My purpose for money (via Marx, Durkheim, and gettin’ sexy).

Before Christmas, I made it a priority to read and occasionally join in the conversation at Tara Gentile and Adam King‘s project, Reclaiming Wealth. It’s an innovative blog which aims to collectively think in new ways about wealth, fundamentally redefining it in healthy ways.

One of Tara’s questions which really struck me was “How have you challenged yourself to perceive wealth recently?” My immediate answer was, “By starting to unhook my perception of money from my perception of global capitalism.”

Photo credit: epSos.de, licensed under the Creative Commons 3.0. Original image at http://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/5902557577/

Dirty money

I’ve always known and experienced that wealth is more than money, but I’ve never really allowed myself to know or experience that wealth can also be money. My whole life, I’ve held a very deeply seated belief that money is dirty, that it makes me implicit in the unjust and oppressive system of global capitalism that has children working in sweatshops, and corporations and governments in cahoots to murder activists for people and planet such as Ken SaroWiwa.

But is that belief fair? After all, I’m implicated in all of that just by being alive, and being born and raised in the UK, with its colonial and imperial history and its role in the first seeding of global capitalism. How much or how little money I have or make doesn’t affect that implicit responsibility one way or the other.

And it isn’t really money that does all of that. Money is neutral. Saying that all of that bad stuff is down to money is like saying that a slashed throat is down to the knife, not to the hand that wielded it.

To look deeper into this, I’ve turned to two European Sociological Superheroes: Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim.

Say hi to Marx.

Yes, that Marx; the one behind Communism.

One of Marx’s fundamental propositions in Das Capital is that money alienates value. What that means is that it enables a product or a service to be separated out from the person who made it or who provides it.

Marx’s idea, prompted in part by the work of Bronisław Malinowski and of Marcel Mauss, was that before money, in a gift or a barter economy, a person and their ‘stuff’ could not be conceptually separated. Part of the person’s energy, soul or spirit was always perceived to remain attached to their product or service. In this way, the product or service never fully belonged to the person who it ended up with, but remained part of an ongoing relationship.

Money, on the other hand, breaks the conceptual link between a person and their ‘stuff’. It alienates it, and the value bound up in it, from its originator, allowing it to circulate freely as a commodity.

This has its downside.

First of all, the relationship in an exchange in which value is alienated is short-lived. This can mean that, at a fundamental level, in a money economy society supports the economy but the economy does not support society. (Although I’m getting on to a counter-argument to that in just a moment.)

Secondly, money becomes fetishised. Instead of being seen as a tool to enable circulation of commodities, it becomes a thing in itself, something to be gathered and horded.

Finally, when a group of people has power, they can set the money price of labour value – the work that goes into producing the thing, i.e. the wages of the production workers – as low as they like, and the exchange value – the product’s sale price – as high as consumers will tolerate, and make Huge Profits at the expense of workers and consumers alike.

But, if we listen to Durkheim, money also has its up side

Émile Durkheim pretty much single-handedly invented the discipline of sociology (but let’s not hold that against him 😉 ). One of his most significant concepts is that of the division of labour.

At its simplest, this is a recognition that as societies develop, people become more specialised in their work: some people grow food, others make farming implements, others are blacksmiths, etc., etc. The more complex the society, the more specialised and diverse the work, and the more divided the labour.

To add Marx and Durkheim together, in order to have the level of division of labour that we see today, a means of exchange is necessary, and that means of exchange is money. And money can do this job precisely because it alienates value. Money allows widespread exchange, and thus the division of labour. And money was around an awfully long time before global capitalism ever came along.

Now, personally I like not having to grow all my own food from scratch, not having to spin and weave my own fabric, not having to do absolutely everything. I like being able to focus on work that makes my heart sing and suits my health and my aptitudes, and money is what allows that to happen.


This speaks to Danielle Laporte’s Burning Question this week: “What’s your purpose for money?”

My purpose for money is for the economy to get sexy.

Money allows exchange to happen. You know what else is an exchange? Sex. And we all know what makes for good sex (I mean in addition to great communication and ongoing negotiation of consent): plenty of lube. What if we look at economic exchange as a kind of erotic exchange, with money as the lubricant?

(Or if you’re uncomfortable with the sexual metaphor, how about your economic life as an engine? Lubricant means you can keep functioning happily without jamming up, wearing out or breaking down.)

We don’t keep lubricant in the bank, we don’t horde it to make ourselves feel safer, or to wield power over others. The very idea is silly. The purpose of lubricant is to make things slide, to make things easy and smooth when we get down and dirty, running our engines, and we only keep enough around so that we can make sure that happens well.

The purpose of lubricant is in its use, and so is the purpose of money.

I would love to move forward to a world in which we could maintain our complex division of labour without money and our tendency to horde it, a world in which we live in full trust that when we need food, or our fence mended, or our health cared for, or when we want to be entertained, or to travel the world, or a new pair of sassy boots, someone will provide that, just as we make our skills and aptitudes freely available to our neighbours.

But until that time comes, one of my goals is now to earn, and to earn well, doing something I love. Not so I can horde money and keep it all to myself, but so I can use money to make things happen in my life and in the wider world that accord with my values: things like paying off my debts; things like paying more tax (yes, you heard me, more tax) so that the health and education systems can thrive; things like always buying organic, local and Fairtrade; things like transferring all of my economic activity to small businesses and mutuals; things like expressing my solidarity globally through Kiva and Triodos Bank. Things like that.

