it is not monarchical, but serves as a cover for informal team governments.’47 The emperor has power to the extent that he gathers supporters while staying far enough ahead of them to preserve his own freedom of manoeuvre.48 The logic is the same for a Roman emperor as for the ‘Big Men’ in the literature of social anthropology we met in section 2 above). The big man is the sovereign whose will must be obeyed. He is the autarch and tyrant who exists, according to his own ideology, before and above all others. The imperial cult is the basis of the Western political ideology, when the Christian Gospel is absent. This cult receives a development, an expansion rather than fundamental change of character, in the period of expansion in which Europe grasped the world. In this second imperial moment that started in the seventeenth century.
J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz Antioch: City and Imperial Administration in the Later Roman Empire (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1972) 46 Tertullian On the Games and Augustine The City of God 47 Paul Veyne Bread and Circuses p. 303 48 Jon E. Lendon Empire of Honour: The Art of Government in the Roman World (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997)
Rome provided the image to which the champions of modernity found compelling and made universal. As a result we have inherited the assumption of the unassailable will of the individual, whose choices are above question, and no individual is obliged to hear the challenge of any other, and our peers cease to be our judges. Roman conception of the solitary individual is universalised so everyone may act as this autarchic individual. As a result of this expansion the world becomes a single global economy in which, through the medium of money, each may command the service of all.
5. The Big Man in Modernity
The commander and his unresponsive world The Western economy is heir of the rule and personhood conceded to us by the Roman empire and its cult. The modern market and Western state have him as determinative ancestor. He issues the coin through which each of us can command all others, and so brings into being this single world economy. All subsequent rulers are his epigones, and each of us exercises this rule of one another, each of us a little emperor. The state issues us with money so that we can be members of its economy. It provides us with public sacrifices, works and circuses that will keep us hooked. Its task is to secure our participation and consent. It hopes that we will be caught up in the excitement. The goal of the modern economy is to reproduce this autarchic figure, once personified by the emperor. Where is this figure to be seen now? He is seen in ourselves. Everyone who looks at us sees this figure. Each of us has become the figure to whom the whole world pays court. Each of us wants to receive the coin he holds. Each one of us is an instantiation of this figure, the man who only commands, who is without equal or fellow. We only occasionally experience that figure as alien when the market or state moves against us as an individual. We have stripped the person down into a unit of pure will. We declare that no one knows anything about us other than what we reveal to be our will. This will must be feared and flattered. It cannot be argued with, and it will join no conversation. How can two such wills meet? They can only do so in the return, the point at which contact of two autarchic wills is controlled by ritual. And they do so briefly and episodically. The world of the modern economy is a world of brief events of contact. By buying and selling we participate in the universal economy, the household of this autarchic figure. Money is ritual and idiom of this participation. Inasmuch as we handle money we meet in the medium he provides for members of his household to the end of his own replication. Money is the modern idiom of honour. Modern history tells one, narrow, account of our history, and blinds out the larger history from which it comes. This modern account of our history and identity gives us the separation of public and private, and division into separate vocabularies of economics for exteriority and emotion for interiority. It identifies a discourse of economics entirely divorced from the growth of the personal and thus from the discourse of honour in which it might appear. We therefore have trouble acknowledging that there is change only within a greater continuity, and thus that through all the generations of
development and growth, the human economy undergoes only a repetition. This means that the modern economy is not substantially new. Moderns have not escaped the logic of human mortality and continuity generation by generation through time. The modern economy is only a particular way of seeing the human economy, and is thus an economical and minimal way of seeing it, motivated by the hope of controlling it. This conception is indeed so minimal that as we have seen it gives us little motivation to continue this history and so seems to hinder rather than help the continuity of the open economy and indeed of the human economy as a whole. We have seen that sacrifice was the ancient idiom of the making and recording of contracts, and that this institution evolved through other means of recording, involving tokens and written texts, that are more familiar to us. The context for this was the forms of social ordering and consensus-making, embodied in the vocabulary of patron and client, honour and service that subsequently took financial forms. Payment is the attribution of status and equivalence that allows communication to take place. The Big man has to get you to take his coin, which is both his imaging of his own action in reception of his lease on his kingdom from the god and his own bodily substance - and to pass it on, and only ever to deal in it and in him. The whole task is to get the other man to take the coin you give him. I have suggested that he modern economy is the ancient economy continued. We saw that ancient coins portray a god or king enthroned, or the altar or shrine. What is the modern form of this relationship? The modern form of this shrine is the department store. The counter and cash till serve as altar; coin and credit card are microcosms of the till and store. We have said that the coin or commodity held between the two persons represents everything that has brought them together. Each member of the economy grips a coin, and as they are gripped by the Big man who is the personification of that household and economy. To handle this money is to accept this economy, notionally issued by him, by which we accept that we are his subjects and creatures. We all work to disguise that this is the case by attempting to erase any part of the world that resists identification with this universal household and so are not conscious of our status as functions of him. Our autonomy is a myth of his invention and the currency in which he disposes us. The emperors and gods of modernity have drifted so high up the ladder of being, becoming so universal, that we are seldom aware of them. Yet they are still here, and from their concealment, they continue to exercise their power over us. ‘Economic’ man The modern economy produces a certain sort of man. He has been referred to as ‘economic Man’, who considers himself only over the shortterm, and so is man without a long-term. We have suggested Modern Man is the outcome of the intellectual tradition we sketched out in the contrast between the private and public man made in Chapter 3. We must discover that this intellectual tradition is not only a set of ideas, but the complex of
