Many, many years ago – in 1985 in fact – I took Economics A-level. I had a lovely and extremely plump teacher called Mrs William-Powlett, who had a particular way of popping the “p” in “perfect competition” that made it sound, indeed, perfect.
I didn’t have a particularly inquisitive mind back then, so it never occurred to me to question whether the underlying assumptions – of rational agents, in possession of perfect information, operating in a market where the invisible hand would ensure that resources were allocated in a fair and just way. It had been a long time since the Wall Street Crash of 1929 (the year my father was born and therefore, by a teenager’s definition, an inconceivably long time ago). And it would be a long time before the crash of 2008. The world seemed safe and secure and stable.
Now, of course, it has become very apparent that the world is very different. Our reality – economic, environmental, sociological, political – no longer represents the same safety, security, stability, and steady march towards a better future that we used to imagine. Could it be that what dear old Mrs William-Powlett was teaching was not necessarily so?
As you may gather, I’m still joyfully geeking out on complementary currencies, and am currently reading The Mystery of Money, by the man who designed the Euro, Bernard Lietaer. I very much appreciate his insights, and how he weaves together history, mythology, sociology, psychology, and economics. I don’t believe the book is publicly available – I’m reading it as a pdf – but I believe that you can request a copy from the author, via his website.
As you might guess from the title of this blog post, he is particularly examining money through the lens of Jungian psychology, with its emphasis on the archetypes that guide our thinking. Jung himself wrote:
“Archetypes are to the soul what instincts are to the body.”
(I was rather surprised to read this at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense. As soon as we’re born, we start to learn how to fit in with the society that we find ourselves in, as our parents learned before them, and theirs before them. And human societies are shaped by certain narratives about what is “good” and what is “bad” behaviour. Myths are products of those same societies and those same narratives. And underpinning all of these narratives – mythical and societal – are the same standard cast of characters, such as the mother, king/queen, priestess, magician, lover, warrior, etc.)
Lietaer’s main contention is that a lot of the trouble that we have with money – gross inequality of distribution, booms and busts, metrics that encourage exploitation rather than preservation of people and nature – are caused by the absence of the Great Mother archetype from our money systems. And the problem that arises is that when you suppress an archetype it doesn’t just go away. You end up with its shadows instead.
The shadow sides of the Warrior, for example, are sadism and masochism. The shadows of the Magician are hyper-rationality and indiscrimination. The shadows of the Lover are addiction and impotence. The shadows of the King/Queen are tyrant and abdicator.
And the shadows of the Great Mother are greed and scarcity.
Now is this starting to make sense? Do you see how the archetype represents what Aristotle would have called the Golden Mean, or the highest form, where there is balance? And how the shadows represent having too much, or too little?
So now back to money and the mother archetype. When you look at our financial systems, do you see the nurturing, abundant, loving influence of the Great Mother? Or do you see greed and scarcity? I know what I see. Gordon Gekko, who you may recall was played by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street, admitted as much himself, quoted in 1987 by the Wall Street Journal: “the point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.”
Except when it doesn’t. And as our world has become too yang and not enough yin, we need to move out of greed/scarcity and back into healthy balance.
Lietaer tracks the history of the repression of the Great Mother archetype (and correspondingly her yin energy) over the centuries since the third millennium BC, by the Mesopotamians, the Greeks (Aristotle wrote, “For the female is, as it were, a mutilated male”), the religious scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, and the catastrophic witch hunts that were responsible for up to 100,000 executions, mostly by burning, between 1450 and 1750. (What Lietaer says dovetails neatly with Riane Eisler’s book The Chalice and the Blade – which I wrote about earlier this year.)
Lietaer is not saying that yang currency is bad – just that it needs to be in balance with yin. For some purposes, a yang currency is more appropriate. But he notes that, historically, whenever local yin currencies have complemented the dominant yang currency, they had the four following characteristics:
- They led to remarkable economic well-being for the ordinary population;
- They spontaneously induced investment patterns with unusually long-term perspectives (better for the environment);
- They have characteristically appeared in societies only when the feminine archetype was honored, an admittedly rare occurrence in Western history;
- They were the precursors of a contemporary local currency movement that could become a key tool to make possible Sustainable Abundance in our own lifetimes.
All sounds good to me! More on this next week.
“When male and female combine, all things achieve harmony.”
— Lao Tzu
Speaking of money, huge thanks to all of you who have contributed to the startup costs of The Sisters and/or signed up for membership after this announcement in last week’s blog. Autumn, Maureen, Terri, David, Audrey, Kathryn, Melinda, CJ, Eric, Canon, Rosalind, Meredith, John, Erica, James, Kath, Jacqueline, Giselle, Mariya, Anja, Nicola, Jo – may you be forever blessed. More news about The Sisters coming soon.
I can’t believe I forgot to mention I met some of the cast members of Game of Thrones! Obviously been just too much excitement going on recently. I was at Buckingham Palace on 24th May to present Gold Awards, and was delighted to meet the actors who play Samwell Tarley (cheer!) and Walder Frey (boo, hiss!). Some of my long-time readers might recall that I listened to several of the Songs of Ice and Fire series while I was rowing the Pacific, and completely fell in love with the characters – not least because they were mostly having a worse time than I was. And although I’m normally not into TV shows with lots of violence, I’ve absolutely adored the TV version. So meeting these guys was definitely the icing on the cake of a fabulous day at the Palace.
This week I watched Normal is Over, which I highly recommend. It’s a multi-award-winning documentary about humanity’s wisest responses to climate change, species extinction, resource depletion and the widening gap between the rich and poor. It takes a hard look at the financial and economical paradigm underlying our planetary problems, while offering various solutions to reverse the path of global decline. It includes interviews with various key figures, including Charles Eisenstein, Naomi Oreskes, Paul Gilding, Lester Brown…. And Bernard Lietaer. One of my favourite lines in the film comes from poet Ian McCallum: “Wilderness is not a place, but a pattern of soul”.
And finally, if you want to indulge in some righteous indignation about how women/the feminine has been disrespected over the course of the centuries, feel free to fume over these quotations, illustrating the repression of the feminine, borrowed from The Mystery of Money:
- “Such is the stupidity of woman’s character that it is incumbent upon her, in every particular, to distrust herself and to obey her husband.” Confucius (5th century BC)
- “Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die.” Ecclesiasticus 25:24 (2d century BC)
- “Women are the gate of the devil, the patron of wickedness, the sting of the serpent.” St Gerome (5th century AD)
- “Women are your fields: go, then, into your fields whence you please.” Koran (7th century AD)
- “Men have broad shoulders and large chests and small narrow hips and are more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow chests and broad hips; to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house and bear and bring up children.” Martin Luther (16th century)
- “Husband and wife are one person in the law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage.” William Blackstone (18th century)
- “The National Socialist movement is by nature a masculine movement… The outstanding and highest calling of women is always that of wife and mother.” Joseph Goebbels (20th century).
And please, only watch the following Harry Enfield/Paul Whitehouse spoof if you have a really good sense of humour and aren’t easily offended!