So I’ve decided to stay off the internet for a week. Starting after I post this message. There are a number of reasons to do so, though mostly I’m just curious. Perhaps I’ll have more to say on the subject when I return.
Recall the morning hours, waking from a marvelous dream. The sort of fantasy where anything could happen and often did. How you felt somewhat omnipotent or pleasantly lost amid the sleeping mind adrift. We don’t normally hold on to these moments, these memories of our sleeping self. Doesn’t change the fact. That we had them, that they’re a part of us. Like our ancestry. We don’t recall the ice age, the brutal lives leading to ours. Those long lean years of absent heat. Without them though we wouldn’t be. So things change, clearly, and for the most part they do so according to what we know. You can argue the point if you’d like but that’s a tough road. Our culture, all our civilizations, are solely composed of what we have at hand and how we manipulate it. That’s all. So I’m realistic. What follows is more a paean to what will come. A call to lucid dreaming if you will, or a prelude to a thought. What I want is for you to acknowledge our limitations then dream past them. Create a space for that. Because I am about to start talking about money. I’m about to argue it shouldn’t exist.
We are a narrative species. We are not logical, whatever Aristotle said. We do not operate according to reason. Stories fuel us, define us, make us who we are. All the meta-narratives converge on this point. Religions, politics, science; they all give us a plot to follow. A reason to turn the page. And no, regardless what the academics or theorists in overly radical or liberal traditions might say, as a species, we are not past the meta-narrative. They are, fundamentally, responsible for all human commerce. From Islamic Jihad to American Exceptionalism these are all just things we tell ourselves. That we choose to believe. Aren’t stories wonderful. Aren’t they sublime. Personally I favor Cervantes and Bolaño but I digress. If the story is the super-structure of human meaning and inter-relations it stands to reason money is just another tale. And like any tale, we will eventually reach the end of it. Close the book and put it back on the shelf. Leave it there gathering dust till a distant generation is curious about the frailties of their forbearers. Until they pick it up again and have a laugh at our expense. What, you’ve never laughed at the cavemen, the crusades, those that drowned ‘witches’ to prove their satanic culpability? We are a cruel and ignorant species (on average) and our history never let’s us forget it. The generations yet born won’t either.
At the moment money is our ultimate crime. The continual transgression we self-apply so a small-minded minority can fuck over, rape, exploit at their greedy little whim while the rest are left waiting for table scraps. While that might seem harsh hear me out, because I’m starting from an ethical belief that says, since none of us asked to be here, that none of us chose this life, we should - all of us, every live-birth - be allowed to live it in relative comfort and security. Allow me to be clear so we’re not confused, to define these terms. By comfort I simply mean having access to the necessities of life; food, clothing, shelter, education, health care: and by security I mean knowing that these necessities will be there tomorrow as they are today. Until the last tomorrow you’ll ever see. An immediate objection might sound like this: life isn’t fair and we have no reason to expect it will treat us so. I believe the wonders of our modern civilization adequately contradict this counter-argument. That our technological prowess and moral perception have moved us well past the rote Darwinism the rest of the bio-sphere is forced to endure. Again, the more you know the more options you have. So here, at the beginning, we understand that this is an ethical question; not one based on ‘economics’ or ‘politics’. And it is an ethical question because for me, if you are even going to begin having a conversation about ethics, you have to start by admitting the sovereignty of human autonomy; whether or not we have free will is beyond the point - we all act like we do - and as such we must center this concept, prioritize it, if we are even going to begin having a serious discussion along ethical lines. Autonomy is first philosophy; without it you can’t get very far. It is entirely possible you disagree with this analysis. Perhaps you prefer to think of humanity as just another animal in the Kingdom, subject to the wanton whims of fate. That would surprise me though, both the thought and the act of having it (somewhat contradictory, no?). In any case it is clear that if you disagree with my first premise you’ll reject what follows a fortiori. Fair enough. If, however, you see some of yourself in what I’ve said so far do please read on. For like with most crimes, the more eyes you have on the scene the better chance you have of solving it.
