Can we do without Money, Power and Religion?

Thank you, Suzuki1314!

Yes, we can, if and only if we change a few deeply ingrained habits.

First, we must stop talking about money, power and religion in the same context. Those ‘entities’ are quite different and, while there is an illusion that they are interdependent, they are not.

‘Money,’ this dirty word that many people fear to pronounce and replace with ‘currency,’ was and still is the most liberating invention in our history, right there with the art of lighting a fire, the wheel, and sliced bread.

Seriously. Before money, we had to rely on barter, charity, and ritual profligacy. Whenever we needed something, we had to go looking for someone who had it, and was willing to exchange it for whatever we could offer in exchange, or moved by pity or social spirit to give it away. Meaning that we had to accept whatever quality we found first, or keep looking. Then pressure would mount, forcing us to accept a less advantageous barter.

What we made or produced had a trebly compounded relative value, based on our ability to find the right barter, the suitability of what we were offered, and the urgency of our requirement, which would grow the longer we searched. Not a very good scenario, bound to waste a lot of energy and to keep us at a basic level of subsistence.

One solution was the buildup of prestige. Simply, we gave away whatever surplus we had, and made a show of it, threw a party, where similarly lucky folks would come and give away their surplus, hopefully different from ours.

Advantages: a set time for bargaining drove forward planning; consecutive parties would sharpen our sense of what sort of surplus we would be better off producing; much reduced search time, so more time to produce the surplus.

Drawbacks: a natural limit on the variety we could produce, with one mistake making us return empty handed, having to wait until the next party; waste, as we would be reluctant to carry back what we had offered and others rejected. Most importantly, this sort of barter party gave rise to the concept of political leadership, what we think of today as ‘Power’.

Power did not arise from ‘money,’ but from its absence. In the barter-party system, hoarders had an advantage. They could barter for things that they did not need, and keep them for the next party, where they would offer greater variety and could make the best bargains. There would come a day when the hoarded goods might spoil, or become too risky to hold, so the hoarder would just give them away.

When the hoarders caught on that a successful giving away party — when their treasure of yams, boarskins and dried octopus was the talk of the town — would give them great prestige, politics was born.

Successful hoarders became known as able leaders, and respected as competent bargainers. Their advice was sought, and paid for in more goods to barter, to the point that the community was there to do their bidding. Kings came of age.

Areas of influence, aka ‘kingdoms’ grew in size, to the point that most ‘subjects’ could not attend the give-away parties, or take part in the increasingly frequent conflicts with other hoarder-robbers, sorry, kings. Smart kings appointed middlemen, endowed with a token of their prestige and power.

Symbols of power became legendary and merged with superstition — and in Mesopotamia with elaborate mystical poems that served as astrological calendars — and begat ‘Religion.’

Religion begat ‘sacrifice,’ or the offering of first quality stuff to the ‘gods’. It came to pass that the sacrifice was burnt at the altar when the priests wanted a barbecue, or deposited at the foot of the dolmens when their requirement was for fruit and bread and honey and cheese and wine and…

With religion, the parasitic class of ‘Priest’ was born, to usurp some of the power of kings, and many times to control them, or replace them outright.

We now had ‘belief’ superseding ‘prestige’. Priests did not have to prove themselves in battle, throw giveaway parties, powwow with other kings. No, they only had to claim to have direct access to someone who could do so.

Priests became an all-powerful symbol of power.

Some clever folks then imagined that, if a lazy fellow, who could produce nothing, an essentially worthless parasite, could be a symbol of so much power, so could something else equally worthless, say a cowrie shell. As long as all parties involved agreed that cowrie shells carried a fixed amount of prestige, they could be exchanged for… anything!

So began the first cowrie shell rush, followed by flint rushes, rush rushes, skin rushes, lead rushes, glass rushes and, last but not least, gold rushes.

All scarce stuff, that everyone agreed required some effort and luck to obtain, became good candidates for exchange tokens. ‘Money’ was born!

Why was it liberating? Well, it broke the monopoly of kings and priests. It gave folks, who work and produce and make stuff, access to prestige and power. More and more people became able to pool resources, without being coerced, to build what one family alone could not.

Money became so prevalent that kings and priests came to rely on it. Very convenient to enable one to change one’s mind, whenever one’s vision of the future got updated.

Money became so useful that, merely in the past 70 years or so, humanity grew from three billion to seven billion, while the number of people unable to hoard anything, aka ‘in absolute poverty,’ reduced from one and a half billion to seven hundred million.

This is very important, as the old ‘prestige’ kings and priests had no interest whatsoever in raising their subjects and their flock above the poverty line. Kings and priests need no customers, do not allow their quality to be put to the test, repress and eliminate possible competition, and fight one another — or rather send their slaves to fight for them — to maintain their areas of influence and power.

Whereas the moneyed and much maligned ‘capitalists’ need to put their hoarded money to work, lest it become worthless. As long as they are kept from maintaining monopolies, holders of capital must compete with similarly dedicated capitalists, by making their product more accessible — so as to expand their market and to reduce unit costs through economies of scale — and of better quality — so as to maintain and increase their market share.

For a time, kings and priests tried to interfere with this, by appointing monopolies. The results were nothing less than catastrophic, to the point that their power was threatened or overthrown. Some upstarts tried to become ‘collective kings and priests’ via the ‘State,’ an all-powerful entity that could not only grant and protect monopolies, but own them and impose them on their subjects. Imagine that!

It failed, miserably. World wars, megadeaths.

Until we invented the concept of a ‘Level Playing Field,’ with the State guaranteeing that all the capitalists follow the same set of regulations and serve the same requirements. States are also capitalists, in as much as they are paid for the job of maintaining a level playing field.

Finally, to answer the question, ‘Power’ and ‘Religion’ are dying their well deserved death, at the hands of ‘Currency’.

They are not having an easy death. There are spasms of neo-mediaeval religions, alt-righters, neo-nazis, proto-trots, new-leftists, queer-fascists, old-bigots, anti-vaxxers, Monsanto-bashers, Anonymousers and Occuporkpiers galore. All those freaks are bound to cause some damage and discomfort.

The good news is that they need money to stay alive and, unless they manage, for a time, to enslave some more industrious folks, they will eventually die out.

Money, in its turn, will go away — but only after Power and Religion have vanished. While their death spasms are hindering it, the AI & Robotic revolution will not be complete.

When all production is done by machines, built by other machines and using materials procured by other machines, we can go back to exchanging personal favours, art, adventure, and love.

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