To be grateful…to Marx for his inversion of the Hegelian dialectic in the interest of an empirical understanding of human affairs does not preclude the possibility that…one might once more stand Marx on his head….Put simply, this would imply that man projects ultimate meanings into reality because that reality is, indeed, ultimately meaningful. Peter Berger, 1969: 180).
The text below is the preface to the book Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Money and the Economy: Accumulation and Debt. The RSG is an effort to demystify money. It uses grounded and plain language to present the nature and functions of money, and the problems and distortions that have arisen as a result. It is great for appropriate university courses, but also really useful to anyone (activists, feminists, critics of The System, etc.) who wants to understand what the heck money really is. You can download the eBook for free by clicking this link. You are free to use this book in your courses, or link it on your websites, but please send a note to [email protected] and let us know if you do.
Preface to the Book
This book (The Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Money and the Economy) is about money. More to the point, this book is a revelation about the nature and purpose of money. This might sound like a big deal but really it is not. As we will see in the body of this work, there is nothing particularly esoteric or complicated about money. Despite the fact that economics texts usually do a horrible job of trying to define money, if they even bother at all, money is a simple thing. Money, as we shall see, is abstracted labor pure and simple.
Being about money, this book is also, necessarily, a criticism, not of money per say, but of the general misuse and exploitation of money. Money is a potent means of economic exchange; but it is also easy to accumulate, and the easy way you can pile money in a mattress, lock it away in a vault, or represent it as a series of numbers, makes it a peculiar and pernicious ally of greed, graft, and corruption. As we shall see, the accumulation of money is the root of the world’s evil. It is the easy way that money can be accumulated that has brought us to the brink of ecological and social disaster.
Having made this book a criticism of money is not to suggest that we need to replace money. I do not propose, as some others, that we should eliminate money, replace it with “free everything,” or develop gold or resource standards of value. None of the typical solutions would work anyway because not only are they based on a profound misunderstanding of the nature of money, a misplaced sense of the root of the problems, but they are hopelessly naïve as well. On the contrary, this book is written in honour of money, and recognizes money as the motor of modern economic development, and the foundation of an advanced modern society. Unless we are content to be a world of takers, we must always exchange our labor in a fair and equitable fashion, and for that there is nothing better than money. Indeed it is my belief that money, properly regulated, is the foundation of a future utopia. Therefore this book argues that we should embrace money for the wonderful gift that it is, but fix the problems that money has caused.
And as we will see, money has caused some problems. Money is powerful, but it is also dangerous. Money, or rather love of money leading to its accumulation, has been the root of centuries of suffering, violence, greed, graft, distortion, and corruption. In our day and age we are rapidly reaching an environmental and social wall. Global warming, high rates of psychological distress in the West, obscene levels of economic inequality, suffering, global violence, and a cyclic and deepening economic crises lead me to conclude that we either change the way we do things, or we go down with the proverbial ship. And I don’t think having a lot of money in the bank is going to help very much when the ship goes down. If the food supply collapses because of a toxic meltdown in the environmental balance, the world as we know it goes away and all the money in the world won’t bring it back because, as you will understand by the end of this book, all the money in the world is useless unless you have somebody to give it to.
Important to note, because this book is short I cannot do more than point to the problems, but I don’t feel there is a need to lay out a preach and laborious tome detailing the long list of problems we face. In this age of Internet connectivity, anybody with eyes, and a modicum of sensibility, can see the problems. The main purpose of this book is simply to link awareness of the problems with awareness of the true root of the problem, which is not human genetics, internalized pathology, essential evil, Darwinian violence, or failed evolution, but money. As we will see money, money, money (or rather the love of money) is the root of all evil.
Now of course, I am not the first one to do something like this. Karl Marx wrote a multivolume treatise on money entitled Das Capital. In that book Marx pointed out the nature of money and all the distortions to which it was given. He saw the suffering and he understood the root. Marx completed a profound exposure of money. It was an exposure that must have disturbed and upset him deeply because after writing it he felt the only solution to the problem of money was a bloody proletarian revolution (Marx & Engels, 2008). The history of the world is the history of class exploitation, he said, and the worker must rise up and put down the ruling elites! Of course, as we know, the proletarian revolution failed. The proletarian revolution, like the French revolution, didn’t solve the problem of money, it only changed the people who were accumulating it, and perpetuated the violence of elite against working class. Instead of rich Russian monarchs oppressing peasants we had rich Russian bureaucrats oppressing workers (and now, with the transition to Capitalism, rich Russian capitalists oppressing workers). Despite calls for change, the song has remained the same.