practices which make up the modern economy. The modern economy envisions economic actors in a certain way, and the result is that we see ourselves in this way. We become what we understand ourselves to be. As we buy and sell we impose these practices on one another, and so impose this conceptuality on one another, and confine one another to the realm, the economy, defined by this conceptuality. We have seen the early modern champions of autonomy were unwilling to acknowledge love and gift and so were unable to concede that we not only exchange goods, driven by necessity, but also distribute goods, in freedom, motivated by love. They were unable to concede that what we give must ultimately be ourselves, and that what we receive is ultimately one another, and that how much goods and services feature in this traffic, they all amount to a gift of ourselves. We may give ourselves willingly and freely. But if we do not do so, we are given and spent nonetheless. Modern economics represents man’s fear that he is fundamentally alone. He enters relationships with other human beings, but by the ritual of transaction he defines each relationship as an exception, a moment that is over as soon as begun. The man of modern economics does not concede that he has any history, that he is mortal and must give way to others who will be his successors. He knows no obligation to reproduce, to acknowledge the claim of the future on him or pass on what he has received. We do not see this figure anywhere because we have generalised him so that he is everywhere. Each of us has become that emperor who cannot tolerate anything that he has not conjured up out of his own will. To the extent that we make an excessive resort to our credit card, each of us has become that tyrant. The distinctively modern economy is shaped by man as consumer. Man is already his own master, and having nothing to learn from his fellows, has no need of them. Here again we can learn from earlier generations. Xenophon tells us that no one dare contradict a dictator. If he keeps everyone afraid of him and so puts himself beyond challenge, he will never hear the truth, and never learn how to modify his own desires. The man who is only under his own control is a menace to himself as much as to others. Tyrannised by his own passions, he is to be pitied.49 His apparent absolute freedom is a form of captivity. By regarding ourselves primarily as consumers and so putting ourselves beyond challenge, have we become pitiful tyrants who cannot be gainsaid and who never acquire self-mastery? Yet we are public beings. We watch one another and seek one another’s respect and are driven by our desire to be loved and admired. We do things because we hope that they will get us noticed and admired, make it easier for us to be loved by those whose love we want most. We have seen that every change and transaction in the market affects the whole market and all the individual prices in it. We are gesturing towards
Xenophon Hiero: On Tyranny
something given and impersonal. We are gesturing to it as and thereby turning it into something inert, that cannot speak back to us. Each unit of payment represents permission to participate in this economy and so experience a momentary unity with humankind. We participate in this household, only by providing its life, that is, as its life is extracted from us. Our membership in it has to be renewed constantly and each transaction renews it for a moment. But since these transactions leave no trail we are just as much individuated individuals at the end of all transacting in the monetised economy as we were at the beginning. The result is that each of us exists in the moment. We exist as we travel from one transaction to the next, each an instant of reconciliation and unity with another person and through them with humanity as a whole. When each is over we have achieved no more than after the very first. This economy is not able to sustain the unity and enduring dignity of person.
6. Going shopping
Money as ritual We have said that payment is a form of bilateral homage. Money is an idiom by which two persons perform this reciprocal homage by which they position themselves in the world of relationships. We have seen that money starts from the exchange of a handshake, and thus is a form of body-language. It employs the sort of complex motions of hand and body by which subjects once paid court to their rulers and clients to their patrons. These gestures are reproduced in the tokens that commemorated the occasion on which fundamental acts of homage were made. When a king is portrayed receiving his kingdom from a god, the two of them clasp hands. The passing of the coin in each payment is the enactment of the handshake by which the world is given by the one and received by the other. All language is bodily. Hand signals originated the squiggles conventionalised over millennia as the numerals and as the letters of the alphabet. Such a language of hand signals is still employed by the deafdumb, traders on the floor of money market and bookies on a race course.50 These hand signals are what is being exchanged in every financial transaction. When we go shopping we are exchanging hand signals with the shop assistant, and together with them, with the whole of the rest of the market.51 Together we perform these hand signals via the algorithm of the cash register. At the end of each day’s trading the cashier exchanges with his line manager another set of signatures and signals that sum up the day's trading; this signal is agreed and transmitted in signals that both move up the hierarchy of the firm, and which over the long-term create that
Donald Mackenzie describes some of these in the ‘open outcry’ trading of the ‘bear pit’ of the Chicago stock market 51 David F. Armstrong, William C. Stokoe, Sherman E. Wilcox Gesture and the Nature of Language (CUP 1995).
hierarchy, and move from one firm to another, creating new orders and trades. Such streams of complexly conventionalised hand-signals – alphanumeric figures – flow across the market. Each signal joins the stream that runs around the world, gathering the world into a single flickering luminescence. We go to the shop and select an item from the display. We give the item we have selected with our credit card to the assistant who shows the item to the light pen and swipes the card through the till. He gives us a slip of paper, on which we put that scribble unique us, return it to him, and he returns card, purchase and receipt. The movements involving card, pen and keypad are an evolution of the handshake. Where once the handshake, accompanied by other ritual acts of conviviality, was watched by an approving audience, now this set of movements involving card and pen, those it appears to us many times more sophisticated than a handshake, perform this same function. Its approval is still required, although the audience is not present in that place at the moment that transaction occurs. Imagine you have a side view as shopper and shop assistant complete this exchange across a counter. Our side view resembles the images on ancient coins, in which we see a vassal pays homage to his sovereign, subjects of the empire to their emperor, and an emperor to his god. Imagine we are not able to distinguish the commodity from the record of the transaction. We could then perceive no difference between the money that changes hands, the receipt that is given, and the good that is purchased and taken home. We distinguish the good purchased from money and receipt because we have been enabled to by a tradition of commerce. But what if there was no difference, that is, between the object of the transaction, the (financial) means of the transaction and the record of the transaction? We could see all three as equally object, means and record of the event. Then we could say that each transaction is an exercise in recreating and enforcing the distinction between the object, the means and record of the transaction, respectively the purchase, money and receipt, and dividing the world in this way into object, life and history. For the seller the object sold represents the past of the world, the money received represents life, opportunity and future, while the receipt we issue and other accounting entries we make represent a statement of the approval of the necessary audience, their confirmation that the ritual has been performed adequately. For the buyer, the money paid represents the past of the world, the object bought represents new opportunity, while the receipt confirms the approval of the audience. Every transaction distinguishes and separate the world into three elements. Each event of shopping is the ritual by which two parties make a particular claim on the recognition of the market that is their audience, and they use three elements, that represent the past, present and future of that audience, to do so. By these stylised hand movements over the cash desk shopper and shop assistant perform an act of mutual homage. Their act has immediate
