Money is an abstraction which has taken on a life of its own:
It seems almost unnecessary to elaborate on the lengths people
will go to try and acquire some, and the effects it seems to have
on people’s behavior.
Nevertheless, it is important to remind ourselves that money is,
fundamentally, a useful fiction: a way to keep track of obligations,
and of energy expended, and to help implement the “Tit for Tat” social program
that optimizes the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.
The problem is when the abstraction (“making money”)
becomes an end in and of itself.
It doesn’t really matter how it’s made, as long as the numbers go up.
And up, and up, and up.
We celebrate higher numbers and mourn lower ones.
We celebrate even as people suffer, and mourn even as people thrive.
In Computer Science terms, this is a “Leaky Abstraction”:
the abstraction of money does not fully align with
the underlying realities of wealth and abundance
that it is supposed to represent.
Any further derivatives of the abstraction become even “leakier”,
so that the abstractions eventually become completely divorced from reality.
This is why interest is forbidden by both the Bible and the Koran:
Interest is an attempt to create wealth from the abstraction itself,
instead of creating wealth by creating something of value.
“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor,
you shall not be to him as a creditor, and you shall not exact interest from him.”
“You shall not lend upon interest to your brother, interest on money,
interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.”
Interest ostensibly commodifies time, but this too must be an illusion,
as time is the ultimate intangible, and may not even exist as such.
In other words, if money is, as an abstraction of goods and services, a useful fiction,
interest, a derivative of an abstraction, is a harmful one.
In an economy where debt is crippling both people and nations,
it is well past time to reconsider our primary mechanism for credit.
Another fiction that emerges from the abstraction that is money is
the fiction of economic growth, and more specifically,
the fiction of the necessity of economic growth.
That the number associated with the total economy ought to increase is a
strange idea indeed. Why should it?
The hypothesis seems to be that if the abstract number grows,
then perhaps “progress” is being made: “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
This is patently untrue, empirically.
Income inequality is increasing, the environment is being ravaged,
the climate is being disrupted, natural (that is, ecological) wealth is being depleted, and
institutional trust, particularly in the United States, is at a nadir.
What growth, in real, practical terms, have we as a society and a planet been seeing,
as the number goes up?
What we are actually seeing is a commodification of every aspect of human existence,
from food, water, shelter, healthcare, and education, and more recently,
to new forms of social interaction.
Religion and spirituality have not been immune to commodification, certainly.
All this in the name of economic growth.
Being that money is a convenient but “leaky” fiction, the problem is then that
it is also a consensual reality, as well as a “game”, so it is difficult to survive
in modern society without playing along.
This requires a certain cognitive dissonance, as we work aimlessly to “create value”,
even as we witness a deterioration of our ecosystems, a general reduction of quality of goods
(with “Planned Obsolescence” being the logical conclusion of prioritizing the abstraction),
heartless social policies (so-called “Austerity”), a degradation, through commercialization, of culture,
and widespread nihilism and malaise.
The solution, fortunately, is relatively simple, if not easy:
to look away from the glamour of the numbers themselves,
and to look at the reality.
Perhaps we must have income to survive, but must we charge and pay interest?
Must we speculate on “futures”?
Must we worship at the altar of “economic growth”?
Must everything in our world have an exchange rate?
These have all created at least as many problems as they’ve solved, useless abstractions that they are.
Money is useful, and I believe that ultimately we still need it
in a society where money does roughly approximate energy expended.
We need it as part of our system of give and take: it gives us a reasonable basis for trade.
But we need to focus on economic stability, and security,
so that people don’t go to bed (if they have one) at night
wondering where their next dollar will come from.
We need to focus on creating real wealth, and real abundance,
starting with protecting our greatest treasure, the planet and its ecosystems,
making sure the money part is abstracted from that,
and not pretending like it’s the other way around.
(Originally written June 7, 2017. Edited and updated.)
