“Italian bankers ultimately managed to free themselves from the threat of expropriation by themselves taking over governments, and by doing so, acquiring their own court systems (capable of enforcing contracts) and even more critically, their own armies.”
Debt: The First 5,000 Years, p. 291.
“… theories of existential debt always end up becoming ways of justifying—or laying claim to—structures of authority.”
IN THIS CHAPTER, we will encounter the extraordinarily brilliant and insightful work of two scholars of the subject of money, who approach the subject not from the standpoint of standard economic or numismatic history but from classical literature (Richard Seaford), and anthropology and cultural history (David Graeber). If there were two books that I would recommend to readers for further study, it would be Seaford’s Money and the Early Greek Mind, and Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years.
That said, we shall here seek to place their work within the wider metaphysical and cosmological context of the ancient Topological Metaphor, for in doing so, a very different picture of the relationships between money and cosmological physics emerges. To summarize this relationship as we have encountered it thus far, we would have to say that there is a direct and analogical connection between the way the medieval world of Europe viewed money and the way it viewed the cosmos, as we saw in the case of Giammaria Ortes and Venice. The question now becomes: What was theorder of concepts? Did the rise of money influence the cosmology? Or was the converse true, did cosmology influence the view of money? As we shall see, Seaford argues that money influenced the rise of philosophical cosmology in ancient Greece. But as we shall also discover, there are indications in Seaford’s own research that the converse is true, that cosmology not only influenced the view of money, but that there were possibly hidden hands, in the form of secret societies and mystery schools, namely Pythagoreanism, that played a significant role.
But first, we must look even farther back in history to the ancient world before Greece, and to the unusual views of money and cosmology that it maintained.
A. DEBT, SACRIFICE, AND THE METAPHOR:
1. Primordial Debt Theory: Brahmanism, Babylon, and Buddhism
One of the ancient Brahmanic texts, the Satapatha Brahmana, states, “In being born every being is born as debt owed to the gods, the saints, the Fathers and to men.”2 The Rig Veda likewise alludes to this primordial debt theory, and its role in Hinduism’s view of the material world as a form of illusion, when it states, “Let us drive away the evil effects of bad dreams, just as we pay off debts.”3 As Graeber observes, the earliest Vedic texts, which date from approximately 1500 to 1200 B.C., show a consistent “concern with debt—which is treated as synonymous with guilt and sin.”4 To put it in terms that I first proposed in The Grid of the Gods, the metaphor has been transformed, by some process of reasoning, from a Metaphor of fecundity—the “Corn God”—to one of debt, guilt, and sacrifice—“the Blood God”.5 This idea has given rise in modern economic theory to “Primordial Debt Theory,” which maintains that this idea of interpreting the Metaphor is not unique to Vedic texts, but is rather a universal phenomenon “essential to the very nature and history of human thought.”6 Needless to say, most of those promoting this idea have some connection to the contemporary financial and banking oligarchies, and one is once again confronted by what Webster Tarpley called the epistemological warfare being waged by financial oligarchies, and the meme they wish to implant that “debt is primordial; there is no escaping it.” The implication of this view, as Graeber correctly points out, is that if our lives “are on loan then who would actually wish to repay a debt?” To repay it would mean annihilation. Nihilism is, in other words, the inevitable logical consequence of this view.7
However, as Graeber points out through numerous details scattered throughout his book, there is no historical nor necessary philosophical reason that this is so. In short, such a view is simply untrue.
While the complexities of Graeber’s book are far beyond the scope of this book, we may gain some approximation of the importance of “primordial debt theory” for current theorists from the following quotation by one of its major proponents, Bruno Théret, in his significantly-titled article “The Socio-Cultural Dimensions of the Currency: Implications for the Transition to the Euro,” written for the Journal of Consumer Policy in 1999:
At the origin of money we have a “relation of representation” of death as an invisible world, before and beyond life—a representation that is the product of the symbolic function proper to the human species and which envisages birth as an original debt incurred by all men, a debt owing to the cosmic powers from which humanity emerged.
Payment of this debt, which can however never be settled on earth—because its full reimbursement is out of reach—takes the form of sacrifices which, by replenishing the credit of the living, make it possible to prolong life and even in certain cases to achieve eternity by joining the Gods. But this initial belief-claim is also associated with the emergence of sovereign powers whose legitimacy resides in their ability to represent the entire original cosmos. And it is these powers that invented money as a means of settling debts—a means whose abstraction makes it possible to resolve the sacrificial paradox by which putting to death becomes the permanent means of protecting life.8
It is precisely here that viewing the Metaphor as a declined legacy from a scientifically advanced culture in High Antiquity—that is, viewing the Metaphor shorn of its metaphysical and religious language, and solely from the standpoint of a formally explicit topological-mathematical-physics metaphor—reveals its utility, for when viewed in that way, absolutely no notion of debt is implied at all, moral, financial, or otherwise. Why this is so is readily apparent, for the abstract language of mathematics conveys the concepts without the connotations that normal language inevitably entails.
