Harold Skimpole: Art, Time & Money

 

Harold Skimpole is a character from Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House”. He is described as being innocent, like a child who knows nothing of time or money.

From this description we could conclude that Dickens is saying that time and money have eaten up our innocence. Dickens was writing at a time when the Industrial Revolution was pushing capitalism to its full potential and carving a new world-order designed to produce unlimited wealth on the one hand, and abject poverty on the other. A revolution that has endured centuries and continues to steam-roller forward through our own innocence-starved lives. But now, the concept of time-and-money has taken away far more than just our innocence: it has robbed us of our freedom, and, most especially, of our humanity.

In Bleak House, Skimpole has the airs of an artist: an amateur artist; a pure artist. Art, in its pure form, is always a gift – and we can see an association between the pure artist and innocence, because anyone who gives freely must be either innocent or mad. And yes, there is also an association between innocence, the simpleton, and madness. But art, as a gift, is the antithesis of capitalist ideology, because a gift is, in its essence, outside the economy and beyond the realms of time and money.

An authentically human system cannot ignore true art, and a truly human economy would have to understand the incompatibility between art (that which must be given) and the false-necessities created by the ubiquitous presence of money. A truly human economy, therefore, should be designed in a way that allows art to be created in a space beyond time and money, or, in other words, outside the money system itself.

 

PROPOSITION A:

The existence of art has to challenge the ubiquitous nature of the money system.

 

When Skimpole says: “… go after glory, holiness, commerce, trade, any object you prefer; only – let Harold Skimpole live!” in effect Dickens is saying that the capitalists can build society anyway they want. However, the world they are building stifles Skimpole, and if Skimpole is a symbol of the artist, then Dickens is saying that the time-and-money system is choking art.

But Skimpole is a survivor, who has still not been swallowed up by the System. Somehow he manages to maintain his autonomy, perhaps because “he still had claims too, which were the general business of the community and must not be slighted,” or because he is anti-materialistic himself: “I covet nothing”; or because: “I feel as if you ought to be grateful to me for giving you the opportunity of engaging the luxury of generosity. I know you like it … I may have come into the world expressly for the purpose of increasing your stock of happiness.” Forget your worldliness and play with me, he says, which is what any pure artist would say as well.

Art is the gift of escape, but it is also the gift of progress-through-creativity, and because of that it is not only a gift it is a fundamental feature of humanity whose essence is to become through a continual process of becoming. Only through art can humanity ever really conceive itself to be progressing freely. Art is an essential ingredient in any definition of freedom. And, as Skimpole asserts: “the base word money should never be breathed near it!”

Skimpole can only exist in the time-and-money system by being a charlatan, and as a charlatan he is unscrupulous at ensuring his survival. But Dickens is also blaming the system for Skimpole’s unscrupulousness. Skimpole has no choice, just as art or any artist has no choice. In order to survive in this world, everyone needs money, artist or not. Skimpole uses his charms to maintain his independence from the System, but the System is still there and he is still inside it. He is an impossible man, but in his absurdity resides something that the world that makes him absurd also needs: His creativity.

In the eyes of capitalism, Skimpole is a parasite, just as all artists are who cannot justify themselves in the world of the free market are parasites. But let us remember that some parasites achieve greatness as well: those who, doomed to be amateur nobodies in their poverty-stricken lives, became superstars after their death. A most poignant example is Van Gogh, whose work now brings in millions and yet he never sold a painting in his life. Likewise, Dostoevsky was a struggling unfortunate; as was Beckett.

Art in the civilised world now seems to be the heading the same way as the nomad. There is no space for the real artist in the free-money-market world. And, like any nomadic society, the artist will be forced to eventually conform to the system or perish.

Of course, the irony of this, is that art is one of the defining features in the identity of the civilised world against the barbarian. By reducing the artist to the level of the parasite, civilisation reveals a triumph of barbarism within its own walls. It has its pinacothecas and museums, but these only display its own hypocritical attitude toward the artist, who, like Skimpole, is only a parasite until proven otherwise.

Money and Civilisation

Great-Pyramid-Giza

Money was created for a very practical purpose: to simplify rituals of exchange and create a tool that can be used to fairly measure all acquisitions.