Technologically speaking, we live in an abundant society. We absolutely have more than enough resources to provide for every person’s needs in a sustainable manner, and we are developing new methods of increasing abundance. To name a few:
We have more than enough space for everyone, and more than enough food. By almost any measure of any basic need, we have more than enough.
Why, then, does our global society show such deprivation and fear, to the point where everyone is terrified of losing what they have? To put it in New Age terms, why are we manifesting such lack?
Alternatively, why are we pissing in the well from which we drink, and sawing off the branch on which we perch?
What is the underlying disorder that is causing our society to behave so irrationally?
“For whoever has will be given more, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
It doesn’t need to be this way. We can have:
- Food and shelter for every man, woman, and child on earth;
- Clean air and water;
- A total cessation of warfare;
- Technological innovation;
- Mutual respect of all nations and cultures;
- Individual autonomy and dignity;
- Universal basic health care for all people;
- Excellent public schools;
- Thriving communities and safe neighborhoods;
- Participatory democracy;
- Cooperative economies;
- A free (as in speech) and unfettered internet;
- Clean and sustainable industry;
- Vibrant and evolving arts and culture;
and more, tomorrow!
What is stopping us?
It is not sufficient to blame the government: millions of people across the country empowered (and continue to empower) the current administration and allowed for its destructive policies to be put in place, perhaps out of fear, or perhaps out of a lack of a better vision.
This is a better vision. We can do better. We must.
The opposite of Sustainability is Death.
Collectively, we must embrace a positive new vision of what we actually want as a people and a society, as opposed to reacting with a doomed “Anybody But _______” approach.
An ugly, radical new vision is being presented by those in power today, and it is likely to get worse if they continue to get their way. It is up to us to put forth a beautiful new vision to counter that ugliness, to work together to achieve this vision, to insist on it, to fight for it, and to manifest it proudly and fearlessly, with love, so that there is no room for the sickening status quo, whose tired Thanatonian philosophy has long overstayed its welcome.
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
So said Mr. Trump at his Inauguration on January 21, 2017. Like so many things he has said before and since, it was a lie. This morning, at 6:55AM, Mr. Trump tweeted: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
The news in question was related to Rex Tillerson’s response to Mr. Trump’s reported desire to multiply the U.S. nuclear stockpile tenfold.
Coming from the President of the United States, whose Twitter account has about 40 million followers, a comment such as Mr. Trump’s is not a hypothetical or rhetorical question: it is a threat (like his infamous and ugly “Second Amendment People” comment during the debates). He is endorsing and advocating shutting down a major news network for reporting an important story, and it is clear he would have no qualms about doing so.
This attack on the Freedom of the Press is a nasty violation of his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and is hardly the first instance: in fact, it is only the tip of the iceberg, and it is perfectly fair to say that Mr. Trump has nothing but contempt for the Constitution of the United States. His political methodology is authoritarian, undemocratic, and literally and unquestionably textbook Fascism.
In fact, the charge of “Fake News”, or “Lügenpresse” was incorporated by the Nazis as an attack on Jewish, Communist, and foreign newspapers (use of this term is not limited to Nazis, of course, but it’s telling) leading up to and during World War II.
Mr. Trump’s infamous attack on NFL players who choose to protest by not standing for the national anthem at games is mirrored in the Phillipines, under dictator Rodrigo Duterte, where “the country’s House of Representatives has approved a bill requiring members of the public to sing the country’s national anthem, Lupang Hinirang, ‘with fervor’ whenever it is played publicly.” Duterte has praised Mr. Trump, and vice versa.
Mr. Trump has engaged in voter suppression, and his so-called “Commission on Election Integrity” (Executive Order 13799) is a figleaf to rig elections in the United States to keep him and his cronies in power. Those who are focusing on the 2018 Congressional Elections as the means to weaken Mr. Trump’s fascist policies wrongly assume that Mr. Trump will permit this to happen. Anticipating a loss in 2016, he already tried to discredit the electoral process, and when he was running for president, he called for his supporters to “monitor” polling places, which many interpreted as an invitation to violence.