It is not surprising to me that Marx’s call for revolution failed. You can’t make new friends while riding a spitting camel and you can’t teach and instruct the masses with an obtuse three volume tome. You also can’t beget a new system with violence, because when you found a new society on violence, violent people move in and take over, and that is no good for anybody. This is the lesson of the Communist Revolution in Russia. It created a society founded on violence, rooted it in violence, and it became violent at all levels. Of course Capitalism is no better in this regard. The point here is not to point fingers, but to simply say there are no violent solutions to the problem of money, ever.
Still, consideration of solutions is necessary. By the end of this book you will hopefully clearly see the problem. When you do, questions about solutions are naturally invoked. What are we going to do about the problem, because it is a problem? If we leave it unattended we get George Orwell’s surveillance and control nightmare, 1984, in the interim, and an economic train wreck in the foreseeable future. Let the train run its course, the damage will be extensive, and the rich and poor will suffer alike. Even those sitting in first class die when the train hits the wall.
So what is the way forward? Personally I feel the solution is to be found in the breaking of barriers and the elimination of separation. We can’t move forward while we are at each other’s throats. We all have to realize we are all in this together and as such we have to work together to find the solution. But how is that going to happen? How do you convince the rich person to change the rules in a way that ultimately undermine their wealth, and how do you convince the working class, once they clue in to the truth, to put down their sticks and stones and let bygones be bygones.
Well, you can’t do that within current spiritual or scientific narratives. Current spiritual narratives are hierarchical, exclusionary, elitist, and violent. Current spiritual narratives are actually part of the problem, part of The System, that keeps the train running on the same “old energy” track. You can’t refer to them for solutions because they either encourage separation and duality, or encourage an “us versus them mentality” that does nothing but reinforce the duality and underwrite the situation. You can’t go to science either. There are ideological components to science and these components, rooted as they are in the strong foundation of an empirically based biology, are difficult to shake. Science may be total wrong about human nature (Michael Sosteric, 2012), but science’s view sticks and it will take a long time to change it. Not only that, but its view of humanity as evolving ape doesn’t lend itself to hopeful utopian reverie. At the most it lends itself towards subtle ideological justification of the strong dominate the weak. Like traditional spiritual narratives it supports the world we currently live in, and since the world we currently live in seems to be in increasingly dire straits, it is of no practical help at all.
So what do we do?
The long answer is that we have to develop new narratives and new ways of conceiving humanity. We need a new spirituality, a new science. Here I would turn back to Hegel for some clues to an appropriate narrative. Hegel, an absolutely brilliant German historian, and mentor of Karl Marx believed that humans were part of a bigger picture and that despite all our greed, graft, violence, and corruption we all worked on a bigger “plan.” Hegel, not a stupid man, saw rhyme and reason in history. Hegel did not feel that history was a random collection of events. At the risk of invoking knee-jerk rejection here, Hegel saw God unfolding in history (Hegel, 2004), but not what most people might think of as God. For Hegel God’s essence was FREEDOM. The purpose of history, the purpose of humanity, was the gradual understanding of the nature and essence of this freedom, and the gradual manifestation of this freedom in the polity of the people, a manifestation that would occur as a dialectical swing of history brought humanity to ever more precise realization of the underlying historical Geist. Hegel saw human history as a gradual and inexorable movement from bondage toward freedom. He rejected the noble savage view of things (i.e. the view that we had a utopian past) and pointed out bondage to the environment and to subsistence as the anti-thesis of freedom. We are not free to do what we please while we are bound to subsistence labor twenty-four seven. At the risk of putting words into Hegel’s mouth, if we want freedom we need an environment, a technological infrastructure, a polity, and an economy devoted to this ideal.