consequences that travel in all directions. At the end of the day’s trading the till is inspected and the till receipts approved by the store manager. The week’s trading is examined by regional and national managers. It is examined again by the Accounts department. The chief financial officer then presents summarises all these trades in his report to the Board, then stockmarket at with the announcement of quarterly results. The reports that summarises these trades are examined by the auditors before these results presented to representatives of shareholders at the annual general meeting. The news from the till results in new orders being despatched to suppliers and distributors, and these orders issued to packers and delivery people, and the news received through price signals by growers and manufacturers. But surely if we put things this way there no exchange of anything real and substantial? There is, but in order to show what it is we must consider again how we make things unalterable. Gesturing to our shared world We have seen that the identity and thus the value of this coin is established by a convention. Where does the reality of money come from? We might ask the same question about anything else established by convention come from? We can link the solidity of this payment, for which the tangible, graspable coin is such a convenient token, with the solidity of the world. Whenever someone challenges it, we demonstrate it by slapping our hand down on the nearest solid object. We are demonstrating the solidity, the unalterable and reliable nature of our contracts, conventions and values in each transaction as we hand over this hard means of payment. We hand the coin over in acknowledgement of the of the unyielding reality of the world in which we have the position that is identified through this and all our previous transactions. We constantly check and confirm our position of the world and so confirm the solidity of the world, established by all the conventions of human history. We do so by making new transactions, and thus by putting our hand on the world: we pick up and passing on these goods and this coin, and we insist that others must pass on such coin in the same way. The coin is as solid as the world, and the world as solid as the coin. When the shop assistant insists on receiving this coin, they are insisting that this financial instrument, and the whole convention of money, is necessary, normative and real. The shop assistant and I are signalling to each other that we hold the convention-world of the coin as real as the commodity, and so we makes these two worlds of (soft) conventions and (hard) objects correspond. We insist on the hardness of human achievement. We check the fit between the two halves of the human world, the soft and the hard, and confirm that the world of human convention is as hard as the material world. In each transaction we insist on a demonstration of this solidity, and each transaction is the demonstration of this correspondence and this solidity. A transaction is a ritual act, performed in public. The whole human economy is a function of our belief in our future, and the continuity of the human economy. Each transaction demonstrates our confidence in the
conventions that have brought humankind this far. We insist that the ritual is performed punctiliously. We check what we are being offered. We weigh the coin in our hand, test it between our teeth, hold this note to the light to check that this is a real rather than a counterfeit ten pound note. We check that the goods are what they claim to be, that authenticating seal is there, that there is a two year guarantee. We check the figures on pay slips and bank statements. We check that the etiquette has been satisfactorily performed and we have not been short-changed. As we feel the goods or tap the coin we are offered for them to reassure ourselves of their quality or its solidity, and place our hand on it to affirm that we are its new owner. We are patting the world on the head in a gesture of ownership, that signals both that we acknowledge this position we have reached. We confirm it and it confirms us. In every economic transaction the two parties place their hands on a token of the world, and for a moment symbolise the economy in which humans share one world. So far we have said that humanity commands the world, insists that the world is to be commanded and so stands opposite it. The human being is distinct from the material world. But the modern economy But there is one other feature of the logic of the modern economy. Humanity is not distinct from the world. Flocking and Emotion All humanity is one, a single continuum of affect. Emotions blow through the whole human crowd, moving us all. The market fluctuates. At times it registers only a gentle alternation between caution and confidence. At other times, it picks up our individual fears and amplifies them. We vacillate between our fear of being left and our determination to excel and leave the others behind. For long periods the movements of the market are so gentle that we forget that they are not always so. Markets become unstable precisely because after a period of stability people forget that they can be unstable. Hyman Minsky warns us that there is no equilibrium for things will not roll back to where they were.52 Emotion drives the market, or rather, emotion is what the market is. 53 The market is a contest between confidence and caution. Greed and fear try their strengths against each other every day. As long as our confidence is stronger we will enter the market and the market will go up and a bubble will inflate. We stay in with the rising market as long as we can because we cannot bear to be left behind. The market amplifies the movements, and feared future movements, of the herd. The moment that someone expresses, by their decision to sell, the fear that more are exiting the market than entering, the herd breaks and scatters. Each shoves their way to the exit. As they get out of that stock or market, they look for others to enter. Each hopes that the rest of the herd will discover
Hyman P. Minsky Stabilizing an Unstable Economy (New Haven: Yale 1985). Akerlof and Shiller Animal Spirits. George Ainslie Breakdown of Will p. 130 ‘In an intertemporal bargaining model, will is a recursive process… the person herself can't be absolutely sure of what she’ll do in the future and makes her present choice based on her best prediction. But this choice also affects her prediction, so that before she has acted on her choice she may predict again, and may then change her previous prediction and thus her choice.’