Money is a crime because access to it, having it, is currently required to have access to anything else. Specifically the fundamentals, the necessities of life. As it stands the more money you have the more access you have to almost anything in the greater-conjoined civilizations of humankind and, logically so, the less money you have the rarer your access to objects, events, or the fundamentals. So we must understand money as a veneer we willingly apply between the human element and the world extant. It is nothing more than a strategy developed over the millennia whose sole goal is ordering how humanity interacts with itself and the (conventionally understood) dumb matter outside itself. According to this concept of money there isn’t anything ethically questionable about it - provided there was enough of the stuff to go around and everyone had the same access. There either A) isn’t, or B) at some point down the timeline what was otherwise understood as a decent metaphor for human energy (open access) became a piece in a game played by very few of us (closed access) though the outcome, the final score, affects us all. Not trained as an economist I won’t speak to A: though B, the story of one group of people pulling the wool over the eyes of another group is as old as time. And stories are something I’m quite familiar with.
While that might seem a respectable segway into discussing conspiracy theories stick with me: we’re not doing that. Any competent barber can clear away the most stubborn conspiratorial stubble with an Occam’s razor, well stropped. As far as that goes my chin’s here as clean shaven as it ever gets. Sure, at some point long ago someone or group of someones changed the game from honest bartering symbols based on human energy expenditure to an empty symbology forever multiplying in the eternal void between zero and one. It is enough that this transformation occurred; it matters little by whose hand as, surely, said hand has long since turned to dust. Continually trying the villains of the past in the courts of today is not only pointless (for what justice can we append to the dead?) it is wasteful as well (sadly, there are plenty of villains that yet live). Furthermore, it harms our analysis of the text at hand, this story. That was chapter one, a prelude perhaps. You remember the windmills surely, but do you recall how Sancho and the Quijote first met? So let’s not waste time looking backward. Let’s look to tomorrow. What we might still accomplish.
Speaking of tomorrow, some might point out that all of this will take care of itself in due time. That money will be fundamentally pointless in a post-scarcity society. True enough. And while I welcome that transition, we’re far from it. Plus, unless we’re all comfortable letting the technologists (and thus the eventual machines they will create) think our way to the future, there is still work to be done by each and every one of us. Again, I’m realistic. Not asking anyone to burn their wallet or delete their bank account. I’m asking you to think about this transition (if, as I do, you understand it as an ethical problem and ethics concern you) because without thinking it so it usually never is. It’s hard, I know; to think so critically about one of the base components of society. To use a different approach to reading that story they’ve been telling you since childhood. Unless we do though, unless more of us start being more critical in this regard, there’s no surety we’ll make it to that post-scarce state, or, even if we do, that the benefits will be felt by all. The technological revolutions promised by strong AI, unlimited clean energy or nanotech are not dependent on the Exchange Revolution. They are not predicated upon it. Remember the story of a small group fooling the herd. Taking control and making the rules to their own benefit. The tools will change but the tale rarely does. As I see it only the Exchange Revolution in conjunction with the tech revolutions leading to a post-scarce world will ensure that human freedom is another quality we will finally have in overwhelming abundance.
I’ve mentioned the Exchange Revolution now let me define it. The Exchange Revolution is one in which the systems of human exchange are no longer based on symbols. Initially money (the ultimate system of exchange) was a simple symbol representing labor, or human energy. At some point after that (much earlier than many might suppose) some clever folk, realizing the inherent mutability of symbols, connived to remove the referent - the labor - from the symbol; thus fundamentally unmooring it from the energy of this world. They emptied it. We now live in a world where ‘money’ is created by fiat, or the drop of a hat, or whenever certain banks say so. While this ‘money’ has value in that it plays a role in the machinations of those in control, those playing the game, it has no meaning. Ask yourself, would you rather live in a world of ‘value’ or ‘meaning’ … Value changes with the minutes or the wind, but meaning sticks around: your car has a certain value (tomorrow another) but driving your child to their first day of school means something to you nothing else ever will. In this way the Exchange Revolution seeks to restore meaning to human commerce by forever banishing those untrustworthy symbols from the act and reinserting the human element. And if human commerce isn’t about humans, then whatever is it about .?.
But I am not a prophet or a seer; I do not know what the future holds or what the Exchange Revolution will look like. We have to dream that dream together. We have to, since it affects us all. We have to do it for those yet born and the world we will leave them, for justice as well if the word is to keep any meaning, to honor those that fought and defeated similar treacheries throughout history, for those countless martyrs murdered just so another could turn a profit, to prove to those with nothing else on their mind that theirs is the wrong path and devoid of the true beauty in this life, and most urgently we must do it for ourselves because if we don’t who will and if bettering ourselves isn’t a virtue then what is virtue? Now I’m waxing poetic. Though perhaps we need more poetry? It is the language of dreams after all. And just like that lucid dream where you first learned to fly or reconnected with a lost love, you shouldn’t be afraid. You should be excited. Because we are, all of us, here at the prelude to the Exchange Revolution. And we have a lot of meaningful work to do.