For Hegel it was the realization in thought, and the manifestation in reality, of the reality of freedom, the reality of God, that was the telos of human history. According to Hegel humans struggled to realize this lofty goal. Humans struggled not only to understand freedom, to make it a part of their thinking, but also to actuate it. This gave history a trajectory and, more importantly, and end point. At some point freedom would be actuated and history, as the working out of God’s Idea, would end in full realization of the Idea in reality. It is a utopian perspective yes, but is it far more common, even in the hallowed hallways of science, then you might at first think(Noble, 1999)
Of course, looking at history, and even looking at our current situation, we can see there is a problem. How do you square the rampant inequality, global crises, and psychologically and emotionally oppressive strategies of today’s governments with a grand and glorious telos? Hegel did that in a simple and elegant way by making the content of human history, a content filled with greed, graft, corruption, inequality, self-interested passion, and instinctual gratification the motor that drives us forward. According to Hegel we needed to be motivated to work. More to the point, humans didn’t do anything unless it was motivated by selfish interest and passion. As Hegel (2004) says, “We assert … that nothing has been accomplished without an interest on the part of those who brought it about. And if ‘interest’ be called ‘passion’ – because the whole individuality is concentrating all its desires and powers, with every fibre of volition, to the neglect of all other actual or possible interests and aims, on one object – we may then affirm without qualification that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.”
For Hegel human self-interest and passion was what drove the history of this world. Hegel would say that yes, it appears, on the surface, that we are just these violent apes, these unwashed masses, the greedy and powerful “great men” and women, but underneath all we are really working on the same thing, the realization of Freedom. The history of the world, says Hegel, is the history of a growing global Freedom.
Now Hegel had some interesting things to say about the conditions of Freedom, and I want to add some things to Hegel. Most important was that Hegel saw a strong state as the essential prerequisite of Freedom. People would always be engaged in self-interested behaviours thought Hegel, it was the nature of the beast, but a state could manage those interests and harmonize those interests and create conditions whereby the freedom of one person did not overrule the freedom of another. The goal of Freedom, contrary to the neo-con view, was a strong state. It was an essential feature. It is worth letting Hegel speak for himself here.
From this comment on the second essential element in the historical embodiment of an aim, we infer – considering for a moment the institution of the state – that a state is then well constituted and internally vigorous when the private interest of its citizens is one with the common interest of the state, and the one finds gratification and realization in the other – a most important proposition. But in a state many institutions are necessary – inventions, appropriate arrangements, accompanied by long intellectual struggles in order to find out what is really appropriate, as well as struggles with private interests and passions, which must be harmonized in difficult and tedious discipline. When a state reaches this harmony, it has reached the period of its bloom, its excellence, its power and prosperity. But world history does not begin with any conscious aim, as do the particular circles of men. Already the simple instinct of living together contains the conscious purpose of securing life and property; once this primal society has been established, the purpose expands. But world history begins its general aim – to realize the idea of Spirit – only in an implicit form (an sich), namely, as Nature – as an innermost, unconscious instinct. And the whole business of history, as already observed, is to bring it into consciousness.
I have to agree with Hegel here that a strong state is necessary; not the kind of state they had in Russia, but the kind of pluralistic and democratic state that ensures the interests of all groups are met. We need a pluralistic democracy, and a participatory state. It’s not something we have now, of course. Now we have a state controlled by a single group of people (the rich and powerful). We have a situation where the power of the state is used not to further the interests of God and Freedom, but a state used in the service of private interests. This is not necessarily a bad thing. According to Hegel history moves like a swinging pendulum, from thesis to anti-thesis and back again, always leading to greater understanding, and always moving us towards the lofty telos of Freedom. If Hegel is right at some point we’ll all wake up to the truth, realize the situation, and use our experiences and insight to build the state that we need, that we are driven, to build.
Beyond the state I think there are other requirements of Freedom. Education is one. We need to educate each new generation to high standards of wisdom and insight. Educating the masses has always been a problem of course. It costs money to educate and so education has always been something that only people with a certain amount of money can enjoy. That’s changing though. Technology has reached a point where mass education of the planet is possible. As an educator myself I can see the global potential of Moodles, Moocs, and Soocs to smash the barriers and bring education to the masses thereby elevating the planet like never before. We live at the cusp of a profound revolution, but not a violent one.