the same opening a moment later and come thundering on a short distance behind them.54 When our public account of how things are becomes massively out of kilter with how things are there is a correction. People may be content with what the market offers them, but it cannot prevent them from deciding one day that they no longer like it, and won't buy it any more. Man judges man and find him wanting. When that correction has been a long time coming, we experience it as a traumatic event. When the public snaps out of one mood, and into another, moving suddenly from assurance to doubt and self-disgust, the market is convulsed as its own previous assertions are repudiated. This is what a financial crisis is. The one-world organism Imagine we are watching a market, on the floor of which floor traders exchange hand signals. The successful trader establishes a territory and place in a pecking order, so his hand movements are more visible than those of others. Money is the complex hand-movements made by traders across an open trading floor which resembles a gull colony. Each exchange of signals is part of a process of mutual preening and grooming. Money is not only the network but the patterns made by the movements of the whole human flock. It is nothing but the array of body idiom by which the flock moves and humanity holds itself together. The market is the sum of the behaviour that holds the human species together.55 The movements of this flock create a continuum in which all movement is interpreted and reacted to. The hand-signals make up the figures that we read as financial data. Over the long term the flow of financial information creates the routes which become the architecture of our built environment. It is the interface through which we are connected. The cash till that sits on the counter between the shop assistant and me embodies the algorithms and pathways that sustain this electronic one-world system. Every keystroke on this till rings changes that occur at all points round the world. 56 The total interface, made up of all the keyboards, keypads, lightpens, card-swipes, monitors and displays, holds us in a single global network. 57This global traffic of buyers and sellers circulate, the whole
George Ainslie argues that each individual person operates as a crowd, in which our potential acts jostle to become our actual acts and determine the path we take. Breakdown of Will p. 131. ‘Participation in the acts of this crowd of successive choicemakers is an extremely self-referential process, hidden from the outside observer and even from the person herself facing it in advance. She can never be sure how she herself will choose as she tries to follow this crowd and also lead it from within; she may read a small sign of faltering as her cue to bail out – that is, to stop cooperating with later selves on a given plan – just as investors may see a small hike in interest rates as a signal to start a massive sell-off. Or she may not. She won't know until it happens.’ Thus as individuals, we do not have very complete knowledge of our own mind, much less of the future movements of the market. 55 Ansell Pearson; Horst Henriks-Jansen Cathing Ourselves in the Act (1996). Jean Petitot, Francisco Varela Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science 56 Mark C. Taylor Confidence Games 57 Philip Mirowski Machine Dreams: Economics becomes a Cyborg Science (Cambridge University Press 2001)
human entity processes about the vortex indicated by any artefact or piece of architecture, each a variation on the cube of black stone. Each human is a single data packet in this procession, each emitting a constant call to hold its location within the procession, as a flock of birds wheels around in the sky above its roost. The whole network, and the movement of the flock around it, comprise a single vast artwork. Things and gestures Next we must sketch the relationship of coin and cash register. We have considered the coin as hard, discrete object. Now we must consider the cash register in the same way. The shopper and shop assistant meet over the cash register. Each operates keyboard or keypad. What is going on beyond the surfaces and screen of this mechanism?58 Within that box is a set of circuits which represent a set of algorithms. By PIN number or signature we confirm the cash desk's abbreviated account of our transaction. The keys we engage are connected by circuitry to all the other keys that make up the world, the sum of which we may call the interface. The information flows along pathways, and over the long-term determines the pathways, the hardware over which it flows. These signals lay the cables that will conduct those signals with greater speed, keeping them ahead of their rivals. The cables connect nodes, and the microarchitecture of data-storage and retrieval. These have created a one-world electronic nexus of which every cash register and every economic agent are nodes. Both network and individual terminal is consideration by a complex set of paths, gates and operators which allow flows, manipulation of which affords us openings and forms of actions. All previous events make the set of pathways around which every new event travels. Each new transaction circulates around the one-world circuitry built up by all previous events of transaction. Each contributes to the various technologies of record-making that constitute the pathways of the net that is our modern mode of being. Mechanisms are closed and secret only to the extent that they have evolved through a history that individually we no longer know. The algorithm of microprocessor, program and information network is a socially-produced artwork of composed of the history of Western being out of which we are all constituted.59 The whole global network, and each terminal that is a node in it, is a hardware metonym of our history. The one-world circuitry I have suggested that the movements made by the hands are a complex version of the handshake. We have seen that the exchange of gifts and performance of sacrifice which embodied the cementing of a relationship in the ancient world. The movements made by shopper and shop assistant are transmitted around a global network, part of a continuum of movement which sustains
Donald MacKenzie An Engine, not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets (Cambridge MA: MIT 2006) p. 268 ‘markets can indeed be seen as machines’ and ‘with the increasing implementation of market mechanisms in software those are not simply metaphors.’
and sustained by a global circuitry. We all live at this interface. We key into keyboards and keypads and on the screen watch the movement of figures that represent the movements of the vast human flock. The cabling conducts this traffic; the flow of information extends the cables and nodes, so that the whole becomes an ever-more luxuriant growth. The circuitry extends itself to every facet of life, forming routes, patterns and all the architecture in which we live. The electronic circuitry in each cash register is itself – a maze and a coin – an artwork that sustains this fascination and self-absorption.60 Each contains the algorithms and pathways that both replicate and drive the electronic one-world system, so every keystroke on this cash register rings changes that occur at all points round the world, and make humanity a single meta-human organism. The algorithms of the cash register represents an abbreviated form of the history of the West. The pathways formed in that history, around which we propel each other. ‘Nature’ – the stochastic solidity of the world The shop assistant tests the coin we give. They check that it is good, shorn of all traces of its previous relationships. It shows nothing untoward or exceptional, no mark of any identity other than that of the central bank, its issuer. It shows no trace of the work we had to do in order to acquire it. We accept as valid only the currency which bears no traces of its previous holders. Through the exchange of tokens in each transaction we purify our accounts of all that is particular, and so we remove all traces of the route by which we arrived here. Through each transaction each offer themselves to the other purified of past and particularity. We put ourselves out of reach of our history, thereby making it ‘past’. Our transaction is the removal of particularity, the discarding of all that has been. The flow of signals that unceasing carries our acts of mutual recognition creates the patterns, algorithms and architecture of our physical environment. Our signals communicate the inevitability of these conventions of encounter which make up this financial system. Materiality, solidity and irreversibility is the convention that we are engaged in creating together. Money makes up a single network with a universally-present interface that gives us our position within the single human household, and even make us aspects of a single human organism. 61 One gives the present world, represented by the commodity, while the other gives the past world, represented by the coin, records that represent its history and title. One holds the present and the other holds the past which is the title to the present. Together they distinguish present from past, making the part alive and discarding the rest as dead. This history licences this present, that this ‘is’ allows that ‘ought’ or ‘may be’.
