By Chris Tittle
Originally posted on an oak tree in the garden:
Talking (and writing) about money is an interesting thing. It’s almost always done in relation to its scarcity (“I’d love to (fill in awesome activity), but I can’t really afford to right now”) or its overabundance (“CEO bonuses are (fill in description of disgust/moral outrage)”). Both conversations tend to get negative pretty quick. Language and social customs seem to make it far easier to talk about problems and challenges than comfort and sufficiency.
Money has occupied an increasingly polarized place in personal and public dialogue, as economic hardship continues to disproportionately affect people around the world and financial inequality is exacerbated in even the most ‘developed’ countries. Such is our common relationship to money that we often forget (or never realized in the first place) that it is ultimately just a social construct, a medium of exchange, a representation of value – and not a concrete and universal fact of existence. It exercises such a powerful influence on our lives that the pursuit of money has become an end in itself, as if bills and numbers stored in a computer possessed objective value in and of themselves.
I’ve written elsewhere about the power of a dominant narrative to constrain our awareness of what is possible, how the cultural myth of progress ends up justifying otherwise reprehensible acts and patterns. And it is the same with money. Because it functions as such a radical monopoly of exchange, it is hard to even imagine how we might meet our needs without it (by ‘it’, of course I mean the national currency where ever you live – Pound, Dollar, Yen, Euro, Yuan, Rupee..). It is commonly assumed (and in fact, commonly taught in higher education) that hard currency was the natural evolution away from the primitive barter system which made life so darn difficult and inconvenient for early people. However, a thorough study of history shows that people have exchanged goods and services in a huge variety of ways over time, and that centralized hard currency systems are almost everywhere and in every age associated with war, violence, and the erosion of trust.