Tag Archives: money

Individuality and Living in the Modern World

Money is concerned only with what is common to all, i.e. with the ex-change value which reduces all quality and individuality to a purely quantitative level.

-Georg Simmel, from the 1950 essay The Metropolis and Mental Life

This simple statement speaks of something that I’ve been trying to put into words for many, many years. When making plans for the future or talking to friends about trying to fulfill dreams, the conversation always comes down to money. Our individuality (distinctiveness) is whittled away through the mere transference of money from one person to another; Mr. Simmel exaggerates to make a point – we all have this in common, cash is the denominator. Money affords character, and it neutralizes it.

In one very obvious example, Lady GaGa is a unique performer and she is paid (a great deal of money) for her uniquity – but her and I, according to the above aphorism, are exactly the same. She can dream and create and become the biggest pop star on Earth, but she still has to use money to put a roof over her head. So, isn’t it ironic that, if we all have to use money as a way to quantify our existence, that some pretend money is individualism? This is avarice isn’t it? When money becomes everything, we lose a part of our selves. It just seems silly to me to devote one’s life to money.

Simmel goes on to say “All emotional relationships between persons rest on their individuality, whereas intellectual relationships deal with persons as with numbers, that is, as with elements

which, in themselves, are indifferent, but which are of interest only insofar as they

offer something objectively perceivable.” The “perceivable” things are those things we can get with money.

Quantify: to give quantity  to something regarded as having only quality.

What about quality? If there were no money, would there be no quality? In the seminal western Zen classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the author thinks that there is an inherent quality within all things; his opinion is that quality is intrinsic, and this perceived quality is quantifiable only in the recognition and respect of it. In our world, we have to quantify quality with ducats, dosh and bucks. What would quality be without money?

To me visual art usually strikes a chord deep in my subconscious and then I receive an emotional reaction. I love those times where the reverse is true as in when I saw this photo of an Ai WeiWei installation on the Guardian website. (I’ve borrowed the photo for my blog for which I would like to thank Ai WeiWei, wherever he may be. I’ve also taken, verbatim, the caption as contributed by the Guardian.)

It is the Guardian’s point of view that Ai WeiWei is concerned with pointing out the disregard China has paid to history with this piece; I don’t think he would use disregard to protest against disregard – that would be cliché. I think he is readjusting our ideals about what should be considered precious. I saw this photo and immediately thought he was trying to deflect my attention, push it away from things normally coveted; he wants us respect and cherish humanity and expose the systematic nonchalant cruelty that the Chinese government shows towards humanity. He wants to illustrate that we are each a precious vessel; and via the use of various colors, that we are each unique.

Advertisements