7. Money as reconciliation and unity
Alfred Gell Art as Agency
We offer one another accounts in which we set out the relationship and identity that we intend to share. These many accounts are united and reconciled by the fundamental account-reconciling medium that is money. In giving and taking the coin which represents all our financial instruments, we oblige one another to put our hands on the particular past that is canonical for the economy of modernity. We oblige the other party to situate themselves within this history and so acknowledge it as binding. We have said that that we belong to our fellows, that we share a single language, with many local dialects, and a single, always evolving, ritual of homage. We compel one another to act within this language and ritual. It is not merely a language that we may speak or not as we wish, but which we are obligated to reproduce in every encounter in which we move others to re-attribute the materiality of the world – every economic transaction. Money as enforced universal language Money is the idiom in which some encounters occur as transactions. It is this idiom because we employ it as such. We could think of it as a language. French exists because people in particular territories speak to one another in French, while the language of Cornwall does not because people no longer speak to one another in it. Money is the language which everybody is able to communicate with everyone else. Granted, not all its forms are valid everywhere: my pounds are not accepted in France; this corner shop doesn’t accept credit cards, this public telephone box doesn't accept cash. Nonetheless, it is the idiom in which everybody may understand us, and which we are compelled to speak if we want to anyone to understand us. We enforce our various currencies on one another, so a pound, euro, shekel is a dollar with a certain accent, each translatable into the other, since money is pure convertibility. Money is this idiom because we demand it from one another. Only this idiom is acceptable from strangers who want services from us. We do not allow the other person to approach us as a friend asking a favour, or a lord demanding a service of a vassal, but only as an economic agent. If a public utility asked whether we will allow it to lay a pipe through our garden simply as a favour, we would reply that it must pay, for this is the only idiom proper to the first encounter of institutions to individual persons. We insist on it and so we oblige others to employ it when they approach us, and thus we impose it on one another. It is only money because we all say it is, and refuse to take anything its place. So we have said that money exists because we use it, and thus because we believe we may and must use it so. Yet money also pre-exists us. We were born into the formal economy that is denominated by money it just as we were born into a French- or English-speaking society. Money pre-exists us, for it is simply representation of all that was in existence between us, our national history. It is the token of the myriad successful encounters and transaction that make up the long history of the money-using cultures. Since in the British Isles we could not always get enough pounds, shillings
and pennies, we made occasional use of the guinea, crown, ducat and other denominations from further afield. And when we are not confident of our pound we resort to dollars or ounces of gold. When we could not finally produce any metal coinage, we traded on IOUs, which promised delivery of the metal, and these promises turned out to be as good as metal, or, since it was easier to produce and more portable, even better. If these IOUs cease to be acceptable, we will return to a gold-backed currency, yet we will still denominate it as the dollar or pound. These are the units on which we reckon one another good for the money and are prepared to do business with one another. We deal with someone when we reckon that nothing hinders us from doing so – we have permission. Money is the membership card for the great club that is the global economy. If they hold money, we are safe to consider them fellow members with us. We can transact with one another because money, the single required public confirmation of the public standing of its holder, licenses us to do so. It assures us that, even if they don't have the resources now, they will come into possession of them. So keen are we to initiate relationship with the other man, that we may even give them credit. We issue coupons so that they can buy the first item at our store, in the hope that they will get the habit, have an incentive to raise credit from other sources, and develop an economic relationship with us. We extend credit because we need to tempt people into the game. We need customers, for with customers our own standing rises, other economic agents become more willing to seek relationship with us. Money exists because each of us demands to be paid in it, insisting that nothing else will do. It is the language for which we have forsaken many of the other idioms of recognition in which our lives have been embedded. Each transaction is a exchange of greetings, in which one side offers the other some recognition, denominated and embodied by these goods, and the other replies and accepts by returning the same recognition denominated in that ritualised form of recognition that we know as money. Unity enforced The economic transaction is the event in which two persons are reconciled. They come into communion and are, for a single moment, one. Their reconciliation and unity are expressed, on this occasion, by these goods and this price. The price on which they agree is as incidental as the day’s date. Each transaction represents a unity and communion, yet only for that instant and so without duration or public consequence. Money is the medium that makes all things immediately explicit, so that nothing is outstanding and no future settlement required. In each transaction, one sells goods, the other pays for the goods bought: goods and services travel one way, money the other. Ultimately we pay for these goods and services with other goods and services. But what makes them services and goods is that someone other than us regard them as such. Each judges the goodness of this service or this sum proffered, and does so by comparing it with previous and future services and sums. We measure this present offer against a past and future. Each
is able to desire this service, and accept and agree on the adequacy of this service only on the basis of a history. Each transaction is an encounter between persons within the ritual built up by such a history of such encounters. We have nothing to offer one another or to exchange beyond our histories, but this history is all we need. Despite the presumption and insistence of modern economics that these are two individuals, who encounter one another in this transaction without history or obligation and thus without enduring relationship, these are not history-less individuals, but history-laded persons. They do not come to the transaction without history, nor do they depart from it without having together created a little history that marks them from then on. Together they leave a trace, however infinitesimal, that characterises all future encounters and transactions. Only history and hope give us purposes and preferences and so reasons for attempting any encounter at all. Two individuals cannot become one. Only two persons may become one. What is this ‘one’? ‘One’ is our unit of account. It is ‘one’, whether it is one bag of salt or one dollar, and it is ‘one’ even when it is four dollars, or four trillion dollars, or the same number of cowry shells. It is ‘one’ when it is ‘enough’, when price is agreed, deal closed and the union of two parties brought about. What is the origin of this ‘one’, the number to which all numbers and settlements refer? What is the true name of all the numbers which all represent this unity? What is that oneness which is the basis of every unit, and of every reconciliation and settlement? The union to which each ‘unit’ and each number