What began as being a utensil, however, very quickly turned into a monster that seems to hammer at us even before we have any real exchanges to make. Instead of being a tool, it is now an obligation or an addiction. We are possessed by it. No one any longer questions its necessity. Its rule over us is dogmatic; its kingdom is ubiquitous. If God exists it is probably in the form of money. We worship it, have complete faith in it, and hardly ever take its name in vain.

We could say that money is the key factor in creating our feeling of alienation from the world because it is draped like a veil over reality. Between us and the world, therefore, there exists a thin transparent veneer, acting as a kind of barrier, telling us that the only way to get proper access to what we want has to involve the magic of money.

But this alienation is not completely the fault of money: even before the invention of coins, magical veils had already been draped over the world to ensure that certain exchanges brought great profit and power to some at the expense of others. It is always a sobering idea to remind ourselves that the great pyramids were built on an exchange of beer and bread. The first civilisations were erected before the invention of coins, but once it had been created, money became an integral feature of all that civilisation now represents.

Civilisation itself is one enormous paradox: it contains humanity’s greatest idealisation of reality – through art and technology – and seems to be the only vehicle possible through which the spirit of human progress can be driven. However, it is the weapon with which all power-led ideologies are able to wield their control; it is the chopping block of all anti-human segregations, and the vocal piece for all anti-progressive dogmas. In a sense, Civilisation contains the greatest of all possibilities for humanity, while at the same time it produces each of our most frustrating disappointments.

Civilisation today is a vast global market that is consuming resources at such a rate that our unsustainable model of existence threatens to destroy itself. Of course, this means that a new model for civilisation becomes imperative, but can such a revolution take place before the monster that the System has become devours its own tail?

We think the answer lies in a rehabilitation of Civilisation from the addiction it has to money, in order to allow the global empire to feed the humanity it supports rather than the all-consuming demands of the drug that surges through its blood-stream. Of course, this is perhaps the most radical, seemingly impossible solution imaginable: how can we kick the habit of a drug when we are all addicted to it, even the doctors?

Yet, impossible as it seems, until we decide to get clean there will never be any hope for civilisation or humanity. This is the real pessimistic stand-point afflicting humanity today.

Productivity and War

Tanks3Final.jpg.CROP_.original-original

Should we be more, or less productive? The laws of the global market insist on the former: excess is a virtue, or at least while excess amounts to the excess of profit. To be rich and powerful, one needs to get money; and to obtain money, one needs to sell things; and in order to sell things, one needs to make things to be sold; and those things should be commodities with a short life-span so that that there will always be a need to purchase new things allowing the money to keep flowing in.

Now, according to this economic philosophy, we should have a productive and innovative society that is continually producing new commodities or improving on old ones. Capitalism produces a marvelous circuit of creativity dedicated to satisfying the needs of the hungry consumer.

However, there is an essential flaw in this philosophy. In order for it to work, consumer needs are not enough: the system must be fueled through consumer-desires, which can only be systemically positive enough if they are turned into needs. But then, this is not enough to keep the system spinning either. Something else is needed to keep the momentum going and the excess turning into wealth and power. To maintain a constant progress, every now and again everything has to be pulled down so that there is room to build anew in. And what is a better way of pulling things down than blowing them up. Natural disasters are good for the consumer economy, but, despite the increment of natural weather-anomaly disasters, these phenomena are still too infrequent and too random to be an assurance.

Yet, there is something we can always depend on in moments of the deepest decadence of the capitalist-consumer system: war.

War is something that can be manufactured; something that can be pulled out of the hat as a last resort whenever growth becomes lethargic, and guarantee the system’s self-perpetuating motion. In fact, war is a very part of that system: a tried and true methodology for injecting momentum into the machine. Wealth and power have been using war to sustain itself for the last eight thousand years. In a sense, technology has always been subordinated to military needs and great advances have been made when the empire of the state has pumped huge amounts of man-hours and money into military research.

But to see this fact as justification for the military and, subsequently, as a justification for war, is the most cynical of positions. The production and selling of arms (whether of mass or minor destruction) and the use of those weapons as profit-making internecine tools of thymotic rage has led us to the gates of the Apocalypse and the eternal damnation of a complete nihilistic destruction of life on Earth.