Mr. Trump will absolutely use every means in his power to prevent fair elections in 2018, and he has a lot of time to do it. Ultimately, it is his party that is in power, controlling all three branches of government, and to think that the Party of Trump will play fair is simply naive.
Mr. Trump is also engaged in targeting Free Speech online:
Trump administration lawyers are demanding the private account information of potentially thousands of Facebook users in three separate search warrants served on the social media giant, according to court documents obtained by CNN.
The warrants specifically target the accounts of three Facebook users who are described by their attorneys as “anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration’s policies.”
In other words, Mr. Trump is seeking to suppress those who dare criticize him or organize to oppose his policies online. This is another gross violation of the First Amendment, and a hallmark of Fascism.
It is time for Americans everywhere, in both parties, to take this threat seriously: anyone who values the freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment, the freedom to worship as one pleases (or not to), the freedom to express oneself politically, and to disagree with those in power, and the freedom to report the news as it happens: these freedoms are under unprecedented attack by Mr. Trump.
There is already ample legal basis to impeach Mr. Trump. An opinion piece in the Boston Globe made a compelling case that Mr. Trump could already be impeached for Obstruction of Justice and violation of the Emoluments Clause, which forbids “federal officials, including the president, from receiving anything of value from foreign governments and their agents”.
All of this is sufficient cause for genuine alarm without touching on the even bigger elephant in the room, Mr. Trump’s illegal collusion with Russia leading up to the 2016 election.
Mr. Trump is leading this country, and the world, into a very dark future, and every day that Mr. Trump is allowed to remain in power is another dangerous step towards disaster.
Recently, particularly since the shocking results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, and the scourge of fake news and other lies that supported those results, there has been much speculation as to whether we are in some sort of “Post-Truth” era.
This is sheer nonsense. “The truth” consists of mental, psychological, and presentational fidelity to reality, or what Jacques Lacan refers to as “the Real”. We have some influence on reality through our speech and actions, but otherwise reality is non-negotiable (including the reality of our own speech and actions). The idea that we are in a “Post-Truth” era, therefore, is equivalent to believing that we are in a “Post-Reality” one. Ultimately, as Lacan, along with so many others, point out, this reality will always trump whatever mental gymnastics we humans employ in the process of divorcing ourselves from it.
It is true, as Sigmund Freud and others have pointed out, that we are incapable of fully grasping reality, and therefore our truth, that is, our best and most accurate model of reality, is always an approximation. It is simply impossible to separate our ego, preferences, perspective, and senses in any sort of objective way from our perception of it, so in that sense, truth is subjective. However, it is possible to identify when truth, or fidelity to reality, is being distorted, either deliberately or not, through that egocentric medium.
In other words, people can lie, and those lies have the quality of being lies: fabrications, or constructions, that exist solely in the mental plane, with no other connection to reality. The truth is what is left when those artificial mental constructions are eliminated.
“The truth has not to be achieved. It cannot be achieved: it is already the case. Only the lie has to be dropped.”
Freud’s genius was to see that many, if not most, psychological problems, including a variety of neuroses, were the result of a disconnect between one’s situation and one’s perception of the situation. In other words, one deviates from the truth at the risk of their own mental health. From this perspective, at the core of “Post Truth” is nothing other than schizophrenia.
“Truth shall sprout out of the earth, and righteousness looks down from Heaven.”
We in the United States are in a position where the President and his associates are currently under investigation by the FBI for collusion with a (non-democratic) foreign power, which is now suspected with tampering in the French electoral process as well. According to ongoing reporting by the thankfully still free & independent press, which the President has relentlessly attacked in true dictatorial style, undoubtedly because he understands the truth is a threat, many members of his inner circle may be violating the law by maintaining massive financial conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, the President’s hideous budget calls for cuts to or the elimination of virtually every service that vulnerable Americans depend on, up to and including Meals on Wheels, a simple, effective program that feeds the elderly who are unable to feed themselves. All this is happening after one of the ugliest and most poisonous elections in the country’s history.