"There is only one street, I must say - the continuation of the street on which I lived.” - Henry Miller
Go outside and step on the road in front of your home. Look both ways, avoid traffic. Once safe imagine yourself moving right or left as far as it takes you, until you intersect another street. Choose a direction, take it. Repeat. Do this as long as you can, or care to. How many roads will you traverse? If counting by name the list will add up. However, if you think about it from a different perspective, allowing yourself to get closer to the total in the world, it’s unflinching unity, you’ll come to a strange conclusion; that no matter how far you journeyed you did so on one road. One road alone. We break things up with names, reduce them to contain them; even so every road, to be an effective throughway, must adjoin another. They must connect and through connecting become one. Now imagine you are a small boy who, first realizing this strange phenomenon, allowed it to enchant him. To take a hold over the rest of his days.
I was such a boy. The earliest memory I have of my condition, my wanderlust, was this strange property of roads, paths, trails or any swath of earth cleared for our passage. It was just this that caught me. How everything was inter-joined, our Gordian globe, and no schism, no sword could rend it asunder. It got me to thinking all right. About just where you could go and just what you would see. Confessing my age it’s important to understand that all of this was before the info-bomb blew up all Google; before data was free and you could type an address in a rectangle then see it, street view, like right there. Yes, I was one of that last generation of Post-Industrialized civilization to still dream in folded paper, maps from Nat-Geo, TV specials you had to catch when aired or books that boldly, every other page, commanded you to choose your own adventure.
But we are not discussing nostalgia. Wanderlust is my topic, my disease, mine inevitably. It’s informed every aspect of my life since I had the wherewithal to see it. Oh, the places you will go. That you can. Any road will take you there, if you let it. And sure that’s the thing of course, that’s the trick, letting it. As is often true of our endeavors in this world you have to be willing to let go, to see the glory in acquiescence. Only by falling do we get up. Learn to. You have to fall to it, into it, the horizon, before you’ll ever understand. Most wont, can’t, shouldn’t perhaps. But for those others, those born strange and solitary, the road promises a sweet succor. A respite not found in salaries or kids growing up; a trueness not available to politicos or priests.
It certainly helped that I grew up on a dead end. Harley Drive, that road’s name, and it circled my familial abode with a finitude lobbying the empyrean. Should I be more clear? Do we need to discuss the ouroboros, the play of perpetuity in a gravel road? Not all are as lucky I admit, yet for me, this symbol, this circle held a most fascinating appeal. Confounded, initially, the thought of unending openness. This is also important in the upbringing of a wanderer. To grasp as a kid the contrary nature of what a man builds and what he builds it with. Can you create a möbius strip with Legos? Perhaps. Can you create a day without sin from a desire to do so? If lucky. Or make of a life such a thing that no other life will ever live without? Ahhh, and now we bring a carpenter, a prince, a stilted merchant to the mix. No. We need not go that far. It is enough to understand that at times, most times even, the means do not in any way create the ends. A dead end? I grew up not believing in them. How could I? Either way I turned led me right back to the road, to more trail under foot.
A list seems appropriate yet I abhor them. Will not trundle out a collected line of my previous journeyings to impress or impart some whimsical revelatory aside. Yes, I have travelled widely. No, I have not seen it all or even gotten close to that vagabond in Cash’s opus who’d been everywhere. Man. But have I seen a lot. Even so I’ve a sneaky suspicion seeing is not what the nomad or wanderer strives to accomplish. That it is not a photo collage, finally, that drives them forward yet an incontrovertible desire to live as others do. To search out other lifespeeds, immerse themselves in the rhythms of people they never knew growing up. If we have gotten close to defining the human condition at this stage in Late Modernity the nomad doesn’t concur. Believes internally there is much more to it than we have any reason to accept.
