The Value of a Dollar

What doesn’t make sense to me is this weird ability to reduce everything to money. Money isn’t food. Money isn’t energy. Money isn’t even a building resource. You can’t drink it, or use it as an adhesive. It’s an abstract, always needing something physical to represent it, lest we lose touch with its narrative function. All of those other things are tangible with real practical value. I can use them, like heat shrink and solder, like wood and glass, like the gases to run my torches and the lubricant I smear on my bike chain to keep it turning smoothly on its gears. Money means nothing until we assign it value, equivalence. Money means nothing until we introduce a system to equate it to a dozen eggs and three skeins of yarn. It has only ever been symbolic. But we’re symbol using creatures. Let’s get meta: you’re reading this, aren’t you? Every word is a symbol, a stand in. This screen is not oozing propane or skeins of yarn. Perhaps it’s not so long a leap.

I maintain that it should be, though. It’s this system of false equivalence that allows us to mask the real cost of eggs, $1.59 a dozen. Where do we see the energy used in the refrigeration and lighting in the supermarket, and the fuel for transit, the raw materials to make the diesel engine of the semi-truck that brought it there, the power to run the vast egg-laying operation that sequesters its hens unhealthily, packed in too tight, and then can’t “dispose” of their shit (hint: it shouldn’t BE “disposed of” but layered in compost and given back to rich productive gardens)? And that’s only scratching the surface. All of this gets reduced to a single symbol, $, and the players in this dance are falsely reduced to helpless consumers.

That’s what it is to be a consumer, though. It’s a special state of helplessness. Our abilities to make and think are discounted over our ability to buy, to consume, to use up. We ourselves are reduced to a single symbol: $. “Sex sells,” women are $. “Men are bread winners,” men are $. I would like to submit that we are not a symbolic substitution for our “earning power,” the sum of our bank accounts, our debts, and our credit limits, but that our value stems instead from the complex connections we make in our communities, the total of our skills and learning capacity, the richness of the yarns we spin, and our ability to make, modify, and subvert the things around us. We have value in relation to one another and we have value on our own; these values are not arrived at through a substitution. The sooner we can culturally digest this, the sooner we can eliminate waste and become vaguely more human. I, for one, like being at least vaguely human.

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