The Consciousness of Money

Thinking money

With cyberspace populated by semi-autonomous “bots”, and smart phones sending wireless messages onto the web to look for last minute plane tickets, and software agents in refrigerators circuits ordering more orange juice from a wired supermarket before we even notice we're out, one begins to wonder if we're giving up our freedoms one convenience at a time. But incremental developments aside, one human invention that’s been around for centuries remains in such demand as to be perhaps the first artificial consciousness.


A cursory glance simply casts an eye of desire on it. But it is really the cash that’s got a hold of us. Consider:

It’s really worth nothing, but it convinces us of its value; it talks us into protecting it. It has value because we collectively believe it has value. A bottle of water can quench a thirst. A fertile field can produce sustenance for years. A whole box of money can do nothing, but it’s desire to exist, to grow, to spread, whispers Faustian bargains in our ears and we listen. We take it in, protect it under our mattresses, pay others to project it in steel rooms at banks, obfuscate to friends and relatives about how much we may or may not have. Consider this:

If you squint while stopped at a red light, the cars all around look like blood cells rushing through veins and arteries. Traffic lights act like heart valves, buildings and businesses act like organs, apartment complexes and housing developments act like bone marrow.

Money rushes around the human organism.

Just like in nature, if there’s a niche to be filled, life rushes in and adapts to fill that niche. If an organ needs assistance, blood and nutrients rush to fix it. If money discovers a need--it's own need, mind you-- it pulls people and energy—lives—towards it like a biological magnet. Cars leave their parking spaces at the crack of dawn, their drivers pulled inexorably to office jobs and fork lift operation and days in front of a fourth grade class. We tell ourselves these are our jobs, but the compulsion to these labors are often just the relentless tectonic pressures of money.

Further evidence of money's consciousness is the endless creative energy among financial entities to forge connections where superficial horse-sense seems to fail. Take the French automobile company Renault and the Japanese car company Nissan. Separated by more than 10,000 miles, the two behemoths share an unusual alliance, and the two together market a wide range of cars in the United States, a foreign country to each of the partners. The soul of the alliance is an effort to broaden the power of manufacturing scale without demanding that each partner bow beneath the sword of the other. This union of competitors is predicated on money talking; corporate cultures in France and Japan could not be more different, but there they are, locked together at the brain stem. To the thousands of workers at each company actually assembling the cars, clicking keyboards, and ordering parts, theirs is not even the illusion of autonomy. Their lives are directly governed by the wages parceled out like pollen among worker bees. They can no more go their own financial ways than they can decide to build a new type of engine on their own. The money in the system is the deciding factor. It is money which reached across culture and space to create a partnership of expedience, and it is money which unifies the executive ganglia making rudimentary decisions regarding aesthetics and strategy. But lest any observer of the system, internally or externally, consider that the executive class has significantly more say than the employees on the factory floors, consider: significant corporate missteps might only end the current incarnation of the financial arrangement built by the Renault/Nissan partnership. Just as the wooly mammoth shed its coat for the summer of the post ice age, so to will the money be transmogrified should those companies pass into the historical record.

Supply side economists will rush to say that corporate bankruptcy is proof that money is not conscious, that it's in the realm of humans and the decisions they make. Rising stocks are based on good decisions and a smidgen of good timing, and by the way, also add money to the economic ocean.

But money is not a population issue. More currency does not equal a bigger, biologically more successful population. Money is more akin to biological potential. It's the promise that it's capable of enormous growth if the conditions are right, and the guarantee that it will endure in a slower, even dormant state when conditions are bad. It is the sleeping code of the global genetic germ, activated like an allele, and deactivated by a drug.

Money can never be inherently creative, but the shadows it casts onto the world around it warp and bend like our own mortal umbras as we walk in the world. The challenge for creative people of widely divergent stripe is to recognize that money is not fundamentally what's important, even as the pursuit of money may be a necessity. Moreover, a creative class (potentially everyone alive, by the way) must get smart about what's going on. Money is an android with a mind of it's own. We created it; it required humanity to get up and walk. But once it set out into the world, it began to pursue it's own routes, pushing and pulling and influencing the world in ways that sometimes cause people of great intellect and purported integrity to disagree vehemently. If we're smart-- if we're paying attention and don't want money's limited, artificial intelligence to push us around-- we have a fighting chance to build a culture that values the subjective rather than the objective. I am moved much more deeply before the motley altar of beauty than at the sparkling altar of money. One radiates energy out into the universe, the other sits and gathers mass.

I would rather light up the night.


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