Additionally, as we have seen, even in certain versions of the Metaphor—the Hermetic for example—no notion of debt or of death is implied in that stage of initial differentiation, for at that level, the Metaphor is chiefly and uniquely a Metaphor of life, fecundity, and creation. By construing it as a Metaphor of debt and sacrifice, however, Théret does point out one important cultural consequence in human history, namely, the creation of elite powers, institutions, and authority structures that claimed an exclusive right to represent the Metaphor in its interpretation as debt, and therefore, to create financial and religious systems based upon and powered by the analogically parallel idea of sacrifice and debt. What Théret is in effect saying is that it is in this twisting that the notion of the divine right of kings arises. Graeber himself notices and comments on precisely this point:
The ingenious move of course is to fold this back into the state theory of money—since by “sovereign powers” Théret actually means “the state.” The first kings were sacred kings who were either gods in their own right or stood as privileged mediators between human beings and the ultimate forces that governed the cosmos. This sets us on a road to the gradual realization that our debt to the gods was always, really, a debt to the society that made us what we are.9
Note what has happened: the Metaphor has first been reinterpreted from a metaphor of life, information creation, and fecundity—an open system—to a metaphor of death, debt, sacrifice, and monetized debt created by a self-authorized elite—a closed system.
Consequently, it comes as no surprise that within the Indo-European family of languages words for “sin” and “guilt” are often etymologically related to words indicating money and debt.10 The problem with the whole primordial debt theory, at least as far as its contemporary theorists (who are attempting to derive it from Vedic texts) are concerned, is that even here, repayment of such a debt implies that the parties in the transaction are equal—that mankind and God or the Gods are equal.11 Additionally, if the primordial debt theory were true, then the repayment of debt owed to the Gods and/or state would be in the form of taxation, but ancient societies did not normally tax their citizens.12 As we shall discover, revenues were raised largely by tribute extorted or expropriated from conquered and subjected peoples, which gave rise to what Graeber calls the “military-coinage-slavery” complex. It is the implied equality of God or the Gods and mankind that makes the idea of sacrifice an impossibility, an illicit interpretation of the Metaphor, since even sacrifice implies transaction, and transaction implies the subtle ontological parity of the parties in the exchange.
A glance back at the formal mathematical notation of the Metaphor will show why this is so. As we saw in chapter two, the initial differentiation leads to a one-three structure, a triadic or trinitarian structure of the first derivatives. There, we explored the Metaphor in terms of mathematician George Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form, and ended with two regions joined by a common surface. Let us recall what we said in chapter two:
Draw a distinction.
Call it the first distinction.
Call the space in which it is drawn the space severed or cloven by the distinction.
Call the parts of the space shaped by the severance or cleft the sides of the distinction or, alternatively, the spaces, states, or contents distinguished by the distinction.
Let any mark, token, or sign be taken in any way with or with regard to the distinction as a signal.
Call the use of any signal its intent.13
Now let us imagine that we envision an indescribable “No-thing,” as we envisioned in the first chapter, utterly devoid of any distinguishing features whatsoever, infinitely “extended” in every “direction.” We might envision it as the empty space in this box, except of course, our box has no neat lines denoting its “edges”:
We have, in other words, an infinitely extended “No-thing” which, as we noted in the first chapter, has a perfect mathematical symbol, the empty hyper-set, symbolized by Ø, to describe it, or as Spencer-Brown calls it, a mark or “signal” of intention.
Now, within this space, we draw the simplest distinction: we cleave this space:
Remembering that our “box” really has no “edges,” what we really have is this:
In other words, we have two “spaces,” all that inside the circle, and all outside of it, or, in other words, we have what Spencer-Brown calls a “cloven space.” Note that the circle is a circumscription, a “writing around” or “peri-graphing,” which would be functionally symbolized by the paragraph symbol, ¶, as a symbol of the function of “drawing a distinction” or “cleaving the space.”
Note two important things here: (1) we are dealing both with a “space” in the intellectual or conceptual sense, and (2) with a space in the real physics sense, at one and the same time. Additionally, because our original “box” is infinite, the circle or cloven space within it itself has no limits, save that there is a boundary or “side” as Spencer-Brown calls it, a surface as the topologists would say, between it and the space outside it. So we may assign symbols or marks to each of the three things now distinguished:
1)the space outside the circle we will designate as the “interior” of space 1, with the interior denoted by the topological “o” superscript above the signal or symbol Ø:
2)and similarly the space inside the circle as space 2, another “interior”:
3)and the common surface of the two, denoted by the partial derivative symbol ∂:
Notice that what we now have, as a result of performing one act of distinction, are three “distinguished nothings.” We have created a metaphor of a “one-three,” a kind of primordial trinity. Notably, because our original Ø was dimensionless or infinite, we cannot assign any real dimensionality to any of the entities thus distinguished either.14 Notice the all-important point that the signature of Ø will always remain in the formal description of the regions or surfaces no matter how many times the process is repeated. It remains in all contexts, and is thus a basis for analogical connections between all entities subsequently generated by repetitions of this process. One might view this as a kind of “formally explicit calculus of inter-contextual analysis,” or, in short, analogical calculus.
If we were to formally notate with the use of the “peri-graphing” symbol ¶ this function, we would write a simple mapping function of this first set of derivatives as follows:
with each of the three resultants on the right side of the mapping representing the two regions, and their common surface, respectively.
If one imagines repeating this process again, say, to the common surface, to divide it into two or more surfaces, one would end with what topologists and mathematicians would call a second derivative, which is symbolized by the superscripted “2” in the following notations, which would then look something like this:
Obviously, this “second derivative” is not equivalent nor identical to the original. At some point, where mankind emerges in this process, one might view it as an “nth” derivative, and so on, again, clearly not equivalent or identical to the previous derivatives in the process. The equating of subsequent derivatives thus implied in the idea of debt and sacrifice is thus a massive misinterpretation of the formal characteristics of the Metaphor, and hence, as Graeber rightly observes, the selection of simply the Vedic texts to justify “primordial debt theory” ignores other texts which donot contain this false equation, and thus prejudices the case and begs the question.15
The notation above also hints at why the notion of debt would be so easily attached to the Metaphor, for a careful contemplation of its symbolism will disclose that each description of subsequent derivatives from the initial Nothing depends on the prior process; each description is dependent on prior processes, and that purely formal, algorithmic, and ontological dependency can easily be twisted into the idea of indebtedness, whereas the formal description is just that, a means of discerning between differentiated “No-things” within the overall analogical process, and nothing more.