Technology is another requirement of Freedom. Hegel noted that bondage to subsistence did not a freeman make, but neither did bondage to factories, or offices, or boardrooms. If humanity wants to be free to pursue its passions, the basic tasks of survival, the basic foundation of prosperity, has to be technological. Technology has to be developed to a point where the human race as a totality can be freed from the bondage of substance. That point has been reached. We live in a world where our technological prowess is enough to free the world from the bitter bondage of production. Factories and farms would still exist, but the need for long hours, sweatshop conditions, and economic bondage no longer hold. The work week can be reduced, unnecessary activities can be dropped, and the world can be brought forward into a realm where work no longer serves the interest of accumulation, and labor is no longer alien and alienating.
State, education, and productive technology, it is the development of these to the point of perfection that brings us to the bloom of Spirit and the end of history. The only problem? Well, that’s identified in this book, the Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Money and the Economy. The problem is that money is easy to accumulate and this accumulation of money, which is also the accumulation of labor as we shall see, has led us into temptation. Not that accumulation per se is a bad thing. Big fat bank accounts allow capitalists to invoke massive capital projects, and these capital projects are an essential feature of a free and modern world. But accumulation is out of control. In the swing of the pendulum to the right we can see the benefits of being able to abstract and control labor, but the arc and anti-thesis has been reached and we either swing back to the middle, or crash the train against the wall.
So how do we move forward from this point? Well I think at this point we have reached the end of history and so now the only thing for us to do is wake up, understand the Idea, actuate the full potential, and finally and forever stop the pendulum swing. And I have to say that we all have a part to play, and a decision to make. Rich or poor, black or white, male or female, we need to make a choice. We can either stay on the pendulum swing of history, moving back and forth between thesis and anti-thesis, struggling in that way we do to live the best life we can, and staying somnambulistic and unconscious cogs in the, now redundant, dialectic of history, or we can step of the wheel and actuate utopia. If we choose to stay on the Wheel then I fear the denouement is close at hand. Humanity will continue on, but the progress we have made will be figuratively (and in some cases literally) submerged by the ecological, emotional, and psychological disasters that loom just ahead. On the other hand if we choose to move forward, to admit the telos and see “the plan” then we can step off the Wheel, focus our attention on the problem (i.e. accumulation and debt) and, with a wave of the magical legislative wand, fix it and usher in utopia for all.
Certainly if one believes the propaganda, it is. If history is the random result of evolutionary chance, if we are apes emerging out of a violent and competitive past, if we are hopelessly dashing ourselves against a natural world devoid of reason and rationality, if we are ejected sinners, unworthy peons of a totalitarian cosmic order, there is no hope. If this is the case, then the best we can do is hope that our “leaders” are able to mitigate the growing damage, and continue to be able to functionally support global economies despite the growing weight of debt and disaster. On the other hand if history is more than mere random chance, if we aren’t savage apes engage in empty evolution, if we aren’t mere ejected sinners, or karmic rejects, if there is something more that we are working towards, if there is an end to history, then maybe we can point to the world as it is now, where the technological and economic infrastructure of society is capable of delivering global satisfaction and utopia, and say this is that point if we but make the right choice. The bottom line is this. We are at the end of history and we need to wake up and recognize we’re all in the same boat, working towards the same goal, or we’re sunk plain and simple. Returning to the idealism of Hegel is a move in the right direction. Extending Hegel’s narrative, and the narrative of others, in an inclusive, democratic, egalitarian, and free direction, is the work ahead.
