I've been reading some of Georg Simmel's writings on the philosophy and psychology of money recently. Simmel is fascinated by money's capacity to mediate metropolitan life, to bring us closer together with strangers, and further apart from friends. I wrote about something similar a while back, in terms of how the technologies of money might affect this. This is from The Philosophy of Money:
Money, more than any other form of value, makes possible the secrecy, invisibility and silence of exchange... money's formlessness and abstractness makes it possible to invest it in the most varied and most remote values and thereby to remove it completely from the gaze of neighbours. Its anonymity and colourlessness does not reveal the source from where it came.
There's a sense in which money is such an ubiquitous social index that to celebrate it - to add on additional social indices on top of it - would be sheer tautology. A tenner is worth ten pounds. That's it. Only once its been translated into a bunch of flowers or a CD would even a moron consider celebrating it's value as anything beyond itself. Until the last week, that is, when the following things happened:
- During the Milan Barcelona European cup semi-final last week, the commentator exuberantly announced that this was a landmark evening, because Milan's gate receipt had broken the record for the highest amount of money in Italian football history. Surely you could make a similar claim about the 'record-breaking' cost of a pint of beer. Since when did inflation start to become a matter for the Guinness Book of Records?
- The Sunday Times Rich List was out at the weekend. This ranks people according to how rich they are, measured in terms of... richness. Wouldn't it be better to rank them in terms of who's got the fastest car? At least that way it would be making some departure from a set of social standards that are already virtually inescapable. In any case, describing the Queen or Roman Abramovich as 'rich' is rather like describing Microsoft as a software company, or Dick Cheney as a US politician: so banal and so blinkered to the realities of wealth-as-power, as to be almost false.
- Steve Redgrave ran the London Marathon in five and a half hours. Slow for an olympic champion, you might think, but no! The reason he was going so slowly was that he walked the first 9 miles, in order to collect sponsorship off the crowd in the form of cash. So what was he fund-raising for exactly? For his fund-raising walk? It turned out that he was seeking to break the record for the most money raised by a marathon runner (£1.2m). I might have chipped in if he could have been arsed to run.
The logical conclusion of this trend is that Oscars are awarded automatically to the highest grossing film and highest paid actors, then the statuetes are replaced with wedges of cash. ATMs, meanwhile, will abandon the offer of a receipt, and instead ask us "Would you like a letter of congratulation with your cash?".