refers is the unity of God with man. For God has joined man to himself, and made man one with himself. Every unit refers to the union in which man is one with God, and which with God has reconciled and united the world in man, making creation one, and for creation’s sake, making man the ‘other’ of God. Modernity has its own parody of this unity of persons. Indeed Modernity is an imitation of the Christian account of the communion of persons but which, since it is not sustained by the communion of God, is a very communion of individuals, a very paradoxical communion of monads. Modernity avers that there may be no ultimate unity of persons; two persons may only ever be two, never two who are also one. Money is an idiom of the reconciliation and unity of persons. It is the metric by which we apportion the honour we have to give. We honour people by introducing them to people already honoured. Other persons are the final measure and judges of persons. No person is solitary; each is directed to another. Each of us gives permission to others, and needs the permission of others in order to do what we intend. Money is one means by which we address one another and intend to be heard by one another, and so it is a form of speech. But it is not merely speech, but acts, and permission for future acts. Money is a series of forms, ceremonial and ritual, by which we formally and publicly grant one another our approval and permission. Modernity is the economy in which a more or less explicitly single currency runs through the hands of every human on the globe. We oblige
others to address us in this medium, for we insist on being paid, and in this single hard currency. The economy in which this banknote is sole legal tender is the imperial cult of the old pagan empires made universal. By demanding money, this specific and hard currency, we tell one another that this scrip is universally valid, its writ runs through the world, and that we will accept no account of our worth in any other medium. We must be paid in this currency only, for with this currency our command can set anybody, anywhere else in the world to work. This money enforces on all others the universality and singleness of this economy. As such it is not only an economy, but a rule, and a cult that makes that rule appear as a given of nature. It is we who enforce this sole currency on one another, yet this form of money appears natural and our need for it inevitable. It is the triumph of universality over all particularities. The cost of our determination to enforce this freedom over all others is that this universality triumphs over our own particularity too. This universality is permanent, while we are its merest epiphenomena. In money we are contained in a single economy with all men by a God that will not give us his name, and so does not allow our relationship with him to be free. The invisibility of the Big Man in Modernity ‘Economic’ man represents the evasion of human plurality, human freedom and agency. The monetised and global economy is affiliation to someone who does not care to give us his name. No human is a whole in himself, but a fragment of a totality. The individual will be rolled up into the whole and the titan of humankind will roll on, made up of a myriad individual life-trajectories, all of which were directed and absorbed into the titan, ‘Man’. As a result moderns have no means of extricating themselves from this economy, and as a result this money is bondage to an alien household and economy. The result of all our labour and the sole product of our economy is that we have become one ‘person’, the metahuman being, in whom all participate, and which no one of us will survive. There are many big men, and there is a unity to them all, big men, and indeed to all men. There is ONE big man, and we are all indistinguishable from him. The effect of insisting that money is the only form of recognition that we are willing to receive, is to acknowledgement only one form of man – the monad individual. Each of us is up against him. To each one of us, all other human beings appear part of that implacable figure. Others face us as fate. Though there are many human beings in the world, inasmuch as they through the global economy, each of us is part of this unyielding entity. All our living and being is a participation in this individual. Though there are many human beings, within the modern economy none of them is fundamental or ultimate. All of them will pass away and be re-dissolved into this monad. There is in effect one human being, and each one of us exists as we participate in it. He is the truth of us and we are merely instantiations of him. We saw in the ancient Roman imperial cult that homage to the figure of the emperor gave unity to an entire economy. All appeared to emanate from this figure and to him, the focus of mass enthralment. There is no such single figure in the modern economy. Since no world-emperor sits at its summit, our economy seems to be prior to and more fundamental than
any particular figure. This human monad is too high to have any actual existence in our contemporary world. We cannot get any distance on him because nothing stands outside him. We do not see him – because each of us is him. The reach of the global economy represents the effulgence of the Big Man. This bloom is the whole history of the West that has given rise to the economy that relates to this man-without-relation. As long as we refuse to name our own determinative ancestors as our sources, are deliberately ignorant of our own history, we are complicit in the anonymity which gives the modern economy its natural, or fate-like, character. We must name the champions of autonomy who created the forms of life which we all now inhabit and subscribe to. Through the outworking of that history, this figure has become invisible. Because he is not identifiable as one person among others, we are unable to challenge the Big man of the modern economy and make him answerable to us. The Big Man of the modern economy does not give us his name and has put himself above description. Because we cannot say what particular identity he has it is difficult to distinguish ourselves from him and shake him off. Yet we are him. Each of us is trapped in the autistic form of life made normal by the modern economic worldview. In every encounter which features a payment each of us is vocal subject faced by an object without speech, -to-face with an object. Each of us is alternately the giver and then recipient of a monologue. Someone inflicts their view on us, and later do so on someone else. Each can only consent if he wants the sale. We have normalised two non-reciprocal, non-equal relations. It normalises nonequal relations. The empire of Rome was a vertiginous hierarchy. We apparently have collapsed that hierarchy until it has sunk to become the flat plain on which we are all on a level. Yet we have done so only by putting this hierarchical inequality at the centre of every public encounter through the medium of money which ritualises two unidirectional simultaneous moments unilateral homage. Enforcement makes our currency hard How does this currency communicate this non-negotiable givenness and hardness? Economics is the discourse of nature, and thus of fate. To modernity our environment, even our built environment, is inert and dead. It does not concede that our predecessors left us the material and political world that constitutes our present situation. The world does not convey to moderns the hard work and imagination of their forebears. An assumption of the deadness and disconnectedness of everything that is not ourselves is foundational to the modern worldview. If we see the world around as merely physical, we do not see that there are any claims on it other than those we now make, so all is raw material which our nonnegotiable material needs drive us to take hold of. Their agreement on this hard and non-negotiable givenness is the basis of their transaction. They agree on this. This transaction is their enactment of the inert givenness and unity of the world. Together they declare it so and make it so.