The hateful, racist alt-right, which sees in Trump’s rise a resurgence of white nationalism, is mirrored by an increasingly angry, militant, and grim new Left, whose calls for resistance and revolution are becoming surprisingly mainstream. Stuck in the middle are millions of anxious, confused, & befuddled people who simply want this whole nightmare to blow over, and for things to go back to the way they were. They won’t. We have not yet reached 100 days of Trump’s administration, and we already seem to be increasingly at risk of nuclear war (!) with North Korea. If we manage to avoid that, the reality of climate change, which is, incredibly, being exacerbated by the administration’s policies, will inevitably bring misery and suffering to millions. We are engaged in high-stakes gambling with the future of the planet, and history suggests we are unlikely to win.
The political instability this country is facing is not the cause, but a symptom of deep trauma & malaise, fundamentally ethical, and also the symptom of a damaged national psyche whose origin dates at least to the Vietnam War and probably before.
“We don’t win wars anymore,” said Mr. Trump on the campaign trail. But who’s counting? Does it even matter? Who could “win” in Iraq or Afghanistan? Only for-profit military contractors that scored big no-bid contracts. Not the employees, per se, but certainly their shareholders (likely including Trump nominee Betsy DeVos).
The Iraq War was not necessarily about oil, and obviously not about weapons of mass destruction. It was really just about war, for its own sake: a way to stimulate the economy, create “jobs”, privatize socialized property (including oil), and manufacture and test new weapons. There was nothing to “win”, and no real reason to. In war for its own sake, there need be no victor: destruction and production are enough. “Nation building” means digging a hole, then filling it. Rinse and repeat.
That the whole botched “Shock and Awe” disaster has resulted in a new virulent religious death cult that is plaguing the world today simply creates another business opportunity to invest in: increasingly intrusive “security”, which Americans have been the “early adopters” of ever since. In the public sector, the increased demand for security has resulted in an increasingly militarized police.
So Mr. Trump obviously misses the point when he talks about “winning wars”, apparently thinking that they are about international contests rather than free enterprise. His even more hideous vision of war, that of white nationalistic conquest, in which black and brown people are forced into their “place” in a fictional, invented, endlessly disproven fantasy of racial hierarchy (a fantasy which, if it did not necessarily win Mr. Trump the election, obviously did not cost it for him), can only result in a literal Hell on Earth: something genuinely apocalyptic, for whites as well as everyone else, as implementing his vision would result in the suppression of all diversity and dissent, and likely any kind of individuality whatsoever. It requires everyone to be a square peg in a square hole, and Heaven help those who cannot or refuse to fit. This is Fascism at its core: conformity to an racial ideal is impossible for anyone (no matter how close they seem to be), and ultimately pointless anyway. It’s easier and much more fun to be yourself.
In any case, his awful agenda involves sawing off the branch on which we all sit, by detaining, deporting, and harassing massive and critical segments of the U.S. workforce, and pissing in the well from which we all drink, by gutting any semblance of environmental protection (of course, those are only the two of the more disturbing parts of his platform, and ignore his attacks on health care, education, the arts…).
Our world is already on the cusp of climate disaster. The seasons are being eradicated, and the weather is increasingly chaos. Temperatures vary by twenty, thirty, or more degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of hours (this is typical of a particular kind of climate region: the desert). All this in addition to the usual widespread toxic pollution that does not necessarily affect the climate, merely human health. The current administration’s literally suicidal approach is not only to do less to prevent all this, but to accelerate towards oblivion with maniacal abandon. And there were already attempts by the administration to stifle scientific reporting before Mr. Trump even took office. True, there are profits to be made by razing rainforests to produce disposable paper cups and palm oil, but at a certain point, we run out not only of ancient forests to destroy, but also of clean water to pour into the paper cup (of course, privatizing water is big business as well: the workings of supply & demand here are painfully obvious). The opposite of “Sustainability” is “Death”. We must choose Life!
