Post structuralism, money, and the gift

Structuralism was a movement initated by the cultural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. Its idea is the meaning is generated in our culture by the systems of signification – signification meaning how we label things. These meaning systems form a ‘deep grammar’ to how we live. In computerese you might say these systems form the operating system of our society. This deep grammar influences the way we educate our young, the way we relate to each other, the meaning of work, the meaning of wealth etc

Money is one such label we put on things – we assign a number to a object which has some relationship to the value we place on the object, the ease it is obtained, and a number of other attributes. These numbers relate to the universe of other numbers of other objects with its own grammar. And this grammar then informs how we run our lives (for instance look at how the numbers on the ticker tape of the stock market runs our economy )

The idea of exchange is also a form of signification. If we trade a bushel of apples for a bag of potatoes we are saying that they signify equal value to the people doing the exchange. These exchange systems then form a grammar.

Post-structuralism, promoted by people like Jacques Derrida and Jean Baurdillard came in with the idea that signs do not have to be tied to signifiers, that meaning systems are arbitrarily created. So you have people like James Joyce writing post-structuralist, post-modern novels where sometimes its just the sound of the word that is important, the actual thing that the word refers to is not so important. You have post-structuralist art like the picture of the pipe with the words underneath it that said ‘this is not a pipe’ – as the picture is not the same as the object.

Jean Baudrillard talks about the seduction of the sign systems, about how they draw us away from the underlying reality.

Post-structuralism applied to money and exchange would say that money and exchange  are arbitary meaning systems. They do not actually exist. We can create arbitrary rules. We could have the plumber be the one paying the persons pipes they fixed, we can have the hairdresser paying the client. We can have moneyless, propertyless economies where people can just take what they want.

This post-structuralist postmodern world, whilst it is very freeing and liberating to some degree because it comes with the realization that the deep grammar of the world does not have to be followed – there are other ways to live –  therein also lies a danger of a lack of meaning. Because meaning is just humanly created there is no meaning to anything.

Whilst to some it may seem nice to have a moneyless propertyless economy, it may also be a barren meaningless world.

That’s where spirit comes in to rescue post-structuralism. There is a deeper meaning that not comes from signification, from the arbitrary signs we put on objects, but a deeper meaning that comes from the absence of any labels and thought. There is a beauty to performing services for each other, there is a deep beauty within objects themselves.

In that sense we can also let go of the idea of money and the idea of exchange.

Every service is then a gift of spirit – in both directions, from masseuse to the massagee, and from the massagee to the masseuse. And that in fact there is no-one doing the massage. There is only the massage. Every service is in both ways. The teacher is teaching the student, and the student is teaching the teacher. And in fact there is no teacher, nor is there a student.


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