Indeed, as Greaber also points out, by the late Brahmanic period and just prior to the appearance of the Buddha—who took the last step in repudiating the whole idea of the Metaphor as debt—the notion was already being circulated that the debt did not even exist because
… one is not in fact separate to begin with,
(a notion that is implied by the constant appearance of the first No-thing, or Ø, in all subsequent derivative expressions)
and hence that the very notion of canceling the debt, and achieving a separate autonomous existence, was ridiculous from the start. Or even that the very presumption of positing oneself as separate from humanity or the cosmos, so much so that one can enter into one-to-one dealings with it, is itself the crime that can be answered only by death. Our guilt is not due to the fact that we cannot repay our debt to the universe. Our guilt is our presumption in thinking of ourselves as being in any sense an equivalent to Everything Else that Exists or Has Ever Existed, so as to be able to conceive of such a debt in the first place.
Or let us look at the other side of the equation. Even if it is possible to imagine ourselves as standing in a position of absolute debt to the cosmos, or to humanity, the next question becomes: Who exactly has a right to speak for the cosmos, or humanity, to tell us how that debt must be repaid? If there’s anything more preposterous than claiming to stand apart from the entire universe so as to enter into negotiations with it, it is claiming to speak for the other side.16
This is precisely the claim that the Three Great Yahwist monotheisms make, and two of them do so, let it be remembered, in the name of great sacrificial systems. Moreover, as we shall see, the Papacy in particular claims to speak for it in a unique way, a way that enables it to adjust the cosmic account books. But more of that later.
For the moment, we must consider that primordial No-thing which we have designated by the empty-hyperset Ø. It will be noted that each and every conceivable derivative adds or grafts more and more information around it, to betoken specific instantiations of it. It thus came—within Vedic India, Ancient Egypt, the rise of philosophical rationalism in Greece, and, of course, in the Neoplatonists and Hermetica that so profoundly influenced the Renaissance humanists—to stand for the primordial substance, the physical medium, or God, Him/It-self. It could, as we shall see below in the Greek philosophers, be modified through a process of “applied alchemical stress,” whether that stress was “being heated, cooled, combined, divided, compressed, extended, or set in motion,”17 give rise to the entire diversified cosmos and each individual thing in it, and it “was also that into which all those forms would eventually dissolve.”18 In this, it was that transmutative “gold” of the Philosophers’ Stone of the alchemists.19
Eventually, of course, recognition of the basic nature of the Metaphor led Hindu law to drastically proscribe the notion of debt peonage,20 and to other novel approaches to circumvent the “debt” misreading of the Metaphor. One of these, which arose in Buddhist monasteries in early medieval China, is the notion that, because the Metaphor is indeed a Metaphor of inexhaustible fecundity and creativity, it creates an “inexhaustible treasury” from which one can draw—through the proper Buddhist authorities of course—a spiritual “credit” to cancel one’s (or even one’s relatives’) spiritual debts.21 This, westerners will recognize, is almost the exact same doctrine as the Papacy’s “Treasury of Merit,” wherein the infinite sacrifice of Christ abolishes all spiritual debt, and the merits of the saints add to that a surplus of “spiritual credits” upon which the Papacy can make “withdrawals” in the form of indulgences that remit or mitigate temporal punishments for sins in purgatory.
There is, as we implied in previous paragraphs, yet another misreading of the Metaphor, one we encountered in the citation from Bruno Théret, namely, that the first No-Thing from which, in the view of the Metaphor, all things derive, is Death, i.e., the absolute annihilation of “otherness.” Within the Buddhist, and indeed, later Hindu repudiation of the “debt” reading of this Metaphor, the repudiation consists precisely in nihilism, in the absolute repudiation of all “otherness,” including the individual person or “I” at the center of human beings’ consciousness.22 In this, too, there is a misreading of the both/and quality of the Metaphor, and of its direction or vector in time, which is precisely toward diversity, a diversity wherein the signature of the original No-Thing always remains in any formal description of derivatives deriving from it. If one takes that original Ø as connoting a substrate of “Self” or Personhood, then the formal notation makes it clear that it is a fecund situation both of one “Self” and many “Selves,” rather than a system of nihilism.
This fecundity, as the Metaphor was explored in terms of its monetary implications, eventually led to the system of state-created fiat paper money—money that was essentially debt-free—in medieval China, where the Bureau of Exchange Medium23 was created to issue notes in 1023. Obviously the system led to inflation, and periodically the notes would have to be recalled and re-issued.24 As Graeber observes, there is a harsh lesson here for “Metallists,” who are prone to argue that fiat money, when backed by nothing but “state power,” eventually collapses, for this period in China, which prevailed until the seventeenth century, is understood to be “the most economically dynamic in Chinese history.”25 The problem, really, with China’s period of inflation under this system was that the money supply was inflated beyond the demands of the market, not in the system itself. Even the Buddhist monasteries in China gradually broke from the influence of “metallism,” or bullion and coinage, and functioned under a system of extension of virtual credit.26
With these considerations in mind, it is when we turn to ancient Sumeria that things begin to get even more interesting.