Did not humanity become human by way of their roads? Did not the horizon unending overturn any image, graven or otherwise, that might have been set before them for worship, inhabiting that final altar of ultimate respect? Are certain symptoms of our Late Modernity not simply a reaction to the sedentary natures we are now asked to endure? And while an essayist intent on discussing wanderlust can ask questions all day doing so seems gratuitous. Odd as it is true manners are one of the few things that travel freely across any border. I’ll abide them now. Break camp, put away these ceaseless enquiries along with my other things. Move along before someone else needs to tend this ramble.
Have any of my journeys made me a better man? That’s a fair question and honestly I don’t know. The knee-jerk response is yes, of course, what are you, an idiot? But that’s ego and pride and not relevant to the discussion at hand. Is it even fair to inquire after the ethical implications of wanderlust on the character of one so afflicted? Should we not treat this condition as a disease, keeping with our wise medical modernity, and find no fault in those so possessed? Perhaps. While there is much more to say on that topic, that I might even be well suited to address it, with my empirical experiences being as they are, I choose to abstain from conversations concerning the merits of modern ‘science’. That way leads to epistemological finger traps and wonderfully velvety fog. Not at all the sorts of things a traveller would ever bother to pack.
Personally I like to travel light. Find a certain grace in a backpack with room to spare. A pannier. It doesn’t take many objects to survive and I’ve yet to meet a wanderer who didn’t adhere to some form of minimalism regarding property. And this too, this ‘ethos of less’, appeals to me. Draws me ever closer to the heart and soul of the road. What do you need that you can’t find? What do you require that’s hidden? The collection of experiences, going there, that’s the mead and butter. That’s the takeaway and yes more valuable than a soaring portfolio or backyards filled with buried gold. The journey, not the destination, etc. etc. ad nauseam.
I’m thinking of Cabeza de Vaca now, wandering the wastes between Galveston and Culiacán, adrift in that utterly foreign land with, for so many years, no hope of ever finding home. The lost wanderer; you’ll meet those here and now. Or Ahab who was said to be insane, smitten with bloodlust though if you read it another way, The Whale, it seems he simply needed a reason to stay on the sea. Then consider brave Odysseus who dearly wanted to get home, to be there. Until a storm got in his way and ever since the wind has been the patron element of the traveller. Athletes speak of the second wind and if you watch enough sports you’ll see it’s true. The nomad knows the wind is eternal. Endless like a circular road around the house you grew up in, or the days all assume we have before us.
Not all. Our humanity is composed of multitudes naturally and not all find wanderlust within. I have often wondered just how many have, did, are like me in this way. Moving around all the time makes friendships hard, a community of place. Belonging to it through and through. In this way the mark of wanderlust creates an odd class; one not defined by proximity and heritage, shared struggles or economic advantage. Anyone can wander. Most won’t. I love my friends, my family, though I feel I could go years, decades, traveling this world’s roads with nary a word passing betwixt. That it would be all right with me, even if I never met another traveller. Another kindred soul. Again, would that even be possible? Surely we are more prevalent than that. Surely I’m not alone .?.
One road alone. That’s what we get in this life. That’s what’s offered. I’m not bragging but it seems those who wander appreciate this more than others. That the experiences and travails of journeying far get one closer to the quick of it. Henry Miller lived on every street in the world. Any of us could. Few of us will. Those that do consecrate a loneness fundamentally entwined with our own personal little singularities. The existential bareness of living; you’ll see it wide and open on the road. Without another thesis I suppose that will suffice. That the wanderer is uniquely situated to underscore the lightness of our Being. Perhaps you’ll never get closer to it than by walking there. Perhaps the road alone reveals the clearest glimpse of who we are at the end of the day. Perhaps. All I know is the road is just right there, solid, something you can feel, something beyond verisimilitude or simulacra. It’s just right there. So if you haven’t recently, if you’re normally not the type, go ahead, leave the house. Take a walk … you never know what you might find.
(C. R. Stapor, 1998: graphite on paper)
When I was younger I drew all the time. Being heavy into RPGs a lot of it was fantasy related; worlds or people I’d make up for grand adventures. This was one of the last such pieces I did, and as you can see, I didn’t finish it. Around the time such stories lost their hold on me. Gave them up for other endeavors closer to home. Still, a transition it was and for me this half-drawing is an odd concrete reminder of having done so. Being at a place where I was both captivated and indifferent to something so dear. It’s a common enough theme in my life. In others I’ve known.
- C. R. Stapor
The Putnam County Court House, parking strip, east facing