Money's Value is a Matter of Perception

One Dollar, USWhat does it cost?

The question practically exists outside of time, outside the world. It's built into almost every transaction, and cost is not always a matter of money.

The old saying goes that you can have only two of the following: faster, better, or cheaper. Notice that the arrangement doesn't even require you to determine what kind of goods or service you're asking for.

Money is a measurement of condensed time. Money makes up for what sweat might possibly yield, or for what sweat simply cannot produce alone. A toaster is cheap, but no amount of independent labor from even a smart, motivated person will yield one.

But money is unlike most other human inventions. More than most other things, you want it. Don't pretend otherwise. Sure, you love your family and your freedom, but what do you spend literally two thousand hours a year pursuing doggedly? Like the slogan from the early days of MTV, "Too much is never enough." Pursuit of money sends us all to grinding labor, to endless stress, to acrimony and sacrifice, often with limited promise of lasting rewards. The madness is that it usually takes money to make money, or to make money in any substantive amount that tips the balance of future in a measurable way. That's why most of us are beholden to others who control deeper reservoirs of the stuff than we have.

But does it genuinely, authentically, deeply matter?

If you were to ask most people if they'd willingly abide the great works of art being cast onto a bonfire in return for ten bucks, I'd like to believe that most would say no, even if they knew nothing about art. But ask the same thing for ten million dollars, and I fear for our cultural legacy.

Money matters because it's a proxy for time, and time is the ultimate measure of value. Time means life. Money means you can buy the services that free you from labor, and the goods that facilitate--or promise, at least--comfort, pleasure, or confidence, and all of that means you have more time for life.

The problem is that money has become a misdirected proxy for meaning. We conflate the purchase power of money as a means to an end, as the reason to be alive. But see: we're artists here at 1AU. We already have reasons to live. There are photographs to make, poems to write, movies to produce, dances to choreograph. There are books to read and soups to taste and hands to hold. The size of bank accounts do not make those soups any more savory, those hands any warmer, those books any more compelling. As Pete Seeger said, "How can I keep from singing?"

The money isn't important.

Okay, I see it: you're cringing. Your face is tight, you've already glanced away, thinking you may not finish this naive prayer, this tale of misplaced, juvenile innocence. Just read a few more lines.

I'm fully aware of money's great power, just as I rightfully fear the power of the gun wielded by the undisciplined guerrilla fighter. Only fools pretend there's no potential for profound influence. The fantasy is always that we can James Bond that gun out of the fighter's hand, or, more on topic, suddenly find ourselves flush with cash. Do we want the gun? Nope. Neither do we want the cash. We want the freedom that each affords us. We want the autonomy, the security, the clarity about how to manage our next few precious minutes of this fleeting life. But consider that gun: what would you possibly do with it? Grabbing it gives you nothing but instantaneous sovereignty over circumstance. It neither feeds you, nor shelters your allies, nor brings you love.

Therefore my thesis solidifies. The pursuit of money may be a necessity of the modern world, just as more visceral pursuits are the immediate necessities of pre-industrialized cultures. But as a means to an end, it's worthless. It is it's own end: money pursues more of itself. The moment it gets any greater cultural value beyond being simply a tool, it becomes a false god.

Ironic, isn't it? As a media production team, we're in a very expensive industry, always scrabbling in a relentless pursuit for resources to achieve artistic visions. Artistic visions do not feed you nor shelter your allies either. But they are REAL. They are actual moments of meaning created out of chaos. They are subjective, and thus debatable, whereas money is always objective and outside the realm of debate. Without the ability to discuss or debate something's merits, value's proof evaporates like morning's bold promise yielding to daytime. We need money to do what we do, but it's not the money that matters in the end.

* * *

Next week we continue the bling-thing, with thoughts about money's easily misunderstood consciousness. It's true: it walks, it talks; we listen closely and have a few things to say...next week right here on the 1AU Blog "Faster than Light".

--MS

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