The inherent absurdities in the capitalist-consumer philosophy of perpetual growth have necessitated the production of its own class of clowns to perpetuate itself. Their justifications for prolonging the destruction have become infantile-ego wailings, in adolescent-will societies, driven by demands for what the clowns want and by the fact that they all want to have those wants now despite the consequences, because they deny the existence of any consequences. To get what they want, the clowns know they have to be tough, but they can buy protection, and they can rig the system to perpetuate their power and strength. The promises this circus makes for humanity, of course, are not comforting at all, but the clowns also feed on the fear they themselves produce in order to stabilize their grasp on power. And while the tough clowns flex their muscles, the weapons of mass-destruction sit comfortably in their silos, waiting to be unleashed in the greatest destructive act the world has ever seen. But this time, surely, it will be the final curtain.

mushroom_cloud_clown_by_loxsox-d4ihgi9

POLITICS AS A DESIRE FOR NON-POWER

Image result for abolish money

The cry for Real Democracy demands a reappraisal of the voting systems that undemocratically favour two major parties, nearly always the centre right and centre left. liberal-democratic parties, who themselves ensure a continuation of the dominant capitalist-economy of the global world civilisation. Most Western-style democracies have cheating mechanisms which are designed, according to their supporters, to provide “strong” governments.

From a point of view of political comfort, the cheating mechanisms seem to be necessary for maintaining a desirable stability. We have seen in the last few years how the arrival of more radical parties into the governmental scenario (e.g.: in Greece, Spain and Italy) has done little to make any fundamental changes to the system. Anti-capitalist parties have been castrated by the global capitalist-economy. Because of this, the System falls into an impossible paradox in which winning power becomes political suicide for radical parties.

But what if the objectives of winning the elections were radically opposed to power itself: that instead of gaining power, the objective of the radicals is to create non-power? Can we imagine a political party with an anti-power ideology? Of course this sounds like anarchism, but let’s ask why anarchism is so scarcely seen in democracies? Why do we think we need power so much when, over and over again, we see how greedy and selfish it is?

The reason is that Power in our economics-driven society is inextricably tied to the flow of money. Power makes and distributes the wealth. It is an underlying belief in our society that without money we would die, and this means Power is related to survival, and only when Power threatens our survival, as it did in 18th century France or 20th century Russia and China, will major revolutions take place. That Power is inextricably aligned with Wealth is no secret, but when that alliance is seen as a threat by societies to our welfare and as an endangering force in our lives, it starts to be questioned, and the seeds of revolution begin to sprout.

However, a real revolution can only truly hope to succeed if it attacks the real source of the problem, which is the relationship between Power and Wealth, and which stems from the inextricable bond between Power and money. In other words, only by questioning monetarisation and envisaging societies in which money as we know it no longer has to play a part, will successful revolution or purposeful political change ever come about.

But for this to happen, political activists have to enter the political scene not with a thirst for power, but with a desire for non-power.

THE MONEYLESS STATE – JUST GIVE US BREAD AND BEER

pyramidworkforce2

The Great Pyramid of Giza was erected more than four thousand years ago in the Early Kingdom of Egypt. How it was actually built is still mainly speculation. Nevertheless, there is one thing we do know for certain – they were built by a civilisation that did not use money.

Egypt in the Early Kingdom had an economy of barter and gift-giving. Of course this gave the Pharaohs the advantage of not having to find money to finance the construction of their dreams. Yes, they would have to find enough workers to dedicate their sweat and time to the construction tasks; they would have to feed and provide some sort of housing for these workers. According to the official records, what was handed out to these workers was bread and beer.

How could the greatest architectural feat in the world be paid for with bread and beer? Could it be that the primitive economy actually favoured the task? Or, let’s go one step further: could it be that a monetary system would have made the great pyramid’s construction impossible?

We are so concerned about the collapse of our markets; so worried about the fragility of our economies. There is more money in the world than ever, and less to go around. The economy demands sacrifices: wage cuts, tax increases. Money is so important, and can be so deadly … and yet …

The best pyramids were built long before money had been invented.

Great things happened without money before … why can’t they happen without money again?

LAW AND DESIRE

prohibitionprotestors

Law represses desire. But how could such a thing come about? What must the society fear in order to control precisely what we crave for? Is it a fear of the desire, or of what the desire consumes? Isn’t the negative force of desire this power to burn up everything that gets in its way?

It is what can be destroyed by desire that makes it so feared, and we need to remind ourselves of that. We, who have bent all laws for the spirit of freedom, for the unshackling and unleashing of desires. We must now contemplate what might be the real price to pay for our daring. We consume the world that engenders and supports us. We consume more than we need, with the simple justification that we are feeding our emancipation. However, liberation from necessity can only create a greater necessity.

Law does not repress desire enough. The definition of vice has to be amplified to include the unnecessary consumption, exploitation or degradation of anything which is necessary for human well-being or survival. Natural resources are obvious candidates for protection against their over-exploitation, but it’s time now to nip the canker at the bud. It’s time to declare the abuse of money as a vice.

Desire … and money

huge.25.126549

Deleuze and Guattari saw desire split, not between necessary and unnecessary desires, but between the desire for production and the desire for acquisition.[i] For them the real revolutionary battle against capitalism had to take place by shifting the emphasis on desire away from mere acquisition to a less individualistic, more positive, creative desire for production.According to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus thesis, our desires have been geared in the direction of acquisitions since Plato’s dialectics made it the Ideal aim of desire: “From the moment that we place desire on the side of acquisition, we make desire an idealistic (dialectical, nihilistic) conception, which causes us to look upon it primarily as lack.”[ii]

Subsequently we see lack where it did not exist, or a lack in which anything that is not in our grasp needs to be obtained. In this way the logical outcome of desire/acquisition is greed, and it also now becomes perceived as a positive element. How can greed be a vice or a sin, if it is the essential force behind all motivations?

In our anti-human civilisation desire has become desire for the acquisition of that which allows us make acquisitions. Or, in other words, the acquisition of money. All acquisitions become filtered through an accumulation of figures, because the money one has is nothing but a figure in a bank account. Reality flows in the world of these abstract figures. Not only does our dignity, self-esteem and gratifications depend on those figures, but even survival itself.

The world, they say, revolves around these figures. They represent hope – often encompassing all hope, and all desire. In the world of acquisition there is very little time for the production of anything which is not related to the figures that allow everything to operate. Greed is the most logical virtue in the acquisition-driven world. As that greed grows stronger, generosity diminishes. In the world of acquisitions the individual who would rather be productive in a creative rather than in an acquiring way is regarded as a parasite or a freak. Only a certain amount of money is necessary to ensure survival.

Survival is not enough for the citizens of the anti-human civilisation. We are also expected to desire possession, especially of that which is hard to get. Life must be seen as a lusting forward toward that which will give us plenty to show for it.

But what we have acquired is not as fulfilling as what we have created and produced. Because of this the acquisition-desire life can lead to spiritual dissatisfaction and emptiness. The Prozac society is born, where lack and the lust for acquisition is planned and organised. The whole basis of our civilisation is the struggle to make others want, need, and perhaps even lust after what we can offer them, and by so doing acquire an exchange of figures that will swell our own figures considerably. That is what we desire – a considerable swelling of figures.

[i] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, UMP, Minneapolis, 1983, p. 48

[ii] Ibid

The Revaluation of Value

3d.si

Since Nietzsche called for the “Revaluation of all values!” we have, in Western Civilisation, seen certain transvaluations take place in areas such as race, gender, sex and violence, but what we have failed to revaluate is value itself.

A revaluation of value would untie its connection with exchange (money) and align it to needs – a thing’s importance would therefore be gauged according to how necessary it was. But in order to do this we would need to remove the stigma of “price”. Progress doesn’t happen because it’s expensive.

So, in order to make the real advances that our technology-rich culture is capable of, we now have to eradicate the barrier of “expense”.

THE TRULY HUMAN CIVILISATION

In a truly human civilisation, needs should be rights. In a truly fair society, everyone should have the opportunity to start the race from the same line. In our societies, sacrifices created by the monetary exchange system place people behind the starting line.

In a truly human civilisation, a person with disabilities should be allowed access to the technology designed to satisfy his or her needs without concern that sacrifices must be made to obtain the necessary barter. A teacher, or an intellectual, needs access to academic texts and should be granted that access; an artisan needs access to certain tools and materials; a gardener needs access to seeds and gardening tools, as well as a patch of land to garden on … etc.

In a society in which needs are understood and catered for by the society itself, on a wide and universal level, those same needs would seep into wants, but without taking over the space of wants. By planting values on authentic needs, civilisation would evolve into societies rich in purposeful-desires as opposed to our current civilisation that is drowning in pulp-waste-wants.

TECHNOLOGY IN A TRULY HUMAN CIVILSATION

Paradoxically, the truly human civilisation will be defined by the fact that it will not be dependent on human labour in order to function or maintain it. It will be a place that is built and maintained by machines, and in which the goods produced by those machines will be distributed by the same machines. As Einstein preached: “Those instrumental goods which should serve to maintain the life and health of all human beings should be produced by the least possible labour of all”[i].

Of course this implies a loss of jobs, and a loss of menial tasks has tragic consequences in our societies dominated by monetary exchange. There is a vicious circle involved in our conclusion: in order to allow technology to liberate human beings from the drudgery of menial tasks we need to revaluate the value system based on money, and, technological development is the key to transcending the monetary-exchange system.

In order to close this circle, technology needs to be appropriated by the society itself so that it can be removed from the dictatorships of the capitalist corporations.

In our current model of society, the consumer pays repeatedly for goods produced by the money exchange system. Firstly, we pay for the technological research carried out with public money, secondly we pay for the cost of the products created by companies who have appropriated that technology as their own, and thirdly we have to pay each time we want to acquire the updated versions of products that have been deliberately programmed with a short life span. Of course, for the system, the important thing is that we pay, and that the money keeps flowing and moving to the top. It is this assumption that needs a radical revaluation.

In a sense, technology forces us in a direction beyond the monetary exchange. It is the essential function of technology to do what a human being cannot do by himself. To replace humans in terms of labour is to replace our role of being slaves to ourselves. In effect it is our exchange-system culture in its pure, slave-production/slave-maintenance role, that inhibits the development of technology .

While individuals continue to see themselves essentially as  active members of the master-slave, sacrifice-reward exchange system, technology will always be viewed: a) with some suspicion (as an impediment, taking away our own chances of participating successfully in the system); b) as a commodity that can be produced and exchanged for profit, and as such, just another object that enslaves desire rather than liberating humanity.

LEAPING FORWARD

The first leap to a revaluation of technology in a positive way must come about by abandoning the view of technology as commodities to be sold. A revaluation would see machines as something readily available for use without any ultimate aim of making a profit. This attitude places the entire monetary exchange system in question.

Technology can truly liberate us, but it won’t if we need to constantly sacrifice our time and real needs in order to be able to obtain that liberation. The purpose of technology is to liberate us from labour, not to ensure that we are shackled to it.

In order to remove technological development away from the market place and its role as an exchange-value/profit-making tool, we need to control the power of making machines that will be able to make themselves. Which means: a) control of the raw materials needed to make these machines; b) control of universities so that scientists and designers will be encouraged to plan technology in a social direction rather than a profit-making one; and c) control of the use of these machines once they are made.

Of course, these incentives have to come from the grass roots, the demos, the people. The so-called free market cannot be expected to have any inclinations towards implementing a structure which has an aim to abolish the free market.

EPILOGUE

Produce, distribute and maintain itself: there are the three basic functions that a truly human, technological society should be based on. Within production itself there are embedded needs to search for and extract the raw materials needed for that production to be possible. This implies a need for an ecological design for all future technology. A truly human civilisation will need to programme its machines with an ability to recognise excess, to understand the negative idea of over-farming, and to be able to judge the limits of extraction. A truly human civilisation needs, above all, a control of eco-friendly technologies.

[i] See Albert Einstein, OUT OF MY LATER YEARS, chapter 6. ON FREEDOM

ONE STEP BEYOND THE EXCHANGE SYSTEM

262600004_47298cf6f2_o

If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value

(Karl Marx, CAPITAL)

If we could abolish the system of exchange, what would we do with ourselves? Without monetary reward, labour would be useless. If we didn’t need to do things, why do anything? Wouldn’t the human race simply disappear?

However, even in the exchange system as we have it today, a great deal of activity is carried out without any monetary reward. The writing of this entry, for example, attains no other compensation than that someone will eventually read it. That may never happen, but that fact doesn’t dissuade the author from writing it. People spend hours a day toiling in their gardens with no expectations of monetary reward. Likewise, the time and effort spent in cooking a special meal achieves the only recompense of being able to enjoy a dish that you yourself has prepared, or offered to others. Artists will indulge themselves in complex, difficult activities, even dedicate their entire lives to such activities, without necessarily receiving any reward at all. In short, human beings do not need to be paid in order to motivate them to do things. All that needs to be stimulated is our inherent passion for doing things, for keeping ourselves occupied and free from boredom.

The exchange system of sacrifice and reward is designed to encourage us to surrender ourselves in exchange for a power to buy commodities, but instead of being a possible part of existence, as the exchange ritual originally was set up to be, it has become the essence of our existence. Hence the term homo economicus.

The concept of reward and sacrifice via the exchange of money has become so important it seems to be the essence of reality itself. It dominates lives in a dictatorial way, creating spiritual misery not only for those participating in the sacrifice, but also for those who are forcibly removed from participating in it. It is an absurd system based on a perpetual growth that is unsustainable. Essentially it is a dictatorship and, like all dictatorships, freedom can only be achieved by either: a) blindly conforming to the system (freedom through absolute passivity); b) escaping (freedom by removal); or c) by active dissidence (freedom through discrepancy, insubordination and/or revolt).

Of these three alternatives, the first is paradoxically the most dangerous. Although it may eliminate stress and perhaps even ensure a passive state of contentment, the stress generated by the system’s absurdity and ingrained exploitation of its subjects will grow around the passive citizen creating an increasing level of denial. This will only cause deeper guilt feelings. Conforming is a kind of escapism, inferior to real escape which is an active removal from the system.

Real escape can be positive if it can create a different system existing autonomously outside of the exchange system paradigm. Such attempts can be seen in the creation of grass-roots communities that try to reject consumerism without completely abandoning the exchange system. Traditionally this has been associated with hippy-type, back-to-nature movements, but that image is being transformed by the development of new technologies, especially renewable energy technologies, that can create technology-based counter cultures. What such escapes reveal is the profoundly revolutionary aspect of technology once it is applied creatively. But in order for this revolution to take place the existing paradigm must first be overhauled.

The third option (active dissidence) is the least cohesive alternative, and yet, at the same time the most promising and dynamic. The dissident space works from within the system in a cellular way. As a body it is largely unconscious as it has too many different voices to be heard in a legible way. It seems chaotic and confused, and it is in essence directionless. It is based more on discrepancy than any concrete alternative. It complains about lack of direction rather than offering clear solutions.  Nevertheless, its negativity has an eroding effect on the absurd system. Also it reveals the emperor’s nakedness, the system’s lack of possibility in the future, and eventually it will participate in the system’s inevitable collapse.

The main question is: will there be a tangible alternative available when the collapse occurs, or will the system operate as it always has done by pulling itself out of the rubble in a new reinvented form of the same mistakes?

HOW TO FIND YOUR TRUE VOCATION IN LIFE?

book-vocation

Imagine a future civilisation in which our technologies are so advanced that money has been rendered obsolete. Work, as something that one needs to do to earn an income which will pay for your survival or improve your standard of living, no longer exists. Now think: in such a scenario what would I do with my time now that I have all day to do what I want? Try and imagine something that you could spend most of your time doing without really needing to do it. If something comes immediately to mind that is probably your vocation in life. If nothing does then you’ll have to look harder for it. Or perhaps you can think of many things, in which case you probably have a holistic vocation that does not limit itself to specific areas and you’ve got a Renaissance soul.

What this also gives us is a measure of progress. The standard of living in a society improves when we can all actually do what we really want to do. Only when we have liberated society from the money system will we be able to make it a vocation-driven one.