This single global economy exists because we all insist that each human being pay us now in hard currency for every service we offer them. No one may ask anything of us except when they offer us this single and universal currency which represents the ultimate equivalence of all persons and things. The world is always made up of many local and regional economies. But because we insist that there is one form of money, rather than many different negotiable forms of money, we enforce a reductive and homogenising form of life on one another. We insist that all economies and all ends and purposes can be reduced to the unity that this monad represents, and that all things are made present to us, here and now in this present, without loss. Multiplication and division Money is the metric by which we apportion our time and so distribute the honour we bring to others. Our ability to apportion ourselves by identifying more units of time enables us to multiply transactions and so proliferate money. We identify a new unit of time in order to end one encounter and initiate another. We introduce new temporal intervals that cut existing relationships short to produce new ones, and in this way we make ‘more’, accumulate transactions and increase economic growth. We divide and denominate the honour we pay on another by the infinitely divisible metric that is time, and we conglomerate these units of our time in the idiom of money.62 Money is human history rendered in the substantial forms of the goods and material environment, and then into the volatile substance of charisma and credit, which gives us permission for new encounters and transactions. The modern economy grows, because we divide ourselves: economic growth is the head, our decreasing ability to receive one another as whole persons is the tail. If everything in the world can be truly denominated in this single currency, everything may be paid off, all debt cancelled, all differences equalised and all relationship brought to its conclusion. Moderns are individuals, and each individual is a piece of the global economy. In the monetised economy, each of us is individuated from all others, all intrinsic ties are broken, we are severed from one another. Each transaction removes all trace of previous encounters, so we arrive clean and odour-free at each new transaction. The monetised economy strips us of the capital of inherited reasons so, without context, we are also without purposes or hope. Human history is divided and rendered on one hand into our environment, which we understand as inert, and into the living and volatile capital flows on the other. Money increases by the proliferation of accounting, but the proliferation of accounting proceeds by dividing us into a greater number of segments, so that we are not one unit, but many, so generation identifies a great number to indicate that its is more significant than all previous generations. The single currency of the autonomous and disembedded economy of modernity constitutes each of us as a fundamentally single and sole being. This is not a matter only of beliefs, or of unarticulated deepest assumptions. No transaction has taken place until we have been paid by
Eric Alliez Capital Times
the transfer of the cultic token, by which the other man affirms that there is no economy but this one, no time but now, that all his claims on me are satisfied. As that dollar bill is passed over he concedes that I am now free of him, and that we are now once again individuals without connection, units alone in the world. Each transaction is a public avowal in which we affirm that our encounter is a constrained and short-lived event, even an impermanent and reversible affair. Each effaces the previous encounter. In each such transaction we enforce on each other the asseveration that man is solitary and all his relationships fleeting. We enforce this unity on one another. By insisting that we are paid in this formal currency we convey that all ends and purposes must be expressed in the monadic idiom of this economy, and so made immediately present, in this time. Our version of the global economy attempts to drag the future into our present, while each of us simultaneously attempts to leave our present embodiment and move into the future. We demand their total commitment to this present, immanent, economy. This pull creates this monism. The global economy is a belief-system to which, to greater or lesser degree, each of us subscribes. One has to be an adherent. One could opt out by joining a small people in some isolated part of the world. But the best way to escape the belief-system and its praxis is the Christian Gospel. This is route towards the universality of being all forms of life yearn for, and which modernity grasps at and counterfeits. This baptism does not remove us from the global economy, indeed it keeps us engaged with those who are committed to it. We may not leave the world, and so do not stop buying or selling, any more than we cease to talk the language of our society when we become Christians. But it makes us what the modern economy can never make us, and so redeems us from it. In this chapter I have suggested that the modern economy is the ‘household’ the one who is alone, the figure of man without God and thus without fellow. This is the upshot of the economy that I described in the last chapter as the economy of expansion, and in this chapter in terms of the imperial cult. It is the rule of the one who refuses to accept an equal, who has no companion, and so who stands against final reconciliation and relationship with man, and against the God who is with man. This monadic figure cannot establish the dignity of any individual or endure the permanent existence of any person or life that is not himself. We are members of a global economy, and enforcedly participants of the single ‘household’ constituted by the monetised economy. We trade in order to meet others and receive our identity from them. But within this economy, we are continually divided up because we move on from one another transaction. Unable to recognise that man may definitively come together with man in a unity and communion that is ultimate, the modern economy can only acknowledge an incessantly repeated coming together of individuals to re-make ‘Man’, the Universal, that lives from the consumption of all particulars. Anticipating another economy
As man is made in the image of God each can hope to see that image in those around him and hope to receive some aspect of it through each encounter. Our modern economy is the human economy regarded through a particular idiom in which its ‘gift’ and ‘honour’ aspects are rendered invisible. Our economy is not based in any more fundamental, higher or more neutral (scientific) basis than any economy of previous ages. We have not raised ourselves above the primitive economy of earlier ages; we merely describe the same human economy in our own idiom, which disguises its most fundamental elements. Each of us lives by sourcing our being from others, and attempts to take more from them than we concede to them. We take our energy from the flock so try to move closer in to its centre. We live and work for the approval and permission that the whole human flock gives us. There is nothing more valid or eternal than the recognition that other persons give us. Whatever economic action and whatever economy we construct or bring into existence, it shapes and determines us. Man is ultimately the product of his economy – but what sort of man? By the particular idiom in which we orient ourselves to one another we bring into being a form of man, and give the entity ‘man’ a unity with a particular form. We call our own ‘big man’ into existence. We make him who he is by our gaze and our participation in him. We impose him on our peers by enforcing the employment of this cultic instrument. We build the big man, that is the deist monad and so we build the economy which is the reach of this belief and the imposition of the practices that justify it. The modern economy represents our life in the ‘household’ of the Big Man. Together we sustain his ‘household’, imposing it on all relationships beyond our own immediate family, and defending it from the challenge from whatever it does not contain or control. By the conventions and rituals which we understand as money, we communicate that everything is already comprehended and foreseen. Money is the idiom by which we enforce on one another the conviction that there is nothing outside this present economy, that everything is owed to the present and nothing to future or past. Christian theology demythologises what has otherwise become the unassailably dominant language of credit and money. The Christian Gospel announced another, truly universal economy, the kingdom of God. Since we are not yet ready for it, this kingdom holds itself at a distance from us. Christ is the universal economy, and its bodily form may be experienced, by faith, in the body of Christ. The presence of the future universality of the human economy is hidden in the Church. The Gospel gives give us the name by which we can call that catholic life, the Holy Spirit, to wrench us free us of our various forms of captivity so that we may come unforced into the freedom of his communion in which we can meet all humankind. Christian theology therefore identifies modernity as an attempt to bring in the kingdom, without regard for those who are unprepared for it, and so by wielding the power of some to impose on others the eschaton by force.