2. Sumeria, The Breaking of the Tablets and the Jubilee: Pressing the “Reset/Reboot” Button
Greaber begins his discussion of the system of credit and finance in ancient Sumeria by observing that the name Ur itself is a word that means, simultaneously, “liver, spleen, heart, soul, bulk, main body, foundation, loan, obligation, interest, surplus, profit, interest-bearing debt, repayment,” and finally “slave-woman.”27 Indeed, that really does not even come close to all the possible uses of the phoneme ur within the complex of Mesopotamian languages, but for our purposes it affords a convenient port of entry, notwithstanding some inaccuracies that arise from it.
Indeed, while primordial debt theorists often appeal to the ancient Vedic texts, they appear to be curiously reluctant to do so with respect to Sumer or Babylonia, a fact made more curious because it was precisely in Sumer and Babylon that the practice of lending money at interest apparently began, almost two thousand years before any Vedic text was set down in writing.28 It is when one looks closely at these societies that the reason for the primordial debt theorists’ avoidance of them becomes evident, for what one encounters “is in many ways the exact opposite of what such theorists would have predicted,”29 namely, that when Sumerian monarchs did choose to intervene in the lives of their subjects, they did so not through the imposition of public debts, but in the cancellation of private ones.30
In order to understand why this practice arose and what it specifically involved, we must return to something I first pointed out in Babylon’s Banksters, namely, that the earliest form of circulating money in Sumeria and later Babylonia consisted simply of clay tablets recording credit agreements. These clay tablets were
… inscribed with some obligation of future payment, that were then sealed inside clay envelopes and marked with the borrower’s seal. The creditor would keep the envelope as a surety, and it would be broken open on repayment. In some times or places at least, these bullae appear to have become what we would now call negotiable instruments, since the tablet inside did not simply record a promise to pay the original lender, but was designated “to the bearer”—in other words, a tablet recording a debt of five shekels or silver (at prevailing rates of interest) could circulate as the equivalent of a five-shekel promissory note—that is, as money.31
Sumeria, in other words, was circulating not only clay tablets as debt-free state-issued money on the surpluses of the state warehouse, but in addition to this, circulated private credit instruments—monetized debt—as money.
This circumstance gave rise to the uniquely Sumerian and Babylonian institution of the Jubilee—the public remission and cancellation of all private debts—by the sovereign. The circumstances leading to this are rather easy to envision. The security against such debts could be literally anything: livestock, grain, bullion, or even, in many cases, the collateralization of children or other family members’ labor to the creditor.32 While theoretically any of these things could be redeemed upon repayment, in practice this was often difficult, for the more a debtor’s assets were collateralized and taken from him, the more difficult repayment of debts became, as cattle or family members were taken to repay interest and principle.33 Multiply this procedure throughout society at large, and a problem inevitably surfaced, as families—to avoid having to pay such debts when circumstances beyond their control occurred (bad weather leading to bad harvests, for example)—would simply flee their fields and lands, leaving society bereft of production.34
As a result of this, and confronted “with the potential for complete social breakdown, Sumerian and later Babylonian kings periodically announced general amnesties … Such decrees would typically declare all outstanding consumer debt null and void (commercial debts were not affected), return all land to its original owners, and allow debt-peons to return to their families.”35 This soon became a regular institutionalized practice with Sumerian and Babylonian rulers practicing the “ritual of the breaking of the tablets,” literally, breaking the clay records of recorded debts.36 This ritual was often performed in the springtime, where the restoration of order and harmony in human society was understood to mirror the restoration of life in the wider cosmos.
But then, ca. 600–500 B.C., from the Ganges Valley to China, across Persia, into Mesopotamia, and beyond into Greece, everything began to change with the suspiciously simultaneous and “coincidental” rise of coinage.37
3. Bullion, Coins, Militaries, and the “Military-Coinage-Slavery Complex”
Thus far in our brief survey we have encountered two basic solutions to the problem incurred when the Metaphor is misinterpreted to be a Metaphor of Primordial Debt, those two solutions being perpetual debt—with the inevitable need for constant expansion as we shall see momentarily—or a debt jubilee, a practice that arose in ancient Sumeria and Babylonia.38
This consideration brings us to that crucial period, ca. 600–500 B.C., that the German philosopher Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age. Jaspers so designated it because it was the era of the great “axiomatic” philosophers and philosophies, the Buddha, Confucius, and, of course, the beginnings of rational philosophical debate in ancient Greece, symbolized by the great secret society founder Pythagoras.39 Not coincidentally, as we shall now see, this was also the era in which coinage arose. This was also, not coincidentally, the period when vast empires—and the wars that invariably accompanied them—arose. As Graeber notes, the reason for the conjunction of the two is very easy to understand, for in wars bullion and coins can be paid to anyone anywhere, and of course, can be stolen as war booty. By contrast, the sorts of virtual credit instruments in ancient Sumeria and Babylonia, with their clay tablets of negotiable credit instruments, or, for that matter, the paper money of China, were essentially instruments that were only good within the societies using them and nowhere else. These types of negotiable credit instruments, were “by definition, a record, as well as a relation of trust,”40 and thus were of little utility in raising, provisioning, and paying the large armies of the great ancient empires.
This led, inevitably, as I noted in Babylon’s Banksters, to a vicious circle. On the one hand, it created a class of international traders in bullion (and of course, coins), and to slaves to mine the bullion for the coins. This created in turn, on the other hand, vast military machines to conquer territory and slaves to mine the bullion to pay the armies!41 Bullion, in the form of coins, thus moved out of the hands of the temple elites during the Axial Age, and into the hands of the masses.42 This vicious cycle created what Graeber calls the “military-coinage-slavery complex”43 where the brutal circularity of the system was quickly evident, since money, in the form of bullion and coins, “was needed to pay armies to capture slaves to mine gold to produce money.”44 And this, of course, led to the rise of an international class of people engaged in the production of coins, the mining of bullion, and its adjutant, slavery.
However, there is a hidden working of the Metaphor in all this development, but in order to see what it is and how it occurred, we must turn to the other great non-economic and numismatic examination of the rise of coinage, that of Richard Seaford.
B. MIND, METAPHYSICS, AND MONEY IN ANCIENT GREECE
Along with Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years, Richard Seaford’s Money and the Early Greek Mind is a magisterial examination of the relationship between the rise of coinage in ancient Greece on the one hand, and the rise of rational philosophical cosmological speculation on the other. Coinage, as Seaford notes, does not come from Egypt or Babylonia,45 for as we have already seen, the principle form of money in Babylonia was negotiable credit instruments inscribed on clay tablets. Thus we are confronted by the odd fact that money, in the form of coinage, coincides with the rise of philosophical cosmology in ancient Greece,46 a fact that Seaford argues is not coincidental. Here again, we will only be able to briefly summarize Seaford’s complex and detailed book, but in doing so I will propose a different relationship between the rise of coinage and that of cosmological philosophical speculation than Seaford. However, in order to make that alternative interpretation clear, we shall first have to understand what he has argued.
Seaford begins his study by observing the metaphysical quality of money, that it is “both a thing and a relation.”47 In the latter capacity, it is a command over the labor “of others in general,”48 or even, one might say, over “Otherness” itself. As such, it is a token or symbol (especially in the modern age of electronic money). But a symbol or token of what?
It is when one considers this question that the metaphysical properties of money come to the fore, and with them, its direct relationship to the Topological Metaphor of the Physical Medium. The fact that money transcends all the goods and services for which it can be exchanged, or in the purchase of which it can manifest itself as those goods and services, renders it analogous to that initial No-thing that distinguishes the first step of the Metaphor. And like that initial No-thing, it possesses (to borrow Seaford’s apt phrase), “promiscuous exchangeability.”49 Like the initial No-thing of the Metaphor, it possesses a kind of alchemical transmutability or convertibility.50
It was largely the Greeks, following the example of the Lydians, who first introduced the widespread use of coinage in the ancient classical world of the West. As we noted in Babylon’s Banksters, the association of bullion, coinage, and the religious temples was often close and complex, and this is no less true of Greece, where temples often also functioned as temples of money-changing, and coins were often issued by temples bearing images of various deities51—further suggesting that the relationship of money to the cosmological Metaphor was very much present in the Greek mind.
1. Coins, and the Metaphor
a. The Stamp
However, when we turn our attention to what coinage actually is in the ancient world, and particularly in Greece, the relationship between money and the Metaphor becomes much more explicit. We begin by recalling a fact we first mentioned in Babylon’s Banksters, and one which is especially true of ancient Greece, namely, that the intrinsic bullion value of coins was often less than the value officially declared and stamped on the coins themselves. The stamp, so to speak, actually created or added value to the instantiation of bullion in the coin itself,52 such that the stamp itself became the measure of value, rather than the process of weighing the bullion.53 This in turn led to the close association of states and temples with the minting of money, and as they came to exercise a kind of “money minting monopoly,”54 a money-making elite inevitably arose.
But of course, at the same time that all this was happening, philosophical cosmological speculation also arose, leading Xenophanes, for example, to speculate that behind all the diversity of the world, there was an underlying, impersonal “stuff” or substance from which that world derived, and therefore, all the gods of the Greek mythology were but man-created projections of humanity.55 One was left, during this period of the simultaneous appearance of pre-Socratic philosophy and coinage, with a kind of idealized monism versus an empirical multiplicity.56 Coinage gave order and rationality to this multiplicity, and especially to the limitless variety of interpersonal human relationships uniting behind the state or sovereign, who brought order to the cosmos and to those relationships.57To put it differently, the rise of money in general, and coinage in particular, was to a certain extent inevitable, since it was implied in the physical implications of the metaphor. The problem was, which type of money was it? Money based on the productivity of the state (interpreting the “fecund” version of the Metaphor as an open information-creating system), or money based on a closed system of a finite amount of metal, a zero sum game of debt (interpreting the “closed” or debt version of the Metaphor).
Note what is occurring here, for it will become quite a crucial point in our deeper analysis of the relationship between money, the Metaphor, and the elites behind both, in a moment. For the present, we observe that the creation of money, and philosophical cosmological speculation itself, were both being done by elites, and that this introduced a bifurcation into Greek society, in which the common masses continued to practice and to believe in the deities of Greek mythology, while the elites began to believe in the impersonal version of the Metaphor.58 Seaford notes that
At the apex of the long-term transactional order the anthropomorphic deities are replaced—at least in the minds of an elite—not so much by the polis as by the metaphysical projection of the impersonal, unitary, abstract, transcendent, seemingly self-sufficient power of money, a process that is first observable in Anaximander in early sixth-century Miletus (probably the very first thoroughly monetized society in history) and that culminates in the metaphysics of Parmenides and Plato.59
In other words, the elite was not so much irreligious as it was an elite that had adopted a different religion than the masses, the “religion behind the religion,” the philosophy of the Metaphor.
It is important to pause here and observe what Seaford is really arguing, for he is maintaining essentially that the whole tradition of philosophical cosmology, from the Pre-Socratics up through Plato and Parmenides and right on through to the Neoplatonists, is the result of the rise of coinage; money—in the form of coins—led to philosophy and to the construction of the Metaphor, not vice versa.
But this, as we have seen, cannot be true either, because, simply put, the Metaphor certainly existed prior to the appearance of coinage. So what was it about coins in particular that influenced a new burst of philosophical exploration of the Metaphor? We may summarize these influences as follows:
1)The bullion of coinage60 represented that immortal, changeless, underlying unitary substance of the cosmos, since, for all practical intents and purposes, bullion was immortal, and a unitary substance (such as gold, silver, and so on);61
2)As such, the bullion of coinage symbolizes the underlying physical medium, the No-thing of the Metaphor, in its homogeneity and ability to be exchanged—i.e., metaphorically transmuted—into anything else, i.e., goods and services;62
3)This homogeneity of coinage also reduces the users of coinage to a homogeneous status, since it makes all parties to the transaction equal, and makes them manifestations of the underlying No-thing that coinage represents as well;63
4)The division of the bullion of coinage represents the process of differentiations in the Metaphor, as bullion is segregated into individual coins, and then stamped with a value that exceeds the intrinsic value of the bullion itself. This is a vitally important point, for note how accurately the Metaphor is being reproduced here: the stamp of value adds information and indeed constitutes the information contained in the coin—its “value”—just as the process of differentiation in the Metaphor distinguishes “types of No-thing” by the information content within each type of “distinguished No-thing.” Additionally, money has value more or less independent of time and space, at least in the thinking of the early Greeks.64 In this respect, as we shall see subsequently in this chapter, money is—in physics terms—a non-local phenomenon, for coinage represents that “common surface” that occurs during exchange, and as such, that common surface is a non-local phenomenon.
It is this distinction between the information contained in the coin, versus the substance of the coin (its bullion), that gives rise, according to Seaford, to the metaphysical categories such as substance and accident, or substance and individual form.65Additionally, the initial No-thing of the Metaphor is viewed, in the Hesiodic cosmogony, as an undifferentiated chaos. Information adds differentiation, just as with the Metaphor itself;66
5)Notably, in Greek thinking of this period, there is no notion of debt or limit to this system, for just as the No-thing of the Metaphor could differentiate without limit, there was similarly no limit to money.67 The Greeks, in other words, in spite of the rise of debt and early banking practices, understood the Metaphor to be an open system, rather than a closed one;
6)In the imposition of information—i.e., value—on the stamp on coins, measure and reason, or ratio , are imposed on the world of plurality and “Otherness”;68
7)Thus, individuality or personhood come to reside—at least for the basic implications of Greek thinking—in the differentiations themselves rather than in the first No-thing, and individual coins with their stamp of value are a metaphor of this implication. Money itself, and the underlying substance which it represents, are understood to be impersonal.69 In this, as we have seen, the Greeks are opting for the “impersonal/atheistic” interpretation of the Metaphor. Yet, one might also say that since man is the “common surface” or microcosm—as we discovered in chapter two—that money comes to represent man, and to that extent, is also a microcosm, a “common surface” binding and transacting human exchange. Hence it could be argued that the Medium, prior to its first tripartite differentiation, and in that threefold differentiation, is a kind of “super-Self” or “super-Person”;
8)We thus arrive at the most succinct statement of Seaford’s thesis: “The presocratic (sic) cosmos is, in its various forms, a projection of human institutions (especially money) onto the cosmos no less than is the Olympus of ordinary believers.”70 Seaford is arguing, then, that money or coinage, in other words, created philosophy, created the Metaphor, and not vice versa.
With these thoughts in mind, we are now in a position to begin making some preliminary observations. Seaford has noted that the rise of coinage was coincident with the rise of philosophical reflection on the Metaphor. In his opinion, the rise of coinage to a certain extent originated that reflection, if not indeed the Metaphor itself. In this, he argues, we see both the rise of a financial elite, and the rise of an intellectual or philosophical elite, whose true “atheistic” views (not believing in the gods, not as not believing in the divinity of that primordial substance) are hidden from the masses. As we also saw in our review of Graeber’s work in the previous section of this chapter, the Metaphor was twisted in some early—and very modern—thinking, into the Primordial Debt Theory. But if one assumes the opposite ordering of the relationship between the Metaphor and money than does Seaford, i.e., if one assumes that the Metaphor gave rise to money, and not vice versa, then an interesting picture emerges, namely, that of debt theory as a “meme” of social dominance promoted by the elites who were created by the rise of coinage.
It is important to understand the both/and nature of the Metaphor in this respect, and how it would inform the motivation of such elites in promoting that meme, for the Metaphor itself would, as noted previously, constitute a new kind of “religion” in polytheistic societies like ancient Greece. By believing in the underlying unchangeable substance, such philosophical elites privately hold a very different doctrine than that publicly promoted in the temples. In this interpretation, their motivation in promoting the meme would be theistic. However, in the view of that underlying substance as impersonal, their view in promoting the meme of primordial debt would be atheistic, but in either case, the result is the same: a meme would be created that would enhance the power of that philosophical-financial elite.
b. The Idealized Substance and the Coincidence of Opposites
We have just suggested that rather than coinage giving rise to the Metaphor—as Seaford implies—that the reverse is true, the Metaphor gave rise to coinage. In the broadest historical point of view, this is true, for the Vedic texts that contain the Metaphor are, as we have seen, much older than coinage. But before we can make the argument about the Metaphor giving rise to coinage tighter, we must explore other details of the relationship between the two.
We may begin by noting an observation that Seaford makes concerning the relationship of this underlying substance to the primordial elements—earth, air, fire, and water—and to money:
Just as the circulation of goods (money-goods-money, etc.) is driven by (unsubstantial yet all-underlying) money according to a numerical abstraction (logos) that may seem embodied in the money, so cosmic circulation (fire-things-fire etc.) is driven by (insubstantial yet all-underlying) fire according to the logos, which appears to be embodied in the fire. Both money … and fire have the transcendent power to transform things into their opposite.71
This returns us to a property of that underlying No-thing of the Metaphor that we noted in chapter two in connection with Giordano Bruno: the coincidence of opposites in that medium.
Money thus combines a uniquely impersonal characteristic with a uniquely super-personal one, in an almost identical fashion to the way the initial No-thing of the Metaphor can be viewed both as supremely impersonal, random, and chaotic, and supremely personal and ordered.72 In this, once again, it is a faithful reflection of the both/and nature of the dialectic of the Metaphor, and of its conjunction of opposites.
2. The Hidden Elite’s Hand: Pythagoreanism
As we have noted, the essence of Seaford’s argument is that money, in the form of coinage, created the philosophical and cosmological speculations of rational Greek philosophy during the pre-Socratic period. We have also discovered there are weighty and cogent reasons to support such a view. It is, however, when we turn to a consideration of the possibility of hidden elites driving the spread of coinage that this view begins to unravel, and indeed, it is Seaford himself who notices it: “In the advanced city-states coined money was used generally, but belief in the impersonal cosmos of the presocratics was almost certainly confined to an elite.”73 One such elite, as Seaford observes, are the Pythagoreans, who, moreover, appear to have had an influential role in the spread of coinage in cities where their secret society was present:
… the Pythagoreans of Croton controlled numerous other Greek cities of Southern Italy. This is supported by the evidence of contemporary coinage. The earliest coinage of Southern Italy had... spread very quickly, with several cities sharing a remarkable uniformity both of technique and of weight standard.74
The Pythagoreans, as Seaford observes, were especially renowned for three different types of activity: they were, first of all, a secret society dedicated to a particular way of life. Additionally, they were a political society in that they sought, and exercised, political power. Finally, they were, as most know, a society dedicated to a philosophy that was orally transmitted, a philosophy whose core doctrine was that “number is all.”75 This doctrine of “number is all” once again dovetails quite neatly into the appearance of coinage, with its stamp of value on a metal. Pythagoreanism, in other words, is the key group reflecting the “mathematicization” of human society and transaction represented by coinage.76
However, as I have stated elsewhere, there is significant evidence to suggest that the Pythagoreans have a connection to Mesopotamia and to Babylonia, both in their mathematical speculations and in the cosmological implications they deduced from them.77 The idea of cosmology and the connection to number, in other words, predated the rise of coinage, and the Pythagoreans were definitely connected to both, making it thus possible to view their role influencing the spread of coinage as deliberate. When we couple this implication to what was stated in Part One of this book—that Hermeticism itself appears to have ancient Egyptian roots—then the possibility becomes much more likely that these hidden elites are driving the appearing of coinage very deliberately, as a social and monetary reflection of the Metaphor.
There is one final point to be adduced in this regard. In my book Genes, Giants, Monsters, and Men, I outlined how ancient megalithic sites appeared to have been constructed—millennia before the rise of ancient classical civilizations and therefore millennia prior to the appearance of any kind of money, clay tablets, coinage, or otherwise—around uniform standards of measure that were astronomically and geodetically based, and that their appearance was possibly due to the influence of hidden elites,78 a thesis I explored further in The Grid of the Gods with co-author Scott D. de Hart.79 As I noted in Genes, Giants, Monsters, and Men, such a uniform standard of weights and measures could only be uniform if they were based on astronomical and geodetic observation; moreover, uniformity of such weights and measures is a prerequisite for commerce on a large scale.
It would appear then that the Metaphor is driving the elites, and that they in turn are driving not only vast construction projects, but the appearance of money, in any form.
C. THE TALLY: MONEY AS THE COMMON SURFACE OF THE METAPHOR
Before taking leave of this retrospective, it is worth pausing to consider one final detail. We have noted that coinage, in its use of metals with a stamp of abstract value, embodies in an almost perfect analogy the ancient Topological Metaphor of the Physical Medium, both with respect to the “eternity” of the substance of the bullion in coins themselves, and in the abstract “common surface” of a non-local character that they represent as a stable form of exchange and transmutability across specific times and places. It is worth observing, then, that there is yet another form of money that emerged in ancient times, and continued even throughout the Middle Ages, and that is the notion of the “tally,” a physical object such as a stick—or broken clay tablet—whose two halves symbolized a transaction between two parties. Here, Graeber comments very aptly: “A tally does away with the need for witnesses; if the two surfaces agree then everyone knows that the agreement between the contracting parties exists as well.”80
However, as a closer examination of this notion reveals, the two parts of the tally are conjoined, not upon two surfaces, but upon one abstract common surface which joins the two parts, no matter how far apart the two parts are from each other. In this, too, the common surface becomes a non-local phenomenon. The apparently crude mechanism of the tally is thus in fact a very sophisticated embodiment of the whole notion of money and the Metaphor’s common surface as a non-local phenomenon.
Philosophical speculation therefore did not appear as the result of coinage, but as is more likely, the reverse: coinage appeared as the result of the Metaphor, as hidden elites contemplated its implications for the ordering of society and commerce. However, as this chapter has also suggested, the appearance of coinage did raise the issue of impersonal substance and transaction versus the notion of the persons conducting them.
In order to contemplate that relationship more fully, we must now return to the Middle Ages, to the rise of modern banking and that most important conception squatting in the middle of it all, the rise of the doctrine of corporate personhood.
1David Greaber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2011), p. 69.
2Graeber, Debt, p. 43, citing the Satapatha Brahmana, 1.7.12. 1–6.
3Ibid., citing the Rid Veda, 8.47.17.