The film “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a tragic, beautiful, & horrific vision of our world one click away from oblivion. The world is desert, overrun with violent gangs racing to the bottom, competing over what little food & fuel is left in the world. Humanity is ravaged with disease, and extinction seems almost preferable to the degenerate, illiterate, brutish, and miserable life the few remaining survivors lead. Few in the audience would trade places with even the “elite” of that deranged world.
This essay is primarily a prayer that we avoid that ruinous path. When the results of the election was announced, I personally plunged into an emotional darkness that I know many others across the country felt. It seemed that the bottom had fallen out, and the hell-world of “Fury Road” was just one of the possible fates looming far below that we risked plummeting towards, in free fall. It is no small miracle that we haven’t, largely because a collective “NO” has reverberated from so many corners of the country and the world. Whatever the outcome, this “NO” has shook the world.
“Now what?” is the daily/weekly/monthly question that has been asked since the election. Now what, indeed? Will the genie go back into the bottle? Will our economy continue to be based on disposable cups/plates/towels/napkins/clothing/furniture/phones/cameras/cars and virtually everything else? Are we going to continue to demonize the poor even as our systems demoralize and destroy them? Are we going to continue to try and quantify and measure every aspect of every human being as “Big Data” in order to rank them and classify them according to some misguided and asinine formula or algorithm, in a manner akin to phrenology? Are we going to continue to strip any semblance of privacy & dignity from every person while normalizing the sick fiction that the virtual world is a healthy place to maintain our social lives? Are we going to continue to treat art & culture as nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold? Are we going to continue to hate, fear, & denigrate the “Other” as we excuse and ignore the most heinous acts from “our team”?
Or will we finally, finally, finally, halt our madness with the simplest of attitudes: one of prudence, humility, non-violence, & respect, and perhaps, eventually, trust?
American officials have recently asserted that the 2016 Presidential Election may have been tampered with by a foreign power, by unlawfully gaining access to the information system one of the two major parties in favor of the other. We have also seen a massive disinformation campaign through social media and entire professional-looking fradulent news websites which cropped up just in time to sway the election, again in favor of the same candidate.
Given the gravity of this accusation, a full investigation is needed, both by the Executive branch and Congress. The Electoral College should and must postpone its duties until this investigation is complete. Any other course of action risks compromising the security of the United States of America. If a full investigation reveals that a foreign power did not, in fact, intervene in favor of one candidate, the Electoral College should certainly carry out its duties as intended. But given the unprecedented and dangerous nature of this accusation, I am in favor of a postponement, pending investigation.
A word on motive and motivation: I am not writing this because “my side lost”, per se, given that I never felt personally that “my side” was ever represented in the first place. I am writing this because if these official allegations are true, then this is simply the most prudent course of action: allow our Republican-led Congress to lead a formal, nonpartisan investigation of the allegations before the Electoral College convenes.
A delay is unfortunate, and uncomfortable, and may even make many voters angry. But again, if these allegations are true, the truth must be determined before it is too late.
It’s been hard watching the presidential election cycle this year. Every candidate seems to have some sort of fatal flaw that disqualifies them from being president. Yet it seems inevitable that one of these imperfect individuals will be president. Or is it?
I humbly propose that the next president of the United States be… our current president, George W. Bush! There are so many reasons to keep going with the devil we know:
- He has the experience – eight years of being the president!
Anyway, I am officially throwing my support behind the man who has brought unprecedented change to our country the past two terms. Besides, if the decider wants four more years, he’s getting four more years. It’s not like public opinion plays a part in that sort of thing…
Four more years!