A story about expressive capacity

On a community currency related Skype chat that I’m a part of, there’s been a conversation that cycles around now and again about how the various national jurisdictions respond to community currencies, how they are likely to try and shut them down (as they did in the 30′s), and what to do about. Arthur Brock responded saying: “I think the most effective way to avoid being shut down (or even taxed for that matter) by the powers that be is to operate using non-monetary currencies that don’t look like money or compete in the same space as money. We use dozens of these a day and they’ll never be able to even attempt to shut all of these types of things down.”

Synchronisticly I had just seen an article on the “The game-based economy” which I think neatly illustrates Arthur’s point. Look closely at what “gamification” actually means in the case studies. It’s the introduction of wealth acknowledgment token systems that account for the wealth being generated by a “game.” Each one of them is actually a different form of a “current-see,” a formal information system that lets the players see the particular current(s), or flow(s) that they can then interact with in particular ways to generate the overall intended outcome of the game. Who is limited in the creation of such current-sees? Nobody. You just do it. (ie. the true meaning of LETS!) But doing it will be much easier if there is an widespread expressive capacity, i.e. a “meta-language” in which to specify and describe the current-sees. The creation of that meta-language, to my mind, is the task of our movement.

Here’s a little story to explain what I mean about the new expressive capacity (meta-language) that is embodied in current-see:

Imagine it’s 3000 years ago and you hear all this griping about the unfairness of those temple scribes who have control of the pictograms. It’s just not fair! The scribes totally abuse their power, they tax us more and more for each letter we want to send, etc.. But we’ve finally understood that their pictograms really aren’t sacred, they’re just arbitrary symbols, any of us could make up our own set and send letters to our families! We should have the right to to do this without the temple thugs coming to get us!

And then when you dig deeper you do see that, even though they’re an elite class, they do serve an important function (maintaining the consistency of meaning) by keeping tabs on each pictogram and making sure they’re drawn correctly etc. And yeah you see that maybe not everybody should be allowed to create pictograms and write with them. Just imagine all the chaos that would ensue if just everybody created their own different drawings for each word. Because then we have to deal with competing meaning systems and maybe we’d better just have one symbol set to learn because that’s more efficient for the scribes because after all, we can’t all spend the time it takes to learn all 100,000 pictograms for all of our words! That’s why there are scribes in the first place!

So maybe we can just start a complementary pictogram (cp) system for the couple thousand words we use here locally! Yah! Let’s do it! And in some places the local temples are cool with that, and in others it’s O.K. as long as you use them only to talk about non-temple business, an in other places they see any different pictograms as a threat and ban them. So then the talk of the cp movement is all about what the laws are in different temple jurisdictions and how to get people to start signing on to new pictogram systems instead of going down to the temple for all their writing needs.. etc.. etc..

And then someone invents the alphabet, a new expressive capacity that completely by-passes the functional reason for centralizing that power to the scribes in the first place. The alphabet makes it truly practical for everyone to learn to read and write because they only need to learn a handful of symbols. Any kid can (and will) do it.

I hope you see how the story above is almost isomorphic to the current financial situation with its elite. And how many of the questions and concerns that people have about community currency relate: Worries about the nation state thugs shutting things down. Questions about what happens if any individual can issue currency. Anger at the banks for monopoly issue, etc. These are all structurally the same as those worries about the scribes. And for structurally the same reason with the same structural solution. An information system was centralized that no longer needs to be when a new expressive capacity at a higher meta-level makes universal “literacy” possible.

Everybody issuing their own current-sees isn’t like everybody creating their own 100,000 picture pictogram system just because they can. It’s like everybody learning a new “wealth alphabet” in which they can begin to speak wealth-acknowledgments to each other in new useful systemic patterns that reveal the flows in communities that actually build wealth.

Literacy is a necessary precursor to democracy in large scale societies. We live in the age before any wealth-acknowledgment-alphabet exists. Thus the political freedom made possible by democracy is not possible in the economic realm. When the wealth-acknowledgment-alphabet comes into existence, then, and only then, will a new form of true economic democracy become possible.

1 Response to “A story about expressive capacity”


  • Eric, that’s exactly it! Thanks for this wonderful story, yes, this is 100% isomorphism.

    Another story you may want to link to this one: the 100% isomorphism between feudal power on the land and feudal power on money. The feudalism based on land has moved to feudalism on money. The idea I want to stress here is not much political or sociological, but ontological.

    If we place ourselves in the shoes (if they had some) of a serf or peasant of the 9th-15th centuries, land was inseparable from a lord (more precisely the lords-vassals-fiefs order). In the inner subjective reality, land+lord were a unit that the mind was not able to separate. Land had the nature of the lord, the lord had the nature of the land. Dissociating them required a complete leap of mind that challenged the cosmic and social order. And even if the land and the lord were mentally separated, so what? What’s after? The ontological separation is the first step, but then the mind is asked to imagine and build a whole new functional universe that works, that’s the second step — the big one. Only a few visionaries have such capacities, then they have to deal with everyone’s incredulity and inertia.

    I guess we face the same challenge today with money. Wealth is undifferentiated from money, the same way land was undifferentiated from a lord. Both pairs wealth-money, land-lord share the same ontological bond. When we say “someone is wealthy”, it means this person has lot’s of money, which indirectly ties this person with the current monetary feudal system. My feeling is most (r)evolutions begin when consciousness starts to decouple some of these pairs.

    “Complementary currencies” are the first step people make when they decouple money and wealth. The current monetary order is so pervasive that it doesn’t leave space for the mind to rebuild a whole new order. Consciousness needs a long, long journey before it can create a whole new world that is not “alternative” or “complementary” to the existing one, but a pure creation. Right now we are still in the first step of unbinding wealth and money. Even if we do it in the mental level, the practical aspect is still very very challenging.

    Even “free currencies” still keep us attached to the old paradigm of seeing human societies as market places, whereas we now need to seem them as conscious living systems in which subjective reality is as important as objective flows.

    That’s why I love the verb “to weal”. “Let me weal you”, or “let’s weal” will mean let’s build, measure, acknowledge, exchange, trade, experience, shine wealth together, without ontological strings tied to a centralized proprietary monopolistic technology.

    Sooo, thanks Eric, your post wealed me!

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