How about you? What is money for you? How do you see its purpose?

Inspirational Links

Today has become a duvet day, and yesterday, I took a rest (you should try it 🙂 ), so this blog post is a day late. Instead of trying to write a heavy duty post about something Big and Important, I’m posting a round-up of inspirational stuff from around the Internet that I’ve been soaking up lately. Enjoy!

Marla @ Your Full Plate

Marla’s blog is a delight. Full of wisdom about health for busy women, my favourite part is the recipes, with the fun cartoon illustrations which Marla draws (beautifully!) herself. Do yourself a favour and check her out.

Blessing Manifesting

This is the lovely Dominee’s website, an oasis of calm and support, dedicated to learning to love ourselves. As well as her blog, she has offerings such as coaching, Tarot and e-books, and links to people she herself is inspired by, such as Carrie Hensley and SARK.

Alexandra Franzen

This woman is high energy! And a lot of fun. I mean, her blog is called “Unicorns for Socialism: Unshackling the Proletariat… with RAINBOWS!” – what more need I say? She describes herself as a ‘promotional wordsmith and pro-active pimp’ – which is to say she writes copy to tell the world about your gifts. When I’m a grown-up Business Goddess, I’m gonna go for a Velocity session

World’s Biggest Summit

Over 100 of the world’s most inspiring teachers, on your own computer screen, for FREE. What’s not to like? Twenty days of videos and talks are already up there, waiting for you, with another ten to go. (And don’t worry, they’ll still be available after the summit’s over.) It’s pretty much guaranteed you won’t like all the speakers, but it’s also pretty much guaranteed that you’ll like some of them, and find just the nugget of wisdom, “aha!” moment, or kick up the backside you’re needing. Sign up here – what are you waiting for!

Goddess Leonie

The driving energy behind both the World’s Biggest Summit and Goddess Guidebook Circle. Woman is awesome. Go check her out.

And that’s it! That’s my round up of awesome places on the Internet. Go, play, enjoy 🙂  And let me know what you think! *points down to comment box*

Equal marriage – because freedom of religion matters

I first ‘met’ Jane Carnall many, many years ago through an APA we were both members of (Amateur Press Association – a bit like a blog ring before the public Internet existed). I have always found her clarity of thought and her measured tone incredibly helpful.

Here, as a guest blogger at Heathen Hub, she turns her attention to the consultation on equal marriage in Scotland, and the support and opposition to it from different religious groups. She sums my feelings up exactly when she says:

Let the Bishop of Paisley and the Archbishop of Glasgow and the Cardinal of Scotland agree together that they must not, under any circumstances, enter into a same-sex marriage themselves with anyone, nor allow any Catholic priest in Scotland to celebrate a marriage between two men… or two women… That’s their right in a free country: to declare that such marriages are not valid in a Catholic church, no more than a marriage of two divorced people.

But it’s not their right in a free country to tell the Religious Society of Friends or the Humanist Society of Scotland or the Unitarian Church or the Pagan Federation or Sukkat Shalom or any other religious body what they should do.

A letter from Chief Arvol Looking Horse (Present Chief and Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Nation of the Sioux)

A Great Urgency ****** To All World Religious and Spiritual Leaders ******

My Relatives,
Time has come to speak to the hearts of our Nations and their Leaders. I ask you this from the bottom of my heart, to come together from the Spirit of your Nations in prayer.

We, from the heart of Turtle Island, have a great message for the World; we are guided to speak from all the White Animals showing their sacred color, which have been signs for us to pray for the sacred life of all things. As I am sending this message to you, many
Animal Nations are being threatened, those that swim, those that crawl, those that fly, and the plant Nations, eventually all will be affect from the oil disaster in the Gulf.

The dangers we are faced with at this time are not of spirit. The catastrophe that has happened with the oil spill which looks like the bleeding of Grandmother Earth, is made by human mistakes, mistakes that we cannot afford to continue to make.

I asked, as Spiritual Leaders, that we join together, united in prayer with the whole of our Global Communities. My concern is these serious issues will continue to worsen, as a domino effect that our Ancestors have warned us of in their Prophecies.

I know in my heart there are millions of people that feel our united prayers for the sake of our Grandmother Earth are long overdue. I believe we as Spiritual people must gather ourselves and focus our thoughts and prayers to allow the healing of the many wounds that have been inflicted on the Earth. As we honor the Cycle of Life, let us call for Prayer circles globally to assist in healing Grandmother Earth (our Unc’I Maka).

We ask for prayers that the oil spill, this bleeding, will stop. That the winds stay calm to assist in the work. Pray for the people to be guided in repairing this mistake, and that we may also seek to live in harmony, as we make the choice to change the destructive path we are on.

As we pray, we will fully understand that we are all connected. And that what we create can have lasting effects on all life.

So let us unite spiritually, All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer.
Along with this immediate effort, I also ask to please remember June 21st, World Peace and Prayer Day/Honoring Sacred Sites day. Whether it is a natural site, a temple, a church, a synagogue or just your own sacred space, let us make a prayer for all life, for good decision making by our Nations, for our children’s future and well-being, and the generations to come.

Onipikte (that we shall live),
Chief Arvol Looking Horse
19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe