Christians and the Structure of Money - An Excerpt

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October 28, 2010

I have been reading a very illuminating work by Franco Berardi entitled The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy.  The title will be somewhat misleading for a Christian audience as it is not a theological or spiritual book but an analysis of the shift from an economy that captured the bodies of its citizens (typified in the factory setting) to an economy that now captures the minds of its citizens (caught up in the endless corridors of the technology).  One section reflected some of my thoughts that I articulated in my previous post.

The postmodern domination of capitalism is founded on the refrain of wealth, understood as cumulative possession.  A specific idea of wealth took control of the collective mind which values accumulation and the consent of the postponing of pleasurable enjoyment.  But this idea of wealth (specific to the sad science of economics) transforms life into lack, need and dependence.  To this idea of wealth we need to oppose another idea: wealth as time – time to enjoy, to travel, learn and make love.

Economic submission, producing need and lack, makes our time dependent, transforming our life into a meaningless run towards nothing.  Indebtedness is the basis of this refrain.

In 2006, the book Generation Debt (subtitled: Why now is a terrible time to be young) was published in the United States.  The author, Anya Kamenetz considers a question that finally came to the forefront of our collective attention in 2007, but has been fundamental to capitalism for a long time: debt.

Anya Kamentz’s analysis refers especially to young people taking out loans in order to study.  For them, debt functions like a symbolic chain whose effects are more powerful than the real metal chains formerly used in slavery.

This new model of subjugation goes through a cycle of capture, illusion, psychological submission, financial trap and finally pure and simple obligation to work.

. . .

Our young [person] signs the loan, goes to university and graduates: after that, his/her life belongs to the bank.  S/he will have to start work immediately after graduation, in order to pay back a never ending amount of money. . . . S/he will have to accept any condition of work, any exploitation, any humiliation, in order to pay the loan which follows her wherever s/he goes.

Debt is the creation of obsessive refrains that are imposed on the collective mind.  Refrains impose psychological misery thanks to the ghost of wealth, destroying time in order to transform it into economic value.  The aesthetic therapy we need – an aesthetic therapy that will be the politics of the time to come – consists in the creation of dissipating refrains capable of giving light to another modality of wealth, understood as time for pleasure and enjoyment.

The crisis that began in the summer of 2007 has opened a new scene: the very idea of social relation as ‘debt’ is now crumbling apart.

The anti-capitalist movement of the future won’t be a movement of the poor, but of the wealthy.  The real wealthy of the future will be those who will succeed in creating forms of autonomous consumption, mental models of need reduction, habitat models for the sharing of indispensable resources.  This requires the creation of dissipative wealth refrains, or of frugal and ascetic wealth.

In the virtualized model of semiocapitalism, debt worked as a general frame of investment, but it also became a cage for desire, transforming desire into lack, need and dependency that is carried for life.

Finding a way out of such a dependency is a political task whose realization is not a task for politicians.  It’s a task for art . . . [and it] is also a task for therapy, understood as a new focalization of attention, and a shifting of the investments of desiring energy.

Perhaps you can read this and say that it does not reflect your own experience but it would be hard to argue that the massive shift towards indebtedness is not taking equally massive tolls in the lives of many.  Berardi seeks a disengagement a slowing down from what has become the infinite speeds of commerce and communication through technology.  A disengagement that can begin again to see, feel, taste, touch and hear the world around us and from these senses begin creating forms independent of consumerist demands.

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