Saturday, December 7, 2013

Our current currency crisis

We may be nearing the end of cycle of a set of values and expectations that have created the world we inhabit.  There is a lot of talk about what money is, what value it is based on, and the relevance of alternative currencies as an option to the debt-based money system that has created the necessity to see everything as a potential resource to be exploited.

Many of us understand gold to have “intrinsic” value.  Hence the gold standard as a touchstone of value.  Gold is a precious metal, it can be used to make beautiful jewelry, it is portable and relatively scarce.  These attributes place it well as a metal of high value.  The economist and gold trader Peter Schiff would agree.  But before we go too far in this direction, it might help to ask the question “what is value?”.  

Value creates a graph of desirability. Things of high value would cost more than things of low value.  But we mean value to a human being.  A new Ipad is valuable to most human beings, but not to dogs, and not to humans too old to understand how to use one.

There are collectors of rare things like ancient books who find great value in something others may overlook.  So when we assign value, we must look at what most people (not dogs or cats) find most valuable most of the time.  So value is a best guess, an average.

What is most valuable to most humans most of the time?  I would say things that promote survival and happiness.  Most humans want to live, and to live we all have a shared need in certain essentials.  This also depends on the circumstances of each human.  Someone addicted to cigarettes might value a pack over human contact.  Someone suffering from a painful and incurable disease might value a painless death over all else.  There are many variables, but in general, value is found in:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Sleep
  • Food
  • Warmth
  • Human contact
  • Love
  • A sense of being valuable

If you put 100 people in a large locked warehouse for the rest of their lives with only these things or the possible means to attain them scattered around, as well as a pile of gold, the people would not gravitate to the gold.  In fact, the gold facilitates none of what is essential to life.  So gold is not intrinsically valuable like water or air.  It is an agreement of value - an agreement that has persisted for a very long time to be sure, but a symbol of value nonetheless.

After some time, years perhaps, these 100 people might seek out raw materials to make art from, and at that point the gold would become more interesting and beautiful things made from gold  - things that could adorn someone to make them more beautiful - might attain value.  Things like water, food and a bed to sleep in might be occasionally traded for gold.  But gold is not intrinsically valuable - it is only valuable in a certain context - that of a society that has enough of the essentials necessary to live comfortably and has extra to allot to something of beauty.  But even then value must be added to the gold in the form of artistry - no one would just carry a gold brick around to look more beautiful.

Intrinsic means to “belong naturally”.  So when we speak of intrinsic value, we mean value that belongs naturally - not value that is added to or created.  Intrinsic value depends on the relationship between that which is valued, and the valuer in order to assign a specific value.  So “intrinsic” requires relationship as well as the qualities of the thing of value.

We are getting down to the true meaning of intrinsic.  Gold, money, jewelry or even the next breath would not have any value if it were not an event held in our awareness.  If I were in a coma, my last breath would not be an event I was aware of.  The Mona Lisa would have no value in the land of the blind.  Bach’s work holds not beauty to the deaf.  Gold is only valuable if others hold the agreement - the awareness - that has a certain value.

So it is awareness itself that holds the highest value, and it is an intrinsic value because awareness is aware - that is its fundamental attribute, one that cannot be removed and does not rely on opinion or agreement.  Even death may not affect awareness itself.  This puts us in an interesting position when offering one’s gift, because your gift, as a form of awareness, is more valuable than money or gold. However, others may not see the value of your gift even when it is ready to be shared, for value to them may still mean only money, gold or things that facilitate survival.

The quip “Do what you love and the money will follow” assumes money is inherently valuable, and the term “love” implies “do that which is full of awareness”.  While it is true there has historically been a correlation between how beautiful (full of awareness) something is and how much it costs, this correlation is becoming more and more tenuous as we move toward the end of our collective agreement that money has value.  Currencies have lost all of their value before, and it will very likely happen again - this time to the currency we are using.

Your gift has inherent value.  Your ability to see the beauty in another and explain what you see to them in terms they understand and can accept is valuable.  Your capacity to listen to someone work through a painful or joyful event and through this process become more aware and mature in their understanding is valuable.  The ability to sit with yourself comfortably without becoming so uneasy with arising memories and emotions you are driven to distract yourself by shopping for things you don’t need, made by someone who does not want to be making what your are buying, brought to you by someone who doesn’t want to drive the truck that brought it there,  sold to you by a cashier who doesn’t want to be there but must, to pay for the things she bought that she doesn’t valuable.  The gifts of awareness lie outside the bounds of what our ancestors may have agreed is valuable.

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