4Ibid., p. 56.
5Farrell and de Hart, The Grid of the Gods, pp. 201–203.
6Graeber, Debt, p. 57.
8Bruno Théret, “The Socio-Cultural Dimensions of the Currency: Implications for the Transition to the Euro,” Journal of Consumer Policy, 22:51-79, cited in Graeber, Debt, p. 58, emphasis added.
9Graeber, Debt, p. 58.
10Ibid., p. 59.
11Ibid., p. 63.
13George Spencer-Brown, Laws of Form: The New Edition of This Classic with the First-Ever Proof of Riemann’s Hypothesis (Leipzig: Bohmeier Verlag, 1999), p. 3.
14I presented a very different way of analyzing or “imagining” this primordial cleaving in the appendix to chapter nine in my Giza Death Star Destroyed.
15Graeber, Debt, pp. 62–63. Graeber implies that the ploy is transparent, since what is being implicitly argued is a ploy, namely, to transfer from religion to central banks the idea of the payment of infinite debt, which is, as we have seen, a massive misreading of the Metaphor. Graeber notes that there is little to distinguish the older religious reading of this primordial debt and the modern nationalist one: “One might even say that what we really have, in the idea of primordial debt, is the ultimate nationalist myth. Once we owed our lives to the gods that created us, paid interest in the form of animal sacrifice, and ultimately paid back the principal with our lives. Now we owe it to the Nation that formed us, pay interest in the form of taxes, and when it comes time to defend the nation against its enemies, to offer to pay it with our lives.” (Debt, p. 71.)
16Ibid., p. 68.
17Ibid., p. 245.
19See my The Philosophers’ Stone, pp. 25–81, 260–267.
20Graeber, Debt, pp. 256–257.
21Ibid., pp. 262–265.
22Ibid., p. 266.
23Ibid., p. 270.
26Ibid., see p. 235ff.
27Ibid., p. 165.
28Ibid., p. 64.
31Ibid, pp. 214–215.
32Ibid., p. 65.
34Ibid., see the discussion on p. 183 in connection with this point.
35Ibid., p. 65.
36Ibid., p. 217. It is interesting to note, with respect to Sumerian and Babylonian attitudes to sex and the Metaphor, that procreative sex was considered merely human, whereas sex as a non-procreative pleasure was considered to be divine. See Graeber, Debt., p. 181.
37Ibid., p. 212.
38See Graeber’s remarks, Debt, p. 231.
39Ibid., p. 223.
40Ibid., p. 213.
41See Graeber’s discussion, Debt, pp. 225–226.
42Ibid., p. 226.
43Ibid., p. 229.
44Ibid., p. 239.
45Richard Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 126.
46Ibid., p. xi.
47Ibid., p. 1.
49Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind, p. 2.
50In this respect, see Seaford’s comments on p. 4, regarding Sophocles’ observations on money.
51Ibid., p. 4.
52Ibid., p. 6.
53Ibid., p. 126.
54Ibid., p. 6
55Ibid., p. 11.
56Ibid., p. 217.
57Ibid., p. 222.
58Ibid., p. 12.
59Ibid., pp. 14–15.
60It should be recalled that not all Greek city-states used precious metal bullion in their coinage. Some, like Sparta, used iron.
61See Seaford’s suggestive comments in Money and the Early Greek Mind, p. 16.
62Ibid., p. 150.
63Ibid., p. 151.
64Ibid., p. 246. Seaford also states this principle on p. 257 in no uncertain terms: “The oneness of monetary value must, through all its exchanges with a vast variety of goods, retain its identity. It is important for the functioning of money that monetary value be exactly the same not only in different places but also at different times. It is this unprecedented all-pervasive functional unchanging oneness, uniting in the minds of its users one place with another and present with future, that enters unconsciously into Parmenidies’ conception of the One.” (Emphasis in the original.)
65Ibid., p. 136: “The invention and use of the earliest coins demanded the recognition of the combination of, and antithesis between, sign (or form) and substance, an antithesis in which, although the substance must have some intrinsic value, decisive is the sign, which implies a homogeneous ideal substance distinct from the metal in which the sign is expressed.” Note very clearly what Seaford has stated here: the bullion of the coin is itself a symbol, which, along with its stamp of value, represents or symbolizes the physical medium and its differentiations via the information content of those differentiations. See also Seaford’s comments on p. 149.
66Ibid., p. 220.
67Ibid., p. 165.
68Ibid., p. 231–232.
69Ibid., pp. 152, 155–156.
70Ibid., p. 284.
71Ibid., pp. 232–233, emphasis added. See also pp. 170–171, 238, 242, 248.
72See Seaford’s excellent discussion in Money and the Early Greek Mind on pp. 224–225.
73Ibid., p. 12, see also p. 269 for the link between calculation, money, and political and social order.
74Ibid., p. 268.
75Ibid., p. 266.
76Ibid., pp. 266–267.
77See my Giza Death Star, pp. 202–216, and Grid of the Gods, with Scott D. de Hart, pp. 229–254. Seaford notes that music—definitely a preoccupation of the Pythagoreans through their discussions of the “Pythagorean comma” (see Giza Death Star, pp. 202–216)—is connected in their thinking with the abstract valuation of money. See Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind, pp. 280–281. This means, to put it as nakedly as possible, that money is a component of their cosmological doctrine, not vice versa.
78Genes, Giants, Monsters, and Men: The Surviving Elites of the Cosmic War and Their Hidden Agenda (Port Townsend, WA: Feral House, 2011), pp. 31–65.
79Farrell and de Hart, The Grid of the Gods, pp. 63–126.
80Graeber, Debt, p. 302.