If I could change one thing about this world— this socially constructed world—or about life in general, then I would abolish the use of money. Reading Jean Baudrillard’s essay, “The Perfect Crime,” brings me to the realization that the world is no longer valued for what it is because money, and the things that can be bought or achieved through it, is now the prevailing reality. Money has enslaved people. Money runs (sometimes ruins) lives.
I am not blaming money for peoples’ fall from grace nor do I think it is “the root of all evil.” Money is both desirable and undesirable, but in my opinion, its desirability is outweighed by the undesirable effects. Wars, global economic meltdowns, racism, gender inequality, violence— if we dig deeper, these global conditions are all related to if not driven by money. I say that men these days have become enslaved because many can no longer dream of an existence without it. The use of money is now tantamount to worshiping a surrogate god. It may take some time for everyone to get used to living without money, but what a surprise it would be to see drastic decreases in violence, inequalities, and injustices.
Baudrillard (1996), as I see him, has a firm distaste in too much reality or any unchangeable reality; this conviction is particularly reflected in his essay, where he said: “Reality is a bitch … since it is the product of stupidity’s fornication with the spirit of calculation— the dregs of the sacred illusion offered up to the jackals of science” (p. 3). Having joined the Sinulog 2013 festivities last Sunday, I could not agree more. Such excessive hedonism—and obvious, mercenary sort of commercialism— caught me off-guard. This, I am sure, was not the reality of my previous Sinulog experiences.
A cold, calculated reality greeted me last Sunday. Where did culture, praise and exultation disappear to? Why was this year’s Sinulog rife with people who value neither culture nor faith? Hedonism and commercialism were the only realities I could see that day. And what better propeller for these two dystopian realities than money.
Money, indeed, has been the reality for the rest of humanity since time immemorial. My experience last Sunday is merely one manifestation of that. For it to become so deeply entangled with our humanity, money must have been such a “sacred illusion” to produce this long-term desirability. A desirable aspect of money is its ability to be quantified, calculated and exacted. Money’s advantage is also in the fact that it delineates who, what, where and how. Who owns what, what he or she owns, where are the most expensive and cheapest places, and how much to spend have become easier because of money. Money has helped people obtain a proper description and identification of themselves, places, things, events and the like by separating them into the rich, the middle class and the poor, or into cheap, medium-priced or costly objects or activities.
To some extent, money can be a catalyst of good changes. Money motivates individuals and nations to attain progress and prosperity. It brings out their thirst for innovation as evidenced by the rise of new technologies during the industrial revolution and the technologies we see in today’s era of globalization and high industrialization. Money is a driving force which gives a sense of purpose and the will to do more and be more. It serves as people’s way of confirming that there is more to reality than what is actually there.
What is not desirable about money, however, is its tendency to trap people inside an illusion. Those that we seek in exchange for money overpowers our essential need for it. As Baudrillard (1996) philosophized: “Behind every fragment of reality, something has to have disappeared in order to ensure the continuity of the nothing— without, however, yielding to the temptation of annihilation…” (p. 4). For the people who find themselves wrapped up in this illusion, money becomes an “undefinable hyperreality,” the entity used to maintain, motivate the creation of or acquire other realities— to the point that it becomes the end in itself.
Money often replaces the value of the ends which one has sought. Nowadays, if a person does not have money, he cannot eat, he cannot sustain his life and may eventually die. For example, insufficient funds can result to a person’s poor treatment in a hospital. So, knowing the consequences of poverty, everyone aims to have money— otherwise everything else is useless and unattainable. Your life expectancy, more often than not, depends on how much you have. Ironic it may be to forfeit your life because of lack of money, death nevertheless awaits anyone who is financially wanting. If this “reality” is not enough, people kill, cheat, lie and steal for money.
The capitalist mindset has infiltrated into everyone’s daily existence: to be rich is to always have money. No matter how abundant in resources, without money, a person, a city or a country is still poor— financially-speaking. Assets must have their equivalent in currency or in bills and coins. If this be the case, then hoorah Baudrillard! There is no meaning to everything after all and this reality we live in and consider as reality is a creation of our own minds. Such is the price of human dissatisfaction. People cannot accept nothingness, thus they invent the concept of money to produce a stimuli that can replace this existential void with a sense of purpose and meaning – and maybe lessen the boredom of several years of earthly sojourn.
Should the use of money be terminated in the world, it will definitely take some time for people to get over it since money has been used as means to an end long before the birth of Christ. There is a nagging fear that there might no longer be any exactness, accuracy and concreteness without money. On the other hand, there is also no guarantee that people will no longer kill, lie, cheat or steal once the use of money is abolished. Many other things can provoke people to commit such mortal sins (e.g. crime passionel). Rest assured, reduction of such sins and the revival of priceless virtues and principles can be guaranteed. Yes, it sounds primitive and far from classy, and we might even regress and return to the barter system, but at least humanity will learn to give, share and consume only what they need. Isn’t it more fulfilling to find a more meaningful existence beyond the dictates of these made-up realities and then work with what you love?
I have no idea how far these ideals will take me. What I deduce from this worldly existence, however, is that money is not the sole, permanent evil. Rather, humanity’s natural inclination to be greedy shows itself whenever money is involved. Just look at the way we celebrate festivals in this country. This is all because of how we view money— a hyper and socially constructed reality used to create meaning and purpose as much as a tool invented with the end goal of circumventing this one issue: that our existence is sham and nothing is there in the first place. Regardless of the truth, I think it’s better to live in a world where you are not bound by the values attached to mere nickels, dimes and printed pieces of paper. If it is possible to murder money, I would. (:
Baudrillard, J. (1993). Paroxysm – the perfect crime [Electronic version]. Association Française d’Action Artistique, 5-12.
Baudrillard, J. (1996). The perfect crime. London, UK: Verso.
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