The champions of autonomy conceived our ontological debt to one another in terms of that unilateral debt that circulates in the economy as money. They created the cult which we know as the modern economy and persuaded us to find our place within it, coming to one another, two-bytwo, as seller to buyer. In this interchange we divide the given world into the good that is sold, the money paid for it, and everything else. In the instant of the transaction, the particular good has a brief life, but thereafter dead, while the money paid is in is dead and the alive, thing, and the life that is universal and unconstrained. In each transaction we divide the world into the dead and the living, from all things, this one thing is selected to operate in this moment as the token of this present transaction, so that the life, which is in the money, should be transmitted, and so make its way through the world. We divide the world into the material world of fate, and the freedom which we have to take for ourselves, against the world, to act in freedom for a moment. This is the pagan world, well expressed for us in the worldview of the Stoics, and it is the worldview (and thus is scarcely felt as worldview, since, without the Gospel, we have no other means of experiencing the world). Inheritors of their worldview , we are also its captives. We have to think our way out of them in order to see beyond economic concepts of modernity. We need a larger account of economics. In order to escape our captivity to the ‘classical’ economics, associated with Adam Smith, and subsequent ‘neo-classical’ economics (of the late nineteenth century ‘revolution’ of marginal utility) we can turn to ‘alternative’ or ‘heterodox’ economics. We do not have to invent an entirely new economics, for alternative economic traditions are here, never having disappeared. The Christian tradition, or a number of Christian traditions, have always been taught by any university that keeps room for a Christian ethics course. Catholic Social Teaching, given a new expression through a series of encyclicals that appeared at intervals from the nineteenth century, through the twentieth and appears to continue, is the ‘best kept secret’ of the Catholic Church. These accessibly point out that economics cannot be separated from culture or from a doctrine of man. The best known package of ‘alternative’ economics, ‘Austrian Economics’ is significant enough to be regarded as an alternative mainstream; its history, starting in Germany and elsewhere in central Europe, links it to a more corporatist Christian account, that resists what it sees as the reductive individualism of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ utilitarian tradition. Among other alternative traditions are the distributist versions associated with G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, self-help, cooperation and land reform, once associated with Henry George. Our worldview is formed and articulated the specific views of particular sets of thinkers whom I called the Champions of Autonomy. We are their heirs, for their account of the world still dominates the way we see the world. When there is only one form of money it holds us in a particular and restrictive attitude to the past. We are shaped, even possessed, by the thinkers of the particular period that I have called the ‘expansionist period’, during which growth ceased to be related to the growth of persons. Modern economics abandoned its connection to whole-tradition economics, and so our economic relationships ceased to be embedded in a comprehensive view of man in society. In order to be able to accept their
worldview, or refuse it, we have to be able name some of these thinkers and describe, and so gain some distance on, the economy that is their legacy. If we simply observe the limits given us by some particular canon, we are captive to it and we impose it on others. Only the gospel keeps us from making any particular history canonical and so becoming captive to any particular ideology. We do not see money as a cult because it is our cult. Christians regard themselves as outsiders to the society they are sent. It is their job to show that the way we interact with one another in the market are given to us by our own history and conventions, not by nature. They are given to us by previous generations and our own contemporaries. We can respond and make our own contribution by bringing it under the discipline of what is good and right. The global economic system is not our fate, for necessity does not impose on us the form in which we now circulate things. We may discover our own economic means, and demonstrate the wealth, and freedom, that we have been given by God and so offer our contemporaries a larger account of the human economy. Summary 1. Economic activity is not solely about exchange but also about belonging and membership of a household. The economy as a whole is a single household, made up of many individual households. 2. As employees, we inhabit the elective household that is a firm. Drawn into its imaginative economy, customers are at one remove members of the firm at one remove, and so are members of multiple elective households. 3. We attempt to gain admission to more desirable households in order to move up within the one household shared by all. We try to attract people into our household who will bring more in than they will require or demand. 4. We have to defer payment to some in order to make payment to others, and so have to create a gap between our creditors and debtors. 5. The economy is a market of reputations in which people buy into one another and make constant minute adjustments of one another's stock. 6. We express the reputations economy in terms of a rationality that only recognises as ‘economic’ behaviour oriented to specific objects and material resources. 7. When we meet we play out routines by which we exchange accounts of our identity through particular coded accounts of our past. The past is the only means we have of pointing to the future we intend to share through the relationship formalised as a contract.
8. An economy is a circulation of signals that serve to the continuation of that economy. All material goods and records serve to form these signals. 9. We insist that others may enter relationship with us only through the differentiation-removing medium of money. 10. We are not solely rational agents. Our individual agency emerges out of a collective agency and dissolves back into it again. 11. In the modern economic transaction person-person unity is temporary and reversible. No lasting obligation is taken on. 12. The ‘good’, the ‘payment’ and the record of the transaction are equivalents; all are required to complete one signal, a transaction. None is sufficient without the others. 13. The coming together of buyer and the seller is an economic of reconciliation. Yet their reconciliation requires the affirmation of the market as a whole. 14. Nature (and necessity) drives human transacting, yet the only deep unstoppable mechanism is beneath the economy is human. There is obeisance to a mechanism (a dark god) which is enforced on all others. 15. The unified monetised economy is a form of communal selfbewitchment and oppression. The big man possesses us and masters us. He supplies simulacra of himself as the tangible medium of our comingtogether. 16. Christian theology allows us to set out a social anthropology of the modern economy as though modern finance were the ritual of a foreign society. 17. Each transaction is the event in which these two parties screen out the many watching audiences and reduce all complexity to one. 18. Money represents the fundamental fungible nature of every human, such that any individual is replaceable by another. In this (modern) economy there is nothing unique or lasting about any of us. 19. Money both strips all particular relationship and homogenises all with all. It intends to reconcile, unite and be the universal mediator and make the many, one. 20. Everything in the world can be recognised and paid through his means, money, so everything can be paid off. Then there is no reason to wait for or look forward to any other world, or any future. 21. Money represents the expenditure of the life-chances of some section of that society. The economy continues as it claims the lives of some its members. The money economy relies on the constant sacrifice of a proportion of its members.
22. Each new transaction circulates around the one-world circuitry that has been built up by all previous events of transaction. Humankind becomes a single organism. 23. The gospel enables us to ask whether money involves us in a set of beliefs that constitute a form of captivity and fate.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.