Of course, there will be objections. When Marx stripped Hegel’s dialectical process of the geist and made the dialectic a vacuous technical process, his criticisms were valid. For all his brilliance, Hegel was a bit short sighted in some areas. He viewed religion and the state as quintessential expressions of the Plan (Hegel, 2004), but conveniently ignored the fact that religion and the state can be made to function like weapons against the poor (Marx, 1970, 1978). Religion is the opiate of the masses, the state is an agent of class oppression, and the history of the world is the history of class struggle. Similarly some views of Spirit miss the mark, and by a long shot. Hegel was blind to the abuses of religion and power and many people are blind to the immaturity and silliness of their own spiritual faiths. But does this mean there is nothing there, or that science cannot investigate, or that the verdict is conclusively in favour of an empty physical ‘verse? Not by a long shot. Spirituality, religion, philosophical thought about the essence of our reality may often miss the mark and be about everything but what they profess to be about (Mike Sosteric, 2013a, 2013b, Unpublished), but there is something there worth investigating, and I’m not the first academic to say it (Castaneda, 1996; James, 1982; Maslow, 1959). Hegel said there was something “behind history” and it may very well be that proper apprehension and expression, followed by cooperative manifestation and actuation of whatever it is behind history, is the only way off the sinking ship.
Of course, proper apprehension and expression of the Geist is way beyond the scope of this work. This work is about money and the goal of the book is simply to reveal the nature of money, the root of our collective troubles, and the simple solution. And really our problem here isn’t the solution, because that’s easy, the problem is convincing everybody that we need to put aside our differences and work together to implement the solution and bring history to its inevitable end. And please understand, there is no violent solution here. Forcing ourselves upon people and taking things from them violently only leads to more violence, the anti-thesis of Freedom and happiness. Violence means another tortuous and century long swing of the pendulum, and personally I don’t think we’ll survive that swing, at least not in a way that any of us would find enjoyable. Therefore it comes down to a question of voluntary choice. Having been presented with the issues clearly, having seen “the light” and understood the geist, what are you going to do? Do you continue on in the old ways hoping that random evolutionary advance, or divine salvation from above, is going to save this sinking ship, or do you, rich or poor, black or white, male or female, embrace the solution, embrace your power, and make the changes you need to make. There’s no point in shooting the messenger! Personally I don’t care what choice you make, because it is your conscious you have to deal with. But I will say this, if Hegel was right if there is an underlying movement to history, and if this movement is as powerful and inexorable as it must be to have brought us to this point, than I can say with a certain degree of confidence that resistance is probably futile. If the time has come to end history, the Geist will find a way and you can either swim over to the new ship and get on board with the program or, rich or poor, sink beneath the violent waves of a reality slowly crumbling.
Sept. 17, 2013.
Hegel, G. W. F. (2004). The Philosophy of History. New York: Dover Publications.
James, W. (1982). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature. New York: Penguin.
Marx, K. (1970). A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Marx, K. (1978). The German Ideology. In R. Tucker (Ed.), The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: Norton.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2008). The Communist Manifesto. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks.
Maslow, A. H. (1959). Cognition of being in the peak experiences. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 94, 43.
Noble, D. (1999). The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention. New York: Penguin.
Sosteric, M. (2012). Ding Dong the Alpha Male is Dead. The Socjourn.
Sosteric, M. (2013a). The Sociology of Religion – An Introduction. St. Albert, Alberta: Socjourn.
Sosteric, M. (2013b). Sociology or Religion: Athabasca University Course. Athabasca, Alberta: Athabasca University.
Sosteric, M. (Unpublished). The Sociology of Religion: A Mystical and Scientific Approach.
Review: I just finished reading your Rocket Guide. I admire the approach that you are taking to communicate important social concepts via accessible language. As I read about Fred and his antics, your text repeatedly reminded me of Orwell’s Animal Farm. You tackle a somewhat different “first cause” (i.e., money) in the Rocket Guide, but many of the social processes that you describe involve similar dynamics: a self-centered intelligentsia repeatedly duping artless, trusting ‘sheeple.’ Also, I applaud your goal of using social education and enlightenment as means of mobilizing much-needed progressive social action. Will people choose to “be the change” that averts impending global socio-environmental disaster? Some days I am more optimistic than others. I am convinced that humanity has all of the necessary abilities to defuse the ticking time bombs that we have created, however, I am not convinced that our fellow sapient apes will wake up and act in a sufficiently timely fashion. One thing is certain, the world is going to be a very different place 30 years hence. Whether it changes for better or worse remains an open question. As educators, the more that we can do to open eyes, minds, and motivate thoughtful social action, the better. The Rocket Guide is an important step in that direction. Timothy McGettigan, Professor of Sociology, Colorado University.
Mike Sosteric (Dr. S.)